The Curse of Conformity

In 1983 I landed my first job in the computer industry. I applied for an open position, sent in my resume, endured a few interviews, and attended one final meeting.

In that meeting, my soon-to-be boss said, “I have chosen you for the position, but let me explain why:”

  • I didn’t choose you because of your education” (I had studied 17th Century European Intellectual History, not exactly Computer Science);
  • And I didn’t choose you because your grades were better” (when I say I “studied history” I don’t mean to imply I studied real hard);
  • And I didn’t choose you because of your great business experience” (three years of mission work didn’t qualify as a practical MBA).

His care for my self-esteem was underwhelming; I began to wonder if the job was really mine.

He continued, “I chose you because you answered my questions differently than I would have. I didn’t agree with every answer, but your answers gave me an outlook I hadn’t considered. I don’t need more people who think like me—I already think like me—I need people who offer different perspectives.” He concluded,

“The curse of the computer industry is conformity; never lose your non-conformity.”

Invitations to Intimacy with God

Most Sundays after church, my father invited us kids to critique his sermon. He disliked “Atta-boys” and he loathed a “Nice job!” He loved to observe how we thought and what we saw.

He delighted—really delighted—when we said things like:

  • I think your illustration of the boy on a bike didn’t explain predestination well;
  • I wonder if your second point should have come first, and your third point eliminated;
  • I think the best part of your sermon was the final, “Amen.”

His partly wanted to ensure we listened to his sermons, sure; but even more, he genuinely wanted to engage with us at a heart level by hearing what we thought. Dad encouraged honesty and offered no repercussions when we criticized, disagreed, or misunderstood.

It was my dad’s way of inviting us up into his life.

Deathbed Advice

My father died twenty years ago last Friday, April Fool’s Day, 1996. (I often wonder if he planned that day.) A week before his death, knowing his death was imminent, my father made a suggestion. Deathbed advice has power other suggestions can’t match.

Deathbed Advice

My dad told me that many of the people he counseled lived their adult lives being controlled by their parents. Most parental-control situations are easily recognized: parents who bully and browbeat or those who provide unceasing, unsolicited advice.

He told me there is another insidious control which most people fail to recognize. It’s the unconscious control our parents exert when we try our hardest not to be like them.

My father summarized his advice like this:

If you spend your life trying not to be like somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.

The Nonsense of S.M.A.R.T. Sense

Is modern business wisdom destroying Christian spirituality? Oswald Chambers once asked, “[Do we consider ourselves] so amazingly important that we really wonder what God Almighty does before we wake up in the morning?”

Smart Sense

Contemporary sages tell us to apply business models to our spiritual work. They admonish us to make S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. They teach us that the closer we follow these instructions, the more effective our lives will be.

But natural insight doesn’t translate into spiritual wisdom. It’s not even a dialect.

The author Oswald Chambers was mostly unknown during his lifetime. Before he died (at the age of forty-three) only the tiniest circles of believers had even heard of him. And at the time of his death, he had only glimpsed a proof of the manuscript of his first book. If he leaned on S.M.A.R.T goals, how would he have evaluated his life on the day of his death?

But since his death, his words have influenced tens of millions, and his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, is one of top selling books of all time. Instead of leaning into worldly wisdom, Paul encourages us:

“Judge nothing before its time; wait for the Lord. He will bring to light what is hidden and he will expose the motives of the heart.

At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5 emphasis added).

The world tells us to measure our results. God says the only result that matters is found in a personal connection with him. In that connection, he takes the broken bread-crumbs of our lives and feeds thousands.

How many of our S.M.A.R.T. goals are measured to make ourselves the hero of our own little mini-series?

Let’s Rethink the Way We Think

Circumstances, commitments, and surprises (the unpleasant kind) overwhelmed me the past six weeks. I had too much to do and too little time to do it. Forces from competing goals pulled me in opposite directions.

rethink the way we think r2

Two weeks ago I arrived home from a retreat in Colorado, physically and emotionally drained. But I woke up the next morning in an adrenalin-induced frenzy, desperate to prepare five new sessions for a retreat that began in four short days.

The retreat topic was Hearing God. I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for years to offer a retreat on how to recognize God’s voice, but commitments (and bad surprises) had frustrated my attempts to plan it. I was woefully behind and anxious about the few remaining hours I had for preparation.

When I woke up that feverish morning, I sensed God say to me:

“If your retreat teachings are the greatest talks you’ve ever given, but no one hears my voice, the retreat will be a dismal failure. If you give the worst talks you’ve ever given, but people actually hear me speak, the retreat will be a roaring success.”

I sensed God invite me to take two days off from any retreat work—half of my limited, remaining prep time—and simply to give “my” retreat to him. The word seemed unwise, irresponsible, and a little crazy.