I’m publishing this podcast on my 20,000th birthday. I’m 20,000 days old today. When I was a young man my mentor encouraged me to “number my days.” Years later he asked me if I’d be willing to speak at his funeral and share about the things I learned in doing so. I’m sorry to say I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, but I’m sharing it with you in this podcast.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
When I was growing up, there still existed a tradition of the grand department store chains having nice restaurants inside the store. In Des Moines, Younkers Department Store was the place to go for both shopping and a nice meal. It was there in the Meadowlark Room that I, at the age of about sixteen, met a mentor for lunch.
I had been fascinated by observing how my mentor seemed to manage his time. He had this really cool little three-ring leather binder to which he constantly referred, making notes with his mechanical pencil and double-checking things written there. I was curious and intrigued about the system he used and how he managed it. So, I asked him to teach me about time management.
What I was looking for was an explanation of the system, the brand of that cool binder with all the daily calendar pages, and the method he used to manage each day. Instead, he told me that the first lesson was to memorize and meditate on Psalm 90:12:
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
He told me that this was the first lesson. It was the foundation. If I didn’t have a spiritual perspective of time, he told me, then the system I used to manage it really wouldn’t matter that much. He then pointed me to a number he’d written at the top of the daily calendar page of his cool binder. I shrugged as I read it. Number had no meaning for me. It was the number of days he’d spent on his earthly journey.
I memorized Psalm 90:12 that day. I got my calculator out. I began keeping track of my days and have been doing so ever since. The simple process has caused me to constantly meditate on time and my life journey. There are a number of spiritual lessons it’s taught me:
This day is not promised to me. There are no guarantees that I will live through this day or that I will survive to see tomorrow. There are averages and odds, but no assurances. I have several specific examples of individuals I’ve known whose journeys unexpectedly ended far sooner than the average or the odds would have dictated. This gives me the day set before me some perspective.
Yesterday is gone. I can’t go back. There are no mulligans on this earthly journey. How I may have wasted and squandered my yesterdays will remain as will the consequences of my actions. Wallowing in shame and sorrow won’t change it, nor will my perpetual attempts to pretend it didn’t happen or somehow keep my mistakes, failures, and foolishness hidden.
This day is a clean slate that sits before me. My thoughts, choices, decisions, and actions will reveal the fruit of my spirit.
Wisdom is required each day to discern the right choices in the constant conflict between that which is desired, that which is necessary, that which is urgent, and that which is important.
Time flies. Today is 19,969. I have a milestone coming up next month. Where have the days gone? Have they counted for anything? If so, how many of them did I spend wisely and how many did I spend foolishly?
Which leads me to the pertinent question:
What am I going to do with day 19,969?
I might share with you tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee it! 😉
By the way, if you’re curious about your days, this website saves a lot of time: https://www.timeanddate.com/
On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, the second-half of my chat with Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We continue to unpack what that means.
Matthew Burch is the founder of Life Leadership in Pella, IA.
On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, we welcome Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We’re going to unpack that notion over the next two Wayfarer Weekend podcasts.
Matthew Burch is the founder of Life Leadership in Pella, IA.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)
I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.
It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.
The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”
There was no immediate answer.
I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”
My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.
“Why do I always do this?” he asked.
Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.
The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.
Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”
And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.
In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.
“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”
“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”
Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.
Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
Proverbs 2:20 (NIV)
There was a client who I was mentoring some time ago. I went into our time together ready to discuss some of the career initiatives we’d been discussing in previous sessions. But before I could even get started the session took an unexpected turn.
My protègè told me that he had to share about a huge shift in his life since the last time we had met together. He had been living hard and fast outside of work with his friends. The effects eventually caught up with him physically, financially, and spiritually. He hit bottom and, like so many of us, found himself at Step One. He admitted that he had become powerless over his behaviors and his life had become unmanageable. He sought help, surrendered his life to Christ, and everything had changed.
As the story continued, he shared some of the lessons he had been learning. Chief among them was a discovery about those who he had long considered his “friends.” For a long time, he had been the one who always picked up the bar tab at the end of the night. Often, he was so drunk that he would wake up the next morning with no idea how much he had spent until he looked at the receipt. Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as he stopped drinking (and paying for the bar tab) his “friends” wanted nothing to do with him.
In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon covers the benefits of wisdom. Of the benefits listed was keeping one free from “wicked men” and the “adulterous woman.” In short, there is wisdom in being careful about the company one keeps and the effect that those companions have on one’s thoughts and behaviors. I am sometimes tempted to think that being influenced by friends with poor motives and peer pressure as something from adolescence. In reality, it’s just as relevant at any age.
The memory of my protègè’s story and Solomon’s words struck me this morning because Wendy and I have recently been discussing some things about my own life. Our discussion prompted me to quickly reach out to a couple of my closest friends and long-time companions with me on this life journey. These are friends who, I know from years of experience, are motivated to want me to be the best man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend that I can be. They each listened empathetically, they both extended grace to me, and they both gave me wise counsel that could be classified as King Solomon approved.
I am blessed to have their company on this sojourn.
In the quiet this morning I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for my protègè who “wised-up” and continues to experience the benefits of positive changes in his life and relationships. I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for my friends past and present who have motivated me to make wise life choices, not foolish ones. And, I find myself whispering a prayer for those I know who have yet to learn the lesson.
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.
Zechariah 3:3 (NIV)
Over the past few years, I’ve been serving as a mentor and coach for individuals in our local gathering of Jesus’ followers who are developing their gifts and abilities as teachers/preachers. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience and it’s a radical paradigm shift for almost anyone who grew up in the institutional, denominational church.
When Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit bestowing spiritual “gifts” on believers (see 1 Corinthians 12-13) for the common good, there are no limits or caveats mentioned regarding age, education, gender, race, or occupation. Spiritual gifts are given to every believer for serving the whole. Everyone is included. No one is exempt. Our local gathering is courageously believing that there are individuals within our midst who are spiritually gifted teachers despite the fact that they have not been institutionally trained as such. Like Paul himself, who worked tirelessly as a tentmaker, the teachers I’ve been privileged to serve over the past few years represent a diverse array of day jobs including diesel mechanic, corporate executive, middle-manager, engineer, non-profit director, IT network specialist, banker, writer, realtor, church staff member, and stay-at-home mom.
The feedback I and fellow team members provide each week is both the identification of a teacher’s strengths as well as opportunities to improve. At last night’s teacher’s meeting, I shared my observation that the most common opportunity for improvement I’ve identified across the broad cross-section of apprentice teachers is our seemingly requisite need to apologize to listeners for what they are about to hear. I’ve heard apologies for lack of ability, knowledge, experience, education, preparation, professionalism, and genetic similarity to the senior pastor. The apology almost always comes out in the opening statements. It takes the form of self-deprecating humor, humble confession, and nervous admission. Yet, I’ve observed that in every humorous, humble, or honest guise, this self-deprecating statement at the start of a message asks something from the listener (empathy, sympathy, mercy), when the teacher’s main role is to give something worthwhile to her or his listeners.
I’ve pondered on this for a long time. I’ve observed that there are two common motivations for this need to self-deprecate. The first reason is the simple fear of public speaking and the terror that comes with imagining yourself saying something wrong, silly, stupid, or offensive. The second reason is more intimate, and it’s the question any worthwhile teacher asks herself/himself in the quiet before she/he steps up in front of a group of listeners: “Who am I?”
I know my tragic flaws, my shortcomings, my hypocrisies, and my secret sins. “Who am I?” I whisper to myself as I’m ready to step up to the podium, “to think I have anything worthwhile to say to these people?” And so, I lead with an apology. I beg my listener’s mercy. Immediately, with that apology, I create unwanted and unnecessary nervousness, anxiety, tension, contempt, mistrust, or outright dismissal within the ranks of my listeners.
In today’s chapter, Zechariah has a vision of the high priest, Joshua. This is part of a series of visions intended to instill confidence and hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s Temple among the exiles living in Persia. Keep in mind the context. It’s been 70 years since the temple was destroyed, and it was abundantly clear from the prophets, like Jeremiah, that the sins of the nation (including the priests) led to their captivity and exile.
In Zech’s vision, Joshua the high-priest stands there in filthy rags (a common, ancient metaphor for being sinful). Satan (the original Hebrew is more specifically translated “The Accuser”) stands next to him. I can easily imagine “the Accuser’s” stream of whispers: “Who are you to think you’re any better than your grandfathers that got them into this mess? Who are you to think you have anything to offer? Who are you to think you can actually restore God’s temple? Do you compare to Solomon?”
In the vision, the Angel of the Lord oversees the removal of Joshua’s filthy rags, and new garments are placed on him. “I’ve taken away your sin,” Joshua is told. “I’ve made a place for you here.” Joshua was called to fulfill God’s purposes despite his weaknesses, flaws, sins, and shortcomings. There is not one person on this planet whom God could call who doesn’t have weaknesses, flaws, sins, and shortcomings.
In the quiet this morning, I’m finding all sorts of encouragement in that word picture for myself and those I serve on the teaching team. I sometimes think that we do such a good job accusing ourselves that we make The Accuser’s job easy. The truth, however, is that since the ascension of Jesus there’s not one person who’s stepped up in front of a group of listeners to share His Message from Paul (murderer, a persecutor of the church) or Peter (who denied Jesus three times) to Martin Luther, John Calvin, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa or Pope Francis who didn’t stand in the darkness of the wings whispering “Who am I?”
“You are my child, my friend, and one whom I love,” I hear Holy Spirit whisper in response. “I’ve forgiven your sin. I’ve made you clean. I have given you a gift and a calling. You are purposed for this. You have something to say.”
“Say it, without apology.”
When I open the ears of my heart to hear, embrace, and embody that message, I grow to become a better teacher.
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
Along my life journey, I have been blessed with a number of people who have invested in me. This morning as I sip my first cup of coffee and mentally travel all the way back to childhood I am recalling them with a smile on my face, and a heart of gratitude. There were family members, teachers, directors, employers, mentors, and pastors. Some were just doing their job, yet in doing so made a significant impact by simply spending some one-on-one time of instruction, encouragement, and wisdom. A few were intentional in going above and beyond to pour themselves into my life.
I was reminded this past week of the most significant spiritual mentor in my life. It wasn’t just me. I was one of many young men whom he poured himself spiritually for decades. At his funeral, the gentleman leading the service (who was, himself, another protégé) asked everyone who had been discipled by our mentor to stand. A small army of men, from their late teens to their early sixties, stood with me.
What reminded me of my mentor this past week was a pint I shared with a young man from our local gathering of Jesus followers. He just returned from a two-week spiritual intensive. He shared with me how the program had been life-changing for him. That program is the legacy of my old mentor, led and run by others who had, like me, been impacted through his mentoring.
In today’s chapter, Paul continues his letter to the young protégé in whom he had poured more of himself than perhaps any other. He starts the chapter by calling Timothy “son,” then tells Timothy to take all that Paul has poured into him and invest himself in passing it on to others who can, in turn, teach it to others.
Individuals taking the Life that’s been invested in them, and investing it in individuals who, in turn, reinvest what they’ve been given into other individuals.
In the quiet of my office, I am once again seeing the faces and names of those who loved me by investing themselves in me and giving me knowledge, wisdom, time, companionship, encouragement, and occasional admonishment. This begs a few questions:
How am I doing at reinvesting what others have invested in me?
In whom am I intentionally investing anything of real value?
the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
2 Corinthians 13:10b (NIV)
Both professionally, and personally, I have done quite a bit of coaching and mentoring of others along my life journey. It is a fascinating process and I have learned a lot about myself and others along the way.
In my professional coaching I am typically hired and tasked with mentoring or coaching a person as part of a corporate initiative. Most often, the person has no choice in the matter and so I must begin the coaching relationship gauging the attitude of my protégé. There’s a pretty wide spectrum of attitudes that I encounter from enthusiasm to outright defiance. The most common attitude I find is a mixture of both curiosity and anxiety. I am aware in our first meeting that my protégé is as actively gauging me and my attitude, as well.
One of the things that I typically try to establish from the beginning of a coaching or mentoring relationship is that my goal is to build-up, encourage, equip, and help the individual both develop and become more successful. The path may incorporate me challenging the individual, and I may need to be uncomfortably direct in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, I always want a protégé to know my positive desire and support for his or her well-being and success. I am always for him or her.
Along the way I’ve discovered that there is only so much that I can do to convince a person of my desire and support. There has to be a willingness to have faith in me and accept me at my word. The mentoring relationship doesn’t always work out. Sometimes my protégé can’t get past their own fear, anxiety, or shame. Sometimes I’ve come to recognize and accept that my protégé doesn’t respond well to me, I don’t respond well to him or her, and that there’s an underlying difference in personality or temperament which we may or may not be able to overcome. Other times, the person in my charge simply isn’t ready to change and/or do the work required to develop.
As Paul finishes his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he recognizes that his tone has been at times harsh and confrontational. Individuals have been speaking out against Paul, questioning his authority, and stirring up dissension among the believers. Paul loves these people. He has been their spiritual mentor for years. The Corinthian believers are his spiritual protégés. As he wraps up his direct and confrontational letter, Paul the mentor reminds his charges of the motivation behind his sometimes direct, challenging words: “for building you up, not tearing you down.”
In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about a conversation Wendy and I had before bed last night. Wendy is an Enneagram Type 8 (“The Challenger”). The truth is that Wendy is an amazing coach of others in her own right. She’s better than me. I’ve observed Wendy, time-and-time-again, helping others reach incredible new levels of development. As the Enneagram Institute puts it, healthy Eights “use their strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.” But, just like Paul with the Corinthian believers, the protégé has to be able to see the positive, “I’m for you!” desire behind the mentor’s challenge or it gets lost in anxious, fear-driven translation and gets misinterpreted as destructive criticism.
Today, I’m inspired to continue developing my skills and abilities as a coach. I’m reminded that I want to be a good protégé when I am challenged by others who are for me.
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses,you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1 (NIV)
Yesterday I was with a young manager my client has asked me to mentor. The manager described a particular conversation they’d had with a peer in another department. The conversation was about some procedural changes that would affect both of their respective teams. The manager described their opposing views and the conflict that arose as the procedural change was not going to be universally popular.
The manager described the conversation and the slow descent they felt themselves falling into as they dug their heels in and felt stubbornness consume them. In that moment there was no possibility of compromise. The manager recognized what had happened, even felt it happening in the moment, but had been unable to stop it. The manager then confessed that this was a deep-seeded, long-recognized pattern of behavior. And, it was not a positive one. They even recognized the source: “That’s my mother!” the manager said.
Along life’s journey it’s become clear to me that old habits die hard for every one of us. If we are to make progress on our journeys, whether personally, emotionally, relationally, and/or spiritually, it will require old habits to pass away and new patterns of thought and behavior to come.
I found today’s chapter in the book of Acts to be an inflection point. Through the first fourteen chapters the explosive and expansive growth of the Jesus Movement had everyone frantically trying to keep up. When systems experience that kind of explosive growth, the system quickly goes into survival mode, setting aside minor and/or complex matters just to address the giant issues that are staring everyone in the face. As equilibrium is found, the long suppressed issues begin to surface. That’s what I see happening in today’s chapter.
The Jesus Movement sprung from the Jewish tribe with its centuries old set of religious and behavioral customs. It was, perhaps, inevitable that some of the Jewish believers were going to want to retain and cling to their Jewish customs. Old habits die hard. In today’s chapter a few of these habitual believers from the Jewish tribe tell a bunch of believers who weren’t from the Jewish tribe that they would have to adopt all of their old habits and customs in order to be a true believer in Jesus. Primary among these old Jewish habits was the rule that all men would have to be circumcised. Yeah, I’m sure that went over like a lead balloon.
So we have conflict brewing between believers from the Jewish tribe and those from non-Jewish (described as “Gentile”) tribes. While Dr. Luke describes a fairly well-mannered meeting of the minds and peaceful solution, Paul’s description of events is different. Paul describes conflict between he and Peter. He describes conflict in the relationship between Peter, believers from the Jewish tribe, and believers from Gentile backgrounds (Read Galatians 2). In Paul’s description, Peter said that he was all for Gentiles not having to adhere to Jewish customs, but then he hypocritically acted with favoritism towards the Jewish believers. Old habits die hard.
Then at the end of the chapter we find Paul and Barnabas in a sharp dispute about whether to take John Mark on their next missionary journey. The argument ends in the two friends and colleagues splitting up. What I observe is that Paul’s behavior and words in these conflicts with Peter and Barnabas don’t reflect the new code of love that Paul himself describes in his letter to the Corinthian believers, but reflects more of the old proud, arrogant, temperamental and fiery Pharisee who persecuted the church. Yep, old habits die hard.
As I wrapped up the mentoring session with my young business protege yesterday we discussed that recognizing negative behaviors and feeling the negative results from them is the first step toward positive change. The manager described the subsequent meeting between managers, their heart-felt apology, and the constructive progress towards compromise that followed. Well done. Old things begin to pass away as new behaviors and habits are formed.
This is a journey and old habits die hard, but I’ve perpetually found that they will eventually change when I surrender myself to Holy Spirit, when I diligently pursue the person I was created to be, and when I make my mission to be a person marked and controlled by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and self-control.
Have a great day, my friend.