Sharpen Your Iron

“We are only as strong as our weakest link” goes the old saying. As a team, you cannot be strong if one of the team members is weak. When I started in the fire service, my first training officer established a great foundation for me to constantly be a learner. I’ve spent the past 33 years living by that advice. I’ve studied learning organizations, failure tolerant leadership, employee development, training and education, building up others but most importantly; I’ve learned to be adaptive. A person whom I have great respect for told me that he appreciated my “modern and progressive thinking”. I found this funny because I have always believed that I was more of an “old dog” or pretty traditional in my thinking. For those of you that know me, I bet I’m not far off.

I’m working on a project right now that has put me face to face with some true “old dogs”. They have not adapted to the changing work force nor the advancements being made in municipal government. It’s easy to see how this happened to them given their self-imposed isolation. I’ve always believed that if we’ve trained and educated our people to take over for us, that we’ve done the right thing. This particular leadership team feels that if the workforce is smarter than they are, chaos will breakout. They live the mantra “knowledge is power”. Individually, this might work in the short-term but organizationally; it is the direct path to failure. I challenge every reader to reflect on how you treat co-workers, subordinates and industry peers in terms of knowledge sharing. Are you sharpening your iron using the backs of others as your grinding stone or are you sharpening your iron in conjunction with others?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Stated in a more simpler fashion – when you share your learning of the Word with another; both of you increase in wisdom. Bible verses speak to each of us differently or they invoke different emotional responses from each person reading it. I guess that is what I hope to share with these weekly devotions. Maybe you read these and can relate to something in your own life or maybe I actually write something that opens a new point of view for you. I grow every time I write and I hope you grow in reading it.

God never wanted His word kept private or used by “only a few chosen ones”. Jesus didn’t seek disciples from the Elders, he chose simple “every day” men to follow Him and learn God’s teachings. God used Saul, a persecutor, to teach the Word. Saul was spoken to by God, given wisdom and then shared it with everyone. We read his letters today as St. Paul. He sharpened generations of believers by sharing his learning of the Word. What ripple can you start by simply sharing your learning of the Word? The knowledge is power mantra when it comes to learning and understanding the Word of God, is not power at all. The Pharisees believed they had the power because they had the knowledge but Jesus called them hypocrites. In the end, they really knew little about God’s grace and our place with Him in eternity through Jesus Christ as our savior. Stay sharp!

Move on

“I’ll never forgive them for what they did to me!” Have you ever uttered these words? They say trust is hard to build and easy to lose. We have all experienced that. How easily all of our good work, extra hours and overtime are erased when we make one mistake. Years of trust are wiped out – in both directions. We no longer trust those that lead and they have weakened trust in us. When does the erosion stop? We must have some faith and hope that our leaders will return to a sensible state and we move forward. We followed them for a reason or we wouldn’t care what they thought of us. If we are simply following them because they sign our paycheck, then our relationship is not affected when we disappoint them. However, being thankful for our job and working at our best is something we do for our families, or ourselves not for the leaderless boss. Take your “oops” and turn it into a learning experience. Find your mentor, confidant or peer who will help you learn. Sometimes these experiences are gifts from others, wrapped in ugly paper – yes, but a gift nonetheless. In all situations that go bad, we share the blame; so make the make the most of it.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you for your sins.” Mark 11:25

Forgiving someone is one of the hardest things we will do in our lives. It’s easy to do when the circumstances are minor, like not being able to go the movies. It is a little harder when someone we care about humiliates us, talks badly of us or commits a “wrong” in some way that affects us. We hear about family members forgiving a murderer or thief and most of us wonder, “How can they do that?” Our Father has forgiven us for the things that we do or when we steal time from Him. He knew we needed help in learning about forgiveness, so he sent His Son to us not only as a Savior for our sins but to give us an example to follow. Jesus showed us how to forgive; we just need to be reminded. Forgive and move on; life on earth is too short to carry around the weight of unforgiven issues.

Not Lacking a Single Thing

God blesses us every day and I would bet that we often don’t realize it. We live in an amazing time from a technological standpoint. Every thing you want to know is at your fingertips. Have you ever considered your job a gift from God? Many people are dissatisfied at work. There is a shift occurring between how people look at their vocations – as a career or a job. The new saying of the Millennial generation is “work to live” compared to the Baby Boomers who “lived to work”. As the TV commercial asks, when did leaving on time become a bad thing? The younger generations are still working hard, doing great things and solving problems, much like generations of the past but they are just doing it in a completely different way.

Regardless of your profession or vocation, you serve a purpose. We all are needed no matter where we work or what we do. We all want to feel that our work matters. Generations can collide in the workforce and the results are often low morale. When morale is low, employees feel less like their work matters and more like they serve no real purpose. Leaders must keep up with the changing needs of their employees and constantly adapt their styles. It’s not up to the employees to adapt to the leadership. It is a difficult challenge but one we all have been equipped to deal with, whether we are a co-worker or a supervisor, all of us matter.

“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands… The Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” Deuteronomy 2:7

How has God blessed you in all the work of your hands? Maybe He put people in your life to show you the glory of His name. Or people to teach and mentor you in your vocation so that you feel purposeful. Your talents were developed and used in just the right way so that you and your company benefited from the experience. Have you ever wondered why these people just seemed to be around at just the right time?

Many times people will say “it was a stroke of luck that I was assigned to that project, without it I would never had gained enough experience to be considered for the promotion.” We should really be thanking God for that experience; it was His way of ensuring that we didn’t lack anything. Have you thanked God for what He has done for you lately? Our Father would like to hear it from His children; this is not the time to think “He knows”. God should not feel “lonely at the top” because we stop recognizing Him for all that He has done. The people who have influenced our lives and the leaders we follow rarely hear from us about how much we appreciate what they have done. Don’t leave God off that list. God has surely blessed us with this work of our hands, be sure to thank Him for those blessings.

The right path

I’ve spent the past few weeks talking to friends about, “what does living really mean?” It seems that everywhere we turn, there is someone dying young or getting very sick just after retiring. I good friend said that no where but in America do people save their whole lives, work until they are too old to enjoy their savings and skip the best parts of life while they are capable of enjoying it. There is a TV commercial that starts with the phrase “when did leaving work on time become a bad thing?”

Despite all of our desires, we can’t chart our own course through life. My life was planned out through age 59 – a secure career, a strong financial plan, a pension when I retired and good health. At age 44 my career was over and my financial future was uncertain. Injured in freak accident at work, I would have major surgery and have to find employment with a mild disability and put two kids through college. I was NOT in control of anything. Once I put my faith in God, people started entering my life and new connections were being formed. Soon, I was working in a new field and expanding my view of “work”. Like a tree growing and spreading its roots, soon my life was filled with great opportunities, great people and options. I was not directing my steps and I’ve stopped planning everything. This brings me back to the opening of paragraph; we can’t plan for everything so perhaps we should be taking advantage of the things that are right in front of us.

Jeremiah 10:23 “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, it is not for a man to direct his steps.”

I biggest thing that I learned from my life being turned upside down was that I was not in control. I often write about God’s plan and I have personally experienced it. This life is God’s will; the beginning and the end are decided by Him. “It is not for man to direct his steps” is today’s verse that God reminds us that He is ordering the events of our lives and not us.

The moment when we start thinking that we are in control, is when we start to get lost. Our lives are not our own because we are here to serve each other and give all of the glory to God for His work in and through us. Focus on serving the Lord and do His will by letting Him direct your steps. Lead others by providing a good example of how to care for each other. Be the “middle man” and care for everyone around you; it’s a test of your faith and I assure you that it isn’t hard to do.