If you are too busy, you may be lost

By Rick James

‘A busy person is not so much active as lost’

I was taken aback when I read these words by Ruth Haley Barton. After all being busy is a badge of honour in many of our cultures. If we are not busy, then we think we must be wasting our time.

Yet being too busy may not be God’s will for our lives. It may indeed reveal that we are lost – not really sure what God wants us to do. So we end up doing too much. We may find it hard to say no when people ask us to do things. We may need to overcome the insidious thought that ‘only I can do this well enough’. All of us have human limits. We cannot serve everyone. We cannot increase our time. None of us has super human powers to avoid the need for rest. We all need to make quality time for our relationship with God. A survey of 20,000 Christians worldwide revealed that 65% rushed from task to task in a way that interferes with their relationship with God.

Even Jesus did not respond to every need. Luke 5:16 describes how he often took himself off on his own to lonely places, even when people were looking for him to heal them.

This week:
• Where do we need to say ‘no’?
• How can we make more quality time for God?

The extraordinary power of gratitude

By Rick James

This week I listened to a fascinating talk by Professor Kim Cameron from University of Michigan. He was talking about his 15 years’ experience researching the power of virtuous practices in organisations. In his MBA classes he asked one group to note down in a journal each evening two or three things they were grateful for that day. He got another group to note down frustrations. Using a rigorous initial baseline, at the end of each term he could measure a detectable difference in health, academic performance, creativity and mental flexibility. People became healthier and smarter. He mentioned numerous studies as varied as ones with heart patients and with the US military that found exactly the same things. One study even demonstrated that grateful people live on average 13 years longer!

Having a grateful attitude, literally counting our blessings each day, makes a huge and practical difference. No wonder the Bible encourages us to be thankful. Just like plants, we are made to grow towards the light, to what gives us life.

Take a moment and look back on 2018, what three things are you most grateful for?
What can you do to make a habit of counting your blessings every day? Make this is a New Years’ Resolution – it could change your life!

The Interruptions are your work

I hate being interrupted when I am doing something. I like to be able to focus single- mindedly on the task in hand. But I remember having one of those ‘Ah ha’ moments when I read Henri Nouwen’s book, ‘Turn my mourning into dancing’. He relates:

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.

When you stop and think about it, many of Jesus’ miracles were interruptions. In Mark 5: 21-34 Jesus was interrupted twice, once by Jairus who needed Jesus to stop what he was doing and come and heal his teenage daughter. And then on his way to see her, a woman who had been haemorrhaging for 12 years touched Jesus robe and interrupted him again…

What if we saw interruptions as the real purpose of our lives? What if we saw them as a gift – an opportunity to be open to what God would have us do in that moment?

This week:

  • Let’s be more ready to be interrupted and approach them in a more positive and creative way.

Taking responsiblity to change

Change only occurs when someone, somewhere takes responsibility for a situation. Kurt Lewin, the father of organisational change theories, pointed out more than fifty years ago that the first stage in change involved ‘induced anxiety or guilt – a realisation that I am in some way responsible’. Instead of externalising blame onto other people, they realise that they are in some way responsible and that they can do something about it. Perhaps then I should not be so surprised that the OD exercise that has had the biggest impact on the organisations I work with is simply when I stop and ask people to answer:

  • How have I contributed to this situation which I complain about?

I tend to send people away on their own to prayerfully listen to God about how they have contributed to a situation. In dealing with hurt and frustrations it is important to get people out of a ‘blamestorming’ attitude. It allows God to bring conviction, not people to condemn each other. I have often found that changing people’s physical environment helps in this, suggesting they listen to God while going for a walk or sitting outside. The key is to create a safe space to consider the question in a meaningful way.

This week:

  • If we look at our own lives, where are we blaming others for a situation?
  • Let’s stop and ask ourselves: ‘How have I contributed to this?’

Looking to see what God is doing

We hope you have had a restorative and life-giving last couple of months, while Space for Grace has been on holiday!

I’ve been noticing recently how many of my prayers seem to start with the words “Help”. I’m usually praying for God to sort out difficult human situations. But this week I’ve been thinking about that amazing story in 2 Kings 6, where Elisha’s servant wakes up to find them surrounded by a ‘strong force of horses and chariots’ sent by the King of Aram to capture them. Not surprisingly, he panics. I assume that Elisha will then pray for God to rescue them. But instead he simply prays for his servant “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see”. Elisha already sees. God reveals to the servant the hills full of a much greater force of horses and chariots of fire.

As a leader, Elisha responded to his servant’s fear by praying for him to see the situation from God’s perspective. There is a spiritual element in the battles we face and God is involved and active. In difficult times at work, it may not be possible to give staff certainty about what exactly is going to happen, but we can be certain that God is present in the midst of it all. When facing a seemingly impossible challenge we first need to look intentionally and prayerfully to see what God is doing.

  • What can I take from Elisha’s example into my week ahead?
  • What difficult situations can I ask God to open my eyes and reveal what He is doing?

Creating some space to untangle my identity

I get so frustrated with how easily my identity gets tangled up in my work. I should know better, after all I teach this to others. Yet I still find myself inadvertently looking for my sense of significance from my job. I have to work hard to discipline my thoughts, to remind myself that my sense of who I am is based on being a child of God – something that is an underserved gift, not something I have earned.

I find it helpful to regularly re-read Henri Nouwen’s little book ‘In the Name of Jesus’ which reflects powerfully on the temptations of Jesus and what they teach us about Christian leadership.

I also find it helpful to create some space to explore prayerfully my real motivations for doing things. It helps me re-align what I’m doing with my sense of God’s calling. It sometimes means I have to exit as gracefully as I can from responsibilities that are no longer mine to carry (and perhaps never were!)

Why not take some time over the next couple of months (as Space for Grace takes its own annual break) to reassess, to listen to God and discern:

  • Where am I currently getting my sense of significance?
  • What are the next steps in my journey with God?
  • What do I need to let go of to make that happen?

The heart of change

By Rick James

We know from our own personal lives that change is fundamentally an emotional process. Any change, even the most positive, has an element of loss and letting go as well as the excitement and hope for the future. Emotions are the vital fuel for change, when things get tough. I read somewhere that 80% of change is emotional, not rational.

Yet, so often we forget this when we walk through the office door. We foolish behave as if brute logic alone was enough. Bill’s story last week from the Mothers’ Union in South Africa illustrated beautifully and powerfully how it is emotion and spirit that bring personal and organisational transformation.

As we look to contribute to positive change at work this week, what could we do to better connect with the inherently emotional and spiritual elements of change?

Character is the real safeguard

In the last month the UK media has focussed an obsessive and unrelenting spotlight on the mis-behaviour of leaders in two of the largest international NGOs, Oxfam and Save the Children. Ignoring the 99% of the good work these agencies do, people are outraged by individuals failing to live up to their organisation’s values.

We shouldn’t be surprised by such human failing. After all the church has more than its fair share of appalling examples of financial corruption, sexual abuse and the misuse of power. As Christians we are far from immune from such temptations.

What is the answer? There is certainly a role for the standard systems-based responses, such as implementing ‘safeguarding policies’. But we know people by-pass policies. To get to root causes we need to go deeper – to address the human condition. With God’s presence, we need to face the flaws in our own character, so that we can withstand temptation and live out our aspired values.

So as Christian organisations, instead of building bigger, we should be digging deeper. Instead of focusing on growth, we should cultivate the vital virtues of humility, generosity, forgiveness, courage and self-discipline.

  • What one thing could you do this week in your organisation to cultivate such holy virtues?


A weird wake-up call

A strange thing happened to me last week. I’d just finished talking to a student group in Oxford together with my wife, when my short-term memory suddenly disappeared, like a forgotten dream. I had no idea where I was or why or where we were going next. After an emergency brain scan in hospital, it turned out to be a harmless, one-off event called Transient Global Amnesia. After a few days rest and lots of sleep, I feel back to normal.

But I’ve realised how fragile we are, how much we take for granted. We are indeed ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. I tend to live life assuming ‘it will never happen to me’, with almost an illusion of immortality. Hopefully I’ve learned this is not the case.

So this week I’m trying to treat life as a gift – new every day. Rather than simply concentrating on the endless to-do list, I’m trying (though still failing!) to focus more on what really matters, on what will have lasting significance. This is probably more about relationships, the lives I touch, than the relentless tasks.

Think for a moment:

  • Whose lives will you touch this week?
  • What will they be left with after spending time with you?

Shaped by grace?

By Rick James

Grace is at the core of my faith. But is it at the core of the way I live? Does it really affect how I behave at work? I don’t think grace has even been used to describe my contribution or performance in any annual appraisal. And yet I believe we are called to be ‘stewards of grace’ (1 Pet 4:10) at work.

Grace is the distinctive feature of our faith. As Desmond Tutu wrote: ‘I preached my only sermon – that God loves us freely as an act of grace’. Grace is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. It is what should set Christian organisations apart from all others.

Yet grace does not fit easily with our current approaches to management. It’s counter-cultural, even scandalous. It’s often misunderstood and misused. Grace should not be an excuse for sweeping important stuff under the carpet. It is about dealing with openly and honestly and honestly with the human condition. Grace is radical and transforming.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if grace characterised our organisational cultures? Our leadership? The ways we relate to partners? Our theories of change? Our office culture?

It starts with you and me. This week think about:

  • How are you being shaped by grace at the moment?
  • What opportunities do you have to be a steward of radical grace?