I love brainstorming, dreaming and planning for the future. One of the ways that I do this is to regularly plan to time to meet with people who stretch my thinking or who are doing things that I find fascinating. People that can see the possibilities in the midst of a crisis are some of my favorite individuals. They somehow can see what others do not. Where others see confusion, chaos and clutter, they see opportunity, need and solutions. For a long time I assumed this was largely tied to an optimistic view of life versus a pessimistic view and I was determined to hang out with optimists.
While there is some truth to the reality that optimists are often visionary, it is also true that they can be short sighted, overeager and unable to accomplish the things that they dream up. As a result, the people that I most admire are those who are both dreamers and doers. They are a rare combination of a person who can see a preferred future and lead his or her team to accomplish a God given goal. That kind of person is not only inspiring but shows how transformation can actually occur.
I have been reading a lot recently about what motivates people and what leads to a person truly accomplishing outstanding results in the world that we live in today. Two books that came across my radar screen have been particularly insightful – Drive by Daniel Pink and Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. Pink spends time showing the significant disconnect between recent discoveries about what really motivates us and how organizations actually run. He points out that far too many organizations still use a carrot and stick approach to getting the results that they are looking for. His very engaging book points out that three key things lead to real human motivation and outstanding results – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Seligman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent many years studying what really leads to lasting fulfillment. His book unpacks ideas about how focusing on our signature strengths and leading lives driven by virtue and not self-centeredness lead to true happiness.
Interestingly both authors spend time discussing the work of an influential psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who first started talking about the concept of “flow” in the 1970’s. Pink describes flow as that state of being where “people live so deeply in the moment, and feel so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place and even “self” melted away.” For evangelicals this idea may have been best expressed in the movie Chariots of Fire when the runner and missionary, Eric Liddell exclaims, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” It is that experience you have when you are really “in the zone” and lose track of time while working on something meaningful.
The truth is that many of do not have enough of those moments. In fact, it is all too common that we live lives driven by the expectations of others and motivated by a “to do” list. Only in our spare time or when we can focus on a hobby do we get to experience anything that feels like the concept of flow described above. Ironically, the apostle John seems to speak to this very issue when he wrote that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Somehow, I don’t think that God wants us to simply “grin and bear it” through life or simply “gut it out”. He is calling us to something so much more exciting. He beckons us to a life where every day we can know His presence and experience His pleasure in the vocation that He has called us to – whatever that might be. For me, that took a long time to fully understand. In my early twenties, I thought that getting the right education, marrying the right partner and getting the right job would be ultimately fulfilling. Somehow though, it was not until I surrendered control over my vocational aspirations, that I ever experienced flow on a regular basis. My friends thought I was crazy for leaving a good paying and satisfying career in corporate America to join a missions organization that required me to raise my own financial support. There were days early in my tenure with CLC that I wondered the same thing. Then it happened – I discovered what God made me to do.
I had been working in the local CLC Bookstore for a few weeks getting frustrated by what I deemed to be outdated methods of doing business. Nothing seemed to be done in a way that I thought made the most sense. Worst of all, I had no real authority to change anything or at least I thought so. In a moment of despair, I cried out to the Lord and He answered my prayer. He made it clear that my only obligation at that stage of my life was to serve His people and to serve them well. I stopped worrying so much about being in control and started listening to the needs of the people coming into the store each day. As I helped one person at a time find the resources they needed, I realized that for some people this experience of finding wisdom in the books we had in stock was like finding a drink of cold water after walking through a desert for days on end. For others, they just needed a sympathetic ear and someone to pray with. In almost every case, I realized that by simply serving I was witnessing life transformation take place in front of my very own eyes. Serving God’s people was why He made me and nothing could have been more motivating.