I spent the first thirteen years of my career in sales and marketing. My role was clear: Produce and you'll be rewarded. Don't produce and you're gone! People loved me when I produced. I received praise, financial rewards, and promotions. However, this "love" was very conditional. The same people who loved me when I produced rejected me when I didn't. When sales were down and revenue projections didn't meet the expectations of management, I was fired.
I approached my relationship with God in a similar way. As a streetwise Jewish kid from New York, I learned to be very good at facilitating win-win partnerships. I would provide a benefit to my business partner, and he would provide a benefit to me. That's how I called on God-like a part-time consultant. I called on Him when I needed Him, and when things got better and I was out of danger, I dismissed Him because I didn't need Him.
Then, in 1991, I developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Although Christ saved me for eternity, two things got in the way of my experiencing the love, peace, and joy He promises. First, I simply couldn't understand the concept of unconditional love. To be accepted for who I was without earning favor was a foreign concept. I had spent my whole life "doing something to get something." Therefore, I tried to please God the only way I knew-by producing. I used my business outcomes as a measuring stick to show God I was worthy to be on His team. Deep down, however, I felt an underlying fear of falling short of God's performance standards. As before, I feared that if I didn't produce, I would get a "pink slip" from God telling me I was fired. I worked hard for God-but I didn't understand what it meant to work with Him.
Second, I wasn't able to relinquish total control of my life to Him. Surrender was negative. Surrender meant being defeated, being weak, being a loser. More important, it meant giving up control of my life, and I simply couldn't risk that. Total trust in God with no safety net? No way! I'd settle for a part-time relationship.
THE ISSUE: WE MISUNDERSTAND OUR PARTNERSHIP
I didn't understand then that God asks us to surrender control of our lives so He can give us better lives in exchange. He Himself is the gift. Our gift to Him is to take charge of the life He has given each of us-to truly live. Understanding this partnership and the role we play is crucial toward experiencing genuine success. But how we come to understand this role sometimes means going down a difficult path.
"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
"Time-Out": Keith Fahnhorst-Offensive Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
It was 6:00 P.M., fifteen hours after he arrived at the hospital. Keith nervously sat in his hospital room with his wife and three daughters, hoping to hear that the kidney he had been anticipating for so long was a good match. When the doctor finally walked in and said, "I'm sorry, but the kidney doesn't look as good as we had hoped," Keith's wife's reaction was stunned silence. His daughters burst into tears. "I was devastated," Keith recalled. "I started doubting that I would ever find a new kidney. I was scared to death of dialysis. I dreaded the thought of being hooked up to a machine and living like that."
Keith Fahnhorst, a fourteen-year offensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers, had achieved in life what most men dream about: playing and winning the Super Bowl, not once, but twice-in 1982 and 1985. At six feet six inches and 280 pounds, Keith used his strength and ability to knock down obstacles, especially any opposing defensive player who stood in his way. He was the epitome of power, success, and control.
Keith believed in God, but his prayers had always reflected reliance on himself rather than on God. "Before every game I would pray, 'Take care of my girls, and I'll take care of things down here,' " said Keith. "I thought that's the way things had to be. I could pray for others but could never ask God to help me." In a hospital room, surrounded by doubt and fear, Keith had come to a place where he couldn't tackle the competition. He could no longer rely only on his abilities to get the job done.
Degenerative kidney disease. It squarely confronted Keith with the two issues that had nagged him his whole life: his need to be in control and his inability to ask for help. "I always thought I was in control, but this time I knew differently. Waiting for a donor kidney while you watch your health rapidly deteriorate is a helpless feeling. You definitely know you're out of control," he explained.
Growing up poor, Keith said, "I always felt like 'the wolf was at the door.' I had this insecurity that something bad was going to happen, so I did whatever I could to prevent that. Even after the Super Bowl, it was, 'What's next? How can I top this? How can I stay on top of my game with all new talent coming on board each year? There has to be something else. I need to accomplish more.' " No amount of success could tame "the wolf at the door." After Keith retired, he recalled asking his wife, Sue, "Will you still love me?" The more Keith depended on his own strength, the more insecure he became. Insecurities stood before him like linemen, waiting to be tackled every day.
Now faced with a life-and-death need for a kidney, Keith still had trouble asking for help. Doctors told him that the first place to look for a kidney donor was his own family. "I didn't know how to ask a family member, and I wouldn't," Keith explained. A close friend who hosted a local sports radio show offered to have Keith on his show to help him in his search for a kidney. Still Keith couldn't show any vulnerability. Keith said, "When I was on the radio, I would say, 'People like me need your help.' I couldn't bring myself to say, 'I need your help.'"
Keith was in unfamiliar territory. He was in need of help, but didn't have the ability to earn it. From his childhood in a dysfunctional family to his football career to his post-football career as a financial consultant, Keith understood only the concept of conditional love. He believed he had to do something to earn success, financial security, or love. Now he had nothing to give in return. Even under these most desperate circumstances, he felt he couldn't ask God for help: "I knew I needed the Lord's help, but I just couldn't ask. Even if I could ask, I didn't know how to ask." So Keith waited in fear as his condition worsened with each passing day. Faithfully, however, God continued to work His plan for Keith's life.
Keith's cell phone rang, and almost before he could say, "Hello," he heard his wife's excitement on the other end. "Did you hear from the donor? Did your donor call?" Sue asked him. Keith could hardly believe that, again, a possible donor might await him.
"Who do you think it is?" he asked her. Sue answered, "A guy named Apham called."
Keith was in shock. He had met a man named Apham Nnaji once at a Bible study many months earlier. But he was a complete stranger. Keith told Sue, "Apham wouldn't be the donor. He must be calling for some other reason." Keith glanced at his phone, which showed he had a call waiting. He quickly ended his conversation with Sue and picked up the other call.
The man on the phone stated, "I would like to give you one of my kidneys." It was Apham.
"I didn't know how to respond to him," recalled Keith. "I thanked him a couple of times, but to be honest, it was impossible for me to thank him. How can you thank someone for this? As we were talking, I was thinking, Why would you do this for me? But I didn't ask him, for fear he would change his mind. As a matter of fact, after we got off the phone, I called him back and asked him, 'You weren't bull*&%ing me, were you?' " Apham assured him that the offer was real.
Keith's surgery was scheduled for the next week. Keith and Sue Fahnhorst and Apham and Janel Nnaji arranged to meet each other over dinner. As the dinner date approached, Keith and Sue had second thoughts. Keith explained, "We were nervous wrecks going to the dinner. We were thinking, What if we offend Apham or Janel? What if he changes his mind? We don't know this guy. What if he wants money?"
Within five minutes of their introductions to Apham and Janel, Keith and Sue's fears were alleviated. Keith recalled thinking, Oh, my God, this is the real thing! He's doing this from his heart! As Keith and Sue drove from the dinner crying joyful tears, both wondered aloud, "How can we be so blessed? How can Apham be what he is?"
On a cold and cloudy Thursday morning in February 2002, Dr. John Najarian and a team of surgeons from the University of Minnesota successfully transplanted one of Apham's healthy kidneys. Today Keith's life is restored, the result of the sacrificial gift of another. "My physical well-being has dramatically improved, but that isn't the blessing," he explained. "I now know that there is one Being in control, and that is the Lord. That's the bottom line. I still feel insecure at times about the future, but I feel secure knowing the Lord is looking after me."
But it seemed there was more to this story, and Keith couldn't answer the question that wouldn't go away: "Why would a stranger risk his own life to save the life of another man?" I met with Apham to find the answer-and to hear another story of God's love.
"The Perfect Match": Apham Nnaji
Apham Nnaji grew up in Enugu, Nigeria, and became a newscaster. Frustrated with the corruption and censorship in Nigeria, he came to the United States in 1991 to seek a better life for his family. As Apham recalled, "I was motivated by money. When you grow up with nine brothers and sisters in a poor country like Nigeria, you're motivated." He eventually settled into a sales position working for a communications company. Still, his passion was to help the Nigerian people. He wanted to start a Christian radio station in Nigeria and decided to seek financial support to help his cause. Through his connections at work, he learned about a group of business executives who met regularly for Bible study and fellowship. He arranged to meet with the group so he could give a presentation and solicit their financial help.
At that meeting, Apham briefly met Keith Fahnhorst. "I was sitting across the table from this guy," recalled Apham, "and was blinded by the reflection of his ring. It turns out it was a Super Bowl ring. We had a brief conversation. I told him I was a Raiders' fan but wouldn't hold it against him."
Instead of an offer of financial help, the fellowship group asked Apham to join their Bible study. Apham said, "I was totally disappointed. I was looking for financial help, not to be a part of the group."
However, an incident soon thereafter changed his mind. He explained, "I was in an accident in which I was falsely accused of threatening someone with a gun. I had to make a court appearance to plead my innocence, and most of the members of the fellowship group came down to support me. I thought, Wow, they just met me, but they really care."
Apham visited Nigeria on a fact-finding mission. Upon returning to the fellowship group to report his findings, he noticed Keith was missing. When he asked about "the guy with the ring," he was surprised to learn that Keith was very ill and needed a kidney. Many members were being tested to see if they could donate a kidney. Apham remembered thinking there was no way he would ever donate an organ. In fact, one of the biggest fights he had ever had was over this very issue.
"I remember having this big fight with Janel," he recalled. "We were getting our driver's licenses, and there was a place where you can agree to donate an organ if something happened to you. I was very much against it on religious grounds. I felt when God calls you, you go with everything that's yours."
Time passed, but Apham couldn't get Keith's need out of his head: "It kept gnawing at my mind. For whatever reason, I kept thinking about it. Finally, I thought, Just go get tested. Give it a shot. Then you can say at least you tried." So Apham went to the University of Minnesota to be tested. He recalled the relief he felt leaving the hospital: "Great, I got this monkey off my back. He's white. I'm black. We'll never be a match, and I don't have to worry about this anymore."
Then he got the call. He was a perfect match! "I was in shock!" said Apham. "I remember thinking, What did I get myself into? What am I going to do?"
At the same time, his company was going through major layoffs. Apham was in turmoil. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to keep his job. Donating a kidney meant being out of work for three to four months. How could he afford to take such a huge financial- and medical-risk.
Apham searched for answers. He went to his spiritual mentors, family, and friends. In the end, he realized only one source had the answer to his dilemma. Apham prayed, "Lord, if You want me to do this, You're going to have to show me the way. Lord, what am I going to do? Please show me the way!"
Less than two weeks later, Apham was laid off from his job. His response? "If this isn't the Lord answering prayer, I don't know what is." Apham explained, "I saw my layoff as a sign from God, which said, 'Now you don't have any reason not to do this.'"
Calling Keith, he said, "I would like to donate one of my kidneys. I just got laid off, so we might as well get this done."
If God's love were conditional, given to us only when we do good things for Him, then Apham would have scored major points. We would think, Surely, God will reward him for his sacrificial giving. Perhaps we would expect Apham's life to be overwhelmed with peace, joy, riches, and security. In reality, despite Apham's decision and obedience, he was about to embark on one of the most difficult periods in his life.
After the surgery, Apham's wife informed him that she was pregnant. For the next several months, Apham's job search was met with one rejection after another. Then Janel developed complications that required her to be on strict bed rest for seventeen weeks. Nine months of difficulty put Apham in a serious financial and personal situation. His money was depleted. His wife was bedfast. In addition to caring for Janel, he took care of their two-year-old son, and he worried about the health of the new baby. Apham spun into a dark place, doubting his decision-and his faith. He earnestly asked God, "Lord, am I being punished for my decision?" At first glance, it appears that God's love is arbitrary-even unfair.
One man risks his life and gives from the heart only to deal with nine months of hardship. Another man seemingly does nothing, doesn't even ask God for help, yet is blessed with a kidney that saves his life. But first glances can be deceiving.
As I dug deeper, I discovered that Keith and Apham received exactly what they needed: an assurance that God passionately and personally loved them, regardless of what they did or didn't do. These men have grasped the reality that nothing can separate them from-or allow them to earn-the love of God. It is a gift, freely given, freely received. They learned to trust God even when life didn't make sense.
Apham did get a job, and as life would have it, three days later Janel gave birth to a healthy, beautiful girl. As Apham reviewed what seemed to be the worst year of his life, he came to the startling realization that it was really his best year. "It was a huge lesson in trusting God-believing that He has your best interests at heart," he told me. Apham's wife agrees. She calls this experience "a gift from God."
Jesus describes our partnership with God: "All I have is yours, and all you have is mine" ( John 17:10). Instead of a business partnership based on performance and conditional love, we have a winwin- win, or win3, partnership with God. What is win3? A win3 partnership is a dynamic, growing relationship between you and the Lord. Undergirded in God's unconditional love, the partnership overflows with blessings for you, God, and others around you, or win3.
"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
Let's take a look at how this partnership works. First, God has provided you with the greatest gift of all, Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit. God gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, so that He can live in you, teach you, guide you, and empower you to overcome any obstacle in your way. Further, God has given you the unique talents and gifts you need in order to succeed. Even at your weakest moments, when you think there's no way out, God is working powerfully to help you. God's grace is always there for you at your point of greatest need.
"Grace is God's measureless provision meeting us at our point of immeasurable need." (Monty Sholund, Founder, Village Schools of the Bible)
Second, your gift to God is simple: Accept His gifts. Utilize His gifts to become the success He designed you to be. Live a life of abundance, experiencing love, peace, and joy, regardless of the circumstances surrounding you. Did you know that you bring God pleasure? We were created for His pleasure, and God delights in lives lived for His purpose and glory.
I remember being at a retreat when I felt so blessed by God that I prayed, "Lord, how can I thank You for all Your blessings?" I sensed His response: "Quit worrying and boldly live the life I gave you!" What a profound revelation that was for me! We bring God pleasure when we gratefully accept and appreciate the gifts He's given us. Sadly, too many miss this great truth. I know many people who are "saved," yet live their lives by default, never fully experiencing an abundant life here on earth. By seeking and trusting God, we become the successful leaders He designed us to be.
Third, while you certainly benefit from your partnership with God, ultimately, life isn't only about you. You're called to make a difference in the world. Although the size of your "world" may vary from your next-door neighbor's, you're called to serve others, not out of obligation, but out of genuine love. When you live a life of significance, you affect others. As you naturally develop the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control-they overflow to those around you. As you live in partnership with God, you make a difference in other people's lives at home, at work, and in your community. You leave a legacy. You make the world a better place.
Your Unique Call
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last." ( John 15:16)
The least motivating statement I've ever heard came from my high school guidance counselor. She said, "Larry, you're a good, average student, and I'm sure you will fit into society very well." I don't fault her for her statement. She thought she was doing her job by heading me toward a career. However, her view reflected society's expectations: go to school, graduate from high school, go to college, pick a career, start a career, get married, have 2.5 kids, work your way up the ladder, become a contributing citizen, retire, play golf, then die. Maybe that's not so bad, but something is missing. This paradigm is only about fulfilling society's expectations of living, success, work, and family. It includes nothing about being uniquely called by God.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." ( Jer. 1:5)
As a speaker and facilitator, I've met thousands of people from assembly line employees to CEOs, and I am amazed at their differences. Each one has unique strengths, weaknesses, talents, communication style, learning style, and background. Even so, society loves to put people in boxes with labels. We are black, white, Republicans, Democrats, educated, uneducated, employed, unemployed, underemployed, and so on.
God relates to each of us in an individual way. He knows how to best teach and prepare each person for His purpose. For those of us who are type A, highly driven, control-oriented people, He may teach us in a way that requires us to surrender our prerogatives. For those who are always "on the go," He may simply say, "Be still and know that I am God." For those cautious types who are good at surrender but have difficulty taking charge, He may say, "Arise, let's go!" God calls each of us in very unique and often unexpected ways. Rather than fitting God into our plans, we must learn to be open to understanding the role God wants each of us to play in His plan.
God at Work
God is at work in you wherever you go. He is with you at work, at home, and in all of your endeavors. Your partnership with God is not a part-time pursuit; it is a full-time, 24/7 relationship. Your work should be a natural expression of your partnership with God, making you a better businessperson, parent, spouse, and friend.
"Work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is or it should be, the full expression of the worker's faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God." -Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos
If you follow God's guidance for your work and life, you will be successful God's way. Not only will you experience the fruit of the Spirit- love, peace, and joy-you will yield fruit by making a difference in others' lives. If you check God at the door of your business, you will succumb to the business rules that undermine the success God has planned for you. The bottom line will take precedence, you will be constantly battling the urgent demands that require attention, and it will never be enough. Equally, if you check God at the door when you come home, you will succumb to the pressures of home, falling into the busyness of family life but not nurturing the underlying love that makes a family grow. When you go it alone, the result is that you will succumb to the world's pressure to be a "success," and it will never be enough. You will become burned out and ineffective. When God is your partner, you follow a higher set of standards, providing excellence in all you do. It becomes a form of worship. Your workmanship will be worthy of God's signature, and the service you provide will be not only for the customer, but also for the pure love of serving others. God provides guidelines, not deadlines. He provides a way to enjoy your work and life rather than racing from task to task.
The Partnership: Roles, Responsibilities, and Expectations
We often have trouble understanding and applying our partnership with God. Some of us are take-charge, in-control folks. We tend to run ahead of God, doing a lot of things, but often we aren't in alignment with God. Alternately, some of us believe we are helpless and powerless. We claim "the Lord will provide," then we sit idly waiting for God to get the job done. What is the right balance? When do we surrender control and when do we take charge?
Think about Apham's struggle when he heard God's prompting to take action. We're often asked to take a leap of faith, even when the decision or action goes against the grain of personal or business logic. Keith's situation, however, is an example of the times when life throws a curveball, when we're hit with something we can't handle on our own. Like Keith, we need to relinquish our control to God and allow Him to carry us.
You need to ask, "What role do I play in my partnership with God? What does God expect of me? What is God's role?" The balancing act is interesting. It comes down to the answers to these questions: What is my responsibility? What is God's? At the core of every relationship is dynamic tension that can lead to growth and maturity. Your relationship with God is like that, too. There's a rhythm and flow to it, elements of taking control and surrender. It is a process of discovering and following through on God's call. You need to die to your self-centered desires and surrender to God's will, and also take charge of God's call on your life, courageously overcoming the challenges before you and fulfilling your destiny.
There are two processes at work. One is a shedding, cleansing process (of self), and one is a building, growth process (of Christlikeness). The Surrender Posture and the Take-Charge Posture work hand in hand.
"In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be . . . prepared to do any good work." (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
We need to shed things-our power, ego, fears, and control- in order to be useful to God. The Surrender Posture is one of submission to God. Surrendering puts God in first place, His rightful position. It is a statement of honor, respect, and deference to God. Second, surrender prepares us to communicate with God. It's a shedding or cleansing process of worldly stuff that hinders our ability to hear His voice. Call it sin; call it self; call it idols. Call it what you want, but the bottom line is that to have open communication with God, you need to clear your mind, heart, and soul. The more you shed, the more you will be able to be used by God.
Surrender is also a posture of peace. It is the ultimate place of oneness with God, a perfect harmony in which God's will and your acceptance are united. It is a place of trust, assurance, and confidence that God is with you. Surrender isn't an event but a daily process. For some, it's the hardest thing they'll ever do. Often people in business find that taking charge is easy, but trusting in God is really tough.
Surrendering "your way" to God will be the most important thing you ever do. Rather than taking control of your life, sometimes you need to simply get out of the way and allow God to work through you. Relax. Quit wearing yourself out by trying to maneuver things beyond your control. Just be still-and know that God is at work in you.
"You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did." ( James 2:22)
The Take-Charge Posture is one of personal responsibility. God has given us the free will and the ability to make choices. Taking charge puts our faith into action. This is a posture of power, courage, personal initiative, leadership, integrity, accountability, discipline, perseverance, action, and followthrough.
It is in this posture that the partnership with God manifests itself in our work and lives. With the power, purpose, and love of Christ deeply inside your being, you overcome life's challenges to become the success He designed you to be. When Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, he didn't ask God to build the wall for him.
He asked for the strength to build the wall. Nehemiah organized the manpower and used his leadership skills to build the wall. When Solomon was asked to lead Israel, he didn't ask God to do the job for him. He asked for the wisdom to do the job he was called to do.
"In my work with business executives, leaders have a tendency to control the things they should surrender to God and a tendency to relinquish control of the things they should take charge of."
Throughout the Bible, we find examples of leaders like these who had a posture of submission toward God and the Take-Charge Posture that allowed them to fulfill God's plan and get the job done. The Surrender Posture actually prompts the Take-Charge Posture. For example, when we allow ourselves to be comforted, we learn to comfort others. When we submit to the authority of God, we are able to resist the devil. (See James 4:7: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.")
Your success in overcoming obstacles lies in both your postures of surrender and taking charge. The key is to understand when to surrender and when to take charge. In my work with business executives, leaders have a tendency to control the things they should surrender to God (e.g., business outcomes, economic conditions, stakeholder expectations) and a tendency to relinquish control of the things they should take charge of (e.g., confronting difficult issues, being fiscally responsible, doing the right thing regardless of consequences, putting people and purpose over profits). In your partnership with God, understanding your role-in particular when to submit to God and when to take responsibility- is critical.
Understanding Your Role
Do you remember the "Serenity Prayer"? I believe it beautifully describes the Surrender and Take-Charge Postures of our partnership: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
We tend to act first and think later. I've created the STOP Method to remind you to pause, or stop what you're doing, and seek God's guidance. The STOP Method will help you identify what to surrender and what to take control over. The first two letters, S and T, represent the Surrender Posture. The last two, O and P, represent the Take-Charge Posture.
"Our Lord never takes measures to make me do what He wants. Sometimes I wish God would master and control me to make me do what He wants, but He will not. And at other times I wish He would leave me alone, and He does not." (Oswald Chambers)
Copyright © 2005 by Laurence S. Julian