Here’s a Hint: Be Slow To Speak, Quick To Listen

Proverbs 10:14

NIV – “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.”

The Message – “The wise accumulate knowledge-a true treasure; know-it-alls talk too much-a sheer waste.”

American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and one to hear.”  Think about that for a second. Do you picture yourself as the one speaking or the one listening?

Pick up a book on leadership and you’re bound to run into this concept. In my opinion, a lot of people in our society today have become a bunch of babblers and know-it-alls. By that, I mean they are so eager to give their input that they would rather talk then slow down long enough to hear what someone else is saying. It may do them good to heed the advice of the Greek Philosopher Epictetus who once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Think about this concept: If you relied on only yourself for financial advice, would you be better off or worse financially long-term? Believe it or not, all the information we need to improve our individual financial situations is out there. We just have to be willing to pursue it. Yet so many people are quick to act like they have all the answers and, as a result, stay exactly where they are instead of growing.

The leadership author, John Maxwell, gives some great insight in a recent leadership post:

“Remember, the greatest enemy of learning is knowing.”

Be slow to speak, quick to listen. I believe God has placed a dream and a purpose in each and every individual and it’s each person’s responsibility to make sure that dream is realized. If you aren’t willing to listen, earn your stripes and accumulate the wisdom and counsel necessary to reach your potential, how can you ever realize the dream God that called you to accomplish? What’s the moral of the story? Stop being a know-it-all and start being quicker to listen. The knowledge we need to grow in our personal situations is out there, we just have to be willing to listen long enough to hear it.

The Business Application of Sowing and Reaping (Part 3)

Proverbs 20:4

NIV- “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

While The Business Application of Sowing and Reaping (Parts 1 and 2) focused primarily on the first two stages of sowing and reaping (seed and progression time), we end the process with the final stage, harvest time.

To refresh your memory, after the farmer has completed the progression stage of irrigating, fertilizing and weeding his field, he waits in faith for the crops to spring from the ground. Finally, when the time comes for harvest, the farmer begins the stage of reaping. In order to reap, he cuts the crops for harvest with a sickle.

The key point is that we reap what we sow. If the farmer sows wheat, he expects to reap a harvest of wheat…not corn or something else. As former MLB manager Bill Meyer once said, “If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.”

There is a secret there: If you aren’t happy with your current situation, make an effort to sow better, more productive, seeds more often. In 2 Corinthians 9:6 it says:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (NIV)

So the more good seeds we sow, the more good we reap. Our lives to date are the culmination of the decisions we’ve made in the past and where we will be in the future will depend on the future decisions we make. If you aren’t happy with where you are today, fear not. As the Theologian Tryon Edwards once said, “Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.”

So what can we do to improve going forward? First, we can begin by identifying areas we need to make better decisions. What does that look like? Let’s say we need to up our productivity in our job. This was something I dealt with personally a few months back. I just felt like I wasn’t being as productive as I could have been. Around that time, I came across the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Such a simple quote but I’ve made it a goal to wake up earlier and get to work a little earlier than my co-workers. I’ve found myself feeling productive before the clock has even hit 9am. It’s a great feeling to be productive early in the morning.

After we’ve identified areas and set goals to make better decisions, Leadership author John Maxwell says we need to do a better job decision-managing:

“What makes the difference in a person’s life is decision-managing. Successful people make right decisions early and manage those decisions daily. The first ingredient of success—making good decisions—has no real value without the second, which is practicing good discipline.”

Finally, while it is imperative we focus on sowing better seeds and improving our decision-making and managing moving forward, Bob Deffinbaugh, a writer for Bible.org, reminds us of the most important lesson of all on harvest time:

“Paul has previously spoken of the “fruit of the Spirit” in chapter 5. The “fruit of the Spirit” is the produce of God’s grace in the life of the Christian. When Paul speaks of “sowing and reaping” in chapter 6, he places his emphasis on that which we are to do, but in a way that reminds us as well that it is God who gives the fruit. The farmer does not produce grain. He sows grain, he tends the field, and he harvests the grain which God gives.”

This is the key. We sow in faith but God is the ultimate producer of the harvest. We sow, God grows. Period. And while it’s important to sow good seeds in our day to day business activities, the most important seeds we will ever sow are in eternity.

The Business Application of Sowing and Reaping (Part 2)

While The Business Application of Sowing and Reaping (Part 1) primarily focused on seed time, I didn’t want to breeze over the final two stages, progression time and harvest time, because I believe they are just as important. In order to properly discuss these stages, I’ve turned what was supposed to be one post on sowing and reaping into a three-part post. God has taught me a great deal through writing these posts and I am excited to share the third post with you all as well.

As I discussed in the first post, after the farmer has sown seed in the field, he enters the stage called progression time. During this phase, the farmer irrigates, fertilizes and weeds the field. Simply put, the farmer waits in faith for his crops to grow.

So how does progression time apply to us as businesspeople?

There comes a period of time in the process of accomplishing goals we’ve set out to attain when it seems like nothing is happening. It seems like we’re going in a big circle and not getting anywhere. We’ve all experienced it. Well I believe that God uses progression time to prepare us for the harvest.

Here’s an analogy to explain why I believe that: Say you are driving to California for vacation. Your goal is obvious: you want to make it to California. But let’s say you first start out by driving South on I75 towards Florida. While you may still be “going somewhere” and moving away from your original starting point, just because you’re “going” doesn’t mean you’re going to end up in California. In this case, you need to make a course correction and, ultimately, go West. In business, even though we may sowing seeds daily, that doesn’t automatically mean the harvest is coming. Progression time allows us to make the course corrections needed to weed out mistakes so we can ultimately improve our abilities and mature for harvest.

Maybe you’re an entrepreneur with a startup who has been sowing seed faithfully and working tirelessly but just aren’t seeing the results. Let me fill you in on some tough love my mentors taught me: just because you are working hard doesn’t mean you are accomplishing anything. There may need to be some adjustments that need to happen in order for you to finally be driving in the direction of your ultimate destination. There are three things I believe we need to do in order to make the necessary course corrections during progression time:

1) Pray

The best thing we can do in a situation like this is give it over to God and completely trust Him. It can be a frustrating time in our lives because we all want the harvest to come immediately. That’s why it’s so important to recognize that God is in control and in charge of the growing. Keep going to God and giving it up to Him.

2) Analyze and Adjust

We need to take a step back and analyze what we are doing and see if there are any areas where we can improve. Also, it’s extremely beneficial to sit down with someone who has been in the same situation and experienced what we are going through. Let’s say we are the President of a company where morale is down. We are in need of ideas and solutions because everything we’ve done up to this point just isn’t working. Ask the leader of a company you admire to have lunch with you and make that a valuable time to pick their brain and find out what exactly they are doing right that you could also implement. These steps are necessary because the seeds we are sowing may not be bearing fruit and, in order for that to change, we need to personally change and adjust.

3) Be Patient

In the first post, I used the example of weight loss. We may be at the gym everyday but it’s not realistic to think the 15 lbs we gained over the winter are going to come off tomorrow. Or maybe even this month. It’s so important to be patient and have faith that the harvest will come. If we skip over patience, all we are going to reap is discouragement and a lot of frustration.

So let’s remember these lessons next time we are going through the stage of progression. This phase is just as important as seed time and the harvest. In order to be ready to reap the harvest, God makes us first go through the sowing, watering and weeding. So instead of getting frustrated, impatient and discouraged, let’s remember to make the necessary course corrections so we can reap the ensuing harvest.

The Business Application of Sowing and Reaping (Part 1)

Proverbs 11:18

NIV- “A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.”

In Galatians 6:7-9, we are introduced to one of the most applicable Biblical principles, sowing and reaping:

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

In order to truly understand this principle, I think it’s important to look at the farmers’ process of sowing and reaping. In the first stage, the farmer sows planting seed in his field. Next comes the stage called progression. During this stage, the farmer irrigates, fertilizes and weeds the field. Finally, when the time comes for harvest, the farmer begins the stage of reaping. In order to reap, he cuts the crops for harvest with a sickle (for those of you curious like me, a sickle is a farming tool with a curved blade that is used to trim crops).

Now that we better understand the stages of sowing and reaping I want to discuss how this process familiar to farmers applies to us as Christians in the business world. This is going to be a two-part post with my focus here being the stage of sowing and Friday’s post being on the final two stages: progression and harvest.

In my opinion, this is one of the most essential principles a Christian businessperson can implement into their business activities. In order to be successful in our professional careers, it starts with sowing good, God-honoring seeds daily. So what are some action steps you may ask:

  • Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur or in sales like me and have a goal of increasing sales in the future. We aren’t going to raise those numbers by sitting on the computer refreshing Facebook and Twitter all day. We need an action plan. The first action for sowing good seeds should be to make prospect calls daily if you aren’t already. If you are, kick it up one notch. One thing I’ve learned in the sales world is that there’s always another level you can be on. If you think you have arrived, kick it up another notch. It just takes effort. Sow seeds daily that will lead toward your goal.
  • Maybe you would like to grow personally and change your thinking. I talked about this in my post last week about pursuing wisdom. In order to change our current thought process, we need to replace it with a new, better way of thinking. The first step should be scheduling a daily time to read the Bible. What better way to change our thinking? Second, if you would like to think differently, spend time with people who think differently than you. For example, if you would like to improve your financial IQ, spend time with people who are wealthier and possess a higher financial IQ than you. Next, make it a priority to read a book 15 minutes every day by a leadership author whose thought process you would like to have. Finally, you can also listen to podcasts by similar people.
  • Alright let’s get real now. Now that winter is coming to an end and it’s beginning to warm up outside, some of us are beginning to realize we need to shed a few pounds. I’m not a weight loss expert nor do I claim to be one but I’m sure a few ways to sow good seeds would be to lay off the fast food and make an effort to get to the gym for an hour everyday.

That’s just three examples but hopefully you understand the point I’m trying to make. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is to adhere to the Slight Edge Philosophy. Jeff Olson, author of the book The Slight Edge writes:

“The slight edge philosophy is based on doing things that are easy-little disciplines, which, done consistently over time, add up to the biggest accomplishments.”

The thing I appreciate about this way of thinking is that it breaks things down to the ridiculous. By that, I mean it makes us think about the individual decisions we are making on a daily basis and whether or not they are bearing fruit. One thing to keep in mind though – Slight Edge can work for you or it can work against you. Case in point: if we make poor decisions consistently for a long period of time, after a while we will not be happy with where we end up.

A perfect example of this is people’s financial statements. It’s my personal belief that if more people followed the philosophy of Slight Edge we would have less financial strife in the world. I hear all the time of people who complain of not having enough money yet those are the same people I see making spontaneous purchases at the gas station and going out to eat all the time. Or how about this – how many people do you think would choose to go back and change their poor driving habits upon getting their expensive insurance bill as a result of a few speeding tickets?

So let’s make it a priority to remember the philosophy of the Slight Edge. It’s the little disciplines and decisions done consistently over a period of time. Remember, the Slight Edge can work for us or it can work against us. If we choose to make the Slight Edge work for us, sky’s the limit as far as the goals we can accomplish and the harvest we can potentially reap in the future.

Disciplining Ourselves for God’s Glory

Editor’s Note: Bigtime thanks to Jon Nagle for writing Proverbs and Business’ very first guest post! A lot of great insight and wisdom by Jon in this post. Also, definitely encourage you to add him on Twitter (@jonathan_nagle).

By: Jonathan Nagle

Proverbs 19:15 (ESV) – “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.”

Proverbs 20:13 (ESV) – “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.”

We are living in trying times. Times of high unemployment, minimal capital, irresponsible spending, and entitlement programs. With the constant blame game in our society, I’m often left wondering, ‘Where have all the men gone?’

As someone who operates in the sales arena, both in the corporate realm, as well as through my own direct sales small business, I see an all too common thread unfold. A tough economy spawns a hostile attitude, which in turn spawns lack of motivation, which then spawns laziness, and ultimately excuses for not being a good steward of our role. In Proverbs 19:15, and 20:13 we find a very real promise from God. He is directly promising poverty and hunger if we choose to give in to our lazy tendencies.

As a side note, there are far too many “Christians” out there who try to treat God as their magic genie, with the misled thinking that they can simply ask and receive in exact proportion to their request. Sorry folks, but that’s not how it works. In that scenario, the human (creation) is the omniscient decision maker, and God (creator) is simply the one filling the orders, no different from the person behind the microphone at your local drive thru burger joint. Sound silly to anyone else?

But getting back on track here, God is not only promising poverty and hunger in direct proportion to our slothfulness, but he is also instructing us to give Him some good old fashion hard work. This is where we must step up and be the men of our households. Not to rely on the hard work of others, as is so popular in today’s society, but to discipline ourselves to wake up and get to work. Business and leadership expert, Stephen Covey, once wrote:

“Perhaps in utilizing our human capacity to build on the foundation of generations before us, we have inadvertently become so focused on our own building that we have forgotten the foundation that holds it up; or in reaping for so long where we have not sown, perhaps we have forgotten the need to sow.”

Let us not forget that we have to sow before we reap. And as followers of Jesus Christ, let us also not forget that we are ambassadors, and that the ripple effect of our slothfulness could reap a misrepresentation of the Christian life.

In coordination with our work ethic, we must also remember to put our faith in Him, and not in our own abilities. Anytime we place our hope in anything but Christ, we are doomed for disappointment and emptiness. This is important to remember in today’s business world, because, as I stated before, laziness is often the ultimate result of frustration with exterior circumstances. I fully believe that it is possible to let our anxiety and stress “Be still, and know that [He] is God,” while still practicing our physical discipline. Martin Luther once said, “Pray, and let God worry.”  I love this mindset, because it allows us to place all unsettled feelings in God’s hands, and to trust in His perfect timing, while still putting forth hard work. With that combination we can also relate to Thomas Edison, who once said, “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”  If we hustle while we wait on God, we can reap what we’ve sown, and we will reap it in His perfect timing.

The best example I can think of for hustling while waiting on God is the apostle Paul. Paul was focused on being a good steward of the role that God gave him on earth. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul writes:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (ESV)

Paul was not a business person; however I believe the point he makes here is universally translated, and that is the point of recognizing our role, being a good steward of that role, working extremely hard, and waiting on the grace of God for the rest.

Three Ways To Pursue Wisdom On A Daily Basis

Proverbs 2:1-5

NIV – “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding– indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

A couple years ago, during the 2010 NFL Draft, Tim Tebow sat anxiously waiting to hear his name called by a team. We all know the story by now…

“Roundly rejected as having little to no chance at being a reliable starter, Tebow started this season as a complete underdog. People said he didn’t have the arm, that he couldn’t throw the ball downfield. People castigated him for his religious beliefs, his cliched good-old-boy demeanor, his aw-shucks personality. They said he wouldn’t make it through the season. They were wrong. Not only did Tebow lead the Broncos to six consecutive wins, four of those games were come-from-behind victories against teams that were considered superior. This streak led them to the playoffs, where they mounted a stunning and improbable victory against Super Bowl contender Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Tim is a great example of someone who has a vivid dream. That dream is to not only play in the NFL but to be effective and successful in playing at that level. That dream fuels him to persist and work hard during the pursuit.

Like Tim pursues his dream everyday through working hard on and off the field, I believe this is how God wants us to pursue wisdom. Life isn’t meant to be easy but whether we are in good times or bad, we need to proactively pursue wisdom. In verse 4 in the NIV translation, it says that we should “look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure.” Even better, The Message translation says that we need to “search for it like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt.” I think we get the picture. And when we find wisdom, God says we will understand the fear of the Lord.

There are three ways to proactively pursue wisdom on a daily basis.

1) Follow the Vertical Alignment. Start with God.

All wisdom ultimately comes from God and we, as followers of Christ in the business world, need to daily pursue wisdom in God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 says it perfectly:

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

In order for God to direct our paths, we need to be meeting with Him daily through reading, praying and listening. In these moments with God, He takes the scales off of our eyes which makes us able to see the Light. Furthermore, the Bible is the ultimate handbook on how to be successful in life’s endeavors.

2) Surround ourselves with wiser people.

It’s as simple as that. If we want to be wiser people, we need to spend time with people who are wiser than ourselves. For example, before Chelsie and I got married, we went through pre-marital counseling with my grandpa and our pastor, Jack Janigian. Why? Because Chelsie and I want to receive wisdom in order to have a successful marriage and we know that my grandparents and Jack and Courtney have had successful marriages.

One of the most important decisions we can make in our professional lives is to find a mentor. If you are an entrepreneur, spend time with someone who has been an entrepreneur for a longer time than you and has the success that you would like to have. The best way to gain knowledge and wisdom in business is not through making mistakes yourself, it’s by learning from other people’s mistakes and how ultimately they persevered through them and became successful.

3) Spend time reading and listening to wise people.

We need to dedicate time daily to gaining wisdom through reading books and listening to CDs, podcasts, mp3s, etc. There are infinite resources available to study. If you are in a leadership position, start studying books, CDs and podcasts by an author/speaker like, for example, Dr. John Maxwell. He is one of my personal favorites. I also enjoy listening to pastors’ sermons on podcasts. When it comes to accounting and personal finance, I listen and read Robert Kiyosaki. If you aren’t currently dedicating time to these types of activities, don’t be discouraged. Just start today. Go to Barnes and Noble and spend an hour or two looking at books. You can also go on iTunes and find just about any speakers’ podcasts. There is a reason these people are writing books and speaking. They have success and are willing to share the knowledge they received through doing what they did. Find someone who has accomplished what you are looking to accomplish and study them.

Stop, Think and Listen to God

Proverbs 3:5-8

NIV – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

The Message – “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!”

As folks in the business world, how often each day do we encounter problems that need solutions? How many of those times do we stop to talk to God and ask for guidance? Are we truly “listening for God’s voice in everything we do?” I don’t know about you but in the fast-paced, microwave-society we live in today, I know I find it extremely difficult to get a moment of silence just to listen to God. God promises, though, that if we are quiet for long enough to hear him, he will “keep us on the right path” as it says in verse 6.

There are two things we, as businesspeople, need to take from Proverbs 3:5-8.

1) We need to make it a priority to schedule time to listen for God’s voice.

In my opinion, one of the most important ingredients for trusting God, which is made clear in the passage, is spending time listening to God’s voice. While it’s extremely difficult to listen to God’s voice when we are running 100 mph in our daily lives, we make time for the things that are most important to us. A great way to make sure we are spending time listening to God is if we schedule a specific time. Set the alarm on your phone if you need to. Do whatever necessary to make it a priority. The promise God makes to us, as The Message passage says, is that if we make listening for God’s voice a priority, “He will keep us on track.” It makes it so much easier to trust God when we know that He promises to lead and direct our paths if we stop, listen and trust Him.

2) We need to schedule time to workout our thought muscle.

Not only is there a minority of people who are able/willing to stop, there is a minority of thinkers in the world today. Think about this: How many more ideas like Facebook and Twitter would we have if more people spent the necessary time to think of them? In my opinion, a natural extension of stopping to listen to God, is allowing God to infiltrate our thought life. When God consumes our thoughts, it’s easier to trust that He is in control of our business activities. John Maxwell, one of the top authors on leadership, writes about how to overcome a lack of time to stop. He offers a solution in his post, “Seeking Creativity In Its Natural Habitat”:

“When I was younger, my thinking spot was a rock on a hill. Later, I set up a “thinking chair” in my office, which I use solely for that purpose. These days, I also do some of my best thinking while swimming laps in the pool. It doesn’t replace the writing time that I still schedule. (I just haven’t found a waterproof legal pad yet…) But an hour of swimming laps back and forth, with its silence and rhythm, gives me just what I need to focus on one or two specific problems or ideas.”

We should heed Dr. Maxwell’s advice and find a thinking spot where we are able to ignore the clutter and focus.

Not only is there a potential for new ideas when we spend time in thought, but our brains are rejuvenated and perform at their peak when we are able to clear all the white noise for a short period of time. Verse 8 rounds out these verses by giving one last incentive: when we submit fully and trust Him, our bodies will glow with health! Sounds good to me. So, let’s make it a priority to stop, think and listen to God so we can trust Him as He directs our paths.