Attending to Physical Priorities

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-26)

I read the paper yesterday. It’s something I try not to do too often. The news ain’t so good. GM is talking bankruptcy, all major economic indicators say things are bleak, getting bleaker and won’t change any time soon, and the governor of Michigan says the state has lost three times more jobs (760,000) than were lost in the hurricane Katrina disaster.

But I’m not worried. Aware … but not worried. I’m as affected as anyone else by the world’s current ‘economic downturn.’ I haven’t had a ‘job’ in almost four years. Our neighbors think we’re retired … they don’t know that we’re just happily unemployed.

I’m kidding about the ‘unemployed’ part. We’re in the book business. It’s just not one of those businesses the neighbors can see easily (unless a delivery truck is blocking the road – but then it’s just a truck blocking the road, not Steve and Elaine’s business in action). It’s not like we have a restaurant or a gas station or an automobile factory – those things you can see – everybody knows you’re working for a living.

Most of what I do happens between my ears and the raw materials inventory is stored on hard drives. The only ‘evidence’ that we work for a living is the line of pallets stacked with boxes, filled with books, stashed in the barn, in the garage or at the printer’s. The neighbors don’t see me go to work in the morning – they do see me go to the barn occasionally – that’s why they think I’m retired.

Outside of fooling the neighbors, our book business is like any other small business. We make stuff and sell it; hopefully for more than it cost us to make. We’re pretty good at making stuff – now we’re trying to get good at selling stuff. I’ve heard that’s a very important part of any small business.

Which (finally) brings us back to my point: when the economy hits the dumpster, people generally stop buying stuff. That’s problematic. Businesses and people who work in them rely on other people to buy their stuff so that they can get paid and, in turn, go buy other people’s stuff. It’s a cycle. When people stop buying stuff, other people don’t get paid. The other people then stop buying stuff and still other people don’t get paid; all of a sudden we’re in an ‘economic downturn.’ I tend to agree with the governor of Michigan; we’re really in a financial disaster. But ‘financial disaster’ sounds too depressing to put on TV.

Our current president believes that if he gives everybody a lot of money we’ll start buying stuff again and we’ll all get back to normal. I’m not an economist so I haven’t figured out his logic yet, and I don’t know anybody who would give him all that money to give to us; but he knows more people than I do, so he’s probably got it all worked out. But that’s not my point either, so let’s get back on track.

Each of us has our own personal economy to look after. When our personal economy suffers from ‘economic downturns’ or ‘financial disasters’ in the big economy we call it ‘tough times.’ Hearing about lay-offs on the television news is one thing; getting laid off is another. It’s like the old joke, “What’s the difference between minor surgery and major surgery?” Major surgery is when they’re doing it on me!

So what do we do when troubles in the big economy affect our personal economies? How do we survive the tough times we’re in now and learn to thrive in tough times ahead? We began this series with the two most important steps: 1) know who you are and who God is – “Adopting a Christian Worldview”. 2) know the difference between the source and the mechanism – “Putting Spiritual Priorities Ahead of Physical Priorities.”

This week I’m going to give you a few tips about attending to physical priorities. Namely what you can do for your own personal economy to help you thrive in tough times. Here we go:

  1. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that unemployment rose to 8.1% in February (numbers for March aren’t in yet, but let’s assume they’re higher). Some estimates put the actual unemployment rate at 11%. If you take the highest number the employment rate is still at 89%. That’s not much comfort if you’re one of the 11%; your personal unemployment rate is 100%. But the fact remains that there are jobs for nearly nine out of ten people. Companies need employees to operate. I’ve been an employee and I’ve been an employer. As an employer I was always aware of the employees that were absolutely crucial to our operations and those the company could live without. As an employee I always strove to be one of those crucial to the operation (that’s how I became an employer). Here’s the key to being the last employee let go and the first one hired: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men …” (Colossians 3:23)
  2. If you own a small business, the advice above works just as well. Here’s the best way I know to grow a small business, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) In the Bible, this is called the Golden Rule. In business, this is called the Golden Rule. Some things translate perfectly. Your expectations as a customer aren’t any different than your customers’ expectations as customers. Pretend you’re your own customer; what would the perfect customer experience be to you? That’s your target. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
  3. There’s a reason for everything; you just may have not received the memo. Tough circumstances push us into new opportunities. When it looks like a change is coming your way, don’t ask, “Why am I being pushed out?” Ask “What am I being pushed in to?” The most successful business I’ve ever started came from not being able to work another day in the most miserable job I ever had. The most meaningful business I’ve ever been in (this one) came as a result of being miserable in the most successful business I ever started. Almost every new start or huge step forward is birthed out of a traumatic exit. That’s because we won’t go otherwise. Why do you think mama eagle tosses baby eagle out of the nest? If Joseph hadn’t been sold into slavery and tossed into prison he would never have become the prime minister of Egypt. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).
  4. More important than any of these is what I said last week. Know the difference between the source and the mechanism. Your job, your business, your income, your savings account are all just mechanisms through which your physical needs are met. They’re not your source. God promised that He would meet all your needs. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Next week I’m going to give you a 100% guaranteed way to achieve success in everything you do – actually it’s the only 100% guaranteed way to achieve success. Until then:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (I Thessalonians 4:11)