Let the Word Speak!

Watch How You Do What You Do

Step Two: Watch how you do what you do

Too often, we skip ahead to “what” to do too quickly, and fail to consider “how” we do it, with disappointing results.

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV):
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
”Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha had a well-intentioned, but wrong, idea of how to provide a pleasant visit in her home for Jesus. The “what” was right, but the “how” needed work!

2.A) Consider your audience

Who are you doing a task for? The most important consideration for writing a paper or delivering a speech is the audience. The “audience” is less obvious in other activities, but always warrants consideration—especially if you find the only audience is yourself!

2.B) Beware the trap of “Or”

We often make bad decisions on how to proceed when we make decisions that we didn’t have to make. Martha thought she could properly entertain Jesus -or- listen to Jesus talk, but not both!

One common, and costly, trap for managers is whether they want a productive staff -or- a content staff. A harsh manager pushes the staff to produce, no matter how they complain. A friendly manager makes sure the staff is happy, no matter how badly the quantity and quality of work suffers. The wise manager avoids the “or” and encourages the staff to find fulfillment and reward in excelling at doing the work.

Carefully examine your options before making a decision to be certain they truly are appropriate options. Often, it makes all the difference in the answer to have asked the right question.

2.C) Beware the myth of “multi-tasking”

Contemporary society borrows the idea of “multi-tasking” from large computers, which successfully serve hundreds of users at the same time by multi-tasking the processors. This tactic works well for computer tasks where the computer works a little and waits a lot, and most tasks involving people interacting with computers fit that profile.

As usual, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Computer performance experts know that when a computer needs to handle many processing-intensive tasks, the most effective way to use a single-processor computer is to run one task at a time. Why? Because it takes processing power for the computer to manage multiple tasks. In other words, multi-tasking distracts the computer from the work to be done.

We need to use the same guidelines when we choose when to “multi-task.” You might effectively sort the mail, watch television, and eat a snack at the same time. Talking to a spouse, however, deserves your focused attention, without distractions.

2.D) Always use a “long look”

The most effective activities are frequently the ones that have long-term benefits. I can “do” a task in 10 minutes, or I can teach my co-worker to do it in 30 minutes, but then when it comes up again, my co-worker can handle it.

This is even more important in developing our faith and strengthening our relationships. We can cost ourselves considerable time in the future by not spending a little more time today on matters of faith and relationships. Paul reminds us that Christianity is not a sprint, but a marathon.

2.E) Find and use your resources

There are two ancient principles involved in this simple advisement. First, think about and gather up your resources before you start a tasks. Consider Luke 14:28-30 (NRSV):

”For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

The second is to involve others in tasks, if you, like me, are predisposed to do things by yourself. We all can recite the saying, “two heads are better than one.” Consider Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NRSV):

”And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Both concepts are simple and obvious, but they wouldn’t be in the scriptures if we didn’t need the reminder.

The most fundamental resource for managing priorities is a planning system. However, you need to “know yourself” to choose the right planning system for you. Here are a few questions to help you make those choices.

Are you at ease with technology? If not, don’t bother with a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA); paper still works wonderfully well, and paper never “crashes.”

Do you tend to quickly spend your loose change, or do you have jars of it at your house? That’s a personality indicator of structure or a lack of structure. People who systematically spend loose change usually adapt to a structured planner system, such as is available with a full implementation of a Day-Timer® or Day Runner® system. People who are less structured often prefer pads of blank paper or note cards instead. There is nothing wrong with a stack of index cards as the basis for a planning system!

If you are considering changing your personal planner, prototype it before you spend a lot of money. For example, draw out “to do list” templates similar to what you’re considering and use them for a few days to see what works well for you and what doesn’t. They you can buy what you’re confident will suit your personality.

2.F) People always matter

I included people under the heading of “resources” in the topic above, but in God’s Way, people are infinitely more than merely resources to accomplish our tasks. Our ultimate calling is summarized in the pair of greatest commandments that Jesus gave us, to love God and to love others.

Often, the activities that God calls us to do are more about the people we involve than the apparent goals of the activity. Consider our church’s softball team, whose goal is not to win a championship, or even to have a good time, but to show love to God and love to each other through an organized team sport.

Fulfilling both our love for God and our love for each other is fundamental to the messages on October 31, “Discovering Community,” and on November 7, “Loving Relationships.”

The importance of involving others is the focus of the October 24 message, “Empowering Others.” Involving people is often very messy! People need instruction and encouragement; people require our patience and understanding; people are unreliable, inconsistent, and even unpredictable; and people often reveal in us our frailties and our need for patience, understanding, instruction, and encouragement.

It is essential to our Christian walk that we love others like God loves us. That may even mean foregoing efficiency when God leads us to involvement. It means preparing in love for the “messiness” of working with others, instead of “mitigating those risk factors.” It is embracing God’s priorities.

2.G) Always be yourself

Often, the biggest problems with “how” issues come from failing to understand ourselves and assuming we are someone we are not.

Take a superficial example: fashion! What looks great on one person looks foolish on another, depending on age, position in life, body shape, etc. What “looks great” is as dependent on who is wearing it as it does what is worn.

Every part of our life is affected by this:

  • Someone with a poor memory for names must develop tactics for coping, or risk antagonizing others.
  • Someone with an introverted personality should seek out tasks that require extended isolation.
  • Knees and ankles just can’t do the same things at 40 years old than they did at 20 years old.

Above all, avoid comparing yourself with others! Most of us will see the bad in ourselves and the good in others and come to poor conclusions. Time and effort spent knowing about others in this way is better spend getting to know one’s self.

Power of prayer: God knows you best

As you work on “how” you do what you do, pray about it.

  • ”Pray without ceasing” in and by our actions to God as the audience for all that we do.
  • Share decisions with God, even with short prayers when we pause to “take a deep breath,” that God’s Wisdom will help us avoid bad “or’s” and see “long views.”
  • Pray that God will help you become more sensitive to God’s nudges in your life, so that you can follow God’s leading.
  • Most of all, pray for God’s guidance in knowing yourself better, for God not only knows who you are now, but God knows who you were created to be!


The management concept I called trap of the “Or” is taken from the classic management book The Management Grid by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton. Most of the unproductive management styles they categorize deal with how people cope with the apparent contradition between staff contentment and staff productivity, which they explain is not a contradiction at all.

Scriptures designated by “NIV” are from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.

Scriptures designated by “NSRV” are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morris
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