Beware of This Deadly Leadership Trap

(Getty Images: Istock/NejroN; E+/Gang Zhou; E+/seraficus) (Getty Images: Istock/NejroN; E+/Gang Zhou; E+/seraficus)

As a kid, not only was I stingy, but I also had the wrong perspective on success. I harbored ambitions to be a professional athlete, a professional musician and a company president. I believed accomplishing one of those things would bring me happiness.

Though I didn't have the aptitude or the required commitment to become either a professional athlete or musician, I did have an aptitude for business. Recently, I was awarded CEO of the year for large independent oil and gas companies, and God has blessed me with a level of material success beyond anything I could have imagined.

I'm grateful to God for this success, but I've also learned to be grateful for the ditches I fell into along the way (including my initial self-imposed Job experience), as well as the small, everyday things of life such as clouds and sunsets. If given the choice, I always would choose easy, pleasant circumstances. However, I no longer equate easy circumstances with happiness. I know that's not a true perspective.

I've also realized firsthand what seems a common discovery when someone achieves a dream: It's not as fulfilling as the person expected: What the world tells us will deliver true happiness simply won't. If we're paying attention, we all eventually discover we have a thirst no worldly experience can quench. So no matter what the world might promise, we know ahead of time that the promise is empty.

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"I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of," wrote actor Jim Carrey, "so they can see that it's not the answer."

We spend time trying to get wealthy, but God tells us how we can be rich now. "Buy gold from me," Jesus says in Revelation 3:18. How in the world do we buy gold from God? The Bible's answer may initially seem strange: We gain great riches from God by listening to Him. When He knocks on the door of our heart and asks to come in, invite Him in for dinner (see Rev. 3:20). It has sometimes taken a two-by-four of unwelcome circumstances to get me to listen, but I think I have listened ... at least a little. I've learned to see negative circumstances as a great gift that can lead to the abundant riches that become available by simply listening to God.

What true riches I have stem directly from listening to God. Biblical wisdom exposes our idea of earthly wealth for the fool's gold it really is. God's transcendent wisdom and instruction lead us to choose a right perspective.

I haven't always viewed the Bible as a mine full of jewels of wisdom waiting for me to dig them up. Growing up in church, I came to view the Bible as mostly bad news. I saw it as a book of obligation and condemnation. Although it offered a great rescue to come at the end of one's life, the rest of it was not all that pleasant. When I was younger, I didn't think of the Bible as a gift from God or a treasure map to great riches.

But later on, I saw that listening to the Bible's wisdom is the same as "buying gold." I stopped reading the Bible with fear and stopped worrying about condemnation. Instead, I began to enjoy the Bible. I realized God doesn't just love me, He likes me and really wants me to succeed. That's why He puts hard things in my path, so I can learn. The Bible has become the primary way I find reality and a true perspective. So as I share the Bible passages in this book, I feel like I'm letting you see my treasure map.

Embrace God's Idea of True Riches

Listening to the wisdom God offers in His Word provides a view of eternity that transforms every minute of every day into an opportunity to acquire a lasting treasure. This is the only treasure that can dramatically exceed the wildest dreams of any earthly quest for gold. The Bible promises we can obtain an imperishable spiritual treasure that can never be taken from us.

Contrast this with the world's notion of riches, which is based on acquiring things we want but don't have. If we believe we can't be happy unless we gain more than we have, then we will never enjoy our current circumstances, what we do have. But if we listen to God and adopt a true perspective, we can enjoy our present circumstances and even enjoy striving, regardless of the outcome. Without this, you and I will never adopt a perspective that embraces struggle and gains fulfillment from the epic adventure of life.

The world says happiness comes from getting a better job, a bigger house, outstanding children, better treatment from one's spouse or a prestigious award as top producer or the fastest-rising star in one's field of endeavor. But this thinking is ultimately bankrupt. Happiness that's grounded in acquiring what we don't have will never allow us to enjoy what we do have. Adopting the world's perspective is embracing a life filled with the futility that accompanies spiritual poverty.

For many years, I have tried to choose a true perspective, and it's still a daily struggle. Choosing a true perspective in a deceptive world requires diligence, and I still mess up often. This is part of the reason why the Bible likens the Christian walk to training for an Olympic race. It takes knowledge and daily practice to learn to see life through the lens of faith.

But make no mistake. Choosing a right, biblical perspective is not what's commonly referred to as "positive thinking." Positive thinking, in essence, boils down to a belief that you can control circumstances by how you think. This, of course, is silly. Truth often reveals things we'd rather not see (such as realizing our view of self is inflated). However, the most positive thing we can do is to see reality for what it is, even when the truth hurts. Only a true perspective provides a sufficient foundation and leads to lasting fulfillment.

As I have shifted my perspective—focusing more on how this life is an incredible, one-time opportunity to prepare by faith for eternity—my fulfillment has increased. By embracing the Bible's exhortation that happiness stems from service, even to the point of sacrifice, I've found true fulfillment that's only a down payment on eternal riches. Suffering for serving in faith is something angels can't experience, although they long to understand it.

Viewing life through this lens is transformational in our epic adventure. The secret to fulfilling our longing to be someone important is to simply receive it. As it turns out, happiness, ambition and heroic accomplishment are all byproducts of living a life of faithful and courageous service wherever God places us. But we must first deliberately adopt a true perspective that enables us to transcend what's visible in this present world.

Don't Be Enticed by Stuff

Many people's lives are frantically driven by the deep-seated belief that the best life has to offer is found in owning a lot of stuff. Sounds very unsophisticated when it's put like this, doesn't it? Whether it be large amounts of cash, stock certificates, 24-carat diamonds, million-dollar homes, Rolex watches, Gucci handbags, Armani suits, Rolls Royce cars or everyday Walmart specials, it's all just stuff. It was stuff 100 years ago, it is stuff today when it is new and looks impressive, and it will be stuff 100 years from now when it's decaying in a landfill. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with material goods. Nor is there anything wrong with working diligently toward acquiring things. The danger lies in what we believe stuff can do for us. Our Lord warned us when He said: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).

First, stuff never does for the soul what it boldly promises. You and I know it never delivers deep satisfaction. As Solomon wrote, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves abundance with increase. This also is vanity" (Eccl. 5:10). Whenever there's a gain in wealth, there is a corresponding gain in appetite for more. It's human nature.

This tendency surfaces in matters that go far beyond money or material possessions. We were exhilarated the first time we heard our son David's song "Yellow Balloons" on the radio. Before we knew it, we looked forward to the day when it would reach No. 1 on the hit charts. However, the truth is we can never win at life through always wanting more. Wealth in any realm of life, once it's acquired, always leads to a new level of desire for more. John Rockefeller was asked how much money it took to make a man happy. His immediate answer was "A little more."

The worldly philosophy of materialism causes us to undervalue what we do have and esteem what we don't. But if we adopt God's perspective, we can "richly enjoy" everything we do have. Instead of spending every day of our earthly life wishing we were enjoying even greater financial wealth, we can thoroughly enjoy the epic life God designed especially for us.

Second, stuff can't provide lasting significance. All the wealth a person acquires on earth is immediately forfeited at the instant of death. After the funeral of a very wealthy man, one of his friends said to another, "Just how much do you think John left behind?" The friend rightly responded, "Everything." Though you can't take your stuff with you, this does not negate the importance of diligence, hard work and the sweat-soaked pursuit of excellence. In fact, God commands it. Laziness is not the antidote to materialism.

By refusing the siren call of wealth, we can come to know God by faith, continuing to walk in dependence on Him even when the world would tell us it's unnecessary. William James was right when he said, "The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." As our Lord put it, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures to eternal life" (John 6:27a). The true perspective is that we are just stewards of the stuff; it's passing through our hands on the way to someone else.

True happiness flows from a perspective of thanksgiving, recognizing that every moment of our life is truly an amazing gift. We can continue to walk in faith on the mountaintop, even when it seems unnecessary. As Brother Lawrence showed us, the valley is not the only place we can learn to know God by faith. We must learn to walk by faith across every type of terrain, through every circumstance.

Arguably, it takes more faith to live in dependence on God when every circumstance of life tells us dependence is unnecessary. Maybe this is why, in Matthew 19, Jesus described how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God. Fortunately, Jesus also said, "With God all things are possible" (v. 26).

Tim Dunn is CEO of CrownQuest Operating, a petroleum and production company in Midland, Texas. This article was excerpted from Yellow Balloons: Finding Power to Live Above Your Circumstances.

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