Source: Memories of Easter
After a day and a half of travelling, I finally made it to Barcelona.
Upon landing, my first visit was to a pharmacy, and then this morning I went to the doctor…not the ideal start to a trip that looked very promising as I was flying in.
I took the ‘opportunity’ of waking up early to pray and ask God for his guidance in this trip…and one word came to mind: DISPENSATION.
That’s not a word that I come across every day so I went to look up what was the biblical use for this term; I found the following:
“Entry for ‘Dispensation'”. A King James Dictionary.
The Greek word (oikonomia) so translated signifies primarily, a stewardship, the management or disposition of affairs entrusted to one. Thus 1 Corinthians 9:17, the King James Version “A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me,” the Revised Version (British and American) “I have stewardship entrusted to me.” The idea is similar in Ephesians 3:2 parallel Colossians 1:25 (the Revised Version, margin “stewardship”). In Ephesians 1:10 God’s own working is spoken of as “dispensation.”
The Greek word ‘oikonomia’ is pretty easy to remember because we have a similar word in English…Economy. Dispensation is God’s economy entrusted to us, hence it’s translation as management or stewardship.
As I was thinking about God’s economy the first thing that came to mind is the multiplication rules of His Kingdom, they are very counter-intuitive to what we expect from our human experience. We can see the unique nature of God’s math throughout the Bible; God multiplies resources in supernatural ways for those who serve him.
Not surprisingly, my favorite stories of resource multiplication are related to food. We can find those in Old Testament (ex. the story of Elijah and the Widow in 1st Kings 17), and New Testament accounts (ex. the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6). What strikes me about those two stories is that God used unlikely people (a widow and a young man) who had very little to offer from the perspective of ‘human economy’ and multiplied the little they had not only to fulfill a need, but create a surplus (a.k.a called abundantly provide).
Those stories exemplify the dispensation of God in a very practical way; God works in us and through us as we trust Jesus and follow his word. Our human limitations are not an obstacle, but a tool that God uses to showcase his love, power, and presence in the lives of those around us. All we have to do is bring what we have and put it in his service.
After starting the trip at the doctor, and having to take antibiotics for the next couple of days, I was not feeling very optimistic about this trip…but then there came this word…DISPENSATION…and it changed everything in light of God’s word.
Recently, I had an encounter at work that left me perplexed….during a team meeting someone made a comment regarding a project I was managing and called it “the wild west”. The comment caught me off-guard, as I believed I had communicated the process and the development with key stakeholders at every stage…and it highlighted clearly that -at least for one person- this hadn’t been the case.
I focused on asking what about the project was not clear…and the answer was as vague as the initial description…”wild west”.
Later that day, someone else who was at the meeting came to ask me if I was ok…interestingly, up to that point, I hadn’t put too much stock on the event other than the facts; someone felt out of the loop…and they needed to feel informed. However, after realising how others had interpreted the event, I started feeling that the comment was an attack on my work and ultimately on me.
Interestingly, at that point, my strategy changed. Instead of just focusing on how to better communicate the stages in the project to this particular person, I realised I needed to emphasise the fact that there had been a process in place all along…and that I couldn’t let the “wild west” comment remain uncontested…as it was not really a fair evaluation.
I felt pretty good about my strategy…and yet there was something else I did not feel good about…my feelings. At the point when I was asked if I was ‘ok’, I started feeling attacked…because others had perceived the comment as an attack.
The narrative of our circumstances is – to a great extent – determines how we feel about them. Interestingly, in my case…switching the narrative from “someone is out of the loop” to “someone is attacking my work” triggered a different narrative in my mind, and I started thinking of the event in a whole different light…and getting mad about it.
In his post “What stories are you telling yourself” Michael Hyatt highlights how the stories we tell ourselves (i.e the narrative we apply to an event or circumstance) affect our daily performance and provides strategies on how to re-write our stories when these are not leading us to a productive outcome.
What I noticed in my own experience is that both interpretations of the “wild west” comment were valid and applicable to the circumstances. The person who made the comment felt out of the loop…and as a member of the team, it is important for this person to be informed and feel included. Nonetheless…the fact that one person doesn’t have the full picture of the project at each stage does not constitute enough grounds to question the body of work as a whole and to use unfair/inaccurate characterisations in an antagonising manner…which also needed to be addressed.
On my part, I realised that the reason for my initial inclination towards focusing on the initial ‘narrative’ of the event (i.e. the other person feels out of the loop) instead of the unfair characterisation of my work is that I did not want to engage in a narrative of antagonism…where I am placed in a situation of either victim or attacker…I don’t want to feel negativity towards my co-worker or act reactively in a manner commensurate to this type of behaviour.
When someone attacks you, it is a natural response to react in a defensive way. I did not want to act from that place…because it is a place of powerlessness and fear, and more often than not it creates a flight or fight response. Operating from this mode has few good outcomes; it comes from a primitive form of cognition that was useful in a hunter-gatherer existence, a wild-west type of society and NOT in a complex organisational setting. This made me wonder;
Is there a way to engage with ‘unfairness’ without participating in the narrative of powerlessness and fear that comes from being a victim? Conversely, is there a way to maintain my position without engaging in the narrative of antagonism when someone is clearly on the offensive?
As I was reading the bible…I came across the passage in Genesis 48 to 50 that looks at the reunion between Jacob and his son Joseph.
The story shows how Jacob was especially close to Joseph…more so than any of his other children. Joseph, on the other hand, always strove to be a good son…and this enraged his brothers, who sold him out to slave drivers and told Jacob, their father, that Joseph had been killed.
I can’t imagine the world of emotional pain and psychological hurt caused by this unfair and abrupt separation between father and son, aggravated by the injustices Joseph faced in Egypt and the fact that his own siblings had been the instigators of all this pain. After years of separation…when Joseph gets to see Jacob again, he is old and frail, and passes away shortly thereafter.
As I read some of the dialogue between Jacob and Joseph…it is clear to see the depth of emotion caused by the separation.
Jacob says to Joseph in his death bed “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” (Genesis 48:11)
After he passes away, the bible says that “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” (Genesis 50:1)
After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers become afraid of Joseph’s reaction…they think that if they have been spared up to that point, it had been for Jacob’s benefit…but now, there is nothing to hold Joseph back from re-paying their evil in kind. Full of reservations, they approach Joseph to beg for mercy…Joseph response is detailed in Genesis 50:19-21
“But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
It is clear that Joseph is not sugarcoating the intentions of his brothers…they clearly wanted to do him wrong, BUT…and this is the caveat that changes everything…BUT GOD…God intended it for good.
As Christian, part of living out my faith means that the narrative that permeates my worldview is my faith in Christ, and my understanding of his instructions through the Bible. There are people in this world who clearly mean to harm others…it is not productive to engage in a narrative of victim or attacker neither emotionally nor with actions. It is also not a good strategy to ignore their intent…the clear way from the biblical perspective is to focus on God’s power to move his purposes in spite of people’s intent.
This is not always easy…actually, it is hard most of the time…but it is the only way to productively engage in these instances.
In his deathbed, Jacob pronounced a blessing over Joseph, that in my mind, encompasses the dynamic of Joseph’s life and how he dealt with the opposition; he never drew his emotions or actions from the circumstances around him, but from God and his purposes.
22 “Joseph is like a wild donkey,
like a young donkey by a spring,
like colts grazing in a pasture.[e]
23 People attacked him and made life hard for him.
Men with arrows became his enemies.
24 But he won the fight
with his mighty bow and his skillful arms.
He gets power from the Mighty One of Jacob,
from the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25 the God of your father who helps you.
May God All-Powerful bless you
and give you blessings
from the sky above and from the deep below.
May he give you blessings
from breast and womb.
26 My parents had many good things happen to them.
And I, your father, was blessed even more.
Your brothers left you with nothing.
But now I pile all my blessings on you,
as high as a mountain.
I am one of the many people who enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell, he is undoubtedly one of the most influential authors in the last few decades. His poignant arguments and narrative genius make him an exceptional writer, or should we say ‘an outlier’ in his field. *pun intended*
His books are reactionary as much as they are rational. He tends to explain away pre-conceived notions and common held beliefs like nobody else. One of my favorite examples is his book ‘Outliers’. In it, he highlights how much of the popular success literature tends to emphasize the ‘individual achievement’ aspect of public figures without taking into consideration the contextual aspects that contributed to that individual’s success.
The author dissects various examples where the main propellant of those ‘famous’ exceptional success stories that deviate from the norm (hence the name of the book) was not necessarily an isolated, individual quality…but a combination of favorable factors in an individual’s environment which provided a clear advantage, and created the conditions for those individuals to stand out from the pack.
A few lessons that I learnt from the book include
- Do not be quick to praise individual achievement (there are a lot of factors going on in the background that you did not see)
- Do not hold yourself to a higher standard than you should (by comparing your real life with an idealized version of success)
- Do treat yo’ self every once in a while…(that last one is more Parks and Rec).
NO, really, treat yo self!
Treat yo self to wisdom…
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in the book of proverbs chapter 9…where wisdom is personified as a woman who’s preparing a banquet and inviting everyone to join in this ‘soiree’;
” Wisdom has built her house;
she has carved its seven columns.
2 She has prepared a great banquet,
mixed the wines, and set the table.
3 She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come.
She calls out from the heights overlooking the city.
4 “Come in with me,” she urges the simple.
To those who lack good judgment, she says,
5 “Come, eat my food,
and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;
learn to use good judgment.”…
According to the book of proverbs, having wisdom brings many other benefits with it;
- Improved Quality of Life Proverbs 8:18-20
I have riches and honor,
as well as enduring wealth and justice.
19 My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold,
my wages better than sterling silver!
20 I walk in righteousness,
in paths of justice.
21 Those who love me inherit wealth.
I will fill their treasuries…joyful are those who listen to me,
watching for me daily at my gates,
waiting for me outside my home!
2 Blessings from God Proverbs 8:35
35 For whoever finds me finds life
and receives favor from the Lord.
3. Longer Life Proverbs 9:11
“Wisdom will multiply your days
and add years to your life.”
Interestingly, one of the most incredible ‘outlier’ stories is the author of the book of Proverbs…King Solomon was an expert among experts…in pretty much every field and discipline of knowledge;
1 Kings 4:29-34 New International Version (NIV)
29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, …32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
He was clearly the outlier of his time…and he made Israel an ‘outlier’ nation…going from a conflicted and divided socio-political place to one of the most prosperous in its time.
The interesting part is that when I look at Solomon’s life…I do not identify any early contextual advantages like the ones described in Malcolm Gladwell’s stories. He was not given any early access to any type of technology or training, his mother was probably the least ‘worthy’ of all the wives of David…and he was neither the oldest or most charismatic among his David’s children (see 2nd Samuel 14:25).
Solomon is an outlier among outliers, because his context clearly did not provide any type of springboard…what provided the springboard was his wisdom…which was something he asked of God…
1 Kings 3 says;
5 That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”
6 Solomon replied, ….9 Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!
The best part is that the same asset that God gave Solomon is freely available to everyone …the bible says in James 1:5;
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
So when we think about it, the banquet that wisdom prepares…which is a freely given gift from God…the one we’re invited to, is a banquet fit for a King…so why not treat yo self?
Profiling as a tool to gain insight and understanding is widely applied in fields of social science; marketing, economics, and healthcare to name a few.
For today’s bible beans (and in preparation for this Sunday’s sharing), I am looking at how Wisdom is described in the book of proverbs…paying especial attention to instances in which Wisdom is personified…creating an initial profile based on the description.
This Sunday, I will be sharing about how we are to understand what the bible tells us about wisdom and the fear of God. In preparation, here’s an infographic with some key information about it.
For today’s readings, we look at John the baptist as he baptised Jesus. From the passage we see John felt inadequate for the task at hand, this is not unlike many of us…we sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy. The beautiful thing when we respond to Jesus’ calling is that he shows up for us in ways that exceed our expectations, like we see happen for John in this passage.