Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Current Study: People Who Made a Difference
Today’s Topic: Combining Encouragement with Challenge
Today’s Scripture: Matthew 16:21-25 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Sometimes encouragement and challenge come in the form of admonition or rebuke. We don’t like those times of confrontation, but they are necessary. Our attitude towards the people who have the courage to address our issues can make all the difference.
In today’s Scripture, Jesus must address a serious issue in Peter’s thinking. He does it bluntly and firmly, but not without proper foundation and teaching of Kingdom principles. In the long run, His confrontation with His disciples made a difference in their lives. He challenged them and encouraged them, even though at the time they may not have thought it very encouraging.
I want to follow up on yesterday’s devotional with a story of encouragement and challenge from one of our readers. This comes from Terri, who said a former boss she had made a real difference in her life.
In 1991 I was an executive assistant to a Corporate VP. He and I got along well, but in all honesty, he was flakey (for lack of a better description) and had personal problems that I was unaware of at the time. Part of my job was making him look good, so I did my best to “cover for him” when he wouldn’t make it in for an executive meeting—and I thought I was doing a good job of it. But over the course of a couple years, I realized I had also become “flakey” – coming in when I wanted to and leaving when I wanted to. I had no heart left in my job but continued to cruise through for the paycheck, knowing my boss would always “cover for me” as I did for him.
One afternoon, he had a meeting with his boss, the Sr. VP. After the meeting he asked me to go with him into a conference room. He told me that he had just been let go from the company. It was no secret that his boss didn’t like him. However, I found out right then that his boss also did not like me by default. I would be given a couple weeks at the company to search for other internal opportunities and then would also be let go.
Within 15 minutes of finishing that discussion with my boss the Sr. VP came down the hall and told me quite sternly to get up to his office. His administrator had gone into labor 2 months earlier than expected and he let me know (in no uncertain terms) that I would fill in for her while she was gone. He told me what he had observed about me, and that he felt I was pretty much worthless, but that I would have to do until he could find a replacement. I could look for other opportunities in the company, but was told that he would never provide a reference for me. I wanted to walk out the door and never come back, if I could hold back the tears—but I didn’t leave or cry. I knew I was the best at what I did and just hoped I had the opportunity to prove that. My intentions were out of spite, however.
A month later, when I arrived at the office (yes, about ½ hour late because I thought he was scheduled for a meeting), he was sitting in his office with the HR manager and asked me to join them. I was provided with an official warning letter that I would be terminated immediately if I failed to be on time one more morning. I signed the letter to acknowledge I understood and the HR manager left the office. My boss just sat there and stared at me with a serious look on his face. The silence drove me insane and I started trying to ramble to him about my promises of doing better. He held his hand up for me to stop talking.
He asked me how long I thought it took to change something. Again my nervous rambling started. He held up his hand for me to stop talking again and said “it takes that long” and snapped his fingers. He continued “the only thing that takes time is making the decision to change. Once you are serious and make the decision to change, it happens like that (again, snapping his fingers).” His gaze never left my eyes and he was talking sincerely—a side of him I felt I’d never seen before. It was a profound moment for me because I realized that he was absolutely right. I also realized he must think I’m worth something to even take the time to have this brief exchanged.
Instantaneously my attitude changed, which triggered a series of changes in my work life and personal life. He and I formed one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had in my career. Although 17 years later, he is no longer with the company, I still am and continue to grow professionally from the difference he made in my life. We still keep in touch and I’ve had the opportunity to thank him for being someone who made a difference in my life. When I did, it was his turn to cry.
Sometimes we need people who will be blunt and firm with us, especially when we understand that they are doing it for our good. If we can get past the initial defense mechanisms of pride we have set up to protect ourselves from hurt, we will probably see the potential benefit of growth. We all need to listen to the truth that is being spoken rather than reacting to how it is being presented. Most people with the courage to challenge us are doing it for the right reason. Listen to them. It will make a difference.