A Values-Driven Life

Written by admin on November 14th, 2010

[This is one of a series of entries from my unpublished book, Desperate Devotion, which details my experience with the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew during a crisis of faith and calling.]

Jesus challenges us to align our lives, in purity of heart, with his. He makes it clear that our hearts will drive our habits and thereby shape our destinies. He encourages those of us who choose this way by telling us that we will see God.

That’s quite an inducement, and given my longing for just this kind of experience, it’s not surprising that Matthew 5:8 grabbed my attention. It left the following question lodged in my brain: How was I doing?

As I reflected on the question, it drew me into a reconsideration of my life as measured against the basic principles of a values-driven existence. It also drew me into a reconsideration of my life as measured against some very personal priorities that had gained prominence at a defining moment in my life.

Serendipity at a Nashville Airport

At the end of a business trip to Nashville in 1993 I found myself having to cool my heels at the airport for four hours. With time on my hands, I wandered through the terminal and into a bookstore, where I came across a book with an intriguing title: The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good. I decided to buy it and settle into a seat near my departure gate for a leisurely read.

The book proved captivating from the first page. Its author, Tom Chappell, shared the story of his own pilgrimage toward a new way to think about and run his business, Tom’s of Maine, an enterprise focused on all-natural health and hygiene products. Instead of leaving day-to-day management to others, something he had done for a brief period of time, Chappell decided to return to his company and reshape the way it did business so as to more self-consciously become values-driven. He was convinced—as the subtitle of his book suggests—that he could manage for profit and the common good.

I was particularly struck by Tom’s discussion of values and his description of the strategy he used to get everyone at Tom’s of Maine on the same page in terms of values. I could imagine having a similar conversation with the people of the church I pastored, and I found myself wanting to pause and reflect deeply about my own, personal values.

I set the book aside, pulled out my legal pad, and before going any further, asked God to illumine me. Inwardly quiet, I listened for Spirit-guided insight into the core convictions that anchored my life. I wanted to narrow them down to the few most significant and all-encompassing ones.

Key words began coming to mind. Creativity. Balance. Adventure. Nature. Rest. Challenge. Excellence. Testing limits. Leadership. Integration. Integrity. Wholeness. Essential worth. Service. Goodness. Calling. Grace.

Eventually, five core values surfaced as the dominating values of my life. With pen in hand, I tried to express in simple, paragraph form what each of them meant to me:

  • Worth. I believe that every person and all creation have essential worth. I believe that who I am as created by God is fundamentally good, delightful, unique. I believe this is true of others and of creation, too. I believe that the purposes of my life are rooted in who I am and who I am becoming. I believe that the value of my relationships and my work is utterly dependent upon my honoring my true self. I believe that when I am cut off from my true self I limit and even obstruct the potential of both.
  • Relationship. I believe that there is nothing that matters more than my relationship with God, family, friends, and strangers—even with enemies. I believe that these relationships should be characterized by love, celebration, respect, commitment, service, grace, forgiveness, and growth. I believe that these same things should characterize my relationship with creation.
  • Purpose. I believe that fulfillment is impossible apart from a sense of purpose that is larger than self, a sense of purpose connected with the purposes of God, in community. I believe in calling, God speaking direction into my life. I believe there is special/ultimate purpose in promoting the fulfillment of others in the context of meaningful relationships. I believe that one’s life purpose is a co-creative process with God.
  • Growth. I believe that life has a built-in growth principle. Living things are growing things. For me this translates into ongoing learning, ongoing development, ongoing progress.
  • Balance. I believe that the “good life” is a balanced life, one that modulates between activity and rest, community and solitude, other-care and self-care, seriousness and playfulness.

By the time I finished my exercise, a sense of deep satisfaction had overtaken me. I felt like I had been able to get in touch with the strongest convictions of my life. These five beliefs truly did represent the values that anchored me when I was living life most fully.

An afternoon of unscheduled reading had turned into a life-transforming experience. A “Pike’s Peak” kind of climber had gained a new and life-altering interest in a “Rock of Gibraltar” kind of life. Someone who had always wanted to soar with the eagles found himself with fresh appreciation for the steady plodding of the turtle. In a life-redirecting way I came to understand that I needed an anchor as well as a sail.

How Was I Doing?

During my extended time in the spiritual wilderness, the life-forming work I did that day in Nashville became something of a North Star for keeping my bearings when every other reference point seemed lost in the dark. As for how I was actually doing, I knew I had fallen short of its standards. I found consolation in the fact that Jesus had pronounced a blessing on the poor in spirit as well as the pure in heart[1].

I also knew that these values continued to have a hold on me, that they still captured the longing of my heart. Expressing dependence on the Spirit, I rededicated myself to a life in alignment with them. I had the sense that I was taking the Apostle Paul’s advice and claiming his promise, a promise consistent with the very one Jesus had offered in his blessing of the pure in heart. Here’s what Paul had to say:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”[2]

[1] Mt. 5:3, 8.

[2] Phil. 4:8-9; emphasis added.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Raleigh Fulkerson says:

    Hey, very interesting post, it really got me thinking. Thank you.

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