Thursday, November 12, 2009

Priority Setting - Idol's Style or God's

"For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner." (Luke 14:24)
If someone invites us for a meal, will we say no? For some of us, it depends on our availability? For others, it depends on whether we have other 'more important things' (MIT) to do. Yet, many will depend on who is the one inviting us? In the parable of the Dinner, Jesus points out the various kinds of people who have their own priorities mixed up. It is a parable in response to one of his disciples who said optimistically:
"Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Lk 14:15b)
The truth is, before one can eat, they have to come for the meal. In reply, Jesus lists out the people who put other things as more important compared to dining as an honored guest in the kingdom of God. The dinner was sumptuous. Notices were sent out ahead of time. On the day itself, the master even sent his servant to personally call the invited guests to come. Unfortunately, all started making excuses. They already knew about the dinner. Their hearts are unwilling. One said that he needs to tend his new piece of land (Lk 14:18). Another said that he needs to try out his five yoke of oxen (Lk 14:19). Yet another one said he has to attend to his new wife (Lk 14:20). All of them gave excuses NOT to go for the dinner. The first put property a priority. The second put his possession first. The third put his partner before everything else. All of them thought they had focused rightly on their MIT.

Priority Setting - Idol Style
It is not difficult for us to see why not. Isn't taking care of our work important, like the man tending the land? Isn't stewarding our resources part of our responsibilities on earth, like the man trying his new oxen? Isn't spending time with our spouses necessary, like the newly married person in the parable?

The point about the parable is not about stewardship or taking care of what God has given to us. It is about an open invitation to enter the kingdom of God. What is most important to man, is not necessarily the most important to God. God's smallest step is infinitely more important than man's biggest leap. Many people say that it is God's will for them to focus on the more important things in life. What if they are wrong? What if we have placed all our eggs in one basket called MIT, and ignore the rest? What if we have lost our ability to know what is MIT?

In business, MIT priorities are seductive. It makes us so mindful of the majority that we forget the minority. It makes us play the numbers game and promotes favouritism. It causes us to make unfair decisions between the have's and have-nots, like choosing to dine with the rich and ignore the poor. MIT policies discriminates and absolute practice of MIT discriminates absolutely. In our spiritual walk, when our MIT becomes an idol, we worship the idol. We say yes to the idol and no to God.

When our priorities get mixed up, we cannot distinguish which is idol-driven and which is God-led. We misinterpret signs. David Allen, author of the best-selling book "Getting Things Done," observes how people practice the 80/20 principle. This principle essentially refers to 80% of the profits from 20% of the customer base, or 80% of the job done by 20% of the resources. This leads many in the management to focus on the 20%, and in the process neglect the other 80%. Allen goes on to point out that such 'focus on the important' is one of the main culprits behind our current global financial crisis. He comments that the smartest people of the world focused 'too' much attention on the so-called more important things in their lives. Overemphasizing 20% star performers and undermining the other 80% is a fatal formula for eventual collapse of the corporation. MIT syndrome can also happen the other way; of blame.

The MIT Scandal
It does not take long for us to see the truth behind Allen's observations. In the aftermath of the Madoff scandal, where many investors were hoodwinked into losing more than $50 billion, people pointed fingers at the US New York securities watchdog, the SEC, in particular, Meaghan Cheung, for failing to uncover irregularities with Madoff's company. My question: How can we pin the blame solely on one person who is trying to do her job according to the system? Yes, Cheung may have been a lawyer trained in Yale. She may be very experienced with auditing big firms. However, is the problem because of a person or because of a system? Chances are, it is easier to point a finger at a person rather than a system.

I believe things do not simply collapse overnight. People can spend many hours building a big strong brick house quickly but on a weak foundation. All it takes is one big windstorm, and the entire house will be crushed by its own weight once the substructure beneath is destroyed.

In a money driven world where profits are considered 'more important,' what about the 'less important' aspect of employee relationships? In a bureaucracy where sticking to the rules are necessary to maintain order, what about the 'less important' creativity among standard procedures? Are we too caught up with numbers, that the 20% star players become more important than 80% majority? Can a star striker win a football game all by himself? The answer is clear. We need a team, both stars as well as ordinary folks.

In the kingdom of God, there is no distinction between more important or less important people. In the parable, it is the rich in possessions, the gainfully employed and the busy married person who refused the master's invitation to dine. For them, attending a dinner is less important than possessions, property or partner. The master then extended the invitation to all others, stating that those who reject his invitation shall not eat at his table.

Have we rejected God's invitation to dine? More importantly, have we made our own version of "MIT" (more important thing) into a stubborn doctrine? Are we too idol-driven that we fail to listen to God's prompting? God does not play favourites. Neither does he look at statistical tables before making a decision to invest. He sees the hearts. He sees people, not numbers. He invites all to come and dine with him. Will we say yes to him, or say 'no' by putting the M.I.T in between God and ourselves? Remember. MIT (or LIT) does not always come first. God's leading must come first.

THOUGHT: What do you make of God's commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me?" Will the MIT we put first slowly turn into an idol that puts God last?
"The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying Him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life." (CS Lewis, Christian Reflections)

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