Leier Newsletter: March 2017 Part 2
A Deep Life
Why are so many people unhappy in their jobs? Cal Newport (Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World) says the main reason is that people spend too much time doing superficial work. He uses three arguments to describe the benefits of deep work. Two are pragmatic: it is becoming increasingly valuable and it is becoming increasingly rare. His third argument is about thriving as a human being. A life dedicated to deep work is more satisfying and more meaningful. He approaches these arguments from a neurological perspective first.
Scientific studies have shown that the competent management of attention is a necessary prerequisite for a good life, and the key is to improve nearly every aspect of our experiences. Why? Our brains build our world view on that which we give our attention to. Who you are, what you think, feel and do, are determined by what you focus on. By managing your attention, you can change your world without making any concrete changes.
The time you spend in deep work is linked to a sense of importance and meaning. It you spend enough time here, your brain understands your life as rich in meaning and importance.
If you constantly check your e-mails, then that is what you focus your attention on. It leads to a life defined by stress, irritation, frustration, and petty problems. Psychologists have found that the best human moments happen when people's bodies and minds are stretched in a voluntary effort to achieve something difficult and worthwhile. You concentrate and then lose yourself in this activity. This state we call deep work. It leads to maximum happiness and satisfaction.
To develop a habit of deep work, we should move past good intentions and add good routines to our work lives. Cal Newport lists four ways/approaches to do this.
1. The monastery philosophy of scheduling deep work
Here, all superficial tasks are radically minimised. It requires long periods (weeks or even months) of isolation with minimal communication and contact with other people. These people usually have a professional aim or value that they pursue. The biggest part of their professional success is the fact that they do one thing exceptionally well. This clarity enables them to eliminate all superficial worries.
2. The bimodal philosophy of scheduling deep work
Clearly defined times are scheduled for deep work. The rest of the time is open for other work. These people feel that there is still value in the superficial work. During deep sessions, these workers act like monks – with intense and undivided attention. The minimum is one full day per week of deep work.
3. The rhythmic philosophy of scheduling deep work.
Here, a rhythm is developed that eliminated the decision of when to do deep work, and replaces it with a simple set of regular habits. For example, the first two hours of the day are scheduled for deep work. This routine ensures that deep work is done, although not at the same intensity as the two previous approaches. It is often the most realistic approach for people with standard office jobs.
4. The journalistic philosophy to scheduling deep work
These people do deep work whenever the time and opportunity presents itself. The ability to jump between superficial work and deep work is neither natural, nor easy. For people with busy schedules, however, this may be the only way to get deep work done.
Can someone hold people's attention long enough for God to do his work? The average attention span in 2015 was only 8.25 seconds. How can we help people settle down enough to give their attention to God's word? But also: how do I, a busy, data-rich minister, get time and energy to visit and revisit the text?
"I stop to think of you [Lord], and my mind at once like a minnow darts away into the shadows." (Denise Levertov).
How similar our thoughts are to a little fish! Always darting away in a different direction. The culture in which we swim also doesn't help much. The average American receives 54 000 words and 443 minutes of video every day. The famous Old Testament expert Walter Brueggeman says "...we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted to do serious imaginative work."
How should ministers react? The answer goes against our intuition: Go deep. In a superficial culture, people yearn for the rare, the focused, the balanced, the deep. It is our best chance to change lives. How do we preach deeply? Four practices facilitate deep preaching in a time filled with distractions:
1. A deep life before God. Here we talk about a life made meaningful by suffering, failure, repentance and continuously seeking God's grace. It flows from a heart shaped slowly and carefully through God's grace.
Ken Shigematsu, senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, says "Deep preaching flows from an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. No techniques or shortcuts can substitute for this. Preaching is a secondary calling. We're called to be lovers first."
2. Deep listening to the text.
The text tells us much more about itself than we might expect. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the text, is also present in the preacher. We often come to a text convinced that we know what it says. The result is unfortunately that we then only hear what we expect to hear.
3. Deep simplicity of the text
Deep preaching is simple, and not complicated. Choose one simply idea as your message. Kent Edwards says the effectiveness of preaching and the number of ideas it contains, is inversely proportionate. He says: "Deep preaching is clear and direct. It is profound in its simplicity."
4. Deep working of the Spirit
"These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words." – 1 Corinthians 2:10–13. This is the deep work that only the Holy Spirit can do and He is always available when we preach.
The courage to perform the first responsibility of leadership
To repeat the past may be painful, but it is also predictable. Fear is the reason why today is the same as yesterday. Each meaningful action requires courage. "You will never do anything in this world without courage" – Aristotle. Max Dupree (The Lost Art of Leadership) says the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Leaders with courage have double vision: they see the world both as it is and how it can be.
Tackle problems head-on and recognise opportunity. Fear only sees threats. Threats are a reality. Accept the reality and then improve it.
Look people in the eye and notice their strength. Don't always focus on weaknesses.
Look the present in the eye and see the future. Then, think about where you are heading, even if you accept where you are at the moment. Leaders with vision shape the future, but they don't ignore the present.
Courage always looks towards the future.
Leaders should inspire courage in others.
Take the first step.
Take responsible risks.
Admit your mistakes.
Admit fear by calling it fear.
Accept the mistakes of others.
Patterns of mistakes that happen frequently, are leadership problems.
Let people work according to their strengths.
Compensate for people's weaknesses. When people repeatedly fail, re-train them, use them somewhere else of simply remove them.
Give people a glimpse of your true self; practise couragous vulnerability.
Talk about your purpose and vision when you are faced with problems and challenges and resistance.
Establish fixed points of certainty. Live and lead according to your vision and values. Values are the foundation of certainty in uncertain environments.
Be predictable. Always stand by your team, even when they have made mistakes.
Celebrate successes and push for more.
Fear focuses on threats; courage focuses on opportunities.