How Barry Rowan Learned to Let God Shape His Plans 

How Barry Rowan Learned to Let God Shape His Plans 

#plans #purposes #pursuits

11th of November 2023

Blog link: https://www.otakada.org/how-barry-rowan-learned-to-let-god-shape-his-plans/

How Barry Rowan Learned to Let God Shape His Plans 

How Barry Rowan Learned to Let God Shape His Plans 

Podcast Link : https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/otakada/episodes/How-Barry-Rowan-Learned-to-Let-God-Shape-His-Plans-e2bm2el

We all make plans for our work, whether that’s a list of things to do today, or a ten year plan. We have hopes, dreams, and goals for the future. But what does it mean to let God shape your work plans? How do you know if you’re submitting to God’s plan, or simply trying to fit God into your plan? We talk with Barry Rowan, author of The Spiritual Art of Business: Connecting the Daily with the Divine. Barry has spent his career in a variety of C-suite roles and has been instrumental in building and transforming businesses. He is also deeply committed to contemplation and prayer, and he’s here to tell us how the two mix together to let God shape our plans for work.

Scripture References
Luke 14:33
John 10:10
John 4:34
Isaiah 55:11
James 1:2-4
Psalm 139:13

Transcript – How I Learned to Let God Shape My Plans – Barry Rowan
Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges… so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

We all make plans for our work, whether that’s a list of things to do today or a 10-year plan. We all have hopes, dreams, and goals for the future, but what does it mean to let God shape your work plans, and how do you know if you’re submitting to God’s plan or simply fitting God into yours? Today we’re talking with Barry Rowan, the author of The Spiritual Art of Business: Connecting the Daily with the Divine. Barry has spent his career in a variety of C-Suite roles and has been instrumental in building and transforming businesses. He is also deeply committed to contemplation and prayer, and he’s here to tell us how the two mix together to let God shape our plans for work. Barry Rowan, welcome to the podcast.

Barry Rowan: Thanks so much, Leah, it’s great to be here with you both.

LA: I wonder if you could tell us how you realized initially that you needed or wanted God to shape your plans for work.

BR: Sure, so I’ve written over 10,000 pages in a journal, and it’s interesting that the very first entry was particularly significant because it carried the seeds of this understanding, which was actually a misunderstanding, so let me give you a little bit of the back story. I had a deferred admission to Harvard Business School, and they said, Looks okay, but why don’t you go work for two years and we’ll hold the spot for you. And I worked for the first year, and then for the second year, I wanted to do something that I thought would enhance my compassion for people, so I went to visit my brother who was in graduate school in Colorado, and I thought about living on the street, our family wasn’t wealthy, but I’d never really gone without, and I thought about joining a ministry to work in soup kitchens or serving people in jail, and anyway, I came back from that trip really confused about what to do, but one thing was cemented for me, which was… I concluded that for me, the challenge wasn’t to live out that compassion in the space of a year, but to live an integrated life, it’s really live fully for God Monday morning at 10 o’clock, and a couple of days after that, I was part of leading a retreat for college students, and I graduated about 18 months before, and it turns out as it’s often in the case, I suppose I was the one who needed the retreat, so I made the very first entry in my journal during that retreat, and I said, I want to get closer to God and to include Him in my decisions and in my life, ’cause I had really wrestled with that question, and then fast forward six years later, I came to really a crisis of meaning at work having finished business school was part of a fast-growing startup company, but that’s how the book opens with the scene on the rock up in a camp in Colorado, just really wrestling with, Why am I alive and by what measure do I have judge success in my life? So after that, I read 16 books in the next eight months and was really continuing to wrestle with this question about what about God? And I went back and I re-read that journal entry, and I realized that I’d had it completely backwards, I said it wasn’t that big of me, to be willing to include the Creator of the universe in my decision in my life.

I had had it so wrong for so long, I was trying to fit God into my plans instead of submitting myself to His plan, and after that, about 10 days later, I actually submitted my life to Christ and the lesson in that for me is just the power of perspective, that the way we see changes the way we live, and I was seeing things all wrong, and once I kind of turn the telescope around, and looked at it through the other lens, the pieces fell into place and that began this adventure with God.

MR: I love the way you framed it, and even your first, I love your first journal entry because it’s so honest, if you’d hung around with Christians more, you might have been able to say it the other way, but really the reality was, we wanna fit God into our plan, include God in our plans, and it’s wonderful, but in that season of your life, the Lord led you to really see things differently and frame it up differently with God actually. So I’m reminded of Rick Warren’s book, Purpose-Driven Life. His first line is, It’s not about you, I always remember it so that’s yeah, I get it, and how wonderful that you discover that in your 20s, I think it probably took me another three or four decades to work on that one.

BR: Well, I may have discovered it in my late 20s, but it’s taken the next 40 years to be unpacked as we all know…

LA: Well let’s get into the nitty gritty of what you did in response to this, Barry. In your book, you talk about surrender, but I would like to break it down for our listeners a little bit more, what did you have to surrender or who did you feel like you’re surrendering to.

BR: I was surrendering to God really, to Jesus. And then what about Jesus? What do I gotta do about Him? And He’s either who He says He is or He’s a raging lunatic, as CS Lewis described it, and if He is who He says, He is, we need to take Him at his word and His words that just penetrated me were, Any of you who does not give up everything He has can’t be my disciple, and I’m a very committed guy. Linda and I have been married for 42 years for example. And I take commitment seriously, so I was like, Wow! Everything, Lord? Giving up everything? And so after wrestling and wrestling with that and then rereading that journal entry. It was in a run around the lake by our house that I said, I give up basically. And it was with heel marks in the sand is the way I described it, I came kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of Heaven, and so was to give up everything that I had… It was sort of a parallel with dating and then a desire that grows to get married. As we get to know someone, and we fall in love with them, then we want to commit to them, and so that was the case for me, and it’s been a progression of getting to know God more and more. So it’s not a one and and done proposition by any stretch, it starts with submitting our whole life to Him, and then it grows into submitting ourselves to His will that is embedded in every moment of our lives, and so it’s a surrender to His lordship, but also to His leadership, but I think it has to be everything we have. For me, surrender was with a white flag, it was unconditional surrender, no conditions, I will go wherever you wanna go and follow wherever you lead to the best of my ability.

LA: And this passage about surrendering everything and following Jesus occurs in several of the gospels, it’s in Luke Chapter 18, Verse 24, and I wonder, Mark, if you feel like it’s often been interpreted in different ways, because there’s some people have literally surrendered money and possessions. We could think of famous followers of Christ who have done that, some people have interpreted as more of a symbolic surrender. What is your sense of how it fits into the lives of normal working Christians today I’ll ask this of Mark, and then I’ll ask Barry to weigh in.

MR: Well, Leah, that’s a great question. I think for many of us, the big danger when it comes to those things that Jesus said, and you’re right there in several gospels, but about giving up everything is it makes us so uncomfortable that we try to find a way to rationalize out of it quickly.

LA: You caught me.

MR: Well, me too. So that the rather than really wrestling with what that means, with the Lord, in community with others, to say, “what is God really calling me to?” I want to jump quickly to, Well, this just means I really need to be really committed to Christ, and maybe I go to church more often. In other words, we kinda shrink it down rather than let that extraordinary… It’s a command. It’s also an invitation, really be something we wrestle with, and as Barry said earlier, it’s not like we’re gonna solve it, I mean, we’re gonna wrestle with this our whole lives, so I would say different ways to interpret it, but for most of us, the danger isn’t that we’re gonna give up everything to go be live on some mountain by ourselves in a cave, most of it it’s gonna be… We’re gonna remain pretty much untouched, and that’s something I worry about for me and for others…

LA: Barry, what does it look like to you in the day to day?

BR: It is a great question, Leah, and for me, it’s a very visceral tangible thing to surrender, and let’s talk about the consequences of surrender, so surrender means to empty ourselves of ourselves so that we can be filled with God Himself. So what happens is we give up everything we have… It gives Jesus permission to come into us, and as a part, what happens then is that we die to the desires of this world, and so we die to the desires for the accolades of mankind and even to our fears. For me it was as a fear of insignificance, for example, and so we often count the cost, which we should do of surrendering, but we sometimes lose sight of the goal or the benefits, and I think by coming into us, Jesus literally wants to transform the substance of our being, He wants to make us into something new, He wants to transform us from selfishness into selflessness. He wants to transform us into love. For He is love. And so as we do that, this surrender is the beginning step of that, it gives Him permission to do that masterful work in us.

So for me it’s a starting point, it’s not the ending point. And it’s a progression. And for me, the question often becomes, as I hear Jesus saying, what is the next part of “everything” that He would have me surrender? Whether it’s my whole life… It’s my career, it’s our finances, it’s our family, it’s our children, it’s this moment, it’s my pride, it’s all of these things, and over time, those become less so that He can become more in us.

MR: Barry let me quote you, because you have a great, many great lines in your book, but one that really stood out to me, and I wrote it down. Abundance of life begins with abandonment to God. That’s what you were saying here, but I think that’s just a wonderful way to frame it up and think about it in your book, by the way, The Spiritual Art of Business if folk folks are listening and saying, Well that sounds interesting that… Because it can feel like if we give everything up, we’re gonna have less life, right? That’s the fear. But what you’re pointing out, what Jesus points out before you, of course, is it… No, actually this is the entrance into fullness of life.

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BR: Yeah, and He promises us that I’ve come that you might have life and have it to the full, which you’re talking about, Mark. And I think we can absolutely hold Him at his word, but He wants we set our sights too low, in my view, and that God wants to elevate our sights into this fullness of life that is beyond what we imagine, and we measure it by the wrong yardstick so often, particularly in a culture of consumerism and materialism and what really matters are these riches in heaven, riches of relationships and absence of fear. And I’ve come to set the captives free. As He says, He just want to set us free of these prisons of our own making, they are often comprised of invisible bars, we don’t see them, but I was, for example, in a prison of achievement for many years, and as God showed me that over time and crucified the god of achievement. It set me free to… Because I had a disordered set of love, I didn’t put the God of the universe alone on the throne as He asked us to do, so it’s a gift to come into that freedom, that is really the result of our faith.

LA: Trying to think of how… One might make this feel tangible in the day-to-day, how to make surrender, how to give an example of what surrendering to God in our work looks like, and I think I had kind of a little experience of this, even just this morning, when it comes to the work of my household. I’ll tell the story for what it’s worth, my husband and I were having a normal morning getting the kids off to their activities, which is not un-stressful with three children under the age of 15, so we have… And there were some negotiating about who was going where and could they have a sleep over for the weekend, and my husband and I got into a sort of a disagreement, that’s to put it mildly, over who was gonna be in control over the weekend plans and who thought what was right, and we were starting to go head-to-head and having a little fight that was turning into a bigger fight, and I…

In the midst of that, I paused and I said, You know what, I mean, I didn’t say it so kindly, but now I said like, You know what, we are both having some strong emotions, and I think eyes on the prize, what we need to do right now, is re-focus on the kids and getting them off to their thing, re-focus on the work we’re doing now, and then the fight over or how we decide who comes over for a sleep over let’s do that later, and then let’s focus on the work we have to do now, and I have to say… And we kind of were like, “Fine, let’s do that. Fine.” Once we made that decision to focus on the work that we were doing at that moment, the work of family life, the other problems kind of went away, we kind of forgot about in the moment of stress that was causing the tension kind of dissipated all itself and when we went back to the work, actually, we found joy in the work and everybody got dressed and ended up going where they needed to go. And now, and I did some work and now I’m talking to you when I’m no longer feeling this wretched tension that we were feeling before, and it’s a tiny example of someone’s morning, but I think it’s a tangible example of surrender sometimes just means for me putting my will aside, my plans, my emotional responses my anger and just saying like, You could have those later, Leah, turn to those later, and right now, what is the core work that you’re doing…Let’s focus on that.

BR: Yeah, that’s a beautiful example, Leah. And let me respond also with some experience of my own about, what does this look like tangibly? And I think that particularly as you go further down the path of life, we realize that God’s will is embedded in every moment, and let me give you two big examples, and then a little example of my own life that God really uses our work to do his work in us, and He transforms us through our work, and so it’s an instrument in His will in so many ways, and I’ll give you one example where this really came home to me. I was part of a turn around business, and this business was a total turn-around financially, operationally, strategically, even reputation-ally, and the stock had skidded from $17 a share when they went public, down to $0.42 cents a share, and we had over $200 million worth of debt, get this at 16% to 20% interest rate. So it was a credit card debt.

LA: Holy molly.

BR: And so we went through 10 rounds of negotiation, we got the debt, agreed to a new structure, and we had people who had to sign up for this $200 million worth of debt, and the bids were due on a Tuesday and Monday night, we had $90 million worth of bids. And so I went to church the next morning, as I often do daily, and I was sitting in church saying, well, Lord, at the end of today, we’re either going to have the money raised and we’re going to uncork the champagne, or we’re going to have to just put on our muck boots and start all over again. And I can tell you which one I would prefer. And I just sensed God saying, Barry, are you willing to embrace my will that is embedded in this moment? My will, I’ve called you to this place to do your best, to get this business turned around, and serve society, create jobs, serve customers. And at the end of the day, you’re going to have a choice one way or the other. And so My will is embedded in those, in the consequence of this, the outcome of today. And so it was a profound kind of understanding and realization that He’s embedded in every moment and that, yes, we did get the money raised, by the way, it was oversubscribed, but that was kind of beside the point. The point was, was I willing to embrace that will? And Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” We often think of obeying God’s will as something that is just a requirement or is done out of obligation, but it’s the very source of our sustenance, is to obey His will.

And the second example is out of a company where I was most recently, and we had gotten it totally turned around, and Wall Street Journal actually talked to us about this, and I said this was a double turn around followed by a comprehensive transformation, which was the case. So we got it totally turned around and we were announcing earnings. I’ll never forget it on Friday the 13th, March 13, 2020, and then COVID hit 2 days later, and it’s like, oh gosh, this is so painful. And it was in the airline space, and flights were only down 96% in the first month of COVID, so it had a dramatic impact on the business plan, and it was during Lent. And I said, Lord, this is just an unrelenting Lent. We just got it turned around. And I just sensed God saying, Barry, are you willing to go from reluctant obedience to joyful generosity? I know you’ve taken this job out of your obedience to me. It was my sense of God’s call for me, but are you willing to really shift your mindset and just give generously of yourself? You’ve seen this movie before. I’d done other turnarounds.

This was a bit more of a horror movie than I’d seen previously, but I had seen it before, and after that I said, yes, Lord, I will. And I hadn’t worked that hard in the next year since I was in my twenties. And we got it totally turned around, and the company got, it was worth, it got down to $125 million in value, and it was worth $2.5 billion less than 2 years later. So we got it totally fixed. But really it was God’s will that was embedded in that and was I willing to go from reluctant obedience to joyful generosity?

And those are two big examples. But to your point, Leah, I think very small examples can be very real. And I think God’s will is embedded in those as well. When our kids were little, they had a song that they sang in a play called My Way or Yahweh. And I think it’s just such a beautiful picture of the moment-to-moment decisions we make. And so I would ask our listeners, actually, to do a little exercise about this, which is make a list of five kind of typical activities that you do throughout your day and then write this down and put two columns My Way or Yahweh. And then think, what does it look like to go through this experience, whether it’s getting your kids off to school or sitting in a budget meeting if you’re at work or whatever it might be, and write down how, what would be my way kind of the world’s way and what would be God’s way. And maybe it is to simply pause as you did this morning, Leah, but, Lord, you have a point of view about this. And as we begin to look at the daily-ness of life through that lens we see God in everything. And it just makes our lives come alive. Because we then see, oh, Lord, I see You in all things and that I want to live my life for You in obedience and in congruence is almost a better word. In congruence to Your will.

MR: Barry, your example there reminds me of a chapter in a book that I’m sure you know, because you, in your acknowledgment you mentioned Denise Daniels, who has co-written a wonderful book on sort of spiritual practices at work. And they have a whole chapter on I think it’s called Surrender the Calendar. And when I read that, that actually changed my life. I probably read it, I don’t know, 5 years ago. And most days I literally begin the day in my prayers, going through my calendar and trying to surrender to God the things of the day you’re talking about. You were saying, well, you can also do that with regular practices, things you would normally do. Am I surrendering to God? And I think those are very practical ways of really trying to give everything to God as you get going so it… Anyway, what you were saying reminded me of what Denise and Shannon had written.

BR: Yeah, let me just build on that, Mark. I have come to see my to-do-list as my call from God for the day. And I try to pray for 1 to 2 hours in the morning and it’s 90% of my prayer is listening in scripture. It’s kind of embedding myself in, I call it immersion prayer. It’s embedding myself in God, in scripture, and in the current circumstances I’m in and say, Lord, just speak to me about what you’d want me to know. And then I do a to-do-list. And I say, Lord, this is your call for the day as best as I can understand it. And the goal of our to-do-list is not to get everything done on a list. I mean, have any of us ever gotten everything done? Never. Right? And that was freeing to realize, no, that’s not the purpose. The purpose is at the end of a day or a week or a lifetime, to say, Lord, did I spend my time on the things you would have wanted me to spend my time on? So, God, is free to tear the to-do-list up at any moment. Somebody comes into our office and they’ve just discovered that their spouse has cancer. Well, doesn’t that now become the highest priority, to listen to them and to be there for them?

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But it is I find it a very helpful way to say very tangibly, Lord, this is not my life. It’s Your life to live through me. And these are the things, best as I can understand through our prayer that You would make as priorities for the day. So yeah, I think it’s a very natural and integration of the daily with the divine.

MR: Yes.

LA: Now, Barry, do you have signs that you could tell our listeners how to know if you’re on the right track or maybe getting off track? What are the signs that I’m fitting God into my plan versus submitting to God’s plan?

BR: Yeah, I can give you some examples because I’ve lived outside of the divine design a good part of my days, and God gets that right? So, yeah, I can give you a few examples of that. One is striving versus abiding. And I think that very often, particularly for us achievement types, that we view life, and the purpose of life is to strive. And Jesus says, abide in me and I will abide in you. And as we abide in Him, the achievement, instead of being an input, becomes an output. Instead of thinking it’s going to fill us up, is an expression of God’s love for us, that we love because He first loved us, as the scripture tells us. And as we do that, love finds expression in everything we do, including our work. So abiding in Him and having our achievement be an output.

The second thing I’ve noticed is avoiding doing the hard things. I’ve often prayed for God to deliver me from my circumstances, but He usually delivers us through our circumstances. In other words, it’s letting the black get blacker than black when we want to kind of skirt around the edges and let the black become gray. And I realize that God often just calls us to walk right through the heart of the challenge to embrace the pain because God gives purpose to the pain. And so that’s another thing is avoiding doing the hard things.

Another is kind of a sense of God, of me asking God to bless my plans instead of fitting into His plans. And there’s a huge difference between a surrendered faith and a surrendered life and a managed life. The managed life is sort of a bolt-on Christianity. It’s “I’m going to go through life and, God, I’m just going to ask You to bless my plans.” The surrendered life is completely the opposite. It’s, Lord, I submit myself to You and it’s Your life to live through me. And so we will grow into this life that is more than we can ask or imagine, but it’s really not for Him to bless our plans.

Another thing I would say is just a sense of malcontentedness and inability to enjoy the gifts of God is kind of a sign that we’re living outside of the divine design. Because when we’re in the divine design we grow into this sense of gratitude and joy. And by the way, those qualities have not come naturally for me. I was always focused on what’s left to be done rather than what’s been done and kind of focused on the future instead of living in the present. And now I’ve come to see that that kind of malcontentedness that comes from that is for me, living outside the design of God. So enjoying a sunset or appreciating a delicious meal or having meaningful conversations with friends as we become grateful, it’s evidence that we’re in God’s design. So a lack of gratitude, a lack of joy, I think are evidence as well so.

But it’s a day-to-day thing and it’s actually a habit of the heart to, I think, grow into this understanding of how to live in the God’s plans instead of just trying to fit Him into ours.

LA: There’s so much there. And what sprang to my mind. When you’re talking about all of our tendency to avoid what is difficult and to run to what might be comforting, this is similar to the conversation that we were having just a few minutes ago. Mark when you’re talking about we all have this desire not to take Jesus’s words seriously or to find an easier way to interpret them that maybe gets us off the hook and we don’t have to do anything differently. And I think what you’re saying to us, Barry, is, well, when we do that, we’re going to miss a lot of the gifts that come from surrender. Mark, I want to bring you into this because you were originally the one who came up with this interpretation that it’s so easy to run from what Jesus really said. How do you feel, you know, when that’s what you’re doing?

MR: Well, you’re asking me or Barry or both of us?

LA: I want to bring you into the conversation, Mark, because I want to put you on the hot seat, because we put Barry on the hot seat a lot.

MR: Sure. Okay. I’ll be on the hot seat. Well, I actually think it’s hard to do that because we often fool ourselves, but in different ways. First of all, I would say that God helps us if we’re willing to attend to that. Barry mentioned taking time of prayer in silence rather than telling God everything that God has to do, and that could really… So there’s the time of quiet and listening with God. I think this is where and, Barry, you mentioned this, in your book, you talk about this isn’t a journey you do alone, you do with others. If you have people who know you well and love you and are there for you and know your heart, that’s often a great place to be helped to discover things that you might not see yourself. And I think in my own life, some of the greatest and hardest learning has come from people who love me and know me, who helped me to see things that I had not seen and then didn’t want to see. So I think that’s part of it. And then the amazing thing is God, we’re not just on our own. God is there to help us, of course, also through the Spirit and in different ways. But I mentioned those times of quiet and also just the community. And I’ll kick over to Barry and see what you think.

BR: No, I, of course, really very much agree with you, Mark, on the community, and they hold up mirrors for us, and they speak truth and love. I’m going to give you an example back to the Striving versus Abiding. So early in my Faith walk, I read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I don’t know if any of you read that, but it’s a very interesting book. He has 13 virtues, and he said, well if 13 goes into 52 four times, so I can cycle through those virtues. Four times in a year. And I thought, well, that makes a lot of sense to me so I, and I’m a very disciplined guy, and I thought, I’m going to make a list of virtues and do that. And I met with a friend of mine, too. I’ve met in a men’s group for 25 years in different groups where we’ve moved in different places. And so, this was the first group I was a part of. And my friend John looks at me and he says, Rowan, you got steam coming out of your ears, you’re so focused on doing this. And he said what about just letting God do his part? And he was totally right. I just couldn’t see it, I was just cranked up and really trying to follow Benjamin Franklin into that way of growing into a virtuous life.

MR: I love that. Say, one of the things that occurs to me in this conversation, folk maybe who have not read your book, especially younger folk, would say, well, okay, praying and having God in your business, and you talk about being transformed in our thinking and finding meaning and purpose in our work. I think a lot of younger folk would say, is this just all about me? Now I know the answer because I’ve also read part four of your book. Can you talk about that because I think for many of our listeners, they really would want to know, how is this going to help me be a better person in the world? How is this help me be a better disciple of Jesus out there? How is this going to help me make the world a better place? How are we going to see more of God’s kingdom? So I want to be sure we talk about that a little bit. So I’ll say to you, is this just about me and my own well being and inner joy, or is there a world changing discipleship aspect here?

BR: Yeah, you’ve asked a question like every good lawyer would ask a question in that you don’t ask a question you didn’t know the answer to, right? So, since you did finish the book, but no, that’s right. I mean, in the book, as you know, we talk about kind of a 4 phase cycle of the spiritual art of business. It starts with surrender. As we surrender our lives to God, He transforms us, and as He does, He makes us into new creations. And then we as these new creations, go out into the world. And then there’s this kind of overlay of the cycle of Isaiah, as we know and as the rains come down from the heaven and do not return to, without causing the earth to bud and to flourish. So it is with the word of God, and so it’s this cycle of Isaiah that runs through this process of surrender to transformation new creations and into the world. And so it’s not about us. It’s about God transforming us so that He might transform the world through us. And those words are chosen carefully in that it’s not we who are transforming the world. It is Christ in us who is transforming the world through us. That is, again, as we become less and He is alive in us, He transforms the world through us, and it’s very different.

And I was part of helping build eight businesses over 40 years. Six of them were successful, two were not. I often talk about the ones that were not, because I think we have as much to learn from what the world considered to be failures as the other ones. But in a couple of those businesses, as I was well, a couple of those businesses, I was being asked, I left one business, and we’d gotten it totally turned around. It was this business that had all this debt that we talked about previously, and this co-worker came into the office, my office and said, and she closed the door and sat, just plopped out in a chair and said, would you just tell me what makes you tick? And I asked her, well, why? She said, well, you seem to have a lot of energy for this work. You seem to treat people with a sense of dignity and respect. As we’ve gone through these really challenging times of this turnaround, you have just had a sense of calm. And I just wanted to understand why. And I said, well, at what level would you like to have this conversation? And she said, Oh, let’s get past the superficialities here. Let’s talk about the real stuff of life. And so we talked about what made me tick and we talked about how I had come to a surrendered faith out of a crisis of meaning and work. And that God had transformed my perspective of work through the subsequent 8 years of struggle and writing 350 pages to myself, mostly in the middle of the night.

And how I’d had it all so wrong for so long. And fundamentally, I was trying to derive meaning from the work instead of bringing meaning to the work. And that it’s God’s purpose of the work that brings meaning to it. And so that’s why I have such energy around this, is that my work life and perspective of life has been just transformed by this new perspective. And she left my office, and nine people basically came in over the next two weeks between the time we announced I was leaving and taking another job to ask the same question. And so, my kind of mantra has been, to paraphrase Francis Assisi, preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words. So for me, I hope that it looks very different and I think it does. I mean, it means that we have a broad definition of success. It’s not just financial success. It means if we’ve left dead bodies along the way, that is not success. It means having a broad based view of business and its role in society to contribute to a better society through responsible value creation and serving customers and creating an environment that enables people to grow into the full expression of themselves and being a good corporate citizen.

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So our faith informs everything we do. And that’s why I’m so excited about this and why my wife Lynn and I both invest in the next generation of leaders who are called to live fully for God in the world because it makes a difference in the world.

Whether you have a faith or not, when people are treated with dignity, and even the role of business and society is to… One of those roles is responsible value creation. And it took me a long time to realize why I cared so much about the stock price going up in our businesses. And, well, yeah, it makes the options worth more, but that is not a cause that will get me out of bed in the morning but we, it’s a noble cause and it’s responsible value creation. And then I realized that I’ve been called to follow Jesus and He’s led me into business. And value creation is the hallmark of a well-functioning society because it’s evidence of people being released to contribute up to their potential. And so when you began to begin to see the kind of the nobleness and even the sacredness of the callings in daily life, it makes us come alive and people see that. And I love that quote from John Eldredge. “He said don’t start by asking what the world needs, start by asking what makes you come alive, because what the world needs are people who are alive.”

LA: Barry, I wonder if you could go back to this verse that you mentioned in Isaiah, which is in Isaiah chapter 55, it starts with verse 11 about, God’s word not returning empty, but the scripture says, “Shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” You mentioned that this idea of the word going out into the world, not coming back empty was salient in your understanding of your own work. I wonder if you could tease that link out a little bit more.

BR: Sure. As is true with so much of scripture, it’s true at multiple levels. So it’s true of when God spoke creation into being, it’s true of the life of Jesus who was the Word made flesh and came into the world and did not return to the father empty, but He accomplished His purposes of being the salvation of humankind. And it’s true for us individually that God’s word comes into us, and we too are meant to be the Word made flesh. And so the way I describe it is that God literally wants to rewrite the software of our souls. And He does that by having His word embedded in us, that the yeast works its way all the way through the dough. So…

LA: I need continuing software updates, it seems to me.

BR: Yeah. Well, He has an ongoing download, so we can get it every day, every moment even. But so His word, it becomes very real and it literally changes the way we look at things. So of course, we’ve talked about Jesus’ words, if any of you does not give up everything he has, he can’t be My disciple. And that yeast is working its way through the dough more, as I continue to ask, and Jesus asked me more accurately, what is the next part of everything? You know, Jeremiah at the potter’s house, he says, the clay was marred in his hands, so he made it into a shape that seems best to him. So that word that came down there are three issues with that, right? The clay is marred, the shape is wrong, and the capacity is too small. And we submit ourselves to the strong thumbs of the potter.

And so as that word becomes real in us, it causes us to be willing to embrace challenges, to say, Lord, these are your strong thumbs working on me in the challenge of this failure in business, in Brazil, for example, for me. Or James then consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that testing your faith develops perseverance. I mean, I still don’t always consider it pure joy when I get into trials, but more and more, I see the power of those trials and the power of pain to transform me in the way God would want me to be transformed. And so as those words become real in us, and they literally change our operating system, that’s how God’s word doesn’t return empty. You know, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. And so the work He’s asking us to do to nudge the world closer to Him, God smiles when He sees that. So you get into this beautiful cycle of Him coming into us and us going into the world.

And it’s like the fruits of the spirit, right? I’ve really come to see our inner life as the promised land within us. I mean, that’s a much longer conversation. But if you think about that, the orchard of the fruits of the spirit are in us. And so as we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, that fruit grows in us, and that’s seed-bearing fruit. So people can take a bite of that fruit of joy, and it plants the seed of joy in them. And then that goes back to God as an offer of thanksgiving to Him. So that, to me, is how that cycle works at multiple levels, and including in us in our daily lives.

LA: I’m encouraged by the idea of continuing software update improvements. And I think that’s why it is so important, the topic of our conversation, submitting to God in our daily work, because it’s less esoteric. It’s very easy to say, generally speaking, I submit my life to God. But it’s very difficult to say, how am I bringing my work to God day to day? And I think that is why, Barry, you try so hard to communicate that this is a daily practice. This is not a one and done, but you give your readers techniques, like the journaling technique you mentioned earlier, to try to enter into that submission, because it’s difficult to do on a high level, but it’s actually very practical to do in the moment-to-moment basis of our work.

BR: Yeah, it absolutely is. And God does transform us. I’ve just turned 67, and I’ve been following Jesus for almost 40 years. And it’s actually gratifying to see His progress. I went to my 40th reunion from graduate school a couple of weeks ago. And the thing I was most grateful for, because those experiences cause you to reflect on your life, is the work You’ve done in us, Lord. And we talked about how God uses our work to do His work in us. And my career has been the crucible for the formation of my soul. I’ve grown more through my work life than any other aspect of my life. And the genius of God’s design is that He transforms us, and He transforms the world through us. And He does it through the ordinary experiences of our lives, moment-to-moment and daily. And I call this, in my own life, kind of BC to AD, before Christ to after Christ. And so many things have had to be transformed in me.

I mean, starting from my purpose in life, to living my life for myself instead of for God, to meaning and work that God had to take me through what I would describe as two dozen paradigm shifts. And at its core, I was trying to derive meaning from my work rather than bringing meaning to my work, and that God completely transformed that perspective of work. That God has had to crucify the God of achievement, and He did that through the biggest failure of my life, which was a large-scale business failure in Brazil. And the death of these earthly desires, like the applause of mankind, or the desire for financial independence, or one of the ones for me that I never knew was driving me until I was in my late 30s, was I wanted to be famous for doing good. I didn’t want to be famous for doing bad stuff, but I want to be famous for doing good. And that is just totally self-centered. And He also has put to death a lot of my fears, the fear of insignificance, the fear of not achieving my potential, which was a real fear. And as you think about it, it’s just a completely irrational fear.

Would the God, not the God of Psalm 139, who knit us in our mother’s womb, want us to achieve our potential, right? And so the result of this is freedom. And I feel like I’m just getting started with the Lord, to be honest. I feel like I’m just beginning to get to know Him and falling in love with Him ever more deeply. And I hope that as I get older, that I will say, as I can say now, that the last year of my life has been the year where I’ve grown more than any other year of my life.

MR: Amen. Love that.

LA: Barry, do you have any final words of encouragement you’d like to add for those of our listeners who are just starting to figure out how to let God shape their plans for work?

BR: Yeah, I would offer two thoughts. I mean, first is, I live in Colorado and imagine yourself sitting on the shore of Lake Gilpin in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. And wouldn’t you want to be a part of a plan that’s designed by the creator of that, of the universe, rather than a design that is hatched in my own pea brain. And so it’s just so much more abundant, so much bigger. And the last thought I would really leave folks with is just enjoy the journey. It’s truly an adventure with God. I’ve had the privilege of going to all 50 states and going to 50 countries through my work life and personal travel. And I would just tell you that the adventure with God is the greatest adventure this life has to offer. And it’s also, the journey is a lot prettier with the shades up. If we keep our eyes open to what’s happening, pay attention to what’s going on around us, especially to the ways that God is speaking to us all the time in this uninterrupted conversation with him. So enjoy the journey.

MR: Amen.

LA: Amen to that. Barry Rowan, thank you so much for talking to us.

BR: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure.

MR: Thanks, Barry. It’s been great.

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