One of the most formative constructs for me as I consider my life as an entrepreneur comes from a conversation that Luke and I had with David Morken on a road trip with our boys from Yosemite to Tahoe. After a jousting incident with another RV (long story) and an epic milkshake to recover, we had a time to reflect on the early days at Bandwidth.....the times when things were hard, and the times when they were good. We had some of both, thanks be to God for far more of the latter, and yet both taught us valuable lessons amidst a simple framework. Things seemed to go well when we were faithful, things tended not to go well when we were willful. A good example of being willful was during our time of fundraising when we went 0 for 40. We were just being willful, acting out of greed or naked ambition, driving ahead more because we thought that's what we should do, then out of any sense from having heard from God. We prayed.....that we'd come out of a meeting with a $10mm term sheet, we weren't praying about whether God wanted us to have the meeting at all.
As we reflected on that time, David came up with the following note which I asked him shortly after our return to put down in writing. What follows is the entire text of that email. It was done in a matter of moments and isn't representative of his best writing (he was the editor of the ORU student newspaper, and I've been the beneficiary and victim of his time there), but it is, most assuredly, representative of some of his best thinking. There are a couple of major lessons about being an entrepreneur that I think are essential for our flourishing. If you've been following us at FDE for a while, you know that the concepts of identity and generosity are two of them. A third, and the subject of this blog, is the difference between being faithful and willful. I hope you are blessed by this note the way that I have been:
On Fri, Aug 26, 2016 at 7:16 AM, David Morken <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Gents, incomplete scratchings at a thesis...sending because if I don't I'll leave in draft folder forever...this is my original thinking, but I'm sure some christian dude in biz has taken this farther, I just haven't done any prior art search to learn...
Question: I'm a founder/CEO with conviction that I'm called to lead my startup. How do I know when I'm being willful and creating my own path versus following the one the Lord has for us? In other words, can I lock and load, rock and roll, and go go go after all the goals I set? As long as I respect the business laws of gravity such as cash flow and written contracts, so that I'm not putting the Lord your God to the test, am I free to do my will with the business? Is being faithful more than just following best practices and going for it? What does it mean to be faithful and how can I tell what to do next or when? Are greed and fear legit motivations for action?
Operator Continuum: Willful vs Faithful
Willfulness can be both active by doing or passive by not doing. Faithfulness also can require doing or actively waiting.
The question is how to be an aggressive operator who is faithful to God's timing, not willful for our own...how do we know when we are willfully active or passive, what are the signs? How do we know when we are being faithfully active or eagerly waiting, what are the signs?
First example is young King Saul. He waits seven days for Samuel, as he was told to do. When Samuel doesn't show up, Saul reacts to his men scattering and the Philistines gathering by doing the sacrifices himself to seek God's favor before battle. Sounds reasonable, right? Black swan outcomes were looming larger, so he seized the initiative!! In simple terms, in the face of reasonable danger he acted willfully. The result is God abandons him then and there for all time! Compare that to Gideon, who is obedient in the face of same or worse odds, and God delivers victory. Both had orders, one from a prophet, one from God. Saul was willful, not faithful. He felt fear and disobeyed.
Ok, fine, but both had direct guidance from God or a prophet!! What am I supposed to do if I have only silence from God in the face of business uncertainty?
One way to know if you are being faithful is how you respond to fear/threats to your business. You must not ignore threats, but are you believing and acting or doubting and acting?
Let's look a few more examples to see if we can add more to this answer...
Moses as example: - Let's look at the difference between God's response to his willful killing of the guard to be the deliverer, versus passivity as a Midian herder. After fleeing Egypt to save his life, he goes completely passive. Imagine going from CEO in training at Apple to intern at nowhere inc. Willfully passive as a direct result of being willfully active. Ye God goes and finds him, and accommodates him when he objects by providing Aaron. That's not all, look at God's response to his failure to circumcise his family versus his disobedience in striking rock in anger. In the former case, the Bible says God was on his way to Midian to kill Moses for not circumcising his fam, in the latter case God banned him from entering the promised land, but wasn't going to kill him! Now compare both of those to God's response to his active faithfulness (he gave Moses great power and patience with Pharaoh over and over and delivered all Israel through him).
Seems that the punishments for passivity can actually be more severe than active willfulness/disobedience! Wow does this put the burden on us to consider our ways and make sure we are being actively faithful. In Midian, Moses was being prepared by his in-laws, in getting a wife and a wise administrator father in law who would help Moses govern. So the lesson here is even if you are in a backwater, God may be blooming you where you are planted.So one way to know if you are being faithful is to ask whether you are being prepared, shaped, changed to uniquely serve the Lord in the future. And God forbid you forget to do something that memorializes your covenant with the Lord! :)
David's brother's are being willfully passive with Goliath. David is faithfully active, but not as Moses did with the Guard, but on behalf of God...how was his courage and action with Goliath not willful? Answer, he quotes God's instruction and glory as immediate motivation for action, not his own glory as promised by Saul. Also, in general, preparation is not passive - David as shepherd, Moses as shepherd - both prepared them, in David's case for combat, in Moses case for the future as leader with bride and counsel from fam.
One way to tell if you are being actively faithful is if you have conviction that it is for God's glory by serving/creating/winning for others.
Another David exampleDavid was faithful in not killing God's anointed. Willful would have been slaying Saul. He was also super patient in exile. God responded by bringing men to him and teaching him to lead.But eagerly patient is NOT the same as passive - see Uriah! "In the springtime with King's go off to war - david doesn't, and boom, David commits adultery and then kills Uriah. In his own family matters, David totally negligent - boom. One way to tell if you are being willful at work is if you are destroying families, including your own, by either passivity or willful over activity!
Last David example - David asks to build temple, God says no, just like he said no to Moses going into promised land! Faithful - David does get to be temple architect and Mo does get to see land. But neither get what they want...
Sabbath example...who do you trust when confronted with God given opportunity to refresh? Can you imagine doing fast food but being closed one day a week? Chick Fil A example...incredible.
Greed and fear are not legit motivations. Responding to danger and opportunity in faithful action or eager waiting/preparation are legit drivers. What's the diff? Matter of the heart, matters a ton. God can meet you and rescue you in either, but he promises to if you respond in faith!