77) Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

     Jack Welch is the retired CEO of General Electric.  He is one of the top executives ever to run a major company and has made hundreds of millions of dollars.  He is incredibly brilliant, an excellent leader of other people, and a top-notch manager.  He is someone who seems to know everything, and can put it all together and make it work.  He is now worth almost a billion dollars and has a retirement package that made front page news.  In these last few years has been living a life of unimaginable luxury. 

     Even though Jack Welch can spend more money in a day than most people will ever see in a lifetime, he is still a mortal being like the rest of us and all that money is not keeping his mortal body from wearing out.  He has had some heart troubles and needed open heart surgery a while back.  Open heart surgery is becoming almost routine these days, but still facing it is enough to make any man think a bit about life and death and what it’s all about.  The surgery went well, and a few days later Jack Welch was chatting with his surgeon.  The surgeon asked Jack a question.  He said, “Many times after going through this kind of surgery, my patients will reassess their whole lives, and come to some new conclusions about life and how they are going to live the rest of it.  Did you have any of those kinds of thoughts?”  Jack Welch said to him, “Well, yes, Doctor, I did do some thinking about that, and I have come to the conclusion that I have not been spending enough money, so I decided I am going to make some changes.  For example, I am not going to be drinking any more wine that costs less than a hundred dollars a bottle.”  What?

     I do not understand how can a man who face death and learn nothing more from the experience than to spend more money on wine.  Jack Welch may be very smart about many things, but seems to be not very smart about the main thing.

     You don’t have to be a billionaire to make that mistake.  I have a friend who is a big family man.  He loves his kids and is still always talking about them, even though they are all grown now.  I have seen him on and off over the years, and every time I’d see him, he would tell me how much his kids mean to him and how he loves spending time with them, but how he was always so busy.  Yet, every time I saw him, he had taken on more obligations at work.  He was already doing very well financially, so all this extra work was not at all necessary to support the family he loved.  He knew what was most important, but his outward actions did not match what he knew in his heart to be true.  Whenever I see him I am reminded of that line, “Nobody on his death bed ever regretted not spending more time at the office.”  My friend knows what is most important, but he allows himself get distracted by what he knows in his heart is less important.

     In I Kings chapter 3 there is the story of how this matter of priorities worked itself out in the life of the young King Solomon.  In verse five, God makes an incredible offer to Solomon.  It is not even a deal, not an ‘if you do this I will do that’ kind of proposal.  It is a gift.  God says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  That is the kind of question that will reveal what is most important to you.  What if the offer was made to you?  What would you want?  Your answer will reveal much about what is in your heart.

     Solomon had just been named king of Israel after the death of his father, the great King David.  Kings usually want to get more power, more land, and more wealth.  They not only want that, but go to war all the time to get it.  Here, Solomon can just ask for any of that.  But what does Solomon do?  He responds to the request not out of concern for himself, but out of a sense of duty and obedience to God who placed him in this unique and powerful position.  He starts out by praising God for his goodness, first to his father David, and now to him.  And then he humbles himself before God, saying, “But I am only a little child and I do not know how to carry out my duties.”  He then asks God for a discerning heart so that he may know right from wrong and govern the people wisely.  Solomon is given the opportunity to ask for anything in the whole world, and he asks for the wisdom and the ability to serve God wisely.

     You don’t have to be a king to serve God.  You serve God in your family, you serve God in the work you are called to do, and you can serve God in your church and in your community.  We serve God by serving others, and that is the most important thing to keep in mind.  And so yes, we will work at a job and make money, but the focus is not on the money we make, but on the people we serve in the job we do, and how the money can be used to support ourselves and then the family we are called to support, and then however else we can use it to serve God.  Jack Welch seems to think he is on earth to spend lots of money.  Solomon teaches us that we are here to serve God with everything we are and everything we have.

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I Kings 3:5-7… 9a  —  At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties… So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

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 O Lord, to be turned from you is to fall, to be turned to you is to rise, and to stand in you in to abide forever.  Grant us in all our duties your help, in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection, and in all our sorrows your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   –Augustine