14 February 2023
I'm not sure I can verbalize this fully.
We have books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey that claim universal principles regardless of all other human factors, to include faith. Books like that become huge best sellers because that's what our world is like -- people want to succeed in this life. Whether you realize it or not, that book promotes the religion of self-worship. It sounds all smart and noble, but that's because our society is founded on some very unbiblical notions about what is noble.
Don't fall for the false dichotomy of thinking that you either must succeed and feel good about yourself or be a mindless or neurotic failure. This kind of thing assumes that this world is all there is; it's fundamentally Aristotelian, which in turn is very pagan. You need to remind yourself that Aristotle is burning in Hell because he rejected the message of God's people. It's not as if he never heard from scholars who learned the ways of the Ancient Near East; they did visit the academy where Aristotle (and his predecessors) taught. The end product is that Aristotle presents a body of teaching that is very much counter to revelation. It's a man-centered religion.
Covey's book is pickled in Aristotelian assumptions. He cannot imagine a different epistemology. Here's what hurts most of all: Most western Christians are just as deeply mired in that crap as Covey and his admirers. Indeed, most churches promote Covey's book. This is why so many churches have their thoughtfully crafted mission statements, but no valid biblical mission.
The fundamental biblical mission is to glorify God, to enhance His reputation. Boosting God's reputation works only as God says it does; we cannot substitute our own imagination for revelation. A major element in that endeavor is that we seek to deny this world, to point out how this mortal existence is inherently false. It's not just that people are deceived and deceptive, but that this very existence is a lie. The whole business of being trapped within space-time boundaries is a lie. The only valid goal is to escape this world, and that means learning to orient yourself on the Eternal Realm. This life is no good, and it's not worth excelling at it.
That said, I'll grant you that excelling at leaving this world will tend to look somewhat like being very effective. That's because what we cultivate is a clear vision of the difference between this world and the Eternal Realm. We have to understand how this world works and why it constitutes a failure. We need to be able to show how worldly success of any kind is never better than walking in half-truths. So we have to read stuff like Covey's book in order to see the flaws and strive to enunciate how it's only a half-truth at best. Look at the seven ideas.
1. "Be proactive." By this, Covey means that we should not wait for circumstances to shape us. We are not perpetual victims of what others choose for us. Okay, that's fine as far as it goes, but it presumes that you must overcome this world using it's own resources. It's the idolatry of human capabilities, as if what you can do on your own steam matters. God is in charge of your life, not you. Do you see how it's only a half-truth?
2. "Begin with the end in mind." Every day, imagine that you will die during your mission. What will people say about you at your funeral? Will you have impressed anyone with your sense of commitment? To which the Bible says, if people are how you measure yourself, you are dead already. How about your commitment to God, who sees in secret and rewards in as He sees fit? You shouldn't shape your activities to advertise your human goodness. You should be willing to die totally unnoticed if that is what God has in mind.
3. "Put first things first." This is less troublesome because it's a meta-value. The bigger issue is how you arrive at what matters. There's nothing wrong with pulling away from your fleshly nature and into your convictions to survey what you could do differently.
4. "Think win/win." There's nothing wrong with letting other people win for the sake of community advancement. Promoting others won't harm you. This one is also close to the truth of things, until it isn't. What's missing is that you need to identify clearly that only those who are covenant brothers and sisters are handled this way. To some degree, allies should be promoted, too. But when it comes to people who oppose your mission, the best you can do is neutrality. Sometimes it will be your mission to destroy them, in one sense or another. But the key is knowing the difference between each of those categories and what part you play in bringing God's glory into their lives. Recognize when they have shifted between categories and put that in context. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is cracking that whip and overturning some tables.
5. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." This one should be obvious as a corollary to the previous idea. Again, the problem is that you don't always need to understand. There are people who take a role in your life that excludes them from consideration. You need to learn not to care about their feelings. But it's true that you can always portray yourself as someone open to a truce on any number of terms, so long as the issue at hand isn't central your mission and calling.
6. "Synergize." This is another meta-value that isn't too much trouble by itself. Within your family or allies you do need to work toward a common welfare. Just be careful to distinguish. Don't be afraid to let things overflow onto your enemies and bless them, too, but keep your awareness sharp on who plays what role. It's not that you are closed to some people, but that you are simply vary narrow with them. Your first priority is pleasing the Lord and not throwing pearls to swine.
7. "Sharpen the saw." Take care of your physical, social/emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs. Of course, you'll notice in his book that Covey really doesn't understand spiritual, and substitutes a very worldly image of morals for what is truly otherworldly. Folks, we have a command from God to be good stewards of what He provides. A good steward will recognize what is and isn't expendable. Your human life is expendable. Only you and the Lord can rightly decide how much care is "due care" for any part of your human existence. When you genuinely put the spiritual first, the rest falls into its proper place.
In all of these things, the key is the immediacy of the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the varying probability that you will be required to violate some of Covey's principles at times. Even if you grant that there is some flexibility inherent in his book, and that he's merely trying to set the tone, you'll notice that the divine is excluded entirely. His book assumes that there cannot be a God who leads you against these principles. That's what is really wrong here.
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