Let there be ceaseless prayer

ceaseless_invite_screenshotAs I shared in my previous post, I’m building a Facebook app that sends an e-mail with 5 friends to pray for each day. I’ve always found it hard to remember to pray for others and I hope this app can remedy that. I’m calling it Ceaseless and you can add your name to the waitlist here if you’re interested (I’ll try to send you an invitation as soon as possible!)

A friend recently asked if I considered Twitter integration yet and I wanted to share my reply since it helps explain the ethos behind Ceaseless:


Hi [Friend],

I’ve thought about [Twitter integration], but I’d like to focus on helping people pray for others more than for current events–unless you [are finding] that people frequently tweet prayer requests. Instead of overwhelming [someone] with the latest current events/the firehose of tweets, I’d like to promote a consistent, long term, reflective atmosphere of prayer that over a year or a lifetime helps [them] pray for the things that matter to God (and  [to them]). I would like to enable people to make prayer requests, but I haven’t really thought through how that would work well (also concerned about privacy and security issues that I feel like I can’t do a good job addressing yet in my current situation).

In terms of sources of prayer, as much as possible, I’d like to incorporate things that explicitly derive from the Scriptures like:

  • Praying for political, business, intellectual and other leaders and all those who are in authority, globally, nationally, and locally. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  • For more laborers to be sent to the various harvests in the world (Matthew 9:38)
  • For the saints, persecuted believers, other churches, ministries, missionaries, friends, etc. (Ephesians 6:18-19)
  • For anxieties they are experiencing (Philippians 4:6-7)

Since everyone is incredibly busy and the list of things to pray for can feel overwhelming to the point of guilt-ridden indifference, I’m trying, God-willing, to create the opposite experience. Regular prayer. Reflective [instead of reactive]. Scriptures to help you learn to pray. Just enough so you aren’t overwhelmed (in the negative sense of the word). All this coupled with a process that helps you pray for the full range of God’s purposes in the world–filling in the details of “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done”, if you will.

Thanks for the suggestion and for thinking of me too!


If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a reply in the comments. Or if you’re ready to sign up, you can do so here.

Thanks!

Link: Every Step to Calvary Was Love

My dear readers, apologies for not posting in awhile. I went on an unexpected trip to Indonesia a few weeks ago and needed time to recuperate after returning. I’ve also been working on something that will “help followers of Jesus fulfill their priestly ministry” (i.e. help you pray) and that’s been keeping me from writing. (I talked a little bit about some relevant questions in my post “Can computers pray?“).

Since this is Holy Week, I wanted to share a post from Desiring God I found helpful: Every Calvary Step was Love. It highlights Jesus’ freedom and intentionality in going to the cross to die for his people and after reading it, my heart was warmed with worship because there is no other explanation for what Christ has done than his own steadfast love and faithfulness towards us.

May you be filled with Christ’s love this week and always!

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11)

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 6 of 6)

This is the final post in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and today we are wrapping it up with Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit and Delivers Results. The previous post was on Vocally Self Critical; Earn Trust of Others; Dive Deep and you can see the full list here. I want to thank the many friends who worked through these principles and the Scriptures together with me over the course of 6 weeks back in October/November–it has been a joy and I thank God for you all!


This is the last in our series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and though there remains room for further study, I hope what I’ve shared has been helpful. The good news is that growing as a leader at Amazon means growing as a Christian and although these principles do not exhaust the fruits of the Spirit or Peter’s list of virtues, let’s thank God that we can excel in following Jesus while succeeding at Amazon.

Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Why is it difficult to have backbone? Can you share examples of where having backbone resulted in a positive or negative outcome?

In our discussion, we shared about the easy tendency towards passive aggressiveness when we succumb to social cohesion. As Christians, there seems to be a tension between the gentleness we are called to and the apparent aggressiveness of respectfully challenging decisions we disagree with. Sometimes it feels like the most aggressive people in voicing their opinions “win” and the meek are ignored (allusions to Matthew 5:5?). In fact one person received feedback to the effect of, “You need to be more vocal—you’re not here to build relationships, you’re here to get stuff done!”

It seems that at the heart of this tension is a distinction over the substance of the disagreement: Don’t disagree over egos, disagree over data (aka the truth). Having backbone is not contrary to Christian gentleness when we are slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger (James 1:19). Forcing your opinion, being aggressive and not listening should not be mistaken for having backbone. Even within Amazon, this principle is balanced by diving deep into the data and being vocally self critical.

Thankfully appealing to data and appealing to customers works much of the time in Amazon. It requires more work to sedulously test assumptions and compile the facts, but doing so often influences decisions and produces results. For example, one TPM had a feature that needed buy-in from many stakeholders who were already deluged with other work. By presenting the data and demonstrating its value to the business and our customers, he was able to get the resources despite the pushback from others who were displeased.

Delivers ResultsDelivers Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

What does it mean to settle?

In Amazon there are so many stakeholders from designers to developers to legal, finance, and other teams that any new initiative is bound to face an intimidating array of challenges. When you get pushback from all sides, you keep striving to overcome them instead of giving up—this principle seems to value perseverance.

Why do leaders focus on the key inputs?

Perhaps because they cannot control the outcomes, but in a sense they have faith that focusing on the right inputs (which they can control) will result in the output they desire.

What happens if you fail to deliver a result?

This probably ties in with being vocally self critical—admit the problem first and don’t blame it on others. Take responsibility, fail fast and recover.

What are relevant Scriptures to this principle?

As you can see from the brevity of the responses to these questions, we didn’t have much time to discuss “Delivers Results”. However, as Christians, we know Jesus expects us to “deliver results” by the grace he supplies, the right input being “remaining in him”:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Paul explains that in ministry, the results are from the Lord and all ministers of the gospel can do is focus on the inputs:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Endurance and perseverance amidst trials and persecutions are also essential to maturity and finishing the race of life:

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

(see also Romans 5)

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12)

(see also Hebrews 12)

In all these we know that the end result is praise, glory and honor to God:

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Food for thought:

How is there room for grace in a corporate environment?

Are “Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit” and “Delivers Results” principles that can and should be applied outside of Amazon to churches for example?

Please leave a comment and like/share/tweet/+1 this series if you’ve found it helpful.

Thanks! Soli Deo Gloria.

 

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 5 of 6)

This is part 5 in a series of posts comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today’s post is about Vocally Self Critical, Earns Trust of Others, and Dive Deep. The previous post was about Think Big; Bias for Action; Frugality and you can see the full list here.

Today’s leadership principles seem focused on making sure Amazon remains a truth-seeking organization instead of one that succumbs to social cohesion.


Vocally Self Critical


Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Have you been tempted to cover up mistakes and bad news?

In our theology of technology group, we shared different situations where we’ve faced this difficulty. It’s tempting to give the appearance that you or your team are progressing more quickly than you actually are, especially when reporting to upper management. It’s tempting to remain quiet while others are telling a rosy story or making promises that are nicer than reality. As leaders, we should speak up and make sure the truth is heard even though we risk making our team (or ourselves) look bad.

When you tell the truth despite its social repercussions, you encourage others to give you honest feedback and many times pre-empt the need for others to criticize you (a sort of corollary to Proverbs 27:2). Of course it’s still possible reject critical feedback outside of the ways you are willing to criticize yourself, so this is not a substitute for peer feedback.

As Christians, we have great freedom to be vocally self critical because the truth about our most depraved condition is fully known God and yet he thoroughly loves us and has given us full access to himself through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). Even though speaking up for the truth can have painful social consequences, we do it because we love the truth and our neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:6). David throughout his Psalms demonstrated a vocally self critical attitude in his confession towards God (Psalm 32) and an opposite would be the hypocritical Pharisees that Jesus condemned (John 8, Matthew 7:1-5).

Earns Trust of Others

Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Describe a time when someone in Amazon earned your trust

We began describing two types of trust-earning activities, which seemed to be different than the receptivity described by this leadership principle. The first was a case where a senior developer took the time to teach a junior developer. By explaining his thought process, asking guiding questions, listening and demonstrating the merit of his ways, this developer earned the trust and respect of the junior developer. There are other instances where senior developers may be more pre-occupied with their own work or dogmatic about some point instead of reasoning with and persuading others about their approach. The second way to build trust over time was to under promise and over deliver—basically making and keeping the promises you make over time builds trust.

However, the description for this principle seems to lean toward earning trust by listening to others and being open to their feedback and ideas—a kind of continuation of being vocally self critical. This is particularly powerful when exercised by someone in authority because it is moving along the lines of Jesus’ teaching that leaders are not to lord their authority over others (as expressed by authoritarian stubbornness), but to use it to serve others (Luke 22:24-26, 1 Peter 5:2-4). Even so, it can be frustrating dealing with someone who gives the appearance of receptivity, but ultimately is seeking to manipulate the situation to their advantage or confirm what they already desire (see for example Rehoboam who rejected the advice of his father’s counselors). As believers we ought to be truly receptive and likewise forthcoming in speaking the truth to each other (Psalm 32:9, Proverbs 1:7, Ephesians 4:15, 25).

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

What is the difference between diving deep and micromanaging?

Most of the time we’ve seen leaders dive deep at Amazon for the purposes of understanding and accountability rather than in order to directly control every action a team is making. Leaders are willing to dive deep and can quickly get to the heart of a matter, apprising themselves of the true situation. Regularly diving deep creates an atmosphere of accountability because it means that you have to know your stuff when you present and share facts with others.

Why is it tempting to stay high level instead of diving deep?

When we’re under deadlines, it may seem like we don’t have enough time to dive deep and really understand a problem, technology or spreadsheet. There is a balance between knowledge exploration and exploitation, and the intuitions about when to dive deep and when to leave things at an abstract/aggregate level seem to be gained through experience. When you do see a problem, diving deep is a form of taking responsibility since if you choose not to solve it, someone else probably will have to. This is also a way for leaders to earn the trust of others since peers and followers know that you know what is really going on and that you are taking care of it.

How does this relate to Scripture?

My friend Carter pointed out that we are not seeking proof texts in asking this question, but simply trying to reflect on these principles in light of Scripture. Jesus for example did not need to be “vocally self-critical” or “open-minded” in the sense that we do. We didn’t get to really explore this question for Dive Deep, but we know that Christ commanded his disciples to follow his example by serving each other even in the lowliest task of foot washing (John 13). In a sense his mission to seek and save the lost by giving up his own life is God “diving deep” to redeem his entire Creation:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Food for thought:

How can we overcome the tendency towards social cohesion and promote a truth-seeking culture in our families, churches, teams and wider communities?

Please leave a comment and read the next post on Have Backbone, Will Disagree and Commit; Deliver Results.

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 4 of 6)

This is part 4 in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today’s post is about Think Big, Bias for Action, and Frugality. The previous post was about Are Right, A lot; Hire and Develop the Best; Insist on the Highest Standards and you can see the full list here.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

How can you think big while remaining realistic?

In Amazon we often test the big ideas with a press release to socialize the idea and gather data followed by a prototype. Oftentimes a big idea may be rejected not because it is flawed, but because the people it is presented to cannot conceive of how it is possible. In such cases a prototype can help people take the idea seriously.

What prevents us from thinking big?

We discussed two types of obstacles: busyness and fear.

It is easy to get trapped in the details of work and lose sight of the bigger picture/possibilities. For developers, the iterative cycle of two week incremental sprints lends itself to forgetting where you are going. To overcome this, some teams schedule brainstorming sessions to take a step back and dream. Using the 5 Why’s can also help uncover bigger ideas.

It is also easy to fear failure or rejection for promoting big and bold directions. Great ideas can be quickly squashed by a desire for social cohesion. In such cases collecting data by experimenting and talking with others can help build up sufficient momentum to overcome these obstacles.

Is it prideful to “Think Big”?

For example, the Psalmist writes:

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
(Psalm 131:1-2)

Yet, we know God’s plan to save the world and redeem the whole creation is incredibly big thinking:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelations 7:9)

In his parable of the talents, Jesus in fact condemns the lazy servant who takes no risks and gets no return on investment for his master (Matthew 25:26-27).

So, it seems that although it is possible to “think big” for prideful reasons, it is just as possible to “think small” for selfish reasons.
In Amazon, thinking big is always designed to deliver more value to customers and similarly as Christians, we can always be thinking big for Christ’s purposes.

Bias for Action

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Why is it difficult to have a bias for action?

It’s tempting to delay decisions until they are made for us because it is scary to take responsibility for an unknown outcome.

For example, Saul faithlessly cowered with his 600 men instead of attacking, while Jonathan by faith exhibited a bias for action and achieved a victory for Israel.

6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

7 “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

8 Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” … 13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. (see full story at 1 Samuel 14:1-14)

How does a bias for action fit with waiting on the Lord?

We discussed the nuances of waiting on the Lord vis-à-vis acting, but didn’t arrive at a conclusive summary.

We should not confuse procrastination or avoiding responsibility with waiting on the Lord—sometimes we already know what the Lord wants us to do, but haven’t accepted his answer. An example would be the faithlessness of the Israelites who refused to enter Canaan when the Lord told them to go and then went when he told them “no” (Deuteronomy 1).

On the other hand, many Scriptures that speak of waiting on the Lord connote a restful stillness while he acts on our behalf:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:5-7)

As these various Scriptures illustrate, it seems that there is a place for action and stillness and at the root of both is complete trust in the Lord.

So let us take action, make decisions, and calculated risks by faith in God instead of succumbing to analysis paralysis or anxious toil.

Frugality

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

How can a person be frugal and generous at the same time?

We didn’t get to examine the effects of frugality like resourcefulness, but we addressed the principle itself. It seems that frugality is a mindset, which strategically arranges its assets towards its aim. In Amazon this aim is customer obsession—delivering more value to our customers (often in the form of lower prices). As Christians, our aim is God’s glory.

Even though God has unlimited resources, one could argue that he is frugal because his unlimited resources are brought to bear on his strategic purposes by lavishing the elect with the riches of his grace, to the maximal praise of his glorious grace:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:3-8a)

We also see Christ commend incredible acts of generosity in others:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. (Luke 21:1-3)

So, although we did not get to explore all the dimensions of frugality, stinginess and generosity, in the least we saw that it does not mean a generic miserliness. We practice thrift in certain areas so that we can be generous in the areas that matter to God.

Food for thought:

How does faith in Christ empower you to “Think Big”, exhibit a “Bias for Action”, and practice “Frugality” for his strategic purposes?

Please leave a comment and read the next post on being Vocally Self Critical, Earning the Trust of Others and Diving Deep.