23 Aug #187 – Are You an “RYR”?
ESSENCE: You are probably wondering “What is an RYR?” “RYR” stands for a “Rich Young Ruler”. Don’t stop reading just because you are not “rich” or not “young” or not a “ruler”–being an RYR is not about status or circumstances. It is about your heart as reflected in your primary identity. “Are you an RYR?” is a question every faithful leader must honestly assess if they are to lead an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way. For a faithful leader to assess the “RYR” question, the leader must make an honest assessment of their priorities and, most importantly, their ultimate priority. Priority problems underlie business as usual and the brokenness caused by business as usual. They are also at the root of many of the trials, fears, mistakes and missed opportunities we face in our personal lives. We believe “identity” is a clue to a person’s heart–to what “god” is truly their priority. Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way requires faithful leaders with a WHO rather than a WHAT identity. There are four keys to a faithful leader successfully ordering priorities, personally and professionally, in a broken world to avoid the path of the RYR: Humility, Trust, Patience, and Prayer.
Looking at the question “Are you an RYR?” probably just prompts a question in response–“What is an RYR?”
“RYR” stands for a “Rich Young Ruler”. Don’t stop reading just because you are not “rich” or not “young” or not a “ruler”–being an RYR is not about status or circumstances.
It is about your heart as reflected in your primary identity.
“Are you an RYR?” is a question every faithful leader must honestly assess if they are to lead an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way.
The Biblical RYR Story
If you’ve read the Bible, attended Bible studies, or listened to sermons, you have probably heard the story of the “rich young ruler”. It is one of “biggies”.
Rather than try to summarize it ourselves, we decided to ask BibleChat–a new AI-driven engine that will answer any questions about the Bible (give it a try). Here is its answer:
The rich young ruler is a character mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, specifically in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He approached Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments, to which the young man claimed he had done since his youth. Jesus then challenged him to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him. The young man went away saddened because he was very wealthy and could not bring himself to part with his possessions (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). The story serves as a lesson about the importance of prioritizing God above material wealth.
Although we don’t really know what happened to this man (he is never mentioned again in the Bible), everybody seems to assume he did not give everything away (if he did, he was certainly not a “joyful giver”). BibleChat is more honest when asked if he gave away his wealth:
The narrative does not provide any follow-up or indication of a change in the young man’s actions. Therefore, we cannot definitively say whether he eventually gave away his wealth or not. The story serves as a lesson about the challenge of prioritizing God above material possessions and the potential obstacles that wealth can present in following Jesus.
In both responses, BibleChat nails the key to determining if you are an “RYR”–do you truly “prioritize” God.
We devoted a post (#172–“Priority” Problems and Solutions) to a discussion of “priorities”. Here is just a short refresher.
The word “priority” has an interesting history. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown observes:
The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.
Similarly, the Bible suggests a person can have only one “priority”. In Matthew 6:24, we are told “no one can serve two masters.”
Notwithstanding the historical root of the word and the Biblical warning, today we often talk about having numerous priorities–plural priorities. “Plural priorities” is a reality of how we use the word “priority” today, how we think about our lives, and how we think about leading an organization.
Priority problems underlie business as usual and the brokenness caused by business as usual. They are also at the root of many of the trials, fears, mistakes and missed opportunities we face in our personal lives.
Equal Priorities: While a person (or an organization) can have “plural” priorities, they can’t have equal priorities. The nature of something having priority is that it is prior to every other “priority” other than any priority that ranks even higher. At the end of the day, there can only be one primary priority that will win out–other “priorities” usually get reduced to being “means” or “strategies”, which means they will be sacrificed if they no longer serve the higher priority or if they jeopardize the higher priority.
Real Priorities: A person (or an organization) may say they have one priority, but they are actually pursuing a different priority–or they may think they are pursuing equal priorities but there is a “real” priority.
Disordered Priorities: A person (or an organization) has disordered priorities when they set priorities for themselves (or an organization) that are not aligned with Biblical priorities.
For a faithful leader to assess the “Are you an RYR?” question, the leader must make an honest assessment of their priorities and, most importantly, their ultimate priority.
Priority in the Bible
We often cite Matthew 6:24 (“no one can serve two masters“) when talking about Biblical priority, but that principle weaves its way through many Biblical stories.
• God asks Abraham to choose–God or Abraham’s son Isaac.
• Jesus asks the RYR to choose–God or money.
• In Luke 14:26 Jesus tells his followers they must choose–God or father/mother/wife/children/brothers/sisters/life (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”)
In commenting on Matthew, Oswald Chambers observes:
Jesus is saying that the greatest concern of life is to place our relationship with God first, and everything else second.
We believe priority in the Bible is about heart.
• God didn’t actually want Abraham to kill Isaac–God just wanted to know that Abraham prioritized God over his son and was willing to sacrifice him.
• We don’t know what Jesus would have done if the RYR had prioritized God and been willing to liquidate his assets. He might have told him to give just a percentage away and keep stewarding the rest in a way that glorified God.
• Jesus isn’t really telling us to hate our family or our life–he is saying that we must prioritize God by being willing to sacrifice our relationships and even our life if God calls us in a direction that puts those at risk.
We also believe priority in the Bible is “all or nothing”. There is no grey. God did not give Abraham the option of just giving Isaac a little cut. Jesus didn’t negotiate with the RYR over a specified percentage or tell his disciples they might have to have a slight disagreement with family members. God calls people of Biblical faith to make Him THE priority.
“Grey” can feel good, because it is better than black. It also feels good because it will get affirmed–even from the church and faith community. Grey is not white — it is still the way of the world. Remember 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Grey may be better than black, but it is not the heart to which people of Biblical faith are called and commanded–not the priority required for faithful integrity.
In the words of Oswald Chambers: “The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough.”
Understanding Your Heart
The RYR followed all the rules, which in the Matthew account even included the great commandment to love his neighbor as himself. Actions do not necessarily reveal the heart of a faithful leader (or organization)–their true priority.
Larry Crabb and Frederick Buechner have insightful observations:
Larry Crabb: Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they’re followed in order to gain the “better life'” we demand.
Frederick Buechner: A man can be basically interested in nothing so much as feathering his own nest and still give generously to the Cancer Fund, be on the Board of Deacons, run for town office, and have a soft spot in his heart for children and animals.
As we have mentioned in prior posts, we believe identity is a clue to a person’s heart–to what “god” is truly their priority. There are really two gods from which to choose–the God of the Bible or the “gods” of this world. Although “gods” of the world come in various forms–wealth, success, happiness, power, influence, fame, leisure–we believe they are all manifestations of the spirit of mammon (take a look back at post #160 “The Ancient Path” for Andy Crouch’s description of the demonic spirit of mammon).
For a faithful leader assessing their heart, we have focused on two identity choices–a WHAT identity or a WHO identity. Every faithful leader has both, but the question is which one is their primary identity and which one is a secondary identity.
Although a person can only have one primary identity, they can have many secondary identities. For example, a person can be a Christian, a businessperson, a wife (or husband), a mother (or father), a daughter (or son), all at the same time.
But when push comes to shove, there is one identity they view, consciously or subconsciously, as the primary identity—the one they will protect even if it means sacrificing success in their secondary ones. Our self-worth and value is wrapped-up in whatever we see as our primary identity. Any primary identity other than the Biblical priority of a child of God or a follower of Jesus is an RYR identity. Dr. Skip Moen beautifully describes the facets of that Biblical identity:
I am a child of God. I am an adopted son. I am a member of Abraham’s nation. I am beloved by the Father. I am a follower of His chosen Messiah. I am part of the family. I am a citizen of Kingdom. I am a resident alien tasked with repairing a broken world.
Jesus is saying that the greatest concern of life is to place our relationship with God first, and everything else second. (Oswald Chambers)
How Identity Shapes Behavior
We have written several posts about the importance of having faithful leaders committed to a WHO rather than a WHAT identity when an organization is pursuing business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.
With a WHO identity, the faithful leader’s primary identity is WHO they are in relation to God (e.g., a child of God or follower of Jesus). With a WHAT identity, the faithful leader’s primary identity is WHAT they do in the world’s eyes (e.g., a businessperson, lawyer, barista, Uber-driver, nurse, banker, consultant, teacher, mechanic). Let’s compare how a WHO identity and a WHAT identity might impact a faithful leader’s behavior.
With a WHO Identity:
• She will see herself as “a Christian engaged in business”, with faith being the primary identity and business being an activity in which that identity is lived out.
• She may have to make sacrifices in her worldly business success to follow God’s principles and priorities.
• WHAT she does will be determined by God’s leading rather than its potential for worldly success.
• WHO she is where God places her will be more important than WHERE God places her.
• She will wear WHAT SHE DOES lightly and will be able to change disguise at a moment’s notice.
• She will need to trust God with her provision and circumstances.
• Her identity will push her to go beyond “good” to pursue “Godly”.
• She will be on the path to operating with “faithful integrity”.
This is a picture of a faithful leader. They accept the “success” that comes with obedience to God’s call and commands.
With a WHAT Identity
• He will see himself as a “Christian businessperson”, with faith being merely a modifier describing how he carries out his primary identity as a businessperson.
• He may sacrifice the two great commandments (love your God and love your neighbor) or the pursuit of God’s Kingdom and His righteousness to achieve “success” in his primary identity as a businessperson (possibly rationalizing that he is still doing better than the people with no faith inspiration).
• He will hold on very tightly to his worldly identity.
• He will always need a worldly identity to latch on to.
• He may be “good” be he probably won’t be “Godly”.
• He may operate with “integrity”, but it won’t be “faithful integrity”
There are numerous problems that can flow from work being our primary identity and source of worth and value.
• An employer or investor has the power to take away “who we are”, if even for a short period of time.
• If those to whom we answer (e.g., managers, investors) are driven by profit and power, we are vulnerable to extreme manipulation in their pursuit of worth and value through their job.
• Most importantly, because a person can only have one primary identity, and they will sacrifice their secondary identities to ensure success in their primary identity, identities grounded in things like faith, family and fitness will be compromised or even sacrificed to ensure success at work.
This is a picture of a faithful leader with a WHAT identity–an RYR. They will compromise their faith, perhaps ever so slightly, to ensure heightened worldly success, rationalizing that their faith remains much better than most of the broken world. Unfortunately, a series of slight compromises can add up to ethical or moral failure.
Maintaining a WHO Identity in a Broken World
We do not mean to suggest that maintaining a WHO identity and avoiding becoming an RYR is easy. We live in a fallen world in which most people (and organizations) operate according to the priorities and systems of the kingdom of the world. A purely linear or hierarchical approach to implementing Biblical priorities misses the reality of our world.
A faithful leader may be a husband, wife, father or mother in a world in which marriage is viewed as a contractual rather than a covenantal relationship and divorce is seen as an easy and acceptable path to the “happier” life a person deserves–keeping a family together can be challenging. A faithful leader of a business is also a “business-leader” building a business in the world. They face pressure from analysts, markets, investors, employees, and customers. Sustainability comes with financial metrics to track and hurdles to achieve. The world of business measures success in terms of profit and growth. We explored this tension in post #118 (Whose “Will” Be Done).
We believe there are four keys to a faithful leader successfully ordering priorities, personally and professionally to avoid the path of the RYR: Humility, Trust, Patience, and Prayer.
Humility. Navigating the tension between the world’s priorities and God’s priorities requires Godly wisdom, and humility is a key to wisdom. The link between humility and wisdom can be seen in Proverbs 11:2:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
God is the source of all wisdom, and the Bible tells us that God will give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). The faithful leader who operates without the humility to recognize the need for God’s wisdom and the need to pray for guidance is destined to run aground on the rocks of the “priorities” dilemma. An honest assessment of the “real” priority in the leader’s life (and an organization’s culture) absolutely requires humility and will yield wisdom.
Trust. Of course, even the faithful leader who has the humility to recognize the need for God’s wisdom will only get the benefit of that wisdom by trusting God’s process, timing, and outcome:
• Process: God’s process is often counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.
• Timing: God’s timing often seems excruciatingly slow.
• Outcome: God’s best outcome (the “all these things” promised in Matthew 6:33) may not be the world’s best outcome.
Prayer. The importance of prayer in pursuing Biblical priorities seems so obvious. Unfortunately, many faithful leaders do not associate God with business decisions. Oswald Chambers observed:
In spiritual issues it is customary for us to put God first, but we tend to think that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to put Him first in the practical, everyday issues of our lives.
God’s wisdom comes through prayer. Of course, praying for a particular process, timing and outcome is NOT praying for God’s wisdom, and ignoring God’s wisdom to pursue your own process, timing or outcome is NOT wise–it is choosing disordered priorities.
Patience: It is difficult to read the Bible and not walk away feeling woefully impatient. God’s story is full of people who patiently waited and persevered (the first cousin of patience) a LONG time–a VERY LONG time. Remember Abraham (waited 25 years for Isaac), Jacob (waited 14 years to marry Rachel), and the most patient of all, Moses (40 years in exile and then 40 years in the desert).
There are also stories of characters who got impatient and tried to short-circuit God’s timing (and God was not pleased). Remember Sarah (Ishmael was NOT the fulfillment of God’s promise) and Saul (he got impatient and offered the burnt offering himself–NOT a blessing after all).
Choosing, ordering and balancing Biblical priorities is “playing the long game”, and that takes Biblical patience (and perseverance).
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): Thanks to my weekly Faith in Financial Services (FiFS) calls, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of Matthew 6:24 in the teachings of Jesus. We must choose–Red Pill or Blue Pill, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world, business a better way or business as usual. The Bible drives home the starkness of the choice by showing us the extremes. Abraham was not an RYR, but some would label him a monster for being willing to sacrifice his son (and they reject the God of the Bible because he asked). The rich young ruler is the definition of RYR because he did not choose well, but we must have empathy–Jesus asked for everything. He did all the right things–even loving his neighbors–until Jesus asked for it all. God was a priority–just not the ultimate priority. Tithing makes us feel good, but what if God asked for it all or asked for obedience that would cost it all. Then we choose. It could end a career, destroy a business, alienate friends, separate families. Being a forgiving husband or wife is a good thing, but what if Jesus asked us to be Hosea? Then we choose. Am I an RYR? Honestly, I don’t know.
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