Sometimes you face an obstacle, a problem that just won’t move. You lean in, push against, pick at the foundation, hit it repeatedly, and try to climb atop it … all with little success. It remains and seems to grow larger, invigorated by its ability to withstand your best efforts.
These problems can be persons, groups of persons, situations, or circumstances. I’ve had a ‘problem project’ that’s been ongoing for six years and I can’t seem to finish it. A friend of mine faced a challenge from a person who sought to destroy his ministry vision, so he sought wisdom from a godly friend. The wise friend advised, “It’s crucial that you lay down your front approach to confrontation and learn how to be shrewd …right away. You’ve approached this challenge head-on, and you’re going to have to sideways.”
Shrewd = Sideways.
So goes the account from my friend and author, Rick Lawrence. He tells more of it in his latest (and best!) book, Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus, a wonderful book that commends Christ-followers to consider what Jesus taught in the parable of the shrewd manager found in Luke 16:1-9. Rick asks, “Did Jesus really tell a story about a conniving jerk, then urge his followers to think and behave more like, well … this guy?” (p. 27).
Rick says that Jesus is not asking us to be evil for God’s purposes. “He’s asking us to watch how shrewd people-even and especially those we’re repelled by-get things done.” (p. 157) Rick says the parable describes the Kingdom of God’s “rules of engagement” for those who would follow Him – be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Rick defines shrewdness as “understanding how things work, then leveraging that knowledge to apply the right force in the right place at the right time” and innocence as “freedom from guilt of any kind” (p. 31).
Rick admits there’s a fine line between shrewdness and manipulation. This is where the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit is crucial and serves as the “fountain of all innocence” (p. 176) so that we are partners with God in our efforts. We don’t have to determine to be good, rather we abide with the One who is good. Rick wrote a guest blog on this website where he details the the path to shrewd living.
So, our sideways efforts, shrewdness in action, need to be balanced with love (I Corinthians 13). “If we move with shrewd intent, but do not have love (or innocence) we are no different than the enemies of God, who use the levers of shrewd to manipulate and destroy.” (p. 165) So, shrewdness can be life-giving or life-destroying (p. 168), but “freedom from guile is the crucial differentiator between the evil and innocent applications of shrewd” (p. 169).
The book Shrewd is an honest (I want to say ‘earthy’ but that might be misinterpreted) yet biblical discussion of how we can give effort to something and yet faithful to Jesus’ spirit and purposes. Rick concludes the book with very practical ‘levers’ to employ in our shrewdness. (Check out his blog post for more on that) The book is rich from cover to cover (you don’t just get the idea in the first four chapters… the best stuff is in the last third!)
So, I emailed Rick about my ‘problem project’ and he offered to talk with me on the phone. For almost an hour, Rick walked me through his path for shrewd living and I came away with a clear path, a sideways one, where I can give God-honoring effort to the work.
I don’t want to share much more because this is only the top dusty layer. The bedrock layers are there for you to explore. It’s one of those rare books that will change how you think about your work and life. You can check out more about Shrewd at Rick’s website or just order Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus from Amazon.