Eliminate hurry like Jesus
Jordan Raynor sits down with John Mark Comer, pastor and author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, to talk about why hurry is “the great enemy of spiritual life,” how to turn off “internal noise” that leads to anxiety, and their mutual love of Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing, The Social Network, etc.).
Pre-order Jordan's new book, Master of One, and enter to win a European cruise for two, dinner with Jordan in Barcelona, and a private tour of the magnificent La Sagrada Familia: https://jordanraynor.com/trip
[00:00:05] JR: Hey everybody! Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. Hey, if you’re loving this podcast, you are not going to want to miss my next book, Master of One, which be released on January 21st. I wrote this book to help you guys find, focus on and master the word God created you to do. On this podcast, you’re listening to other people who are world-class masters of their crafts. This book is for you, to either find or better focus on, or more deeply master the work that you’re engaged in every day for the Glory of God and the good of others.
The book is going to be available until January 21st. If you haven’t already, I’m giving you guys an amazing incentive to preorder the book. I’m giving away a 7-night European cruise to somebody who preorders Master of One. That’s right. You and a friend, the friend of your choice, so choose wisely, are going to win this trip. You’re going to go to Italy, Rome and Florence. Specifically, you’re going to go to French, you’re going to go to Spain and you’re going to end up at Barcelona where I’m actually going to fly over from Tampa. I’m going to meet you in Barcelona for dinner. You’re also going to go on a tour of the magnificent La Sagrada Familia, the largest church in the world. It’s been under construction for more than 100 years, and it was probably my favorite story I wrote about in Master of One. There’s a fantastic story of Antoni Gaudi, the architect behind La Sagrada Familia, that I think exemplifies the heart of the book better than any other. If you want to win this amazing trip, go to jordanraynor.com. That’s J-O-R-D-A-N-R-A-Y-N-O-R.com.
Hey! I told you guys last week that I had a really special guest this week. So I’m very excited to share a conversation I recently had with John Mark Comer. John Mark is a pastor out of Portland and he’s the guy who’s really largely responsible, honestly, for Master of One. I was reading his book, Garden City, years ago and he mentioned this term, master of one, which we talk about in this upcoming conversation.
If you don’t know who John Mark Comer is, seriously, forget about Master of One. Just go buy every book that John Mark has ever written. He’s one of my favorite authors today. Maybe second only behind Tim Keller, honestly. I love this guy this much. He’s he pastor of teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland and the author of just some great books, including Garden City, one of my all-time favorites, God Has a Name, and most recently, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, which is so fantastic. I mentioned on Instagram a couple of weeks ago, I think we’re going to look back 20 years from now and recognize this as one of the most important books of our generation.
John Mark and I recently sat down. We talked about why hurry is “the great enemy of spiritual life today”. We talked about how to turn off internal noise that leads to anxiety in our lives. For all you West Wing fans out there, we went on a little side path talking about our mutual love for Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the West Wing social network, Moneyball and some other great TV shows and movies.
Without further ado, please enjoy this terrific conversation with John Mark Comer.
[00:03:27] JR: John Mark, thanks for joining me.
[00:03:29] JMC: Yeah. Such a joy to chat, man.
[00:03:32] JR: Yeah. I’ve been such a huge fan. I’m fanboying right now, real hard.
[00:03:35] JMC: Oh! You’re very kind.
[00:03:37] JR: Hey! I learned something new about you in your latest book, Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. You started watching, by far, my all-time favorite TV show.
[00:03:48] JMC: West wing. Come on! Once Aaron Sorkin stopped writing and then once Sam Seaborn left, the whole thing tanks for me, because Sam brought this joyful, emotional buoyance to offset the super depressive characters.
[00:04:04] JR: Well, Sam was also – I mean, Sam is like the perfect embodiment of Sorkin himself. He’s like boundlessly optimistic. Are you a Sorkin fan?
[00:04:12] JMC: I am. One of the things I love about Sorkin is I love how all of his characters are super heroes. But instead of like they can fly or they can jump through a concrete wall, they just talk and think faster than any normal human being ever could in real-life. I just love the blisteringly, totally fake intelligence and speed. Ironically, for somebody who’s written a book on hurry, the West Wing is about the fastest paced drama in the history of drama.
[00:04:39] JR: It really is. Sorkin is my all-time favorite writer. I just think he’s like truly exceptional. Is that like those heroes and this like boundless optimism, these utopian worlds that he creates, whether it’s the White House, or the newsroom.
[00:04:54] JMC: It’s very ethical. He’s dealing with morality even if he’s different ours at times from the perspective of Jesus. There’s an ethical undercurrent underneath most of his work.
[00:05:04] JR: Did you finish the show, or did you give up at season 5?
[00:05:08] JMC: I’ve kind of Petered out, but I like once in a while will still watch an episode. Part of my rule of life is I barely watch any TV or film. We have no TV in the house. I’ve a laptop though. It’s like maybe once a month or once every other month, like on Monday nights, we have long kind of Sundays with church. So Monday night I’m just trashed. I’m so tired. That’s kind of my night. I’ll eat dinner with the family and then the family kind of knows I get two hours or so before bed to just go close the door of my room and hide.
Sometimes in there, I’ll watch one, because I hear it gets better at the very end. My friends have told me it gets better. There’s a new president coming and it gets better, but I’ve yet to get to that part. I’m still in the lull.
[00:05:48] JR: That was my advice for you. If you’re going to stick with it, skip to the end of season 5. Second to the last episode, Gaza, and just go on from there.
[00:05:56] JMC: Yes. No, I’m there. I just got through Gaza. That’s where Dana gets hurt, right?
[00:06:00] JR: Yeah. She [inaudible 00:06:00].
[00:06:01] JMC: Yes. I’m like maybe two or three episodes into that. Josh is in the hospital in Germany right now. I’m in there. All right.
[00:06:09] JR: It gets better.
[00:06:10] JMC: Just wait for it. Okay.
[00:06:12] JR: Keep rolling, my friend.
[00:06:13] JMC: What any of these has to do with your work? I have no idea. Here I am talking about my favorite show, which is all about how fast can you live. It’s like the anti-Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Let’s go as fast as we can and still be Josh Lyman and act like we’re happy all the time. Nobody could possibly do that in real-life.
[00:06:33] JR: No. I got lots of questions about the book, but first, I actually have some follow questions to my book. I know you and I have exchanged a number of emails about Master of One, this book that’s coming out in January. I was thinking about this part of the interview. I really think the three people that influences work the most, Greg McKeown, Essentialism. Everything Cal Newport has ever written.
[00:06:57] JMC: Oh! Come on. Yes. Including how to win it, how to be a high school superstar or something. I have not read that one.
[00:07:03] JR: Not that one.
[00:07:03] JMC: I’m going to read that. Actually, I have an 8th grader. So we’re going to read that next summer before he goes into high school.
[00:07:09] JR: I love it, and you’re the third.
[00:07:11] JMC: Oh! You’re so kind.
[00:07:13] JR: The title – I think I told you this via email. The title Master of One, I stole from you. I took from Garden City. It’s the first time I heard this, that supposedly Ben Franklin was the original one to say jack of all trades, master of none, and you talk about how you hate that advice. Can you talk about why you hate that advice and why you’re a proponent of being a master of one?
[00:07:34] JMC: Yeah. The folklore there, and this is not like scholarly historical studious detail. Don’t footnote me on this, but the legend around it is that the original saying, I know you remember where it goes back to, was master one. Well, like jack of all trades, master of one. The idea was that everybody should have a healthy level of generalist in them where they can do a little bit of everything and they’re – Kind of the enlightenment, the idea of a Renaissance man. It’s obviously a more masculine time. Now we would hopefully apply that to women as well. Everybody should have this broad spectrum of kind of knowledge, acumen, basic skillset. But then master of one, the idea is that everybody should have at least one thing that they’re just incredibly good at, like a master craftsman or a craftswoman. A skill, an ability, an acumen, a reputation. Some kind of cumulative knowledge or whatever that you’re just a master of, but then of course Benjamin Franklin. Some people attribute it to Mark Twain. It depends. This is where that history kind of breaks down.
But supposedly Benjamin Franklin was the first one to twist it and like make a joke and say, “I’m a jack of all trades, master of none,” which has become the kind of parlance that I grew up here and people say, “Well, I’m kind of a jack of trades, master of none.” Meaning, I do a bunch of different things, but I’m not very good at anything. That clearly was not true of Benjamin Franklin and it was hopefully not what the wisdom saying is trying to get across.
Is that where you book kind of gets into? I assume.
[00:09:00] JR: Yeah, that’s exactly it. In the introduction, it talk about how – I actually don’t have a problem with people who are jacks of trades. I think I’m a jack of a lot of different trades. I think the problem for Christians who view their work as a primary means of ministry and loving neighbors as self is not being able to point to anything that we can say I’m becoming world-class at this. Does that make sense?
[00:09:24] JMC: I’d love to get your take on the book. I have not read it, but that’s making waves right now. I forgot the title, the subtitle. Something like our generalist range. That’s what it is. What do you think of that? I have not read it. Is that a counterargument to this? Is it like a both and kind of thing? I just know that book is making waves.
[00:09:40] JR: It’s making a lot of waves, and I’ve just started reading it and it seems like there is a lot of overlap in these arguments. I think what David Epstein is saying in the book is that a being a generalist is a good thing, and I would concur with that. I think you’ve got to be a generalist to be, as Paul said, all things to all people. I think that helps, to have a wide array of interest and skills and hobbies.
[00:10:02] JMC: Especially, I would imagine. Does he argue like in fast changing world how everything is constantly changing kind of thing?
[00:10:08] JR: That’s exactly right. Yeah. But I would be interested to have a discussion with him about how to go big on this one thing. I’ve always heard of the T-model, which I really like. If you picture the letter T, and upper case T, you’re going to really broad across a wide range of skills and disciplines, but you’re going to really, really deep into one of those things.
[00:10:26] JMC: Oh! I love that. I’ve not heard that. Yeah, that’s great.
[00:10:29] JR: For you, I think you talked about this in Garden City. Your one thing, if you will, is really teaching scripture. Is that right?
[00:10:38] JMC: Yeah. I mean, it’s gotten a little bit clearer even from that. Yeah. I mean, as a general rule of teaching, and then specifically I’m attempting to aim – I mean, the bible, teaching the scripture is one thing. But even that is a very broad category. Library of scriptures, very wide library that encompasses a whole of different ideas and historical viewpoints, cultural backgrounds. Really, specifically, I’m trying to hone in on Jesus’ one line in Mathew 28 teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded to you, which I had kind of an epiphany moment with that text a number of years ago when it hit me as I can see myself a teacher. Not in pretentious way. That’s just what I do for a living. It’s what I relate to and feel like I’ve made to do, and I’ve been teaching scripture for very many years, but it hit me that business parlance is the difference between teaching the what and teaching the how. What I taught people was what Jesus commanded them. Not how to obey what Jesus commanded them.
It’s one thing to teach a biblical theology of anxiety and teach people, “Jesus says do not worry.” It’s a whole other thing to teach people how in 2019, with an iPhone, in a city, in the stage of life for little kids or whatever, wherever you’re at. How do you actually become, in Edwin Freeman’s language, a non-anxious presence as the world is just spinning out of control into nonstop anxiety, particularly in the political world? That I think really has given me some new sharpen.
I’ve sharpen kind of clarity of focus. Yeah, I’m specifically teaching the bible, but more specifically attempting to teach people how to follow Jesus and experience spiritual formation as the academic language, basically transformation of their soul into people of love and joy and peace.
[00:12:23] JR: You’re really intent – You’re laser-focused in your work, which I love. You’re one of the more focused people I know. What do you have to most frequently say no to vocationally, or maybe even personally in order to pursue true mastery of your craft?
[00:12:39] JMC: I think the first thing I have to say no to is my phone, because in my experience, it just encroaches on every minute of every day. Not everybody – It’s funny. Deep work that we both love by Cal Newport, and for whom I would credit a lot of this perspective from, but it’s funny. I read that with our staff at one point. We also read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. It was so interesting to see like different people’s responses. Some people loved it and other people were like, “This is terrible. I see how this is helpful for you. I’m an admin. I’m supposed to be on email all day and doing things online.”
That was a little bit of a good wakeup call for me. A little to privilege and a little bit to just, “Oh! Not everybody – My main job is create content,” and that requires hours and hours and hours of head down distraction in a book and on my laptop.
I think the main thing I’ve had to say no to is my phone and letting it encroach my life. So creating kind of a digital rule of life that I live by. The other thing I’ve had to say no to is just a lot of leadership stuff and a lot of interpersonal meetings. I kind of do – I’m no longer the lead pastor at our church. We’ve kind of moved me into role of teaching.
I’ve come to the conviction that at least a medium to larger size church that leading well is basically a full-time job, and teaching well in the way that I want to teach is basically a full-time job. I don’t project that on to all people. Maybe it’s just better to say for me and the way that we want to lead our church and the way that I want to teach. I understand that different people are wired different and some people just have higher capacity than I can and they can take 6 hours one day a week and practice sermon and it’s amazing and just sleep the rest of the time. I’m not that guy.
Phone, first. Leadership, second. Probably interpersonal meeting. That’s the hardest thing for sure, because we live in this fascinating world of digital access. People have more access to us than ever before. Do you know what I mean? Not just through email and telephone, but now through websites and through instant messenger and DMs on Twitter and Instagram. The other day I was like once a week I attempt to answer all of my Instagram direct messages and it just keep taking longer and longer and longer and I’m like, “This is work,” like an hour and a half of my week. But then I feel so rude not to.
Then Instagram just came up with some new thing where they now let you leave voice texts. So people start leaving voice texts and it’s like instead of a quick glance and thumbs up emoji, it’s like I have to listen to five minutes of – They’re wonderful people, but I don’t know this person at all and I’m like, “Ahh!” The you travel and then you meet people and instead of being like, “Oh! That was a great trip to Australia. I met these people. I’ll never see them again. Maybe if I ever come back, I’ll see them.” Now it’s like, “Let’s FaceTime next week.” The problem is they’re all these wonderful people. So it’s not remotely about I’m in demand or I’m so – It’s just more like our connectivity is way higher than the human capacity for relationships.
I mean, [inaudible 00:15:43] at MIT has done a lot of work on this and she points out what military theorists already discovered, what sociologists have said from hunter-gatherer societies, the basic human organization kind of size is about 100 to 150 people. That most human beings have no capacity o relationship beyond 100 to 150 people. The problem is in the digital age. Most of us, even if you’re not in the knowledge economy or in some kind of a public sphere like you are or I am. Most people just look at their followers on Instagram and Twitter or who they follow. Most of us have way more connectivity than we have capacity for relationship. That is by far the hardest one, because it feels mean or it feels unchristlike, or it feels pretentious or whatever to say no.
[00:16:29] JR: Yeah. But like you say in Garden City, and I think I quote you in Master of One. We have to say no in order to say yes to the work that we believe that God has called and created us to do, right? Which is hard, but it is necessary.
Hey! Here on the Call to Mastery, we talk to world-class masters, in your case, a world-class teacher, about a lot of different things. But one thing we keep coming back to is routines, habits. In a way, it’s kind of what your entire new book is about, the Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, is basically just your kind of rule of life. Trying to model pieces as rule of life. I think I know the answer to this, but can you talk about why you wrote this book? Why this topic as supposed to something else?
[00:17:14] JMC: Yeah. I mean, there’re the long version and the short version, and let’s start with the short version and ask anything you want. Basically, five years ago, I’m in my early 30s. I’m leading to make a church and I just hit this wall at an emotional level of burnout, anxiety, exhaustion, kind of emotional crisis and not scandal or anything. Just like extreme kind of emotional burnout.
Then at a spiritual level, I had really just stalled out in kind of my spiritual formation, in my ongoing process toward becoming more like Jesus. I had just hit this wall and felt like I was not moving forward anymore year over year becoming more like Jesus and in my experience with God by the spirit.
Yeah, lots of things happened. Went on a sabbatical. Got deep-dive in the spiritual formation psychology, therapy, soul care, sabbath, spiritual disciplines. All these stuff. Through that process, much of my life began to change. Of course, one of the first things you realize you have to do is massively slow down and simplify your life. You can’t do everything. You have to accept your limitations. You have to say no, all the stuff that we’re both passionate about.
But I came across story. I’ve been – I don’t know how long. A couple of years maybe. Sharing a meal with John Ortberg, who’s a pastor, kind of generational – If you don’t know John Ortberg, he is a generation ahead of me and kind of really one of the best, I think, teachers, writers, pastors, of the boomer generation, and he’s still very healthy and really into teaching and leading in Menlo Park, California. We get to share – I wouldn’t call him a mentor, but we get to share lunch on a regular basis. Let’s put it that way. He’s out of my league for mentorship, but an incredible guy and just kind of everything I want to be when I grow up.
Anyway, through my time with him, one of the reasons I have been getting time with him is because he himself was mentored by Dallas Willard, who was a philosopher from the University of Southern California, who also like a writer and teacher of the way of Jesus, who’s played more of a role in my kind of view of what it means to follow Jesus than really anybody outside of the New Testament.
My first time I sat down with John, I just started asking questions about Willard, and not because I didn’t care about John, because I just wanted to know you are mentored by him for two decades or something. Tell me stuff that is not in your books or whatever. John tells this story about calling Willard out. This is in the late 90s. It’s before the phone. John was unstaffed at an internationally known church. [inaudible 00:19:34] is a bestselling author, very busy, blah-blah-blah.
He calls up Willard and basically has this similar sense to me, like I’m stuck, I’m getting sucked into the businesses, the hurry. I don’t know what to do. Ask Willard basically for advice. John said, “There’s a long silence on the other end of the line because, “With Willard, there was always a long silence.” He is just notorious for being like incredibly present, incredibly unhurried and slow even. That’s why many people listen to him or don’t even read his books, because they’re a little boring. But it’s like he almost did it on purpose. That was a very cultivated way of living.
Anyway, and then Willard said just two lines. He said hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. John, obviously, was supper impressed by that. Wrote it down. Then as John tells the story he basically said, “All right. What else is there?” Then Willard, there’s another long silence. Willard said, “There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
It’s so funny when I first came across that story, it just truck a really deep chord in me. I live in Portland, Oregon. I’m in one of the most secular progressive post-Christian, whatever moniker you want to put on it, cities in our country. If you had asked me prior to that story, what’s like the greatest challenge that I faced following Jesus and attempting to help other people follow Jesus in this city? I’m not sure what would I have said. Most likely, politics, or the left, or the right, or progressive theology, or funny, or scandal. I don’t even know what to say, but I doubt hurry would have even like made the list, much less made it to the top.
But it’s so funny, deep core to resonance and the more I sat with that story, the more the spirit of God just worked on me through it, and I really became of the same conviction that, “Man, I think hurry is the symptom underneath so many of the other symptoms.” I’ve really just come to the conviction that hurry is incompatible with the life of Jesus.
[00:21:34] JR: I want to talk about that some more. In the book, you made this point that I never thought before. You made this point that the gospels are biographies. When we read biographies of people like – I don’t know, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk, or Billy Graham, or whoever, we pay attention to the subject’s lifestyles, their habit, their routines, but we don’t actually do that with the gospels. We pay a lot of attention to the theology and the ethics that are taught on those books, but we actually don’t pay attention to the way that Jesus lived. What did Jesus’ lifestyle look like?
[00:22:10] JMC: Yeah, and I love that you say that. I love that you bring that up. Not only do we pay attention to the lifestyle details when we’re reading Elon Musk of whatever, but we often then instinctively copy them. Often in the case of a Muck of whoever, we intentionally don’t copy them. Do you know what I mean? Depending on whether our goal is to turn humans into an interplanetary species or become people of love, which are very different goals. God Bless, Musk. That was a fascinating biography.
Yes, I love that you’re bringing that up, and that’s a deep conviction of mine. There are so many things that could be said about Jesus’ lifestyle. One of the first things that you notice is that he was just rarely in a hurry, and that so many of the gospel stories that come to us are stories of interruptions, where Jesus was interrupted and then would pause and be fully present to the moment. Jesus said I always do what I see the father doing. Just so aware of God on each moment, of the people in front of him each moment, in the need of each moment and the goodness of each moment. Look at the birds of the air kind of thing where I imagine like a pause after that. Just pause and look around with the birds of the air and the world of abundance and the goodness of the world that we’re right now breathing the air of.
Unfortunately, there’s much larger kind of theological categories for why we read the gospels not as biographies but as about Christ, but not about us and not about how we follow Christ. Much of that goes in the Protestant reformation and the understanding of the gospel as what Christ has done for us rather than as a model to follow and putting those two things at odds with each other in ways that are rooted in the Protestant tradition, that I think even though I come from that tradition, are very unhelpful to discipleship to Jesus.
[00:23:58] JR: I like how you describe following Jesus as apprenticing under Jesus. For you, 30 something dad, teacher, like me, living in – Well, I’m in Tampa. You’re in Portland. What is it look like to model Jesus’ lifestyle? We already talked about – I mean, we’re talking about hurry. We’re talking about phones. I don’t think Jesus would have been addicted to a smartphone. What are some of the other ways that you’re modeling the way of Jesus?
[00:24:24] JMC: Yeah. I think, first off, just by building some of his core practices or if you want to call them habits, or many people call them spiritual disciplines. Some of these rhythms of his life for God and God’s people, just incorporating them in as best I can to my own personality and stage of life. Things like silence and solitude is huge for me. You read that in the gospels. Jesus would wake up early and he’d sneak off to a quiet solitary place and he just pray. The more, the bigger the crowds got and the more in-demand he became, the more he would do that.
Also, on the other side to that, living in community. Jesus lived in, basically, cohousing kind of intentional community with these group of people Our family, we’ve decided to do the same. So we do our very best, literally, with each other 24 hours a day. But to do community with about 15, 20 people, really intentionally doing life around tables and neighborhood together, sharing our life, sharing our finances, sharing our emotional burdens, our joys, all of that, as well as practices like Sabbath and radical generosity. This encroaches on money so much and how money – Well, kind of what money has in your life. Things like fasting. Just trying to find the things that you see in Jesus life and incorporate them not in a legalistic way, but in the same way that you would read about some luminary in a biography, like, “Oh! I would love to have that kind of outcome.” To have some kind of success this person has or the caliber of intelligence of knowledge this person has or whatever. Then you instinctively do some of the things they did and the hope that you would experience life like that. For me, none of this is legalism. None of this is about earning God’s favor. None of this is about rules to follow. As much as it is about how do I follow Jesus? I interpret that to mean how do I copy the details of Jesus’ day-to-day life in order to move into what he call the kingdom and experience life the way that Jesus experienced life. Radical freedom of joy.
[00:26:17] JR: Yeah. I think the part of the book that really got to me the most was studying how often Jesus was alone. How often Jesus was quiet. You and I are both type A, high-achievers, so are so many people in our audience. You talk about this difference between internal and external noise in the book. I know a lot of listeners struggle with this, but by the grace of God alone, I actually don’t have a problem turning off external noise.
My screen time on my phone right now, I’m averaging – I don’t know. 15 minutes a day. I don’t check email after I leave the desk. I have a huge problem turning off internal noise, and that – You touched on this on the book and you didn’t expound upon how you’re tackling this problem. Maybe that’s because you haven’t figured it out yet, but like how are you figuring out how to turn off internal noise. Let’s say when you take – Very practically, you walk away from your desk. You go be with your kids. You go be with your wife. How do you turn off the internal noise of work or whatever else is competing for your attention to be fully present and engaged in the thing you want to be engaged with?
[00:27:23] JMC: Yeah. Well, first off, I have this down and my mind is just like the Jesus version of Zen 24/7. Yeah. I mean, first off, I think that external noise and internal noise are connected. Do you know what I mean? At some point, that’s an unhelpful bifurcation. The point I’m just making is, ironically, this might be hard to leave for some people that are new to this practice of silence of solitude, that the external noise is the easiest one to deal with, because you can just go somewhere without noise and leave your phone behind and your headphones behind and just go to a quiet cabin or go to a forest or go to a park.
But the internal noise of Henri Nouwen called monkeys in a banana tree. Your mind is just like – Your neurons are just like firing like crazy and it’s scattered thought and rumination and jealously and envy and lust and worry and to-do list and swirl like that whole thing. We attempt to sit before God and let him love us and transform us into people in love. 20 minutes later all we’ve done is think about all the things we have to do and worry about this person or get madd at our boss or whatever.
Yeah. I mean, just at a very practical level, what I’m attempting to do is each morning, spend some time in like a breathing prayer, which is basically we’re all very familiar with mindfulness as it comes to us through secularism and through Buddhism. What most people don’t realize is actually the roots of that in the west come through Christian contemplative payer. Because we’re in a post-Christian moment and everything is a reaction against Christianity, it’s cool to bring in Buddhist practice to your secular workplace, but no like corporate executive, whatever, have like a Christian come in and teach you the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me prayer.
Ironically, I think there’s just a human wisdom thing there, and what Buddhist were discovering in the east independent from Christ, there are some similarity. There’s massive difference and massive similarity. The similarity is in the using your breathing and just simple focus on your breathing and release of the illusion of control to just like come to the moment and think about what it is that you think about, kind of observe in a third-party way like, “Oh! What are the thoughts that come in and out of my mind?” and just observe the judgment and then begin to focus deeper.
The massive difference is that in Buddhism, there is no God in the sense of a personal being. Your attempt of meditation isn’t to commune and connect with or much less hear from a God that you’re in relationship with. It’s more to quiet your mind and increase your level of detachment. So you suffer less and are happier, which is beautiful.
But for us, I think we can steal a lot of that practice while putting it inside the relational framework of life with the spirit of Jesus. Yeah, very simply just taking – You can do this literally for two minutes every morning and work your way up to, say, 20. But just beginning, and my first day, before my phone, before anything, a strict rule for me is zero technology. No phone until I’ve had quiet time each morning with God. Some people can’t do that because of their stage of life and they work on finance on the West Coast and it’s super early, whatever.
[00:30:28] JR: I was going to say, I started doing that three weeks ago after I read the book. It’s a game changer.
[00:30:34] JMC: Oh! That’s so encouraging to hear.
[00:30:35] JR: It’s a very, very small change. I’m good about not checking email, but I’ll always pick up my phone in the mornings for no reason, just out of habit
[00:30:43] JMC: Totally, and most people sleep by their phones, and 93% of Americans sleep by their phones. 76% of Americans check it first thing upon waking. Neuroscientists tells us that the two most important times for your brain are right before you go to sleep and right when you wake up in the morning. When you sleep, your brain, as I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, neuroscientists who would email in, but your brain is basically neurogenesis, recreating new proteins in your brain and replenishing your mind literally and your brain.
What happens when the last thing that you do before you go to bed is watch Netflix and you parade lust or greed or secular mindset and then the first thing you do when you wake up is read a Donald Trump tweet or check your email or see a to-do list from your boss or whatever. What are you doing to your brain and to your nervous system and then to your body and to your person?
Yeah. For me, that’s such an easy one. Even if you just do 10 minutes. It doesn’t have to – I mean, the longer the better. Even if it’s not three hours of fasting and prayer. Just 10 minutes, 15 minutes where before you go to your phone, you wake, you read a psalm and you breathe before God. Normally, all of us wake up and have a few moments of gratitude and just quiet. Sitting in like a little quiet spot that I go to. Then, yeah, just trying to take some time to just focus on my breathing, and then I do it as a follower of Jesus.
I’ll kind of imagine myself breathing in the Holy Spirit, breathing out all the other stuff, and maybe breathing in the fruit of the spirit one at a time; love, joy, peace, patience, and breathing out the antithesis of each one. Sometimes just really attempting to be before God and what St. John called silent love.
For all of the Christian mystiques, the highest form of prayer was wordless prayer and imageless prayer. The lowest form of prayer was when you were meditating on the gospels. Thinking specific concrete about Jesus and asking God for things, and they were all for that, but they saw that that is the beginning of prayer. Even though in the evangelical tradition, that’s kind of the whole of prayer, but they saw the end goal of prayer is when you just have come to the place where you’ve quieted your mind and your soul and you know how the capacity to just sit before God kind of spirit-to-spirit, or if you would, will-to-will and just kind of sit in silent love before God.
That very simple practice, and then I think it comes to carrying me over. So when I’m playing with the kids or I’m making dinner, trying to take single tasking to a whole new level and trying to turn everything into this kind of mindful practice.
[00:33:08] JR: I love that single-mindedness approach to things. I think you and I could probably talk about Cal Newport for an hour and a half in and of itself. Really early on in the process of writing Master of One, I shot you an email, I was like, “Hey! Thanks for this idea. I’m taking it.” But we’re with the same publisher, so it’s cool, right?
You recommended that I go read one of Cal Newport’s books that I haven’t read yet called So Good They Can't Ignore You, and that ended up shaping Master of One. The book basically says –
[00:33:39] JMC: Tell the story, the Steve Martin story, where the title comes from, just because it’s so good.
[00:33:43] JR: I don’t remember exactly the Steve Martin story, other than he’s the one who said be so good that they can’t ignore you. I forgot the first part of the story. You tell it.
[00:33:50] JMC: Well, I haven’t read that book in a couple of years. As my memory recalls, he was basically asked at one point how do you get successful as an actor-comedian and that was his answer, was be so good that they can’t ignore you.
[00:34:02] JR: Yeah, I love it. The book is basically an attack on this follow your passions advice and your career, right? I’m assuming you agree with that premise. Can you talk about why you think that advice is particularly problematic and maybe even a little bit more specifically for apprentices of Jesus?
[00:34:18] JMC: Which advice? Follow your passion or get good at something?
[00:34:21] JR: No, follow your passions.
[00:34:22] JMC: I don’t know that it’s bad advice. I’m not sure that I 100% agree with Newport on that. I just think it’s idealistic and therefore potentially damaging or at least unhelpful advice. I think Newport’s basic critique, and then maybe I’ll add some of my own thoughts in here. The common kind of Steve Jobs commencement address advice to millennial, GenX, GenZ kind of people is follow your passion.
As a general rule, I think if you interpret that just to mean find something you really love and see if you can make a living in doing it, I think that’s not bad advice. But I think what Newport rightly brings up is a couple of things. One is most young people, when they need to decide what passion to follow, 22 or whatever, some of them don’t have a passion yet. They don’t even know. I don’t even know what I’m passionate about other than video games or TV or whatever.
Other people have multiple passions. I’m passionate about sports. I’m passionate about justice. I’m passionate about the economy. I’m passionate about politics. I’m passionate about lots of different things. How do I know? Third, passions change overtime. Some things that are really important to us when we’re on our early 20s don’t matter to us at all by the time we’re in our early 40s, or we sometimes disagree with things that we were once passionate about and we come to a whole other perspective or position. What do you do then when your passion has changed overtime?
Then the final thing, I think Newport’s main case is that just statistically, people derive more pleasure from being good at something, really good at something, than they do from working in a field that they overall care about. I think his thing is basically if you are good at math and you love baseball, you’ll probably enjoy being an accountant for a firm doing something not remotely related to baseball, but you’re just killer at your job than you would like working in some project management role for a baseball company. That’s maybe a terrible analogy. But that’s my understanding of what he’s basically saying.
[00:36:15] JR: I remember, there was this study that Newport cited in the book that I cited, master of one. This Yale researcher named Amy Wrzesniewski, who studied like what makes people describe their work as a job, a career or a calling, this I know that we’re helping to pedal in the church today. It was really interesting. It wasn’t – She studied this across doctors, computer programmers, administrative assistants. There’s a pretty common theme here. The people who describe their work as a vocation, as calling, are the people who stuck around long enough in a given craft to get really, really good at it.
It’s this idea that passion is a side effect. Long-term sustainable passion and a career is a side effect of mastery, not the other way around, right?
[00:37:02] JMC: Yeah. Gosh! That sounds good. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s really helpful. I think, for me, as a follower of Jesus. Obviously, Newport is approaching it from like a business kind of productivity wonderful stance. But I think for me, again, overall, I think find your passion is not a bad idea or a bad advice, but with those caveats.
I think for me the rub is our work – In biblical theology, work is an expression of love for God and Neighbor. It can’t be an attempt at self-fulfillment or self-actualization, which is what it is, as you know, even more than I working in those fields specifically, and particularly, in the secular western world. For upwardly mobile people, work is religion.
Cue that article just recently of The Atlantic about how millennials idolize their job, and yet most of them are miserable in it. I don’t know if you read that. That’s just a fantastic article, and I just love – Like hearing a secular writer basically saying work has taken the place of religion. It’s where people get their identity, their self-worth, their sense of meaning, their sense of purpose. Particularly if you’re in a major city. Yet the ironic thing is it’s a bad religion. Just look at the stats of mental health and happiness coming from work, and it’s woeful. It’s like why are you giving – I have a very robust theology of work. I’m for work. I’m for taking your career seriously. I’m not saying like quit and just go do whatever.
Man! When you look to it as your God, religion, identity, sense of meaning, what a tragic way to live. I think that’s one of the main rubs, is find our passion. It can’t be what do I really want to do to make me happy and give me identity and meaning? But there’s a way to ask that in the sense of like from a Christian perspective, what is the spirit of God stirring up in my desire? That’s where – I don’t know if you’re familiar at all Ignatian spirituality, which is in the Christian tradition, takes really seriously the role of the heart and the role of desire.
The Christian understanding of desire is way more helpful than both the secular or the Buddhist take on desire, because it has a nuanced view of human desire as a mixed bag between what the writer Paul in the New Testament call the flesh and the spirit. Kind of some desires that are animalistic and primal and narcissistic and instant gratification that we need to deny much of what our church would call oppression of repression. Then other desires that we need to actually live into and follow and fan into flames that move us in the direction of love and discerning which desires are from the flesh and which from the spirit. Which are disordered and we need to, in Jesus’ language, crucify them, and which are like from the spirit of God and we need to follow them. In that sense, I think there is a follow the desires in your heart from the spirit of God that lead you to love God and neighbor through your work in a specific way. I think that’s good advice.
[00:39:46] JR: That’s the point and that’s the differentiation, right? I grew up as a millennial. My boomer parents would always tell me, “Follow your passions,” and that was always follow my – Do whatever makes you happy. No generation has had more opportunity to do whatever makes them happy, and yet we’re miserable, because that’s not the point of life. The point of work is the point of life, which is to love God and neighbor as ourselves. We do that, we do exceptional work and we just serve people through the ministry of excellence, right? It’s less relevant what the actual work is. Just find something. Choose something. Let your passion be a pointer for sure.
I think often times, what we’re fired up about is what we naturally gravitate to in terms of aptitude, in terms of giftedness, but that’s the point. Service to neighbor and prioritizing other’s happiness above your own is what internally leads to both. It’s kind of the only thing.
[00:40:37] JMC: Do you use that Beuchner’s quotes in your book?
[00:40:39] JR: No.
[00:40:39] JMC: Basically, his definition of work was – Don’t quote me if this isn’t verbatim, but it’s the place where the world’s deep need meets your deep gladness. Do you know what I mean? It’s this like both end of life. What’s your deep gladness? What’s the deep ache in you to do it and what does the world also desperate need?
[00:40:59] JR: I love that.
[00:40:59] JMC: That kind of both end.
[00:41:01] JR: It’s easy for people to call your work, my least favorite term “fulltime ministry”. What encouragement would you give to our listeners who are working as baristas and marketers and entrepreneurs and project managers about the eternal significance of the work? I know you could talk for an hour, but just a quick commendation of those listening that are not in “full-time ministry”.
[00:41:24] JMC: Yeah. Oh my gosh! Well, first off, broad umbrella. What we just said, work falls under the category of love. That’s about both motivation and about action and about relationship, and not all work can be done as an act of love. Some work is not loving and can’t be done in a loving way. But most work, including most secular work can be done as an act of love. Jesus said love yourself as yourself. He didn’t say like pray for your neighbor as yourself or preach the gospel to your – Those are beautiful things that are part of our life with Jesus, but he said love, which is a beautifully broad category.
Secondly, I’ll just say that a biblical theory of work, you have to start in Genesis chapter 1. Often, people just ignore the whole first part of the bible when they think about work and they just try to think it through kind of spiritual western categories. But in genesis one, long before you get to all the stuff that we’re talking about, human beings are created in the image of God as image bears to rule over the earth, to take the raw materials that are found in particular part of the world called The Garden of Eden and then to transform them into a space, a garden for human beings to thrive and relationship to each other to the earth itself and, above all, to God.
Then Adam and Eve, these kind of proto-humans, in Hebrew their names are literally human and life. Human and life are created by God and their job description is basically just spread Eden out to expand the territories of Eden until it covers the whole earth as they be fruitful and multiply. Now obviously it all goes horribly wrong and here we are.
But the original biblical theory of work remains. I love Keller’s definition of work. Just basically rearranging the raw materials into – I forgot what he says. Something or other. Maybe you can quote it. But into a place for human beings to thrive with God and each other. That is still – I mean, that’s what a barista does. They rearrange milk and coffee and a tree in a form of a paper cup or whatever and a space and they rearrange it into this thing to create space for relationship and practice hospitality and create space for more good work to be done in the city and create a third space for people that are transient, don’t have families and city to come together and be in relationship. That’s good biblical gospel. I mean, God blessed work even if it’s not gospel in the sense of proclaiming the good news about Jesus the Messiah, which is also important.
[00:43:46] JR: That’s a great encouragement. All right. Three final questions I’d like to ask very rapidly of any guests. You read a ton, two, three books a week, which is insane. What books do you recommend or gift the most to others?
[00:44:01] JMC: Oh man! For 30 some things and up, I gift this book called Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser. If you’re younger and you’re still kind of feeling the upward mobility of life, wait, just remember this for 5 or 10 years down the road. If you’re entering early-middle life, the weight of responsibility, work, family, marriage, the tiredness, the drudgery begins to settle on you. When that time come, Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser. My favorite Catholic writer.
Another book that I pass around a lot is tiny. I mean, you could if you want it, you could read the whole thing in 30 minutes. It’s called Letters by a Modern Mystique by Frank Laubach, and it’s just a collection of letters. It’s basically like a modern version of kind of the Practicing the Presence of God, if you’re familiar with that one, from Brother Lawrence, and it’s absolutely beautiful and sophisticated and wonderful. I keep it on my bedside table and read a little bit before be each night.
[00:44:54] JR: I love that.
[00:44:55] JMC: Third, I would normally give something by Willard, just because I’m so obsessed with Willard.
00:45:00  JR: Willard is fantastic.
[00:45:01] JMC: But which Willard? That would depend on the person.
[00:45:03] JR: Yeah. All right. What one person would you most like to hear talk about the intersection of faith and their work?
[00:45:09] JMC: Oh man! You hit me on the fly with that question. I’d love to hear somebody working in the film industry from the perspective of Jesus. Talk about how they reconcile that. What is one of the darkest kind of forms of cultural work right now, I think, that’s most hostile to Jesus’ vision of human flourishing and what it looks like to be in there as a follower. I would love to just hear like the inner-ethical dialogue that they’re wrestling with and dealing with. Do you know what I mean? Whether that’d be an actor or a director.
[00:45:38] JR: I was talking to somebody yesterday, he said Denzel.
[00:45:40] JMC: Yeah. That would be fascinating. Yeah, that would be great. Yeah. You just never hear about it. Do you know what I mean? The Christians that seem to do well tend to be known as Christians, but they’re not like verbally processing biblical theology. How do I be in this movie that has all these stuff in it? I would love to hear that.
[00:45:58] JR: It’s part of the purpose of this podcast, is to give them a space to process those things, because there’s no other place.
[00:46:04] JMC: Maybe even more so, follower of Jesus in politics. I’d love to hear the thinking behind somebody in Hollywood, but I think I know what I think on that one. But the political one is still one of my biggest open questions, especially coming from more of the Baptist stream of the church. What’s the role of Christians in politics? At what point does wielding power become a form a violence or coercion? But you have these things needed to be done. I have lots of uncertainty and open questions in my mind about Christians role in politics. I’d love to hear from a good politician who’s not just giving you a spiel, who’s actually processing what is it look like to be in this space as a follower of Jesus.
[00:46:41] JR: Yeah. As we get closer to election day 2020, we’ll certainly have some of those guests on the show. I got lots of great connections in that world. All right, last question. What one piece of advice would you give to somebody who’s pursuing mastery of their vocation for the glory of God and the good of others? One take away, regardless of what that vocation is. What would you tell them?
[00:47:00] JMC: Yeah. I mean, just the stock answer would be habits overtime.
[00:47:03] JR: Discipline overtime. It’s the key.
[00:47:05] JMC: Discipline overtime. Yeah, find something that you do every single day that will benefit you 20 years from now.
[00:47:12] JR: Yeah, I love that.
[00:47:12] JMC: Whether that’d be reading, or programming, or whatever your thing is. Something that every day, cumulative effect, you're sewing into your long-term mastery.
[00:47:23] JR: It’s a stock answer, but you know what? It’s a key that you see in every master of every craft. I love it.
Hey, John Mark, I just want to thank you for your masterful work as a teacher. The Holy Spirit is working through you to change thousands and thousands of lives. He’s used to change my life in more ways than one. You may not know, but you’re actually responsible for the routine of Sabbath in my life. I’m so grateful that you’re committed to mastering your craft and helping thousands of others be better apprentices of Jesus.
Hey! The book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry is out right now wherever books are sold. If you can’t tell, I cannot recommend highly enough. John Mark, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
[00:48:15] JMC: Thank you for having me, Jordan.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:48:17] JR: If you enjoyed that conversation, you’re going to love my upcoming book, Master of One. It is filled with John Mark Comer quotes. In fact, my editor at one point literally told me through the editing process that I need to temper down the John Mark Comer love. I can’t help myself.
If you do preorder the book, make sure you enter to win the 7-night European cruise that I’m giving away. That’s at jordanraynor.com. You could find that. You’re going to go on the cruise. You’re going to have dinner with me in Barcelona and then you’re going to go tour the magnificent La Sagrada Familia.
Hey, guys. Thank you so much for listening to this episode called The Mastery. I’ll see you next week.