What I found was discouraging.
We avoided office gossip, didn’t pad our expense accounts, and tried to evangelize our coworkers. In fact, some of us were so diligent in our evangelization that I met one Christian businessman who did his best not to hire Christians, because, he said, we spent all our time talking about Jesus and as little time as possible actually doing our jobs.
Then I got talking to a pastor in the tiny town of Oxford, Maine.
Oxford is barely a stop on a two-lane rural road. Fewer than 5,000 people live there; its biggest businesses at the time included the Oxford Motor Speedway, firms that manufacture modular homes and wood flooring, and a few summer camps along Thompson Lake.
The pastor had heard a story from someone in the congregation. And once I tracked it back to the origin, it shaped up something like this:
One of the guys in the church had been working as a custodian at one of the manufacturing plants. finally, after more than a decade of pushing a broom and polishing toilets, he managed to earn a promotion to truck driver. This was a big deal. It’s not like there are a lot of opportunities for career advancement around Oxford.
So one of his early runs took him into Canada. Montreal is only four hours from Oxford, but it’s across an international border, which means a driver needs to manage Customs And it turned out that while our former custodian had gotten good commercial driver training, his training for Customs left a little to be desired. From his seat high in the cab of his shut-down truck at the Customs station, he was getting hotter and hotter as he could see other trucks all but sailing through, while an agent was climbing through his trailer and asking him question after question.
By the time he got the load to the customer … hours late … the customer was fuming. By the time he got the truck back to Oxford, his boss was fuming. And he was fuming, too. Because everyone was mad at him, and it wasn’t his fault. No one had told him how to make prior arrangements with the company’s Customs broker.
“We can’t lose time like this!” his boss yelled. “We’ll fall behind every other unit in the company! We can’t afford this kind of screw up!”
The former custodian, with his inadequate training, didn’t know much about the way the different business units related or how much a few hours cost his boss. What he knew best was something he’d learned at church:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1: 19-20)
There was only one problem. He was already angry. All he could do was try his hardest to hold it in while his boss took it out on him.
Then he took it to the guys at church, and they prayed. For six weeks they prayed. Until he really had let go of his anger and was able to hear what God had to say about the situation.
At that point, he was ready to talk to his boss. He asked if he could have a few words one day, if his boss wasn’t too busy.
“Remember that day I got tied up in Customs and was so late? And you talked to me about how losing time would make us fall behind the other groups in the company?” he asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that and here’s what I’m wondering. The way we talked about it made it seem like the other groups in the company are our enemies. But it seems to me like our competition is our enemy. Shouldn’t it be them that we’re worrying about?”
Now what he said was being taught at Harvard Business School back then. You probably remember that, too. But up in Oxford … I don’t think anyone there subscribed to the Harvard Business Journal.
Thanks to pastor Dallas Henry, who still serves at Hosanna Church in Oxford, Maine, for this excellent example of how God gives wisdom to everyone who asks for it.