My father, the late, great, book evangelist Charlie "Tremendous" Jones declared the more books he gave away, the richer he became. It seems like quite the paradox in today's cutthroat world of take or be taken. Was my father a sucker? Absolutely not. He was embodied by a great word we tend to look upon with disdain; he was shrewd.
Shrewd tends to have a negative connotation outside of the business arena. Everyone else tends to be quite naïve about how the world works. We surmise if God loves everyone, we turn the other cheek, and we give everything away to feed the poor, then everything will be okay. The definition of shrewd is having or showing a sharp power of judgment. Shrewd is a clever resourcefulness in practical matters. Another name for shrewd is sagacious, which suggests wisdom and farsightedness.
I adore shrewd people because they are cautious optimists. They run any enterprise like a business and not like a charity. They are pragmatists with an understanding of people. They comprehend the way the world works in the here and now (not how the pie in the sky optimists think it should work) and negotiate towards a better future deal. I recently got married and this is one of the traits that most attracted me to my spouse. He is savvy and shrewd. Hubba hubba!!
Shrewdness is not dishonesty; shrewdness is not cunning or deceit. There are many people out there that are on the take. I meet countless numbers of them in my industry alone. I'm sure you have as well. However, shrewd people know that action taken today will store up goodwill and favor in the future. Is that wrong? No! That's incredibly brilliant. Look at the parable of the crooked manager in Luke 16:1-13. This mangy manager was taking advantage of the resources of his wealthy business owner! Sounds familiar?? Yep, some things within our human nature are timeless. Stealing from "the man" is one of them. I surmise it may be the world's second-oldest profession!
In this parable, just when the crooked manager was about to get 'Trump'ed, i.e., "You're Fired," he went out to all the individuals who owed the wealthy man money and cut them a deal. That's right; he ingratiated himself to them by telling them to decrease what they owed by rewriting their bills. Presumably so when the inevitable pink slip came his way, he would have some friends to use as references or as new bosses or coworkers. In essence, they would be indebted to him, so he'd have a least some means of provision.
Jesus then commends this behavior, which, as an ethicist, always disturbed me. Isn't this fruit from the poisonous tree, and ill-gotten gain? How can this possibly be a "good" practice? Upon closer inspection, however, the point of this parable seems to be that a wise person understands that their season of strength, opportunity, and wealth is fleeting. Money comes and goes, and the events of the past few days have made that truth painfully obvious.
Sooner or later, we all run out of vitality, our prospects dim, and our wealth deserts us. Every person fades and eventually fails, but the wise man thinks about the future and orchestrates a plan. As much as we like to think we'll never die, every day that passes brings us one step closer to death. So be wise and use everything at your disposal to impact the world tremendously. That's why my father gave away books, books, and more books, and almost every dollar he made because there came a time when he would no longer be able to do so. Was it a wise business decision to give away costly goods for free and donate to organizations from which he got nothing financially? By worldly standards, no, but by eternal standards, you better believe it.
I'd like to think that this is one of the things my father taught me that I continued since taking the helm. I think of all the people on the receiving end of his generosity daily and want to keep that tremendous legacy going. I understand that while I may never be counted among the most financially successful speakers of the 21st century, I will surely be counted as one of the shrewdest. Always remember that even if there is no financial benefit, your actions may be a considerable investment in eternity. And that is authentic leadership at its finest.
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