CORPORATE MAKEOVER SERMON SERIES
HANDLING A SUCC-STRESSFUL JOB
Coping with Stress at Work
OCTOBER 11, 1998
As we peer into a new millenium, everybody is talking about it. But they are not only talking about it, they are feeling it. What is it? Stress. On the corporate front there are fewer workers, more work and greater demands than ever before. On the family front, life is packed with school schedules, soccer games, homework and home improvement. We hurry and scurry through life at such a pace that we have gotten a lot of things blurry.
We regularly pull 60 to 80 hour work weeks to endure and sort of hydroplane over the weekend that is packed with endless errands, activities and recreational pursuits. I think if the truth were known, a lot of us are all stressed up with no place to go.
The Bible says there is a place to go. Over the next few moments we are going to discover what it says about how to handle the stranglehold of stress. Notice I said, the stranglehold of stress. The word stress in Latin is pronounced “strict-us” which means to draw tight. And it is amazing the lengths that we will go to in order to deal with stress. Some of us try to express our stress through anger. Have you heard about the road rage going on these days? People freaking out behind the steering wheel of an automobile. I have read about it on the freeways, I have also heard about it in the parking lots of our church. Not only do we express our stress through anger, we try to numb it through overeating, overcompeting and cheating, cheating ourselves, others and even God.
If you are feeling anxious and stressful in this hour, the Bible says in Proverbs 12:25, “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” Have you ever been waiting for an elevator, you push the button and the light comes on. And even if the light is on you push it again. And you push it again as if the elevator would hurry. Why do we do these things? Anyway, slowly the doors open and we expect to walk on the elevator unencumbered. But to our amazement, the elevator is packed; people are in there like pretzels. The front people nod and smile and, now and again, back away and allow a little bit of room. Then maybe your eye catches the sign that says Capacity 3,000 lbs, and you say to yourself you hope the buzzer doesn’t go off. But when you step onto the elevator the buzzer sounds….. In a real way, a lot of our lives are like that. They are packed with different things, different activities, different pressure points, different worries. We see the capacity and the Bible talks about this. Yet we ignore the buzzer because we think that we can handle it. We think that we can break the stranglehold of stress. We think we can do it. Life, ladies and gentlemen, is stressful. There is no such thing as some kind of nirvana, stress-free existence. Stress is real. It happens and we have to learn how to deal with it. So one more time, are you all stressed up with no place to go? If you are, let’s see what the Bible says about how to handle a succ-stressful job.
Now this first way is going to seem weird to you. You might chuckle, but let’s tackle it. First, if I am going to break the stranglehold of stress, I need to put in for a transfer. You wonder, am I talking about moving, about leaving the department? Just stay with me. Don’t get too stressful too early. In I Samuel 30, David dealt with boatloads of stress. He had been off on a three-day journey with some friends and he was leading the way back to their homes, expecting to be greeted by their wives and children. But to their horror, their homes had been burned to the ground; their wives and children had been taken by the enemy. David was worried. David was stressed. And look what happened in I Samuel 30:6. “David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him.” I would be distressed wouldn’t you if your wife and children were captured? And to make matters worse, they were talking about stoning him. I am not talking about some drug-related use of the term here. They were talking about picking up big, old rocks and killing him. They were talking about taking him out, rubbing him out. So the stress had mounted. The elevator is becoming packed. “But David strengthened himself in the Lord, his God.” He put in for a transfer.
What does that mean? David prayed. David communicated to God. David transferred his stress, his anxiety, his problem, his pressure to God. Oftentimes we forget this, folks. A lot of prayer should be transfer-driven. When we transfer all of this junk we carry around to God Himself, He, in turn, will infuse us with grace, with tranquility of soul, with meaning and with focus and a purpose which goes beyond what this world has to offer. I think that is why the Apostle Paul penned the following words. And Paul knew a lot about stress. Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything….” Do you know what the word anxious means? To be pulled in different parts. “….but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds.”
At 12:01 PM the Cowboys will take the field against the Carolina Panthers. I want to give you a little bit of homework. I want you to key in on arguably the best offensive lineman in the game, Larry Allen. Larry Allen is incredible. He is phenomenal. What does the guy benchpress? About 4,000 lbs.? Watch him block. Watch him protect. See what he does. He is taking care of the quarterback. He is taking care of the running backs. He is the man. I would feel confident if Larry Allen was in front of me. We are talking about an offensive lineman. But God is the ultimate offensive lineman.
The Bible says that if we pray, if we take our stresses to God, the result of that will be that His peace will guard our hearts. That means our innermost being. Don’t you love that? But the Bible doesn’t stop there. It continues. Remember, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. Why doesn’t the Bible stop with hearts? Why minds? Because it is in our minds where all this stress happens. The mind starts to mess with me. The mind starts to play games with me. The mind starts to get me worried and panicky and I feel like that elevator with that buzzer going off. The peace of God.
What stress are you under right now? Financial stress? Physical stress? Corporate stress? Emotional stress? What kind of stress are you dealing with? What kind of stress is slowly and methodically strangling you? Put in for a transfer.
But there is something else that we need to do. After we put in for a transfer, we need to restate our vision and values. You have got to restate your vision and values. One day Jesus and the disciples were walking through a small city. And, off the cuff, they made an impromptu visit to a couple of sisters that they knew pretty well, Mary and Martha. I am sure that Martha was the first to open the door. “Oh, Jesus and the disciples. How are you doing? Come on in.” Mary, her sister, followed Jesus and the disciples into the den and sat down and hung on Christ’s every word. She was drinking it in. Martha, though, did the Martha Stewart thing. She began to lose it, to get panicky. She began to worry about the table and the decorations and the silverware and her hair. And then she began to get so stressed that she started a catfight with her sister in front of Christ. She threw her sister in the fire in front of Jesus. She said, my paraphrase, “Jesus, look at Mary. Can you believe this? I am doing all the work, the Martha Stewart thing, I am trying to follow Good Housekeeping and look what she is doing.” I love what Jesus said. Luke 10:41-42. “Martha, Martha, the Lord said, you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus was saying that Martha should think about her vision and values. It was fine that she wanted to prepare a great meal and all of that but that she shouldn’t get lost in all of that and miss the main thing. I think it is interesting that Martha points the finger of blame at Mary. Do you ever do that when you get stressed? I do, all the time. I’ll get stressed and a lot of my stress is self-appointed. But we point the finger of blame, don’t we? Who is your Mary? Your assistant? Who is your Mary? Your spouse? Who is your Mary? Your teenager? Who is your Mary? Your coach? Who is your Mary? Your CEO? Who is your Mary? Your manager? “It’s all your fault. Look what you made me do. Can you believe that you put me in this condition?” Jesus would say, chill, relax, take a step back, restate your vision and values.
If you are a Christ follower, if you know the Lord personally, the Bible is very up front about our priorities and about our vision and values. The Bible says that our priorities should be our Master, our mate and our mission. Who is your Master? If you know Christ personally, it is Jesus. If you don’t, it is some thing or someone else. But that will not get you to where you want to go. Who is your mate? That is the second most important choice you will need to make. That is why I get blue in the face with the series of messages I do on spouse selection, how the find the ultimate, etc. etc. How about your mission? A lot of information in this series has been about your mission. What has God called you to do? What has God called me to do? There is no use arguing about it, praying about it or debating it. It is Master, mate and mission.
Some may say they understand what I am saying but wonder how it applies to where they live, all stressed up with nowhere to go. I want to give you two verses of scripture which kind of act as a transaction, a two-sided deal. I want to talk about the terms because God has put the terms out there. We have a side to this deal and so does God. I am talking about Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.”
Here is the two-sided transaction. Here is my side of the deal first. The Bible says that I am to trust. I get stressed out, wigged out, freaked out but I am to trust God. I need to say, “God, I trust You with my present and my future. My life and this situation is in your hands. I give it to you. I transfer it to you, God. I want to restate my vision and values. Here it is. I trust you, God.” That is my position. Number two. What is my posture? What should my posture be as I am de-stressing? “…do not lean on your own understanding.” When we lean on our own understanding, when we think that we can do it, we get all off balance. And a lot of us today look nice, are dressed nice, but in a real way we are not leaning on God, we are leaning on ourselves. And God says not to do that. Your position, your posture. How about your purpose? Acknowledge. We are to acknowledge God in the midst of all this. That doesn’t mean just lip service. Acknowledge means, “God, you are the Man. I completely follow You. And I acknowledge You to such a degree, God, that right now during this stressful situation; I am going to restate in writing my vision and values. I am going to acknowledge why I do what I do and I am going to affirm and confirm what You have told me in Your word. There is power in that.
That is our side of the deal. Here is the good part. God says, “You do that, I will do this next part.” He will direct our paths. God will give you and give me direction. He will give us meaning and purpose. The word direct means that He will smooth the way. He will take out all of the twigs and the stumps and the barriers and the question marks. He will say, “Come this way. Here you go. Come this way. You think about your position, your posture and your purpose and I am going to give you direction.”
The Bible says in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” A week ago Thursday night, I was three miles down current in a remote part of the Trinity River. I had my six-year-old son with me and a couple of friends. The sun was setting rapidly. We lost one prop. We were having engine trouble. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, oh, Ed, we are going to have to spend the night in a 12-foot john boat with alligators, water moccasins, wild boars, bull frogs, the whole deal.” I was not happy. I was a little bit freaking. And then to top that off, my friend who knows the Trinity like the back of his hand said, “Hey, Ed, I am having a hard time seeing. You know, I had eye surgery a couple of weeks ago and ow I can’t see at night.” I said, “Walter, you are kidding me.” He answered, “No, I am serious, dude.” Now when men start calling each other dude and bro, that means that they are scared. I’ll tell you that right now, women. So, luckily, I had in my bag, my survival bag, a little contraption which is a headband with a light on it. I strapped that puppy on and showed Walter. He told me to go to the front of the boat, in the pitch black, and sit there watching where we are going. “You give the word and I will follow your instructions. You say left and I will go left. You say right and I will go right. You say stop and I will stop.”
Three miles, down current, in the middle of nowhere. There were giant trees and stumps everywhere. The Trinity was really low. We were scared. But because I had the light, because Walter heard my words, we made it home safely. I was thrilled. And when I got to the bank, I thought about God. I thought about His word. I thought about His word being a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path. I thought about God giving me direction because, folks, in a real way we are blind. We can’t see. We are like Walter. We are at the back of this vessel. And once we say, Jesus, come into my life, He places the person of the Holy Spirit right in front of our vessel and He is always giving us the word. “Left. Right. Stop. Watch that stump. Slow down.” And all we have to do is follow Him. And every time I disregard His words, every time I don’t take my cues from the spirit of God, I am in trouble. I am hitting stumps, props are falling off, I am in a heap of trouble. I have spent many a night alone on the banks of a barren river because I missed the message and the words of God. And I spent the nights and sometimes the days all stressed up with nowhere to go.
How do you handle a succ-stressful job? How do you become successful? Put in for a transfer. Restate your vision and values. Watch the stress turn into success.
Speaking of success, we have with us in this service, a man of true success. His name is Truett Cathy. Mr. Cathy is the founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A, a company that does about 671 million dollars of business a year. He is a man of principle, a man of vision, a man who loves God. Let’s welcome Mr. Truett Cathy.
ED: Now you have heard about the chicken man, dressed up and all that. This is the real chicken man right here. Thanks for coming in all the way from Atlanta. Now, Truett, I love your initials and what you say about your initials. Would you share what you shared with me about your name?
TRUITT: Well, my name is Truett Cathy and I tell people that the T.C. stands for Top Chicken. Some may say Tough Chicken, a few say Tons of Chicken. But I say top chicken at Chick-fil-A.
ED: Mr. Cathy, I have fond memories of Chick-fil-A when I was in the fifth grade living in Columbia, SC. My mother used to drag me to Dutch Square Mall. I would kind of follow her around, but I always looked forward to eating Chick-fil-A. In fact, I am not saying this because you are here but I eat Chick-fil-A about twice a week. I will tell you what I get. I get three char-grilled sandwiches, no butter on the bun and a medium lemonade. The lemonade is freshly squeezed and out of sight.
TRUITT: Well you look pretty healthy.
ED: I eat a lot of chicken! Truett share with us a little bit about the evolution of Chick-fil-A. How does a man like you start a company and then move it to where it is today.
TRUETT: Well, I was born in 1921 and history tells us that that was deep depression time. My parents moved to Atlanta trying to make a living. It was necessary for them to take in boarders. Young people today ask what is a boarding house. Is that a condo or an apartment where you get served breakfast in bed. No, it was not like that. My Mom rented a room and served two meals a day. It was there that I learned how to shuck corn, shell peas, wash dirty dishes and set the table. I would go shopping with my Mom. You remember back when you could buy coke, six for a quarter, do you not?
ED: No, sir, I don’t remember that.
TRUETT: Well, I thought to myself that if I had six empty bottles and a quarter, I could buy those, peddle them around to my neighbors for a nickel a piece and recognize a five cent profit. People told me that they would buy more of them if I iced them down. So I set my stand out there in the front yard, iced down the cokes and when I accumulated the resources, I would flag down the coke truck and buy a full case. I would get 24 cokes for $.80. Then I would recognize a $.40 profit if I didn’t break any bottles or buy any ice. Surely you remember the iceman coming down the street in a horse-drawn wagon?
ED: You know, I am trying to bring that back, but I am having a hard time.
TRUITT: Well you have a memory problem, don’t you? But, nevertheless, that was the beginning of my business life. Then I sold magazines during the off-season time. I had a paper route for seven straight years. During that period of time I determined that some day I would have a business of my own. I never really liked school, but I enjoyed my work. I see no reason why you can’t enjoy your work. The day that I work the hardest is the most rewarding for me.
ED: Mr. Cathy, I have talked in this series about work and about finding fulfillment in work. I know that you have said many times that God calls us into different fields of labor; perhaps as a pastor, perhaps in the restaurant business, or maybe a doctor, an attorney, a home builder, a construction worker, a teacher or whatever.
TRUITT: I believe that. I believe that God called me into the restaurant business as surely as you were called into the ministry. When I get in my automobile and head toward the office, I can hardly wait to get there, knowing there are going to be problems when I get there. But that is how we grow, through problems. I feel that the older I get, the more capable I become in handling problems. When I was younger I did worry a lot. I had plenty of things to worry about. Everybody knows that in a restaurant business with 800 units, you have problems on your hands. You can’t satisfy everybody or every customer although we strive to do that. I feel that being in the restaurant business you can serve people, meet their physical needs and sometimes their emotional needs. I find that a lot of people go out to eat when they are not even hungry. They are just looking for an experience, a pleasant experience. Even sometimes the spiritual needs are met there behind the counter. I guess Jesus Christ is the most dined out character in the Bible. It relates many stories of Him at the dining table. We go out to eat because we fellowship together, enjoy each other’s friendship and share thoughts with each other.
ED: Tell me, Mr. Cathy, when did you actually become a Christian and how has that influenced what you have done with
TRUITT: Well it seems that the Lord started to work very early in my life. I went into the restaurant business as age eight. I met my wife at age eight. We didn’t get married then. She happened to live two doors from me when I was a kid. I always admired her but ten years elapsed when we never saw each other. The Lord brought us back together then and we started a steady courtship. I became a Christian at age twelve. So you see, I had a lot going for me as a youngster. I was drafted into the army after I finished high school. I didn’t get to go to college but that didn’t bother me cause I never enjoyed school anyway. After getting out of the service, my brother and I pooled our resources. We had $4,000 and got a loan for $6,600. So for $10,600 we bought a piece of property, built a building, equipped it, stocked it. The place was called the Dwarf Grill. It was a very small place, ten stools at the counter, four tables and chairs. It was open 24 hours a day, six days a week. At that time we made a decision about closing on Sunday. Sunday, to me, has always been a very important day. As a youngster I didn’t have to go to school, didn’t have to do much work around the house but I got to go to Sunday School and church. I didn’t want to be robbed of that. I was single at the time and got a room right next door to the restaurant. Any time I was not working, I would go over there and grab a few hours of rest. But I was totally committed. I find that the word commitment is very meaningful, a very strong word when it comes to business, our relationship to the folks at home and our relationship to Jesus Christ. When we are fully committed to something, we are not likely to stop and not likely to fail. There is a difference between success and failure and it, oftentimes, is the degree of commitment that we have toward the project, whatever it might be.
ED: I am sure that people looking in from the outside would say that you have turned your back on hundreds of millions of dollars by not being open on Sunday. But, again, the Bible says that we should stop working and start worshipping because that helps us to refocus and to understand who is really in charge.
TRUETT: It may have been the most important business decision I have ever made. I go out to eat a lot of times on Sunday. Sometimes I am criticized for that but my wife says she cooks at home three meals a day all week, and she just wants to be taken out to eat after church on Sunday. I tell our customers that if they stick with us six days a week, we will let them eat somewhere else on Sunday. I believe that if all merchants joined together and closed on Sunday, the income would remain the same, sales would be the same. But I believe that we honor God by closing on Sunday and I think that we attract the caliber of people who would appreciate having Sunday off. That is a marker against our competitors, attracting the kind of workers who appreciate having Sunday off.
ED: You have taught a Bible Study class for 13-year-old boys for how many years?
TRUETT: For 45 years. I never take a speaking engagement on Sunday and here I am sitting here having accepted a speaking engagement on Sunday. But I have a substitute teacher and I give him a little practice. Buy you were kind enough to invite me and I feel that this is very important, that we need to keep our priorities in order. We are living in a changing world, but the important things have not changed. They never will change. The more important things are free and in abundance, but we don’t take advantage of that. I share with my 13 year old boys the importance of being patient with their parents. The Bible teaches us to be obedient to our parents and then to our God, to recognize the chain of command. I tell them to be patient with their parents because eventually they will be making the important decisions. They will need to decide who their Master is going to be, what their mission is going to be and what their life work is going to be and who they will marry. My wife has had a tremendous impact on me and my success. She has been totally supportive. I have had three children and now twelve grandchildren. I have 105 foster kids that I have adopted. I am their grandfather, that is a role that I like to play. I tell these children that they don’t have to call me grandpa but those who do will get more than the others!
ED: Well, grandpa….. Some people here may be wondering if you can be a Christian and be an aggressive, visionary businessperson. A new Christian or someone who doesn’t know Christ personally may wonder if it can really work.
TRUETT: Really, it does work. God intended for all of us to be successful, if we just find out what He wants us to do. Sometimes it is very difficult if we are not behaving ourselves. We need to be faithful in little things in order to be trusted with a larger thing. I see no conflict between Biblical principles and good business practice. For me, the Bible is a road map and a blueprint for our life. If we adhere to those principles that the Lord has set forth, He guarantees us success. No maybe, but He guarantees. I oftentimes think that the Holy Bible should have a subtitle The Success Book. It is all written in there how I should conduct myself as a CEO, how I should relate to other people, how I should treat my customers and my employees.
In 1982 we had a stressful time at Chick-fil-A. You know how you can tell if a person needs encouragement? If they are breathing, they need encouragement! I suppose that is what you were trying to do this morning. In ’82 we were still a private company, so everything that I had was predicated on the success of Chick-fil-A. We had just moved into a $10 million corporate headquarters what was fully financed. That was quite a milestone for us as a small company. That year we were paying 20-22% on borrowed money. We dared not go up on prices when sales were down. It was also the year that all the major chains were getting into the chicken breast sandwich business. That was causing the breast market to become inflated. So I called a meeting of the executive committee. We asked ourselves some important questions like what are we doing up here, why are we in business and why are we alive. We started to discuss the situation when someone got up to the board and began to write our corporate purpose. After those two days we came away with a short statement. “Our corporate purpose is that we might glorify God by being a faithful steward in all that He has entrusted to our care and that we might have a positive influence on all the people who we come in contact with.” We went back and shared this with our staff people. They asked what else we had done. We shared that we did not know the answers to the problems that were facing the company but that we were putting our faith in the Lord.
Not long ago my secretary came to me saying that a young man was insisting on talking to me about a private matter. He greeted me like a long lost friend and then it came out that what he really wanted to do was sell me some investments. I told him that he was talking to the wrong person, that he should be talking to the VP of Finance. He said no that he wanted to talk to me. I told him that he had been very rude to my secretary and that didn’t slow him down. Finally, I just hung up on him. Immediately afterwards I said to myself that I hoped he didn’t know about my corporate purpose. I was being rude, just like he was. After that happened I realized that I would never hang up on anyone again. I am tempted to from time to time, but I never have because I didn’t want to put myself in the same category with them.
ED: Mr. Cathy, we so appreciate your being here and being on line with us today as you have communicated your life and a little bit about who you are. I want to thank you and our prayers go with you.