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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Radical Changes to my perspective on business (Part 3)

September of 1999 marked a major turning point in how I "did business"! Exactly 14 years previously I had started "Woodford's Sharpening Service" and had been "self-employed" since September 1st,1985. In response to the Lord's dealings with me (see the two previous posts) I shut down the business which I had started and purposed (with fear and trembling!) to provide the same services but on radically different terms. I explained these changes in the letter which I sent out to all my former clients.

Here is a portion of that letter:
"During Rob's illness I have had almost no income from our business and no unemployment insurance. Yet, from the first day Rob was in hospital, our needs have been met. Hundreds of people have prayed for us, scores have sent cards, letters or flowers, and others have helped with meals and yard work etc. We have received incredible support by way of monetary gifts from Christians of about 30 different congregations from about 20 different denominations!! During this time, my personal concepts of how I provide service to others have also radically changed!

The following is a brief summary:
(1)Before, I viewed myself as the self-employed owner of my business. I assumed I had direct control over the work I did and the fees I charged! Now, I realize I am simply a steward of God-given talents, abilities, health and even time which He has entrusted to me. I've realized that, while I have choices for which I am responsible, I have no actual control at all! (I had no control over Rob's illness, my responsibility to him, my lack of available time to work, my inability to draw an income, or the means by which our needs would be met!) My Employer has been in full control!

(2)Before, I considered myself the producer of goods and services which I sold to you. Now, I realize that physically I have absolutely nothing (health, strength, abilities, talents or resources) which I have not received from Another and which cannot also be removed at any moment! So I'm not a producer, but simply a channel which receives and is designed to transmit what's been entrusted to me for the benefit of others.

(3)Before, I considered that you were a client of my business. Now, I'd be wiser to consider myself a servant of your business.

(4)Before, I charged you what I decided was best for me. Now, I no longer charge for my work so that your best interests may be served. (See #5.)

(5)Before, you were obligated to pay what I charged regardless of whether you felt it was too much (some feel this way) or too little, (some also feel this way!) Now, you are at liberty to give (and I will be happy to receive) what you choose to offer. (You will be free to make that assessment based on your estimate of the value of the service and on your ability to give.)

(6)Before, I wrote an invoice as proof of an obligation connected with your business which was to be paid by cash or cheque. Now, I write no invoices. So, whatever you decide to give, by cash, cheque, products or services is fine by me. (If you require a receipt, I will be happy to write one for whatever you choose to give.)

(7)Before, I kept records of "accounts receivable". If a client didn't pay, couldn't pay or forgot to pay an invoice of mine I would get uptight and remind them of their obligation and then they might get uptight! Now, since I don't charge, I keep no records of "accounts receivable". Therefore, If someone I serve doesn't pay, or cannot pay, neither of us need get uptight!

(8)Before, I was a businessman who made sales and charged for goods and services. As a direct result, the government required me to charge taxes to my clients. Now, since I am simply a steward who gives goods and services, the government will allow me to charge no taxes at all!

I trust this new service arrangement will be more enjoyable and beneficial for all concerned! Which do you prefer: receiving gifts and giving them OR receiving bills and paying them????

If, for any reason, this arrangement of not charging is unsuitable for you I'd be happy to refer you to companies which do.

So, you are likely asking, "How has this arrangement worked out in the long run?"

Well, obviously, after ten years my family and I haven't starved yet! But there were a number of changes which became immediately apparent during those first few weeks:
(1) A number of corporate stores (in-store bakeries) which I had previously served refused to do business with me anymore since they required invoices in order to make payments.
(2) Some bakeries were happy with the arrangement and enjoyed receiving the service without obligation to pay and indeed some have not given anything. Others who thought I had charged too much were happy to be able to give less than I had formerly charged.
(3) Most continued to give the same amount which I had formerly charged. But a number of bakers immediately started to give considerably more than I had ever charged before and have continued doing so and have even given me periodic "raises"!

But the greatest observable change that I experienced was an entirely new working relationship with the bakers that I served:
- I immediately discovered that a number of bakers I served or employees in their stores were Christians!
- Many, even unbelievers, expressed a longing to be able to "do business" in the same way as I had purposed, but could not see their way clear to do so!
-Folks in almost every bakery I entered asked immediately how our son, Rob, was doing and many told us they had wept when they read the letter we had sent! To this day, ten years later, we are regularly asked in quite a few bakeries we serve how Rob is doing! (We’ve been able to tell them he has been cancer free all that time and that he and his wife Ada have just recently had a healthy big boy, Brayden!)
- Because of all of this it has been much easier to speak to many of these bakers about the Lord, His goodness and our relationship with Him. How we thank Him for that!

But regarding our finances, we can definitely testify to the goodness of our God to keep His Word to provide for all of our needs as we have been obedient to follow His directions. Many of the store owners whom we serve were very curious how this system of not charging could really work for us. So I explained it this way, “How are the needs of your employees (your bakers, clerks) supplied? They serve your customers freely and don’t expect paychecks from any of those people whom they serve, they simply look to you, their employer, to pay them. They do what you tell them to do: i.e Certain customers are charged retail rates, others are given wholesale rates or discounts, in other cases you may give your products to certain people freely according to the arrangements you have personally made with each client. So it is in my relationship with my Master. I look to Him for the provision of all my needs, I do not look to those whom He instructs me to serve. What those people give is not my business but is entirely between them and my Master. If He says “Their service is free to them,” that is OK by me for I am not looking to them but to Him for my supply. If He says to them, “You are to give generously for the service you have received,” that too is OK by me for it is Him to whom I look and not them for my supply.

So these last ten years of seeing the faithfulness of God to meet our needs apart from charging anything for our services, Psalm 123:2 has become very precious: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.

I have learned by experience that a servant looks to his master for at least two things:
(1) He looks to his master for his daily assignments (what work he is to do and whom he is to serve.)
(2) He looks to his master for the supply of all of his needs.

I have found by experience that the Lord Jesus, whom I serve, is the Very Best of masters!

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