How Much Is Enough with Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett talks with Ray about his long conflict between serving God and mammon, the beauty of generous living, and his belief that money CAN make you happy – if you give it away.
Jay Bennett had a 35 year parallel career of practicing law and running a private foundation serving Christian ministries. He is now the Chairman of the Board of both the National Christian Foundation and The Halftime Institute.
The NCF is the world’s largest faith based provider of donor advised funds serving more than 20,000 donor partners who last year contributed more than $1.8 billion into giving funds and distributed out more than $1.7 billion to more than 26,000 non-profit organizations.
Halftime serves women and men in the marketplace moving from success to significance.
“Generous living…is a portal into divine intimacy.”
“They say that money can’t make you happy; I think it can if you give it away.”
“Follow the cloud, and let the mystery do its work.”
1. The ability to create wealth is a gift from God.
2. What’s priceless in your life?
3. The Lord doesn’t partner with idols.
4. Until you have a finish line, you have no freedom.
5. Leave room for the Spirit to work.
Ray: Hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith. We are so grateful that you’ve joined us for another episode, and this is the program where our goal and our intention here is to really help address that intersection of life, faith, business, leadership, and the marketplace. We are here to encourage you as a Christ-follower. Maybe you own a business, or you lead a department, or you’re a leader in the marketplace. We know that at times that can get lonely, that can get discouraging, and you can feel isolated. Well, we are here to encourage you to become more of who and what God has called you to be in the marketplace.
And that’s what I get to do. It’s an amazing blessing here. I get to travel the country, talk with some of the most amazing, Jesus-loving, Christ-following business leaders across the country. North to South, East to West, and I am in the beautiful Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, and I have the incredible privilege today to interview Jay Bennett, who is the chairman of the National Christian Foundation, as well as the chairman of the Halftime Institute. We’re going to learn all about those great organizations, but more importantly we’re going to learn about Jay today. Jay, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Jay: Ray, delighted to be with you. Welcome to the Twin Cities.
Ray: Well, Jay, we’re going to learn about your career, we’re going to learn about business principles and so forth, but just tell us a little bit about the National Christian Foundation, Halftime Institute, your roles in those two organizations, and then we’ll work our way back. But help us understand a little bit of that.
Jay: Yeah, thank you, Ray. I’m a lawyer/business guy by trade that created a private foundation to support Christian ministry back in 1983. That morphed into a community foundation here in the Twin Cities in 2000, and we were approached in 2003 by the National Christian Foundation, which was started by Larry Burkett and Ron Blue and Terry Parker, back in 1982. The NCF had adopted a strategy to grow out of its headquarters in Atlanta, not organically but by affiliating around the country with existing community foundations.
So the NCF has over the years grown to now have affiliates in 30 cities, with the corporate office in Atlanta being the back office for all 30 affiliates. The NCF is the world’s largest faith-based provider of donor-advised funds, which is the fastest-growing mechanism for charitable giving. It’s the fourth-largest overall provider behind Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard, more secular providers. But donor-advised funds are a very popular way for gifting, and our ministry in large part encouraged people to think about giving creatively, not only cash but other kinds of assets, publicly-traded stock and business interests and things like that.
So it’s a privilege to serve the NCF both nationally and here locally in Minneapolis. The Halftime Institute is a ministry started by a wonderful Texas guy, Bob Buford. Wrote the book Halftime, which is almost ubiquitous in how it bounces around and is referred from person to person. But it’s a ministry, the mantra of which is to move from success to significance. Bob was a man of deep faith, and knew that, as he said, the Lord wrote the book. So really it’s much about surrender or submission, and how do we come to understand that God has us gifted for His Kingdom purposes. So I’m greatly privileged to serve both organizations.
Ray: So, I want to go back just for a moment to NCF, and then I’ll jump back to Halftime. Tell us more about donor-advised funds. You know, if I’m a business owner, business leader, marketplace leader and I’m listening to this, tell me more about that. I’ve heard about that, but I want to know more.
Jay: Yeah, and thanks for the question. And if your listeners are not aware of what a donor-advised fund is, I encourage them to think about it, because it is an explosively fast-growing charitable giving mechanism. The NCF has about 20,000 donor partners, each of whom has a donor-advised fund. I’ve got the Jay and Sarah Bennett Family Fund, one of 20,000 funds that exist under the public charity exemption of the National Christian Foundation. So my wife Sally and I do almost all of our charitable giving, of publicly traded stock and other assets, into our NCF giving fund. We get a tax deduction from the NCF. If the asset is other than cash, the NCF sells it immediately, puts the money in our fund, where it’s invested until such time as we advise the NCF where we want the distribution to go.
So last year, the NCF brought in about $1,800,000,000 in contributions, and sent out $1,700,000,000 to about 26,000 different non-profit organizations.
Ray: So the advantages to this type of approach are what?
Jay: One massive advantage is that you can give at any point in time. At year end, if you’re not quite sure what you want to do and you’re looking with your accountant at your situation, you can make a year-end gift and get the tax deduction and then give the money away over a period of time. You can give it all away the next day. There’s no requirement to give it away, so in the event you have a larger event or a liquidity event, you can literally capitalize your charitable giving over an extended period of time.
Ray: So there’s certainly financial tax advantages to doing it, but there’s great Kingdom advantages to doing this as well. Would you speak to that?
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. We ask our donor partners, would they rather support Young Life or the U.S. Treasury? I mean, they can literally make choices as to whether tax dollars go to Uncle Sam or go to their favorite charity. When we ask that question, we typically get, “Well, tell me a little bit more about that.” So absolutely. It’s a way to allocate wealth. We believe wealth creation is a gift from the Lord, Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us that. He gave us the ability to create wealth for His covenant purposes. So as we come to realize that in our own lives and think creatively about how do we give, and how do we give perhaps not just cash but other assets that we’ve been blessed to accumulate, the whole joy of giving ramps up and becomes much more intimate.
Ray: And so this whole career and experience in dealing with this really led to a book called How Much is Enough? Just this little tiny question, that’s kind of an interesting question.
Jay: Classic question over the millennia, I think. As I’ve looked at the issue, I’m a guy who clearly, through many many years, sought to, despite what Jesus told me, serve God and Mammon. As a lawyer/business guy, I had one foot on the dock and one in the boat. And now I look back, and that was my story for a long time. And then, over experience, I came to realize that we really have to identify Mammon and subordinate it, at least in a way where our relationship with the Lord opens up.
So How Much is Enough? is clearly a question that triggers a secular response. How much money have I accumulated? How many homes do I have? How many cars am I driving? But as I think about what Jesus might say to that, He might say, “Well, how much is enough of what?” Because He then follows it up knowing that the true riches, intimacy with Him, revelation of His nature, of the Lord’s spirit, of the fruit of the Spirit, those are true riches that wait on the back side of a freer journey around what we do with earthly riches.
So it is a journey. We’re each on the journey uniquely, but I believe that when the question of how much is enough comes up, there’s another question in terms of how much is enough of what. And I just summarize that by saying intimacy with the Lord in a joy-filled life that is, in my own experience, more different to experience if I’ve got one foot and the dock and one in the boat.
Ray: Yeah, fantastic. We’re going to come back and we’re going to flesh out some more of the principles and things that you talk about in the book there, but I do want to jump back just briefly. I want to hear more about Halftime Institute. Many of our listeners are going to be familiar with Bob Buford, and maybe have heard of Halftime Institute. But at the kind of street level, what are some of the functions, some of the activities? Who participates in Halftime Institute? Why? How do they get involved? I’d like to hear more.
Jay: Yeah. Bob Buford understood that many of us go through seasons of life, and that many of us target what the world tells us to target, in terms of earthly success. And that many of us along that journey, as we experience that, ask questions like, “Well, is that all there is?” Or we have a feeling of discontentment that develops in our lives. Halftime is a ministry that recognizes men and women in the marketplace who are moving into that season of questioning what might be next. And it’s got a 20-plus year history with hundreds and even thousands of case studies of people that have been on that journey, so it’s able to minister to them and nurture them through a season of change toward what we call their Ephesians 2:10 calling.
Ephesians 2:10 is a verse that says that you, Ray, are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that were ordained for you beforehand that you might walk in them. And other words for workmanship are masterpiece. That’s another word. You are God’s masterpiece, designed by Him, for purposes that He calls you to. So we help people discover their Ephesians 2:10 calling, and then think about whether or not they can augment their work experience in a way that’s a Kingdom-based thing. They can do it at work, or transition into some other aspect of their journey. So it’s an ongoing, unique, customized, content-delivered ministry that makes a huge change in the lives of a lot of people.
Ray: Headquartered out of Dallas?
Jay: Dallas, Texas. Yep.
Ray: Dallas, Texas. Right. So are we thinking like online classes, or local small group meetings? How would I get engaged if I’m interested in learning more?
Jay: Yeah. Probably a pat answer, you can look at halftimeinstitute.org, or you can just Google it. But the primary service offerings are small gatherings of like-minded people that get together. We have cohorts. They generally meet in Dallas, although they meet in other places as well. But cohorts of 10 or 12, sometimes 14 or 15 men and women, that meet typically quarterly, and have a coach that is an experienced Halftimer to help guide them in between quarterly meetings and on an ongoing basis.
So it’s a fellowship of like-minded marketplace folks that get together in a trusted environment where they can talk about the real issues that are perhaps behind their worldly success as they think about seeking more meaning and significance and, again, I say surrender or submission in their lives to the Lord’s call.
Ray: Yeah. Fantastic. So you weren’t always the chair of the National Christian Foundation and Halftime Institute. You had a very prolific, very successful career. Tell us about that, and then I want to learn some of the lessons you’ve learned and failures and successes. Tell us about your career.
Jay: Yeah. I think and have always felt I’m an unlikely chair of either organization, so it’s a bit of a mystery. But I’m a lawyer/business guy by trade, started with a big national law firm. I think I learned a lot of good things there. I also worked really hard, and at age 30, long ago, kind of said, “Hey, I want to stay married and I want to coach Little League football and baseball.” So I started off to create my own law firm, which I grew over the years and had the privilege, because it was mine, of being able to engage in business transactions. A little more freedom from just the straight practice of law. So, a combination of law and business.
And then Sally, my wife, and I, in May of 1981 had a renewal experience through a ministry called Cursillo, where we both had a near-visionary realization of the price that Jesus paid for each of our lives. That put me into a pot of prayerful wondering what was next, and out of that bubbled this opportunity to create a private foundation. So I had kind of a schizophrenic life of law and business, where resources flowed at least for good deals. The other side was foundation work, trying to support ministries that were in need and wonderful grass-roots people that had given themselves completely to the Lord. So it was a little bit of a schizophrenic journey. You know, make eye contact with a ministry leader and get a grant proposal the next day, and things like that.
So it was this journey, a combined journey, that I was on, in which I learned more about my own habits of having one foot on the dock and one in the boat, and of serving God and Mammon. And over a period of years, too long of an extended period of years, I came to the realization that I really needed to make more of a choice, and subordinate the world in many respects, and my desire and quest for accumulating wealth. Subordinate that in favor of giving myself and surrendering to the Lord. It was a long journey, again longer than perhaps it should have been. I have a passion for trying to help other people shorten their journey.
Ray: That’s really powerful, and what I’m curious about is, when you were in the height of your law career, what role did your faith play in that? How did it shape your decisions or how you practiced or interacted? What could you tell us about that?
Jay: I think, as my faith matured, it shaped my behaviors, it shaped my motivations. It helped me make decisions in terms of who I was going to work with, and my own behaviors, in terms of how I was going to act. My faith was a huge, I believe, part of my journey. I felt that I was on an ongoing spiritual journey of sorts, and yet I was able to kind of accommodate that, rationalize it in terms of my simultaneous desire to accumulate wealth and kind of balance both of those.
1999, when I was 50 years old, was a key year in my life because I was heavily involved in taking my best corporate client through a merger with its biggest competitor, and then went public in 2000. That was a particular acute season for me of my imbalance between wealth accumulation, as I counted my shares of stock in that company, and a sense that there was more. And so it was a progressive ongoing journey over an extended period of time.
Ray: Very good. Something happened to you physically in that season of life. Can we talk a little bit about that, and how that shaped your journey?
Jay: Yeah. I worked my tail off in 1999 and 2000, got pneumonia twice during the cycle during which we merged and then went public. I remember the investment bankers telling me to go home, and I said, “I’m not going home. This deal is going to close before I go home,” as I had two bouts with pneumonia. We got the deal closed, and on the back end of the IPO, which was the second deal we were involved in, I was hit with a neurological disorder that took my voice for six years. As you know, Ray, I’ve mentioned to you there weren’t that many people in the Twin Cities that were upset about one lawyer who couldn’t talk in this town. But it was a journey, a six-year journey on the back end of all that work, in which the Lord took away from me my ability to kind of control and manage and muscle my way through the events of life. I’m thankful for that history, but He quieted me down for an extended season.
Ray: Okay, I want to talk about that for just a second. Because as I’m listening to this, Jay, I’m just imagining for myself what that would be like. Six years you had no voice, is that correct?
Jay: Yeah, this neurological phenomenon was one in which, when I would go to speak, the brain would send electrical impulses to the muscles that open the vocal cords, so they would pop open, and I could not push enough air through them to create vibration. So I had no sound. I could, almost like playing the tuba, push enough air to create a whisper, but a very very enervating condition that went for a long time.
Ray: Okay. So I’m just imagining. Just think about this for a second. Six years you can’t speak. You can’t get anything above a whisper. How did you handle … Like, when I get upset, when I get angry, first thing that goes is the volume of my voice goes up. What was it like to be angry with no voice? I know that may sounds like a weird question, but tell me about that.
Jay: No, I think that was a real part of it. There was that repressed anger of sorts, that maybe couldn’t have been expressed. Also a lot of physical exhaustion. I was blessed to have an amazing Spirit-filled loving wife, who not only persevered with me but spoke life into me. And I was blessed, as a result of my own faith journey, to have friends who were also I think more mature than I, and maybe more prophetic than I. They spoke life into me, they spoke healing into me during a season when I didn’t really quite have the faith to know I could get there. But I was able to embrace their faith, in a way, that it was a surrogate experience in many ways.
And as my own journey continued, I in July of 2004 went to Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. In the opening scene, Jesus is in Gethsemane. And Isaiah 53:5 pops up on the screen, and that’s the famous verse that says, “By His stripes we’re healed.” But it also says that He was chastised for our peace. And in July of 2004, at age 55, I was not peaceful. I couldn’t muscle my way out of this. But when I saw that He was chastised for my peace, what I saw in that movie, what He went through, I literally left the theater that evening saying, “You know, if Jesus paid that price for me, I am going to be peaceful.”
I had an invasion of His presence over time that brought me to a more peaceful platform, where I thought, even if I’m never healed in this world, I will be healed. And I submitted, at a level that was below what I historically had ever been able to submit to, or willing to submit to. And out of that came a path of really miraculous and world-class medicine restoration, where as of today I have a substantially fully restored voice, subject to certain things like humidity and temperature. But it was a supernatural invasion of my life, which I give tremendous thanks, and which I know that the Lord was intimately with me throughout the whole journey.
Ray: That’s incredible. So as you look back, whether it’s through that season, Jay, or prior to that, or even after that experience, let’s talk about in your business career, what’s the hardest decision you ever had to make? How’d your faith play a role in that? How’d your faith get you through that? The hardest decision.
Jay: Yeah. I think we value many things in life, and on many occasions value has monetary parameters to it. I think the bigger question is what’s priceless in our lives, and what do we do with our lives to protect, ensure, and help that grow. So my biggest challenge over the years, in many respects, has been choices between work and priceless relationships, not only with the Lord but with Sally and with my boys. So I made a decision to leave a national law firm for the sake of my marriage and the sake of my family. And over the years, I think, especially perhaps as I matured a little bit, I was able to distinguish between the price I was willing to pay for certain engagements versus what that might cost me, in terms of what was priceless in my life.
Ray: So if I’m listening to this conversation and I’m a business owner, I’m a business leader, and I’m wrestling with this very issue, I’ve got a big decision and I’m having to make a decision between pursuing this business deal or, your term, this priceless relationship, how should I make that decision? How should I go about how to make that decision?
Jay: Clearly it’s a subject for prayer, but I think it’s a subject for collaborative prayer with your spouse as well. There’s a lot of attraction to the next business opportunity, perhaps the next transfer. I think it’s just important to count the cost, to think beyond what the world says is the way to be successful and really value a more balanced approach to life. To think about what’s the price to be paid, and are we of one accord in this regard? Because there will be a way. Even absent what appears to be the world’s best opportunity right in front of me, an opportunity to choose what is priceless will have rewards that are far greater.
Ray: I love that. To me, that’s about making long-term decisions, and it’s about determining what we are to pursue in life. And I think it’s a great transition for us to talk more about your book. Is that okay?
Jay: Sure, absolutely.
Ray: Can we do that now?
Ray: So I’m actually holding a copy of this. I’ve had a chance to read this. It is titled How Much is Enough? From Earthly Riches to True Riches. Why this book? Why you?
Jay: Well, it’s just sometimes, when you get an idea about writing something, you just have to get it out of your system. That little book is kind of a manifestation of that. But also, in my own journey, law, business, and seeking the Kingdom and thinking about generosity and serving the National Christian Foundation in particular, I’ve come to know there’s a real difference between earthly riches and true riches. There’s a journey from one to the next. The world would tell us that earthly riches are what’s important, but Jesus tells us that the true riches are really what are more important.
The true riches are much about intimacy with Him, intimacy with the divine, a greater understanding of the nature of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2, that the spirit of the Lord is a spirit of wisdom and understanding and knowledge and counsel and might and reverential and obedient fear of the Lord. Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. I believe that as we come to get a whiff of the true riches, intimacy with the Lord, it becomes a tractor beam of sorts that draws us more and more into that.
I believe that generosity, generous living including generous giving, is a portal into divine intimacy. That as we live a more generous life, we’re able to recognize the repressive power of Mammon in our lives, that we’re able to recognize that in our live, we’re able to demote those forces in our lives. And at the same time, the Lord comes and meets us with intimacy and meaning that just makes that side of the equation much more fulfilling.
So there’s a journey from earthly riches to true riches. Our great passion at the NCF is to help people embark on that generosity journey, because our desire is that they experience that intimacy. The NCF’s purpose statement is that love gives. God is love. God so loved us that he gave us Jesus. Jesus so loved us that He paid the greatest gift. There is no greater gift, that one would give his life for another. And He calls us to give, to love, to be generous. And so as we follow the example all the way from God Almighty through His precious Son, by the Spirit, into our own lives, we have an opportunity to journey from what the earth says is so valuable into what the Lord and the Word confirms are so valuable. The DNA that’s within us is released in a way where that intimacy manifests in our lives. It makes lives a whole lot better.
Ray: So I’m looking at the book. There’s a very interesting picture of you on page 8, and you are bound up. You are wrapped up in Saran wrap. What’s that picture conveying?
Jay: Jesus tells us that we can’t serve God and Mammon. In many Bible translations, it says Money, but I prefer Mammon. I believe, and I think evidence indicates, that Mammon was an ancient Chaldean god of avarice or greed. We have in culture a massive commitment to wealth accumulation, in many ways to greed, though that’s a really hard word. What I do when I wrap myself up in Saran wrap is to try to expose this spiritual force that lives in so many of our lives. It basically is a laminate around our lives which is invisible to us. We’re not conscious of it, but it wraps us up in ways where it limits our ability to live generous lives. It focuses on our own accumulation. As a result, it really limits our ability to grow in intimacy with the Lord. So I wrap myself in Saran wrap as evidence of this invisible laminate, a spiritual force that Jesus called Mammon.
Ray: You talk in the book about the role of the American dream in all of this. We have international listeners here, but most of our listeners are certainly within the U.S. So let’s talk a little bit about it. What role does the American dream play in this whole love of Mammon? Tell us more.
Jay: Yeah. I think it’s really important to look at our own lives generationally backwards. My paternal grandfather was a rural mailman and a night janitor. My dad was the oldest of eight, and he learned to work early in life. My maternal grandfather was a Swedish immigrant. Came to America for the great American dream, the opportunity. He was a night security guard. Clearly had a poverty mentality, which perpetuated through my own family. Something I had to deal with, but the desire to overcome and to make money, and the affirmation of that in the American dream, is a driving force in culture. Which for many, from the time they come into the world and they’re nurtured and raised up with that expectation and then they pursue it until they discover that it’s an idol. The Lord just doesn’t partner with idols.
There is a generational process of forgiveness and healing, that then it’s just change of mindset, where the American dream might not quite match up with the calling the Lord has on our lives.
Ray: So, I’m thinking, I’m listening to this and I’m a business owner. I’m building a company and an organization. I’m saying, “Now wait a minute, Jay. I’ve got these employees I need to provide for, I’ve got customers to serve, I’ve got my own family’s needs and so forth. How do I address all this? How do I pursue the Lord’s riches and what He has for me, and yet I still have this stewardship, I still have this responsibility in provision?” Help me work through that.
Jay: Yeah, I think so many wonderfully gifted entrepreneurs who have been blessed with the ability to create businesses often times do think downstream toward the people they love and their employees, and want to serve and create opportunity. I think life is a matter of ascending toward the Lord on an individual journey and reaching back. Reaching up and reaching back. So, many business owners that we deal with at Halftime and at the NCF enter into this season of not only what’s next, but how can they use the benefit of their experience to make a difference? And that can absolutely be done, and it’s most often done in the very businesses that they’re in.
But I think takes an intentional process of trying to go deeper, trying to really seek one’s own sense of calling, and then moving toward a more mature Kingdom view of, “How do I use my standing? How do I use the business that I’ve built? How do I think about committing it in significant ways to the Lord?” And think creatively about it. It offers a whole nother upside, a next season of experience even in the same business, that can bring a whole new dimension and vitality to the years that are ahead.
Ray: Okay. That’s helpful. Now I want to go one layer deeper to practicality, right? How much is enough? How much do I need to live on? Not that I’m looking for a number, but what’s the thought process, Jay, that I can work through to help me and my wife, my family determine how much we need versus how much God’s calling us to release? What have you learned?
Jay: We’ve learned at the NCF and at Halftime that until an individual or a couple have a finish line in the context of what do they need for themselves and what do they want for their children, it’s very difficult to enter into a realm of freedom as to what they’re going to do with discretionary wealth or opportunity to serve the Kingdom. So, the first response is think about a finish line. How much is enough for my wife and myself? And there’s often times a journey that one goes through, where one progressively thinks about that. We have responsibilities. The Word tells us that we’re worse than an infidel if we don’t provide for our own, but very few of us take a close hard look at, “How much do I really need to accumulate if I’m going to live to be 100?” At 4%, how much on my investments do I need to make in order to sustain my household?
And how much do I want to give my kids? Do I really want to empower them and give them an amount that nurtures their future and helps them have some advantage? Or do I want to enable them and in many ways cripple them by just dumping resources on them that can be disastrous?We compare generational wealth transfer to dynamite. If you know how to use dynamite, you can blast your way through mountains with it. If you don’t know how to use it, it can be disastrous.
Finish lines, both in terms of how much is enough for my wife and me, and how much am I going to give my kids, and have plans that you look at every year to reevaluate that number.
Ray: Yeah. Back to the American dream, what role does the way our mindset is in this country, retirement and comfort and ease and security, what role does that play in all this decision-making around the finish line?
Jay: Yeah, I think retirement is just a new set of tires.
Ray: I like that.
Jay: Most people I know who retire and go play golf have challenging outcomes on the back of it. I played golf in Naples a couple years ago with a group of buddies that their fourth was not with them that day. They call themselves the PIMPs. Previously IMportant People, was what they referred themselves to. I think if you’ve been in the marketplace and you’ve had a good run, it’s absolutely appropriate to take a break, perhaps for a while, and even build a break into your annual routine. But you’ve been in preparation for something that’s next. You’ve got a season of life ahead of you that, in many respects, will be the most invigorating. Best season there is.
I compare life sometimes to the Triple Crown. I ran the Kentucky Derby a long time ago, in my law and business career. I ran the Preakness some time ago, and I’m running the Belmont now. In order to run the Triple Crown, you’ve got to run that race which, for many, will be the longest run on the softest track. But that will determine whether or not you run for the prize that the Lord intends. So run the Kentucky Derby. Run it well, to win. Run the Preakness. And then run the Belmont for the prize.
Ray: That’s fantastic. Well Jay, we are already in the last section of a conversation that has flown by, for me anyway. The last section of questions I’ve got, consider this as my advice and insights section, right? As you look back over the course of your life, your career, if you had one thing that you would do differently if given a chance, what would you do differently and why?
Jay: I would have shortened the extended season in which I served God and Mammon. That doesn’t mean that one can’t continue to make money and accumulate some and give a lot away. They say that money can’t make you happy. Well, I think it can if you give it away. So I would shorten the season, if I had the discernment, in which I kind of wanted it both ways. One foot on the dock, one in the boat. I would have had the faith to continue to use whatever ability the Lord may have given me to create wealth, but I would have reallocated it sooner in life. Because what I’ve experienced, in my own journey from earthly riches to the true riches, is the joy and fulfillment and meaning that flows out of a more generous life for the benefit of others. That experience is far more rewarding than any trip I’ve ever taken or anything I might have purchased.
Ray: True riches.
Jay: True riches.
Ray: Is what you’re talking about there. And so I’m going to just ask you a really crazy question here. If you had a chance to go back and advise the 20-year-old Jay Bennett, what advice would you give to the 20-year-old you?
Jay: Buy Microsoft. Would have substantially reduced the challenge between one foot on the dock and one on the boat, I suppose. Yeah, I was going to be a doctor all my life until I got to the chemistry courses and the science courses that I had to take in college. Praise the Lord, He took me out of that thought. I look back on my own life as like a Lewis and Clark expedition, where they left St. Louis and went to Mandan, North Dakota, and buried themselves for the winter in 40 degree below weather. So I look back on my own journey, and it’s been a not only circuitous but a zig-zag journey. There’s so many things, looking back, that I suppose that I might have done differently. But what I really realize now is how much the Lord was with me through all those years when I didn’t know Him as well as I hope I know Him now. So there’s a long list of issues I might have done differently. Seeking greater intimacy with Him and using my skillsets for his Kingdom are generic references that I would respond with.
Ray: That’s fantastic, and what I’m about to say, I don’t think I’ve ever said. I’ve done over 120 of these interviews for Bottom Line Faith, and something hit me as I was listening to that last answer about what would you give as advice to your 20-year-old self. What I’m coming to discover, and it’s just hit me while we’re recording this, is that those individuals who are walking with the Lord at later stages in life, almost all of them have no regrets, in terms of “I would do this differently or that differently.” Because they can now look back and see how each thing in their life, God used to draw them closer. I had never really realized that until sitting here having this … I mean, that thought just hit me. Because I’ve had several wise leaders just like yourself say, “No regrets. Mistakes, but no regrets because God used it all.” Would you agree with that?
Jay: Absolutely. And I’ll add, in deference to the most important human in my life, my dear wife Sally, she prays me out the door every day. She says, “Follow the cloud and let the mystery do its work.” The nation Israel followed the cloud. When the cloud stopped, they stopped. When the cloud moved, they moved. I’ve not been the most patient person in the world, and I haven’t always followed. I’ve led. Follow the cloud, and then let the mystery do its work. Don’t try to dot every I and cross every T yourself as you practice law by the hour, but let the Spirit have margin in your life. Let the mystery do its work so that you do your best, but you create space for the Spirit to invade what you’re doing and what you’re about, because the outcomes will be radically sometimes different, but almost always better than what you might have muscled your way through yourself. Follow the cloud, and let the mystery do its work.
Ray: I love that. It’s a great segue to my last question. There’s so many more questions that I’d just love to ask if we just had the time, but this is always the last question I ask. It’s rooted out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows all of life.” So as we end our conversation today, what would be that one piece of advice, that “above all else”? What would you say?
Jay: I would likely say “Love your spouse.” I’ve discovered in my own marriage that the manner in which I love or fail to love Sally is a tremendous witness not only to my own household but to others, and that as one flesh we together combine more of the Lord’s nature than either of us can. That as I look to her and try to see the Lord in her life, which I see readily, my ability to love her is my best manifestation of what I can be and how the Lord might use me. So “Love your spouse” is my response.
Ray: That is fantastic. Well, Jay, thank you for being our guest here today at Bottom Line Faith.
Jay: My pleasure and honor. Thank you for your great work, Ray, and God bless you, brother.
Ray: Well, folks, I really had an epiphany here today that when you are walking in peace with the Lord, and the Lord’s really showing you His direction and His purpose for your life, there is no regrets. There’s things you might have done differently, there’s things you would approach differently but not regrets. Because we understand that each of those things in our life have played a key role to God having us where we are today. And so Jay has taught me that lesson here today, and I’m so excited about that.
And folks, we pray that this program at Bottom Line Faith is simply an encouragement to you. As a Christ-follower in business and the marketplace, we know it can be lonely out there. We know it can be difficult, it can be challenging, and you feel like you are all alone. We’re here at Bottom Line Faith to just be a voice of encouragement, to hear great stories and great leaders like Jay who have walked the journey, are walking the journey, just to give you a word of encouragement. I hope that today you can take one step closer to who and what God is calling you to be as a leader in the marketplace.
If you are interested in learning about community with other like-minded Christian business owners and leaders around the country, I invite you to check out the website truthatwork.org. We are the host ministry here at Bottom Line Faith. Click on the Roundtable tab there. We’ve got chapters in cities all across America where you can join in community with like-minded business leaders, together growing businesses and organizations that bring glory to God.
And with that, I’m going to sign off. I am your host Ray Hilbert, here at Bottom Line Faith, encouraging you to live out your faith every day in the marketplace. We’ll see you next time.