My first real job was with Shell Australia. I was a marketing graduate with them out of Uni and it seemed a privileged score.
I remember one of my few questions in the highly protracted recruitment process was ‘how large is your marketing department in Perth?’. When they shot back that it was a touch over 200, I buckled up excitedly for a creative utopia.
It turns out that in oil and gas, anything to the right of the refinery is ‘downstream’, and anything ‘downstream’ equals marketing. That guy who’s faithfully shifted pallets of oil around the terminal for the last thirty years? Yep, he’s in marketing.
As I relished my first ‘creative project’ of dipping and auditing bulk fuel tanks and performing the accounting work that was practically second nature to me (pfft!), I realised that I might never receive a gold watch for decades of loyal service. But while it may not have been all I imagined I’d signed onto, I also knew there was plenty that a wet-behind-the-ears-Commerce-graduate could learn from a monolithic, Dutch multi-national, so I sought creative endeavours from extra-curricular pursuits and hoped my tenure wouldn’t suck my will to live.
Thankfully, it didn’t. I made it through three years before conjuring a Plan B and would rack up six years before finally pulling the pin in 1994.
Plenty of people were leaving the company back then – some with lucrative redundancies, others with similar notions to me. Perhaps chasing a career more closely aligned with the one for which they imagined they’d originally signed up!
A stream of people leaving also meant a succession of farewell parties – generally held in salubrious settings and always punctuated by a farewell gift – a token of appreciation for their years of service.
I remember driving my newish boss home from one of these farewells for a woman in her mid-twenties and, in the midst of small talk, blurting out: “I can’t believe that you’d ask for a figurine as a farewell present!”
His reply almost caused my eyebrows to brush the roof of the car.
“Mate, that Lladro figurine cost around $400.”
I had no idea that plaintive ceramic girls were so valuable.
A month or so later, as my farewell approached, I began to anticipate my little memento.
One morning, having a girded my loins for a big bowl of awkwardness, I knocked on the glass pane beside my boss’s open door.
“Um…just something…nothing really…but I was thinking after that dinner the other night about my ‘figurine’, and I’d love mine to be in the shape of a TAG watch.”
At $465, the watch was a little beyond the plaintive girl but not beyond the realms of decency.
“Sure, mate,” he shot back in the most perfunctory manner, “give me the details and I’ll get it sorted”.
Nothing else was said. Nothing needed to be – the size, shape, and colour of my figurine had been submitted for due processing.
The next I’d hear about it was the morning after the dinner. By this time, my gleaming new watch was getting comfortable on my wrist. But there was a backstory.
The afternoon of the dinner, a long-term employee had been tasked with ‘figurine acquisition’ from Mazzuchellis. When she’d arrived at the store with the details of her purchase, she’d made a panicked call back to my boss.
“I’m here at the store and I’ve found the watch that Simon asked for – it’s $465”.
“Yes, that’s the one,” my Boss replied.
“Um…the figurine that we bought for Samantha was $64!”
“I don’t care,” replied the boss, “Elliott has worked bloody hard for this company, buy him the (probably expletive) watch.”
To this day, I wear a watch that is one of the most expensive and strangest shaped figurines you’ll ever see based on the understanding that I didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask for it in the first place.
I’ve since come to realise that much of what I ask for is informed by an understanding of the capability of the one who I’m asking to meet my need, and how reasonable it is for me to be asking in the first place.
When it comes to my requests to God, I can miss or forget the truth that my God can supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.
Too often, this myopia stifles my conversations with God. Particularly when it comes to asking.
I struggle to ask for one of three reasons. I either lack the faith to make my requests known to God, don’t feel worthy of bringing those requests to him, or totally underestimate his ability to do exceedingly, abundantly over all I can ask, think or imagine.
Other times, like a lawyer presenting to a jury of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I mount a pragmatic case for why it would make logical sense for them to ascend to my petition…for their glory.
In moments of clarity, I’m reminded of Jesus’ response to the disciples when they say dumb stuff to him. “How long will I have to put up with you?!”, He says in one exchange in Luke 9.
There’s a lifetime of learning Jesus and following Him that gets us asking for what we want knowing that He is utterly capable of giving us all we need.
There’s plenty of work I’m yet to see in and around me because I haven’t had the Kingdom-aligned clarity to ask. I settle for far too little of the all-surpassing power that only God can provide.
“They traded the glory of God, who holds the whole world in His hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand”.
Yeah, I don’t want to be caught with a cheap figurine when there are eternal timepieces on offer.