4 spiritual lessons I learned from Steve Jobs

by Kristin on October 6, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by re-ality

I’ll admit: I’m a big Apple fan. The first computer I bought with my own money was a Mac Classic, purchased in 1992 through my college bookstore. Since then I have owned only Mac laptops (my first, purchased in 1994, had a tracking-ball instead of a finger pad mouse). I love my iPad and iPhone, which I was on last night when I first read about Steve Jobs’ death.

But it is not my love for technology or gadgets that makes me mourn the passing of  Steve Jobs. It’s his attitudes about creativity and risk-taking, life and death.

Although Steve Jobs’ spiritual life was not explicitly Christian, and his best-known quotes are not religious in nature, I found myself last night, again and again, reading his words from a spiritual perspective. I was inspired to write a post about what Christians can learn from Steve Jobs, but I worried it would be seen as sacrilege from both sides—from Christians who think Jobs was only about expensive gadgets and capitalism, and from technology geeks who see any hint of spirituality as a fluffy distraction from their idol’s pure genius.

But then I saw this Washington Post blog—The Theology of Steve Jobs—which includes this quote:

Steve Jobs was, without doubt, a technological genius, but he was also, in my view, a profound theologian because he understood the human condition as lived between desire and finitude. Together these define us, for good and for ill.

Yes. I was emboldened to write my spiritual reflections on four Steve Jobs quotes, starting quite fittingly with this:

1. Follow your inner voice
“Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
As a Christian who often feels torn between two worlds—the intellectual and the spiritual, the hipster and the churchy, the good girl and the bad girl—I sometimes find myself stymied into a state of paralysis. I worry too much what one side might think, then I worry about the other side. I want to make a statement, but I want to dilute it enough to give myself an escape route, should I need it. I wake up knowing what I believe in my heart, but then I filter it all through the mesh sieve of the world, and by the end of the day I’m left with only a few random pieces. I need to “have the courage to follow [my] heart and intuition,” because I believe the spirit of God speaks to me there.

2. Stay hungry and foolish
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
When things seem good in my life, I tend to get content and too easily satiated. I lose my hunger for the more that could be. And when I’m seeing all that’s wrong with the world, I get cynical and practical. I am not hungry for change because I am not “foolish” enough to believe and hope for any of my wildest dreams about how things could be. Steve Jobs reminds me to stay hungry for my wildest dreams, because I have nothing to lose.

3. Show the love
“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
Jobs was talking about why he never designed products based on focus groups—what the average consumer thought they wanted in a phone or computer—but I think it applies to Christian communities, too. Sometimes we try too hard to be all things to all people, rather than just going all-out with the vision that’s been planted in us. It’s important to listen, but it’s also important to not get distracted and confused about the goal: Not giving people what they think they want, but living out the love and showing them what they didn’t know they wanted.

4. Don’t give up
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
I am guilty of giving up too quickly. If something doesn’t come easily to me, I conclude that I must not be “gifted” at it. If an idea doesn’t leap into form and immediately take off, I decide it was not “meant to be.” This is clearly an unhelpful attitude for a musician or writer or athlete; it’s even less helpful for someone who is working with others to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. That’s the sort of task that really requires perseverance—being true to an inner voice that not everyone else can hear, and staying hungry for a sort of world most people think is impossible and a sort of love many people don’t even know they want.

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  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    1. Yes.
    2. Yes.
    3. Yes.
    4. Yes.
    My thanks to Steve and Kristin.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    Oh, #4 gets me all the time. If something doesn’t come easy to me, I assume that I can’t do it and I give up. Which is why starting things is no problem for me, but finishing is quite a different story (and which explains why I have bought and then sold 3 different guitars).

    Great post today. Love it!

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    Good stuff (and like Alise, I’m particularly susceptible to #4). Thanks for this, Kristin.

  • http://www.learntoembracethestruggle.com/ Alison

    Thanks for this post, Kristin. Since hearing of Jobs’ death I’ve been trying to reconcile the spiritual (Christian) and secular response to his passing. You did a great job of bringing the two together. Number 2 beckons to me. With age we tend to get comfy and drop our dreams (or at least water them down). Hungry and foolish are Christian concepts to hold on to.


  • http://sugarjonesblog.com Sugar Jones

    BIG Amen on #1. I love his “Stay hungry, stay foolish” quote, too. I think I need to post that quote on my wall.

    Sad that he left this world. Glad he left those words behind.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jennifer

    Hey. I’m surprised that you struggle with following your inner voice, but I get that, 100%. We want to fit in everywhere, and will alter ourselves to make it happen. The more I trust my inner voice, the more I find I do fit in everywhere, and the more comfortable I am.

  • http://frizzytalksinhersleep.blogspot.com Roxanne

    What I love about Steve is that he knew what we needed, even when we didn’t. Also, he took the symbol of humankind’s fallen nature, the apple with a bite taken out of it, and made it a symbol of progress and positivity. I read an article that called Steve a secular prophet. Indeed. I just got a MacBook Pro. I cannot tell you how very much I love it … it’s …. divine.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ray, thanks for reading, responding, and *getting* where I was going with this! It was one of those posts I felt tentative about hitting “publish” on.

    Alise, I’m so glad I’m not alone on this one, because it’s one of the things I like least about myself (and when I see it in my kids, it makes me crazy). Many (dare I say most?) important, wonderful, worthwhile endeavors in this world are VERY difficult. It’s time for me to fully embrace that fact.

    Katie, ditto on what I said to both Ray and Alise. :) I’m glad you’re out there, and glad I’m not alone as I learn and grow.

    Alison, it was really interesting to see the variety of responses to his death on Twitter, hasn’t it? I saw a few tweets from people who couldn’t get why so many would be upset that they guy “who created their electronic toys” died. Those were the tweets that really got me thinking about why Steve Jobs was an important figure, and why he inspired me, personally. (And regarding #2, I really do feel like, as Christians, we should be seen/characterized as hungry and foolish, not satiated and safe.)

    Sugar, the “hungry and foolish” quote, in particular, immediately made me think about so many key biblical characters—it describes them perfectly, doesn’t it? And, of course, Paul even wrote about being a “fool for Christ.” I agree—it’s a good quote to post somewhere so we can see and think about it daily.

  • Greg

    The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all else. “Following your heart” is an anti-Biblical, anti-Christian concept. It is idolatry, plain and simple.

    All the external evidence would seem to indicate that Jobs was not a Christ follower. His passing should be mourned, not because of the loss of his contributions to technology, but rather because he is in all likelihood facing a Christ-less eternity.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Jennifer, HA! I second guess myself far too often, and worry far too much about what others might think. I’m getting better, the older I get, at embracing what I hear the spirit saying to me, but I still have a ways to go.

    Roxanne, yes! I actually had one more point in this post but felt like it was getting too long. The point was based on a Steve Jobs quote that says that people often don’t know what they need/want until you show it to them. I believe that’s true about the kind of love and life Jesus lived. We have to be bold and show that love, whether or not people are clamoring for it.

    Greg, I guess that depends on how you translate/define “heart” (I am thinking of it as synonymous with “soul”), and whether you believe God speaks to you in any personal, in-the-moment way. I have to assume, from your comment, that you believe that God only speaks to us through the Bible. I, not surprisingly, disagree! The Bible itself is (ironically) full of stories that hinge on God speaking to people’s hearts. I also disagree with your one-dimensional view of Steve Jobs and his death. Whether he is “in all likelihood facing a Christ-less eternity” is not up to you or I to speculate, and it does not impact his ability to speak truth and wisdom, or my ability to hear it as truth and wisdom. God is much bigger than that.

  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    Hi Greg:

    I appreciate your caution regarding the human heart as the be-all and end-all of human motivation, yet I’d caution you against over-reaching. When Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things” neither he nor the Holy Spirit was trying to indicate that the heart–every heart in all places–is permanently in such a condition. The Biblical witness concerning the heart is much broader, involving hundreds of situations, including Paul’s reminder that “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Apart from the witness of our heart we could never know God.

    Even unbeliever’s hearts can and do respond to the leading of God, and while we should be aware that every inclination of the heart may not come from God, we should also acknowledge that God speaks to hearts frequently, and that we hear his voice as though it is the sound of our own heart. Indeed, the longer we walk with him the more our hearts come into alignment with him.

    As to Steve Jobs, his example is worthy of our attention. We should celebrate what is good and learn from what might need adjustment. That is to say: he was human, and only Jesus can speak to their quality of their mutual relationship.

    Peace to you, Greg!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thanks Ray for your thoughts here. Spoken like a true pastor!

    I also wanted to add that even speaking of the “heart” is kind of figurative. The heart pumps blood into our bodies and keeps us alive. So we’re dealing with literary approximations in scripture. Some Bible translators told me that in order to capture the same idea of the biblical text for other cultures, they’ve had to translate the “heart” as “the stomach”. Thus they have verses about the “stomach” being deceitful. To our eyes, such a translation sounds like a bad Christian diet fad rather than an attempt to explain the knowledge of God with our imperfect language.

    Thank God for his Holy Spirit, his perfect knowledge, and his patience with our imperfect attempts to figure him out.

  • http://www.dexterityunlimited.com/ Dan J

    How about an “outsider’s” view? I’m neither a Christian, nor an owner of Apple products. I appreciate the tremendous impact Steve Jobs had on our society, and I mourn his death as I mourn the death of any decent human being. I think Kristin made some wonderful points about what someone might teach us, even though we really don’t “know” that person.

    The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all else. “Following your heart” is an anti-Biblical, anti-Christian concept. It is idolatry, plain and simple.

    I wasn’t very familiar with Jeremiah 17, so I endeavored to read several available translations of the chapter. As Ed mentioned, we know now that the heart is a muscular organ which acts as a pump to circulate blood throughout our bodies.

    What’s the “heart” spoken of in Jeremiah? In my own thinking, I would liken it to one’s conscience. It can deceive us, and it can deceive others. Young’s Literal Translation uses the word “crooked” in Jeremiah 17:9. In 17:10, however, Jehovah says that he can see through the crooked, twisted, deceitful pathways of the heart, in order to judge a man by the fruits of his actions.

    No; Steve jobs would not have identified himself as a Christian. He was a Buddhist, but treated it more as a philosophy of life than a religion. Did his actions provide fruit that enhanced the lives of others? Definitely. Did some of his actions lead to events which were detrimental? I would say yes*. Were his motives “pure”? Did he intend to do good things, or bad?

    Though I am not a Christian, I strive to do good things, and to lead a good life. I “follow my heart” in that I trust my conscience. If a man knows in his heart that his actions harm others to his own benefit, is he following his heart? Does he know good from evil? Do we judge him? Does he judge himself at some point?

    Jehovah (in Jeremiah 17) has the ability to see through the deceitful ways of the heart and discover a man’s true intent, and see the full fruits of each man’s actions, even when the man himself cannot. In my own interpretation, I think that God would see the good works of a good man, and judge him by those fruits, whether the man was “a Christ follower” or not.

    *(There are numerous claims of Apple hardware manufacturers’ lack of safety and environmental concerns harming people and communities.)

  • Ron Simkins

    Thanks Kristin. Good and challenging article. As to the comments about the heart. The biblical writers certainly knew that there was a physical heart in the human body, but they seemed to think that it was also a good image for speaking of our human “core.” The “I” that thinks, feels, acts, loves, and hates. They do know how easily we can deceive ourselves at the core. But, they also many times speak of good hearts, and loving God and others with all our heart, and God’s delight in human hearts that show integrity and goodness and love and justice. They also speak, as Kristin notes in her life, of God’s desire to enlighten our hearts.and of how God can give us a special love in our heart for someone else. As is true with most Biblical themes, the writers see both sides of the dynamic tension between the wonders of human goodness including our overwhelming God given human potential and the deadliness of human destructiveness. And, they believe both can run clear to our “core.”

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ray, thanks for this well-put wisdom: “…while we should be aware that every inclination of the heart may not come from God, we should also acknowledge that God speaks to hearts frequently…. Indeed, the longer we walk with him the more our hearts come into alignment with him.”

    ed, that’s really interesting. It definitely adds to the complexity of the conversation, but also points out how imperfect language is (especially in our attempts to understand God) and how easy it is to misunderstand one another. This sounds like a prayer I need to post on my wall: “Thank God for his Holy Spirit, his perfect knowledge, and his patience with our imperfect attempts to figure him out.”

    Dan J, I always love “outsider’s views” at this halfway normal place—especially when they’re thoughtful, like yours. You even did research! I found this, in particular, to be a really helpful image: “Jehovah says that he can see through the crooked, twisted, deceitful pathways of the heart, in order to judge a man by the fruits of his actions.” Thanks for the good questions and for bringing more food for thought to the table.

    Ron, it’s definitely helpful to move away from words like “heart” and “spirit,” and instead talk about our “core.” A core feels like the solid, true, unchanging part of who we are, while the heart and mind seem to be changing with regularity (sometimes on a whim). And in regards to the “dynamic tension” you bring up, there seems to be no avoiding that mix of “our overwhelming God given human potential and the deadliness of human destructiveness.”

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