Muda (Waste)

Muda, according to the authors of Lean Thinking, is the one Japanese word you really must know. It means wasteful activities, called simply waste by most organizations. I like to use muda, personally, because it comes off the tongue harshly; it has a great effect when spoken. It should be a harsh word since it is what holds you back in a business. Waste is what stands between you and high profit, shorter lead times, and greater customer satisfaction. But muda is also what stands between you and God. Waste, remember, is simply anything a customer is not willing to pay for.

Now, since muda is waste, it also refers to non-value added activities. These are those specific things customers do not want to pay for. An example would be the cost you incur by having to rework finished product because it was not what your customer wanted. You forgot to put a code onto a can of soup, so now you have to go back and code all the product. This is enormously time consuming, costly, and painful. Now think of your spiritual life – aren’t there so many things you do that do not add value to your relationship with God? I know I have those things. Whether it’s people I allow myself to be around that don’t bring me closer to God, or habits I have that put a barrier between me and God. I’m sure you also have many things in your life that are value-added to God. Things that bring you closer to Him. But we must strive to remove all the waste from our spiritual lives. Right now. This is what Paul was saying in Romans 12:2 when he said, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Emphasis added)”

It is said by lean authors that 95% of a typical process in any business is comprised of wasteful activities.

If we examine our daily routines, I think we may find something close to the same. If I think about my own life, during a typical work day I get up early and do a devotional for 10-20 minutes. I may pray some throughout the day, and then before dinner with my wife. But what did I do the rest of the day to add value to my relationship with the one true God that loves me above all else? If I keep in mind that at the end of my life what matters is what I did to bring others to God and if I accepted Jesus as the Christ and savior, then I can reach that 95% pretty quickly.

Folks, this isn’t good enough. We can do better. I can do better. God knows you can and He wants to help. By identifying the activities in your life as either value-added or non-value added, it makes prioritizing your daily activities much easier. Does that show you watch every Thursday perpetuate a spiritual vice of yours? Stop watching. Does that website you go to every day feed your lust for pornography? Stop going to it. Eliminate the waste. We must be focused and efficient in our spiritual lives. The devil loves downtime – it’s when he does his best work.

Most of us avoid examining the wasteful activities in our lives because we are scared of what we might find. The same is true in a normal organization. Most people in these traditional places of business keep throwing the same solutions at old problems that keep coming back. Employees bicker and try to “throw other people under the bus” in an attempt to glorify themselves and hide the true state of the business. It doesn’t make sense. In a true lean organization what you would find is the company tackling its problems head-on. A foundational principle of lean ideology is respect. I keep a quote on my desk that says, “No one knows the work better than the people who do it.” It reinforces the idea that we need to have respect for each other in the workplace and be honest about the business. Let’s stop trying to blame one another and instead use that energy to fix the problem together. Lean, in this sense, is very similar to the Christian faith. People are incredibly, and predictably,  resistant to change. Spiritual inertia is no different. Jesus himself knew this. Just after delivering the most famous line in the Bible, He said this, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3: 19-21).”

It’s worth noting that this idea of driving out the waste in your spiritual life does not mean living the life of a monk. If taken to the seemingly logical conclusion, my argument may be understood to mean “do nothing but pray.” But this assumption would be incorrect. There is value in things that we take for granted. There is value in the mundane and simple facets of everyday life. See, talking to a lost coworker or friend about something that is not even related to God is not wasteful. Indeed, it can be exactly the opposite. Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, says, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” 1 Cor. 9:19, 9:22. The time invested with someone to build a relationship and ultimately bring them into a relationship with God is the goal for a Christian. Anything that is in pursuit of this must never be construed as waste.


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