Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 656 pp. $35.00.

Full disclosure: I am an Apple fanboy. I have an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook. I consider Windows-based computers to be a direct result of the Fall. If you ask me to work on a Windows computer, I will calmly look you in the eye and tell you that I would rather work with an abacus and a few rocks. 

So, as you can imagine, I was sad when Steve Jobs died and very interested to read his biography. And regardless of whether you like Apple products, you should also be interested in the life of Steve Jobs. Through Apple and Pixar, he changed the computing world, the movie animation industry, the music industry, and the telephone industry. Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. Few men have achieved so much in so little time. He truly was a world shaker.

But what was Steve Jobs like behind the scenes? We know the Steve Jobs that we’ve seen on magazine covers and at press conferences, but what was it like to work with him, or to be one of his children, or to call him a friend?  

“Interesting” might be one way to describe it. “Perplexing” might be another. Steve Jobs was a complex man, a man of many different facets.  

He was a spiritual man, keenly interested in Hinduism and Zen Buddhism throughout his entire life. Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, says:

Jobs’s interest in Eastern spirituality, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, and the search for enlightenment was not merely the passing phase of a nineteen-year-old. Throughout his life he would seek to follow many of the basic precepts of Eastern religions, such as the emphasis on experiential prajña, wisdom or cognitive understanding that is intuitively experienced through concentration of the mind (48).

Yet for all of Jobs’s interest in spirituality, he wasn’t a religious person in any sense of the word. At the end of his life, as he faced death, he said, “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God. For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye” (570). 

I was saddened when I read those words. For all of Jobs’s genius, he missed it when it came to the most important question in the universe. He had the world but forfeited his soul. He had the treasure of being one of the most important men in the world but missed out on the treasure of the kingdom of God. 

Steve Jobs was also an extremely driven man. He had the ability to fix his focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This ability could be both a blessing and a curse. When it came to product development, he wanted to get every part perfect, including the parts that nobody would ever see, such as the internal chipboards in the computers. This obsession with perfection was a trait that he inherited from his father.

Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough (74).

One of the reasons Jobs was so obsessed with perfection was that he wanted to create the perfect experience for the user. He wanted the user to enjoy listening to music on the iPod or working on an iMac, so he insisted that each part be perfect in every way. 

Well Done

I wonder if we might learn a thing or two from Jobs’s obsession. What sort of “experience” do we create for those who attend our churches? Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that the proper worship of God and preaching of the word of God are the most important elements of any church service. But it’s also true that aesthetics play a role in the way people sing and hear a sermon. It’s easier to listen to a sermon in comfortable chairs and a pleasant sanctuary. It’s easier to sing without distraction when the worship band minimizes distractions by playing with excellence. Steve Jobs understood the importance of the little details.  

Unfortunately, Jobs’s intense focus could also be detrimental to those around him. Jobs was extremely dedicated to his work, and at times that came at the expense of his family. 

He was never destined to win a Father of the Year trophy, even when he had spare time on his hands. He was getting better at paying heed to his children, especially Reed, but his primary focus was on his work. He was frequently aloof from his two younger daughters, estranged again from [daughter] Lisa, and often prickly as a husband (315).

Jobs understood and truly believed that the work he was doing at Apple would change the world, and it really did. But he changed the world at the expense of his family. His passion for Apple caused collateral damage.  

This point is particularly important for those of us who are pastors. We have been charged with the sacred task of shepherding the flock of God, and we must dedicate ourselves to that task. However, our passion for pastoring must never come at the expense of our families. We are husbands and fathers before we are pastors. By God’s grace, let’s not make the same mistake that Steve Jobs did.  

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from Steve Jobs is to keep the end in mind.  

Jobs confided in [John] Sculley that he believed he would die young, and therefore he needed to accomplish things quickly so that he would make his mark on Silicon Valley history. “We all have a short period of time on this earth,” he told the Sculleys as they sat around the table that morning. “We probably only have the opportunity to do a few things really great and do them well” (155).

As Christians, we’re called to live with passion and intensity for the glory of God. If we do that, we may not be great in the world’s eyes, but we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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