One of the wisest persons in the Bible wrote the following words that have served me well in my life of ministry :
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, But the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26
So important was this principle for his readers to take to heart, that he repeated it in varying ways through the book of Proverbs.
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
“A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Proverbs 20:19
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” Proverbs 22:24-25
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
My entry into the world of full-time ministry was rather unexpected and came with no formal training and limited ministry experience. Accordingly, I realised my great need to find and be able to walk with people wiser than me and who would sharpen me as iron sharpens iron. In short, I needed to choose my friends carefully to find people who would cause me to have fellowship with great minds. In fact, it became a non-negotiable priority for me if I was going to maximise the impact of the God given calling on my life. It was as serious as that.
I was desperate to find people who:-
- would be available to spend time with me
- had made a significant impact with their lives and ministries. They not only could talk the talk but they had walked the talk…….and hadn’t stopped.
- were further advanced in life than I was and could add value to my life and inspire me to go on to the next level. I had come to the conclusion that only a person that has gone to the next level could help me grow to the next level; that a leader can’t take a person to where they have not gone themselves. This is an important principle that is being ignored by some of our institutions today.
- had lived lives of integrity and had paid a great price to follow the calling that the Lord had placed on them.
- were finishing well and not living from the memories of the past.
- had a passion to invest their lives in the next generation.
- would be uncompromising in the way they would speak into my life.
As I write this article I have just learned of the death of the great Italian musical composer, Ennio Morricone who composed the scores for over 400 films and 100 classical works. You may remember the soundtrack for the film The Mission with the haunting music of Gabriel’s Oboe. There are times when I have listened to some of Morricone’s compositions that I have felt deeply moved and reluctant to lower the bar to listen to just any other music.
As it is in my choice of music, so it is with my choice of close friends who, over the years, have inspired me to go to a new level In my life as a follower of Jesus and a leader of people. One such example of a friend I chose to spend time with was Mr J. Oswald Sanders. I had been greatly impacted by his best selling book Spiritual Leadership and was motivated to connect with him and spend time with him. His book became mandatory reading for every new leader that joined me in my ministry. He reminded me of the generation that my father would speak about to me when I was growing up; the generation where the “ships were made of wood and the men were made of iron.”
At that stage in my life I crafted an axiom that would influence my future. When choosing friends, “Start at the top and work your way down, they might say no, BUT THEY COULD SAY YES.” It led me to telephone the Overseas Missionary Fellowship office in Melbourne to inquire if Mr Sanders ever visited Australia. Their reply was that he indeed was in the habit of spending time in Australia which led me to ask if I could meet with him for a morning on his next visit for a time of one on one leadership development. To my encouragement they agreed to my request. I was somewhat surprised when they mentioned that this was the first time they had received such a request.
I can’t tell you how rich my subsequent encounters with Mr Sanders proved to be and how the inspiration of those times enlarged me as a person and inspired me to believe the Lord for greater things in my life. I was never endowed with an over supply of confidence, and will always be thankful for that season in my life where I chose Mr Sanders to be my friend and I had fellowship with a great mind.
In the process, he came to my home to enjoy Sue’s wonderful cooking and after the meal joined me at my church to share a night of teaching with my leadership team.
My final meeting with him was just prior to his passing in 1992 at the age of 90. He was always writing another book, and on this occasion I enquired about the book he was writing. He replied, “It is a book on heaven. I am going there soon and I want to do some research before I get there.” He died soon after that encounter, but the spirit of those meetings still live on in me. The book was called, “Heaven Better By Far”.
King Solomon was right!
“The righteous choose their friends…….”
“Walk with the wise and become wise…….”
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
The choice of your friends could well determine the impact and inspiration of your life.
It is as important as that. Consider the many examples in the Bible; Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, and Paul and Timothy.
Can I encourage you to:
- Choose your friends well so that you might live your life having fellowship with great minds.
- Start your way at the top and work your way down……..
- Be selective in the books and the sermons you read. Mr Sanders writes, “If it is true that people are known by the company they keep, it is no less true that their character is reflected in the books they read, for they are the outward expression of their inner hunger and aspirations.”
On reading biographies, “One cannot read the lives of great and consecrated men and women without having inspiration kindled and aspirations aroused.” One of the books that is required reading in my leadership course is the biography of Hudson Taylor.
As a young leader I accumulated hundreds of sermons of Pastor Ray Stedman who wrote the classic book Body Life. His sermons were posted to me each month from America and in that season I completed the best class on Sermon Preparation I could have ever attended. Today there is no excuse because many great pastor’s sermons can be downloaded from their on-line websites.
- Be prepared to pay a price and make a sizeable investment in your future life and ministry. I took the initiative to travel to Argentina on four occasions to walk around the country to observe the revival that was taking place there. I travelled to South Korea to spend time in the largest church in the world and I travelled to Los Angeles with my family to complete a Master’s degree in Missiology at Fuller Seminary. I paid a price to undertake these ventures, and perhaps even more so did my wife Sue pay a price. I am so thankful that I married a person who shared my calling and ministry.
- Be careful that the friends you have been keeping company with don’t plateau and choose to retire or withdraw to a place of comfort. A word of warning; we become like the close friends we choose.
In my advancing years, I am more mindful than ever that my life is not my own, that I am a steward, and that I will one day stand before my Lord and give an account of the one life He has entrusted to me. And I wonder if He might ask me did I choose my friends carefully in order that I might have had fellowship with great minds.
Perhaps you might like to reflect on this one great meeting that you too will have one day. I know Mr Sanders did. He even wrote his last book on this subject, and stood before his Master with the wisdom of this book fresh in his thinking. Heaven is better by far.