It is a truism in life that you tend to become like those who hang around with. If you spend most of your time, say, associating with violent criminals and rather nasty and scurrilous lowlife, chances are good you will gravitate toward that kind of life yourself.
This is true of Christians as well. If you surround yourself with rather ho-hum, compromised, immature, or worldly believers, you will likely not easily rise above all that. Part of the reason for this is that you simply think of those you fellowship with as being the benchmark.
They live rather lackadaisical and half-hearted Christian lives, so you come to expect that as being the norm. But if you start associating with on-fire, dedicated, sold-out and committed Christians, you get a new vision: you see that you can be so much more in Christ and for Christ.
This also can happen with your reading habits. Let me offer a case in point. I received a Christian biography in the mail yesterday so I dutifully read it last night. It was an inspiring account of an inspiring man. I refer to the well-known Bible teacher and Christian leader Derek Prince.
The book in question was Derek Prince: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield (Derek Prince Ministries, 2005.) It was quite a moving read, and as so often happens when I read such inspiring stories, it made me spiritually discontented. I wanted more – more of God and less of myself.
I am not here offering a review of this biography, but I do want to share a few points that stood out for me. Very briefly, and most importantly, we learn here some of the essential traits and habits of this amazing Christian. His devotion to prayer and fasting, his commitment to the Word of God, and his determination to obey God at all costs were some of the major reasons for his remarkable ministry.
You cannot help reading stories like this without comparing – or contrasting – yourself to such great saints. You see how little you pray or fast, or seek to put God first. You see that you can be so much more for Christ, and that for far too long you have settled for second best.
Another notable feature of his life that got my attention is how lonely he so often felt – even when happily married. Hmm, does this sound familiar? It should: often the lives of great men and women of God are characterised by a sense of being alone. I have often remarked on this. See for example this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/09/11/prophets-who-stand-alone/
Also worth highlighting is his non-Christian background and how it was used when he found Christ. He was a Cambridge don who excelled in philosophy, but when he became a Christian at age 25 he decided against an academic career and spent the rest of his life in full time Christian ministry, after a stint in the military.
His sharp mind made him a terrific Bible teacher, and he helped to ground many Pentecostals and charismatics who had little time for reading, learning, and study. His many books and teaching tapes have helped millions of believers of all theological stripes, even years after his death in 2003.
Something else that got my attention was the fact that although he was a terrific father to his own eight adopted children, and a spiritual father to millions, his own father was quite difficult. He not only never allowed Derek to call him “Dad” or “Father” but he never told his son that he loved him.
Derek cannot recall receiving any love or affection or warmth from his father – not even a hug or being able to sit on his lap. This was a heartbreaking part of his childhood, yet God is obviously in the change business, since Derek became known as a loving man who taught so many about loving Christian relationships and family life.
Another notable feature of Prince was his longstanding love for Israel. He had lived there for some years, and met his wife there. He believed strongly in the importance of the Jewish people, and said that he believed the British Empire collapsed because Britain turned its back on the Jews. He also saw early on that Britain would likely become the first Western nation to fall to Islam.
He always had the big picture in mind, and saw the importance of God’s heart for the nations. He was a keen advocate of prayer and intercession for the nations, and his book Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting (1973) was an important book on all this.
Given that I have been reading a lot lately about another great character of history, Winston Churchill, the biography made this interesting observation about him. Billy Graham had held a crusade in London in 1954, one which Prince eagerly threw himself into supporting.
It was a remarkable time indeed. For over three months the arena was filled each night, with more than two million attending, and tens of thousands of commitments made to Christ. Churchill actually heard the evangelist, and in a private meeting with him he said, “I do not see much hope for the future unless it is the hope you are talking about young man. We must have a return to God.”
I mentioned in my title the need to set the bar high. That is a figure of speech based on the world of sport in which athletes seek to perform their best by jumping higher, pole-vaulting higher, lifting heavier weights, etc. They do not want to settle for the ordinary – they aim only for the best.
That is how we should be operating as Christians. And one way I have found to make this a reality is to surround myself with great saints. While we can do this with Christians we personally know, another great way we can do this is to read about them. Thus the value of Christian biographies and autobiographies.
When we read about past and present men and women of God who do not settle for the ordinary, but seek, with God’s grace, only the best, we get inspired to do the same. We too want to raise the bar higher. As we hang around these mighty men and women of God – even just by reading about them – we are challenged, we are inspired, we are uplifted, and we are energised.
That certainly happened to me last night as I read about the life of Prince. Like all believers, he was not perfect, and he had his faults. Perhaps most notable was the Shepherding Movement which he and the “Florida Five” established and promoted.
He admitted it started with good intentions and godly impetus, but it got off the rails big time. He confessed that he and the other leaders in this movement had allowed selfish ambition to get the better of them, and it was clearly one of the black marks in his overall ministry.
But to read about the amazing activities he was involved in for some six decades of ministry is incredibly inspiring and uplifting. It really does help to set the bar high – much higher than many of us can imagine. Whether you grab this book, or any number of other challenging biographies about other saints, please start reading.
Once you start learning about the amazing lives of some of these men and women, you will forever be unsatisfied with anything less. Mediocrity and lukewarm Christianity just will not cut it anymore. The bar will be set much higher. And that is something we all need to constantly be engaged in.