Is Your Life A Book Worth Reading?

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John Adams loved his books. Our second president counseled himself with these words, which he penned in his diary:

Let no trifling diversion or amusement or company decoy you from your books, i.e., let no girl, no gun, no cards, no flutes, no violins, no dress, no tobacco, no laziness decoy you from your books. [1]

Adams was serious about books. I am too. I protect my volumes and work to give ample time to reading them. But I am learning that there is one book I need to treat with special care. It is the book that is my life. I learn this from the Apostle Paul.

In Acts 20, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. He is in a hurry, but his desire to see friends in Ephesus puts his Jerusalem plans temporarily on hold. While his ship is in port, he asks the elders of the church to come and see him. When they arrive he shares this heart-felt message:

You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable . . . (Acts 20:18-20 ESV)

You yourselves know how I lived! Yes they did. Paul's life was an open book. People heard his message, witnessed his trials, saw his tears, and sensed his humility. Paul lived a transparent life--one marked by godly integrity. In book parlance, his life was a "good read." Is yours?

Look at what others have said about a leader's example:

  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing. Albert Schweitzer
  • I believe there is no more powerful leadership tool than your own personal example. John Wooden [2]
  • It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their . . . support. Only credible leaders earn commitment. Kouzes & Posner [3]

If example is that critical, how can leaders make sure their lives are a book worth reading? Let's return to Paul's conversation with his friends from Ephesus. Addressing them for the last time, he said:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28 ESV

Commenting on this passage, Richard Baxter writes:

Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine . . . lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own [labors].[4]

Baxter's work, The Reformed Pastor, is a classic. He wrote to fellow pastors in 1656. I could only hope to have something I write outlive me by 350 years. While Baxter delivers his wisdom to pastors, the application is fit for all Christian leaders. Here are five insights I have gleaned from his writing about setting a great example:[5]

  1. Maintain a daily quiet time with God Baxter: Be much at home, and be much with God. Leaders must be on guard lest their work for God overtake the work of knowing and loving God. Spending time with God is so basic, but so often what we miss.
  2. Practice what you preach Baxter: Be careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons...before you preach them to others. Leaders need to do what they tell others to do.
  3. Build moral fences Baxter: O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations. Leaders need establish practices and habits that act as fences which help us maintain Godly integrity. Example: A married women refusing to meet alone with another man for a business lunch. Establishing internet filters to protect from pornography.
  4. Watch for character leaks Baxter: Great distempers and apostasies have usually small beginnings. It is the frivolous expense that leads to theft, the second look that leads to lust, the extra time off that leads to laziness, the additional project that leads to burnout, the ignoring of a warning that leads to a train wreck.
  5. Think about your impact Baxter: Remember, you cannot decline and neglect your duty, to your own hurt alone; many will be loser by it as well as you. Leaders need to look beyond themselves to the lives they are impacting.

What step can you take today to guard and grow your example?  May God keep you as a book very much worth reading!

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This week we'll be exploring the leader's character:

  • Tuesday: Criticism -- The Leader's Friend
  • Wednesday: Adversity -- The Leader's Shining Time
  • Thursday: Temptation -- The Leader's Achilles' Heel
  • Friday: Quips and Quote on Leadership and Character

Notes:

[1] David McCullough, John Adams, page 51. [2] John Wooden, Wooden On Leadership, p 20. [3] Kouzes/Posner, The Truth About Leadership, page 16 [4] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, page 33. [5] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, pages 30-33.