I have only one Lord, but many spiritual heroes. Here are nine of mine. (This is a repost of an article I shared several years ago; this version has been expanded and updated with links to more on each of my heroes.)
Even as a twenty year old, Spurgeon spoke with an incredible depth and biblical insight, and his sermons and writings, which are full of grace and truth (and unsurpassed eloquence), always draw me to Christ. He led his church in building homes to care for elderly women and orphans, as well as a large school for hundreds of children.
I wrote an introduction and conclusion about Spurgeon in my book We Shall See God, and quoted from his Heaven sermons extensively (the book is 60% Spurgeon). I’ve also blogged about him over the years, including in Charles Spurgeon Meets Rapper Shai Linne, Spurgeon’s Worst Sermon, and His Joy and Fruitfulness in Ministry, Born Out of Suffering and Sorrow. Several years ago when I was experiencing a season of depression, I wrote three posts about Spurgeon’s personal depression experience.
Eric was an Olympic champion and missionary to China (best known from the movie Chariots of Fire), whose “rest of the story” was told to me by a woman in England, Margaret Holder. I share in my book The Grace and Truth Paradox how as a teenager Margaret lived in a Japanese internment camp in China, where Eric Liddell was also imprisoned and ended up dying of a brain tumor. She spoke of how Liddell held the camp together by his devotion to Christ and care for the children, who after his death were dramatically rescued by American paratroopers. See The Little Known Story of Olympian Eric Liddell’s Final Years.
Keith’s songs resonated with my soul more than anyone’s. I can still hear him pounding on that piano and singing “There is a Redeemer.” (“Thank you, oh my Father, for giving us Your Son, and leaving Your Spirit, till the work on Earth is done.”) I remember in 1982 I was at our church office, where I was a pastor, when I heard that his plane had crashed. Keith was 28 years old, the same age as Nanci and I were. I loved his passion for Christ, and I still listen to his music on my iPod. Jon Bloom, co-founder of Desiring God, shared some great thoughts about Keith and his impact.
Schaeffer was an intellectual and Christ-lover, who responded with a wonderful handwritten letter to me after I wrote to him as a college student, telling him how God had shaped me through his books. (On the 25th anniversary of his home going, I shared the letter he sent me.) I loved all his books, but my all-time favorite was He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Schaeffer also awakened me to the importance of the prolife issue.
Lewis not only wrote books that have touched me to the core, but also in a spirit of humility and kindness answered letters from those who had nothing to offer him. He gave away the majority of his royalties to the needy.
Nanci and I have been to Oxford several times, visiting Lewis’s college, chapel, rooms, his house the Kilns, and his favorite pubs. We walked Addison’s Walk, where he was helped to come to faith in a conversation with two friends, one of them J. R. R. Tolkien. I share some memories of our visit with our girls here, and some pictures and memories from one of Nanci’s and my trips here.
I didn’t know of Lewis until I picked up The Problem of Pain as a new Christian in 1969. In my books, I cite Lewis far more than anyone else besides Scripture. He’s even a character in my novel Dominion. (Yes, there are any number of areas in which I disagree with Lewis, but the quotes from him I put in my books are very insightful observations in which I do agree with him.)
Joni’s life resonates with depth, honesty, compassion, and Christ’s joy. Through adversity God has made a diamond out of her. (In fact, that’s the theme of a message she shared several years ago, how God uses suffering to refine us.) We’ve made an appointment to run together in a meadow on the New Earth. I’m sure she’ll have to slow down to let me catch her. Nanci and I love Joni. We have great memories of an evening spent with her and Ken in their home.
Joni gave a wonderful message last year at our church’s Sanctity of Human Life Sunday service. Here’s a blog and video I did last year in honor of the 50th anniversary of her life-altering accident. I’ve also shared several posts about or by Joni over the years on my blog.
John was tortured and humiliated in a Mississippi jailhouse for the crime of being black, but rose above the hatred to become the Voice of Calvary. I have never seen greater love coming out of a man. Except for the grace of Jesus, there is no explanation for such a life.
When researching my novel Dominion, I walked with John through Jackson, Mississippi. I was with him when he bought a hat in one of their ministry thrift stores for a quarter. They wanted to give it to him, since he founded the whole ministry, but he insisted on paying. John was my spiritual inspiration for the character Obadiah Abernathy in Dominion.
They have a daily newspaper at the Christian booksellers’ convention, and one day it had this picture of me talking with John. So I asked for a copy of it. It still brings tears to my eyes. What a guy! It was an honor to write the foreword to his book Dream With Me.
Bert is brother of martyred missionary Jim Elliot (another one of my heroes). He and his wife Colleen served as missionaries in South America for over sixty years. Bert said something to me the day I met him that I’ll never forget: “Jim and I both served Christ, but differently. Jim was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.” Unlike his brother Jim, the shooting star, Bert was a faint star that rose night after night, faithfully crossing the same path in the sky, to God’s glory. I share more about that meeting with him and his wife in this blog.
Tozer is one of three authors who had the most profound influence on me as a young Christian (the other two are Lewis and Schaeffer). He continues to impact me. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, a fabulous book on the attributes of God, is my favorite nonfiction book of all time. I’ve shared several blogs over the years featuring excerpts from his books.
Tozer’s insights about God’s character have been of great encouragement again to Nanci and I lately, as we face the many unknowns of this year with her colon cancer treatments.
These are some of the people whose writings and lives have shaped mine, and to whom I will repeatedly say “Thank you” in the ages to come (always thanking Christ, the Source of all joys, for them). And of course, there are many more people the Lord has used in my life over the years through personal relationship, including godly men and women at our home church, such as Jim Spinks, Cal Hess, and Garland Gabbert.
What a pleasure to know I will live forever with the Lord I worship and the people, His servants, I admire. Likely many of those I will come to admire most, and ask to sit next to at dinner, are ones whose stories I don’t even know yet. I can’t wait to meet them!