When people ask me what books most shaped my life and spiritual journey, I tell them it has never been books; it has always been people. While I’ve read many excellent books and been enlightened by many of them, what has most impacted my journey is the older brothers and sisters I’ve known who have illuminated the pathway before me and held my heart in my most discouraging times.
That’s the richest treasure of the community, his Church in the world. They weren’t “like-minded people,” or they wouldn’t have been able to add insight to my journey. When they crossed my path, I recognized a tenderness in their demeanor and a depth in their soul. Many of them were 15 or 20 years my senior, not people we would typically engage. And yet, I was drawn into a growing friendship with each of them. None of them talked down to me or positioned themselves as a teacher. They accepted me as a friend and allowed me to watch their lives as they struggled through the challenges of faith in a world of chaos.
At every critical moment in my journey, God provided at least one of them to walk with me through pain and hurt, helping me understand what God might be doing in my circumstances and how I might respond in a way that would draw me deeper into the Father’s purpose in my life. I am grateful for all they added to my life and the deep friendship I shared with each of them through significant stretches of my journey.
And now, it seems I’m here to mark their passing—men and women of whom the world was not worthy. I’ve already told you about Kevin Smith from Australia, Dave Coleman, who helped me write So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, and my father, Eugene Jacobsen. Last week, Tom Mohn, one of these dear friends from Tulsa, OK, joined Jesus in eternity. Over the past few days, I’ve reflected on what Tom meant to me and how encouraging he was to Father’s work in my heart. I met Tom later in life, but we connected almost instantly, and I remember fondly the many stories and insights we shared. You can read some of his reflections in his book, Good Morning Brother Pilgrim.
I can remember the details and laughter of so many conversations. We shared dreams, discouragements, and disagreements. Though I was with him less than a dozen times, each was rich with thoughts about God and how we engage him with growing trust and love.
He was our guest on one of the most impactful podcasts from our earliest days at The God Journey, called The Things God Uses. It is one of my all-time favorites and I have recalled his words often and shared them with others who are going through painful transitions. You can listen to it in the link above, but I want to share the high points here. He said God used four critical seasons to shape Tom’s life. Some are quite surprising, and I have also found them to be true in my journey.
- The first is a measure of fruitfulness that demonstrates to us that God is with us and can express himself through us in simple and mundane ways as we live alongside others. We all need that affirmation.
- The second is a massive dose of failure, not something we got a little wrong but a significant mistake that blew up in our faces. Most people hide such moments, but Tom spoke openly about his, for only then will we distrust our own wisdom and abilities enough that we can begin to trust God and look for his hand at work in us.
- The third is being part of a gargantuan heretical movement. He called it aversion therapy—to be so caught up in the arrogance of group-think that you think you have all the correct answers and everyone needs to kneel at your feet to learn the truth. When it gets exposed, you find out you were more in love with the movement than you were with God and loved the role of expert more than servant. Of course, when you realize it, you’ll want to repent and let him soften you rather than double down on your mistaken beliefs in our attempts to save face.
- The fourth is a devastating betrayal by a close, intimate friend, especially one you did not deserve. It can happen with a spouse, a business partner, a family member, or a ministry colleague. Only in the depth of pain that you can’t recover from alone will you discover the depth of fellowship in the sufferings of Jesus. It will mark you with a humility that will never put the lust for power over the life of anyone you care about.
Of course, we’ve all been through these experiences and others that shape us, but only if we respond to God in them. Most people grow arrogant in fruitfulness, angry in failure, defensive when proven wrong, and bitter in betrayal. That’s why I appreciate these people who have walked alongside me and pointed to a better road when sharing their own stories.
I’m convinced you have people like that around you, too, which is why I wrote this piece. You have to find them; they won’t knock on your door. But who around you knows the God you want to know and demonstrates the character you find engaging? Ask God to show you who they are, and then find ways to spend time with them and see how the friendship builds over time. Take a risk on people older than you, and don’t assume they won’t care or understand the choices you confront. In most cases, they’ve been through what you’re now facing.
Don’t look for someone to tell you what to do but those who will share their friendship. Then, you’ll glean all the wisdom God wants to give you through those marinated in his love through the most painful circumstances.