There is no greater influence in our lives than the people we surround ourselves with and those we encounter who inspire us. We spend so much time following social media, or seeing how much stuff we’ve accumulated, like cats chasing after a laser that is bright and shiny but means nothing. Ultimately, what matters are the relationships in our lives. We need to make sure that we have quality relationships with people who inspire us to reach for greatness in all we attempt.
A few years back I was on a small team putting together the curriculum for a 30-day missions training program. We were assembling themes, speakers, and activities for a group of fifteen or so college students joining us for the program. Someone on the planning team made a comment that stuck with me: “The topics are important, but what the students will remember are the inspirational people they get to spend time with.” We all have (I hope) people beyond our own families that have influenced our lives. It might be a teacher, a coach, a boss, or just someone we encountered that inspired us to be a better version of ourselves. We should seek out people that challenge us to be better.
I’ve made many stupendously bad decisions in my life. When I was in my early 20s, I made one correct decision that had an enormous, positive impact on my life. I made a conscious decision to surround myself with people who were better than I was. People who were dedicated to God, people who were going somewhere with their lives, people who just seemed to have a clue. It’s an old saying but it still holds true: “We become the five people we hang out with.” If we spend time with people that eat right and exercise, we will start to become healthier. If we spend time with people who are seeking God and focused on their walk with Him, we will become better Christians. If we spend time with people with no direction in their lives, we won’t go anywhere. You get the idea. Thirty years later I’m still friends with several of those quality guys I chose to allow to impact my life. We still influence each other and keep each other accountable. They are all dedicated to their families, to God, and to seeing His kingdom expanded. I’m better today because of those men in my life. Who we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on our growth and who we become as people.
Obviously, if we look for them, we can find people who inspire us and provide great examples in many different areas. I’m not entirely sure why, but the dynamic of traveling on short-term missions trips seems to create those opportunities to be inspired by others. Once we leave our home country, it’s easier to spend time with people who’ve experienced a defining moment that changed their lives. They’ve had that calling or experience that caused them to work for something bigger than themselves. Missionaries, nurses, doctors, construction workers, people from wide ranging backgrounds who’ve decided to dedicate a period of their lives to the neediest and the most hurting.
I want to tell you about “Dave in the canyon.” In 2009 Dave was just another normal middle aged man from northern California. He had no ministry training, had never worked full time with a ministry; he was just an average guy who took a chance on a short-term missions trip. I don’t think Dave was expecting a whole lot when he signed up. He met some people in Baja Mexico serving the poorest of the poor in the dump area of Tijuana. Those “chance” encounters would alter his life profoundly. Six months after his missions trip, he walked away from what he had in the US and found his new life serving the children and families living in pallet houses in Tijuana. Today, this guy glows, glows with a joy that few people ever experience. He was inspired by God through his interaction with a few people doing great things, and now Dave is that inspiration to others.
I love sending people to “help” Dave. Dave doesn’t need any help. The people I send to him are the ones that need inspiration, that need their lives changed, they need their worlds rocked. The people I send need to bump up against greatness. Dave isn’t perfect, but he serves humbly in very challenging conditions. He never complains, never loses hope, and trusts completely in God. I’m honored to be called Dave’s friend and have his influence in my life. The world needs more Daves.
What’s great is, if we seek them out, there are a tremendous number of Daves in the world. We have the privilege of meeting them and being impacted by them. Inspiring people can be found almost anywhere, but in my limited experience, they’re easier to find where life is harder, where life is much more of a struggle than we typically experience in the US. In Ghana, Peru, Mexico, etc. you can encounter people serving at a level that is beyond “normal.” Remember, it might be easier to encounter giants of the faith in the missions field, but they’re all around us if we look.
Choose wisely who will be in your life, who will influence you, who you want to become more like. Surround yourself with excellence. Bump up against inspiring people. Your life will be better for it.
For more information on Dave’s work, please see: Life in the Canyon