January 1, 2015

My Mentor?

Several years ago the Lord brought the topic of Christian behavior to my attention through a seemingly unrelated question. While I don’t remember the exact setting or who posed the question, I do recall how it caught my attention. In essence, the question was, “Who is your spiritual mentor?”

Since one individual did not immediately come to mind, I wondered if I had been neglectful by failing to identify one person to pattern after in my spiritual walk. We are admonished in Psalm 37:37 to “mark the perfect man, and behold the upright . . .” for good reason. The rest of that verse tells us, “the end of that man is peace” and certainly that was a goal I desired (and still desire) to obtain.

A bit of research into the word “mentor” revealed that the concept of mentoring has been commonplace throughout history. Anthropologists tell us that nearly every society has had elders or senior teachers of some kind. Apprentices have been guided by experienced craftsmen in learning their trade. Students have acquired knowledge at the feet of scholars. Although the word “mentor” is not used in Scripture, it apparently was a practice which existed in the Early Church. Consider, for example, the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul passed on doctrinal truth, equipped the younger man for ministerial tasks, and encouraged Timothy to press on in a challenging environment, clearly regarding Timothy as his spiritual son.

They routinely demonstrated by their decisions and choices of activities the high priority they placed on serving God.

As I started to reflect on individuals who had impacted me positively, I quickly realized that attempting to choose just one person as a mentor was complicated by a great benefit I have enjoyed all my life. Just as Paul reminded Timothy of the blessing he enjoyed of a godly mother and grandmother, I was born into a home where my parents, my grandparents on both sides of my family, and several aunts and uncles were Christians. Not only that, they routinely demonstrated by their decisions and choices of activities the high priority they placed on serving God. With that type of family environment, and a large church family as well, perhaps it actually would have been surprising if I could have singled out just one individual as my spiritual mentor.

Then the Lord drew my attention to three godly behaviors I had repeatedly seen exemplified by three different individuals.

The first was prayerfulness. The person who came to mind could always be found at the place of prayer at the close of services, quietly but earnestly worshipping the Lord, interceding for the lost, and encouraging those who came forward to the altar to seek the Lord. Far from the example given in Luke 18:11 of the Pharisee who “prayed thus with himself” trying to demonstrate his piety for all the world to see, this man could clearly shut himself away with the Lord, even in a public place. No doubt he routinely did the same in private. What an example and challenge this gentleman had been to me!

Next, I thought of cheerfulness. An older brother in our congregation stood out in that regard. Even though the tasks I observed him doing around the church could easily be categorized as mundane, he always was unfailingly cheerful in his service for the Lord. Since I knew the man personally, I was well aware that he was not lacking in intellect—his spirit of cheerfulness wasn’t rooted in delight for the routine tasks he engaged in. Rather, he had found a more enduring source of joy, and the way it showed through his demeanor was an inspiration to me.

The third behavior that came to mind was excellence. This quality was exemplified by one with oversight in an area of service I was involved in. We sometimes hear the expression “good enough for who it’s for” as an excuse for mediocrity, but this man often reminded us of “Who it’s for,” with the clear message that only our very best was worthy of being offered to our Lord. While striving for improvement can easily become wearying in any endeavor, this brother’s occasional reminder was validated by his own dedication.

Although these three behaviors and the individuals who exemplified them were what initially came to my mind, I have certainly been spiritually nourished by countless others who exemplified humility, faithful witnessing, benevolence, charity, integrity, and any number of other godly virtues. The Hebrews 12:1 reference to “so great a cloud of witnesses” actually refers to faithful men and women of the past, but I find no problem applying that designation to the godly men and women who have surrounded me through the years—and still surround me, in many cases. How grateful I am for every one of them!

So perhaps, given my access to a host of spiritual examples, rather than selecting just one person as a “be all, do all” Christian mentor, I should strive to observe and emulate the pattern established by many faithful individuals who evidence a broad spectrum of Biblical virtues. As I shift my focus to that perspective, I find a variety of words used in the New Testament which refer to a teacher/learner type of relationship. These include elder, teacher, leader, and shepherd. Many other words convey the thought of instructing, training, and the handing down of traditions. Those around me who faithfully serve as elders, teachers, and leaders of our organization, or those who engage in instructing, training, and handing down of traditions probably do not see themselves as mentors. However, I believe that men and women who are walking close to God naturally offer living examples for others to follow. All of us need role models—other Christians just ahead of where we are in our spiritual journey, who exemplify the spiritual traits and characteristics that we want to nurture in our own lives.

With the recognition of how blessed I have been by such a host of witnesses, however, has come a sobering realization: many in this world have not been so blessed. Perhaps some people whose paths cross mine will encounter in their whole lifetime only a handful of true believers, or two or three, or . . . just me? Jesus declared that His followers are the salt of the earth. If I am the one grain of salt to season another person’s life, my hope and prayer is that there would be sufficient savor of God’s love and goodness to season that life for eternity.

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