As we celebrate the life of a wonderful man of God, Dr. Howard Hendricks, we wanted to reprint a story from Dr. Kimmel’s book Little House on the Freeway about how Howard Hendricks influenced his life and the life of renouned author and speaker, Dr. John Trent.
(Excerpted from Little House on the Freeway By Dr. Tim Kimmel)
Author John Trent tells of an eye-opening incident on his first day in graduate school. He had enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary with good intentions, but since arriving there he seriously wondered if he would make it. He walked into his first class with legitimate apprehensions. After all, this wasn’t “party time” college any more. This was an environment where fifty-dollar theological words rolled off professors’ tongues. The dean had made it clear in orientation thatDallaswouldn’t spoon-feed anyone. You either kept up with the workload, or you would find yourself in an unrecoverable position.
The assistant had just passed out the syllabus for the class, and after reading it John mentally calculated that he was already three weeks behind. The professor stepped up to the lectern and stared around the room at the sea of faces. John felt that he could read the man’s mind: So this is the leadership of tomorrow’s church? We’re in trouble! Despite this unnerving scrutiny, everything John had heard about this man underscored that he was a loving and caring gentleman. Dr. Howard Hendricks was one of the main reasons he had enrolled atDallas.
The very first words out of the professor’s mouth sent ice water through John’s veins: “Gentlemen, I am going to give you the most significant test you will ever have during your studies here at Dallas Seminary.”
John groaned silently. So much for all the nice things that I heard about this guy.
“How you do on this test will determine how you do in the ministry.”
Great, I’m getting cut from the team before I even get a chance to play.
“Those who do well invariably succeed. Those who flunk this test invariably struggle and falter in ministry.”
You’re not wasting any time separating the sheep from the goats, are you, Prof? I knew I should’ve had more theological training before I came here. He’s going to split some theological hair and make me look like an idiot.
“On the three-by-five card in front of you I want you to list your three greatest weaknesses.”
That’s it? That’s all? What I’m lousy at? Piece of cake! If being a success just takes a working knowledge of my inadequacies, then I’m gonna be one of the greatest Christian workers the church has ever had.
John joined his fellow seminarians in writing down their weaknesses. They all wrote quickly. The only problem any of them seemed to have was deciding which of their many weaknesses would be considered the top three. He finished writing, laid down his pen, and stared up at the professor with a look of confidence on his face.
Dr. Hendricks continued. “Now, gentlemen, turn over your card and answer this second question.”
I knew it was too good to be true! Here comes the zinger—I’m doomed. Maybe it’s not too late to get back some of my tuition…
“What are your three greatest strengths?”
John joined his colleagues in experiencing temporary paralysis in his writing hand. This time men weren’t rushing to fill out their card. Some simply stared at it. Others tapped the tip of their nose with their pen, or frowned intently at the wall as though they hoped to find the answer written on it.
Answering that question seemed, well, contradictory to John’s calling. He was supposed to be a humble man of the cloth. Listing his greatest strengths seemed like cheap boasting. Wasn’t there something in the Bible about God giving grace to the humble and opposition to the proud? Zeroing in on what made him strong, and even superior to his fellow man, was discomfiting. Besides, God gets a lot of mileage out of working through men’s weaknesses. Didn’t He say to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [my] power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)?
Across the room from John, another young man sat struggling with the same question. And these many decades later, I still struggle with it.
Dr. Hendricks was right. Knowledge of our personal strengths is critical to a calm and ordered life. It’s easy enough to list our weaknesses—all of us have had plenty of help on that score. Parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and enemies made sure we didn’t overlook a single one.
It has been my observation that most people grow up with lots of negative reinforcement. Our culture occasionally rewards but seldom remembers those who come in second. The list of those who “also ran” doesn’t get much space in the yearbook. The last time I checked, “close” only counts in horseshoes and nuclear war.
It’s easy to focus on our failures and weaknesses. And if asked to, most of us are ready to conduct a guided tour through our inadequacies at a moment’s notice. But the fact remains that you and I do have strengths, God-given resources worth developing and managing. And if we want to cope with the incredible pressures of our hurried world, we need to isolate those strengths and put them to work. It’s a matter of stewardship.
The word stewardship isn’t used as much as it used to be, but it’s an excellent word for our discussion. It refers to the conscientious management of the things that really matter. It requires responsibility and maturity. Stewardship demands work and doesn’t accept excuses. It forces people to reevaluate priorities and makes them reconsider their purposes for living.
When I meet older people who advise me to slow down, spend more time with others, and develop my talents, I hear the voice of experience talking. They have learned through waste and regret what God would rather teach us through principles of stewardship—that resources are to be conserved and invested, not ignored or squandered.
Although I’m not quite to the age where I can speak from the wisdom of decades upon decades of seasoned years of experience, I can speak from the platform of observation. Most of the unhappy people who approach me for counsel suffer from a simple syndrome: They are poor stewards of their lives. They have developed a bad habit of ignoring the important and prioritizing the nonessential.
There is only one way out of this dilemma, and few are willing to take it. The path to relief is painful. It requires reordering their priorities—deliberately changing the inner price tags we attach to the components of our lives. For some people, that’s just too much. They would rather accept the discomfort and slow death of emotional cancer than endure the surgery that could save them.
It’s too bad, because this sixth key for genuine rest could give them the platform and the discipline to maintain the other five.
When Dr. Hendricks challenged John and me to isolate and articulate our greatest strengths, he was not asking us to be boastful, haughty, or proud. He was calling us to be realistic, honest, and conscientious. He knew that life becomes a threat to our contentment when we are consistently taking from it but seldom giving back. He knew that we become a drain on people if we use relationships rather than contribute to them. He knew that our greatest joy would be found in investing our gifts rather than burying them.
His kind of thinking comes from the presupposition that every man and woman is born rich. We may come into the world in our birthday suit and leave in our burial clothing, but our greatest treasures are wrapped up in the things that can’t be kept in a safety deposit box. We are born with intrinsic value—the very essence of God’s heart.
God would not sacrifice His Son for someone who has no value.
He would not give eternal life to someone who has no significance.
It might help us, as we develop this discussion on managing our gifts, to divide our true assets into three categories: calling, convictions, and capabilities. These groupings can serve as a checklist as you determine what kind of a steward you are.