Max Lucado - World Renowned Christian Author – Hope 103.2

Max Lucado – World Renowned Christian Author

Max Lucado world renown Christian author talks to Sheridan Voysey on finding a 'Cure for the Common Life'.

By Sheridan VoyseySunday 12 Aug 2007Open House InterviewsCultureReading Time: 12 minutes

Max Lucado has touched millions around the world with his signature storytelling writing style. The author of more than fifty books, including In the Grip of Grace, When God Whispers Your Name, He Chose the Nails and 3:16 The Numbers of Hope, over twenty-eight million copies of Lucado’s books are in print today.

The influential Christianity Today magazine once called him ‘America’s Pastor’, and Reader’s Digest once crowned him the best preacher in America. But I have a feeling Max would rather be known simply as a husband, a father and a follower of Jesus. We talked about finding faith, avoiding moral failure and discovering our ‘sweet spot’ in life.

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What would you like to be known as?

A sinner saved by grace. God has been good to me, despite the fact that I had ignored him for many years in my life. So I think, if nothing else, to know that God was kind to me and had mercy upon me even though I ignored him—that would be the greatest legacy I could leave.

Your own path to faith actually had a few bends and kinks in it. Recount that for us.

Well, I developed a pretty serious drinking problem when I was young. Even though my parents did all they could to direct me onto the right path, I fell in with a crowd. They were stronger than I was.

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I have this insatiable appetite for beer, and just one beer is never enough for me. So by the time I was eighteen I realised that I could drink a lot more than my buddies without feeling it. I was developing a tolerance towards alcohol and, quite honestly, I enjoyed that for a while. But it scared me. I wondered where it was going to take me.

At about the age of twenty somebody explained to me about the teachings of God, especially about his son Jesus. I came to believe that Jesus is God’s son and when he died on the cross he died so that I could go to heaven. That was authenticated to me as I studied the resurrection. And I realised that if Jesus really rose from the dead then he has authority over my mistakes and my rebellion, and so I received his forgiveness. It’s been literally a great life since. I don’t battle the alcoholism any longer [although] I have to be careful. And I am finally convinced that he has forgiven me for all those mistakes I made during those years.

If you were to sum it up in a sentence, what would you say is your life message?

I think it would be this: God loves, so God gave; we believe and so we live.

I like that. Spoken by a true preacher!

Remember the most famous verse in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.’ You have to keep things simple for me. I’m not the brightest bulb in the drawer. And that passage makes sense to me. God loves me. I can get my head around that. He gave exactly what I needed—a sacrifice for my sins and mistakes. If I believe, if I just trust that, then life begins within me.

If I could share with any person, in any subway, airplane or situation, it would be that message.

Christianity Today called you America’s pastor and Reader’s Digest said you’re the best preacher in America. You’ve probably sold more books than any other Christian author in the world. How do you combat the tempting lure of being a Christian celebrity?

That is a great question, Sheridan, because sometimes I believe what people say about me. And that is the most dangerous thing to do. You begin thinking, ‘I must really be special.’ But I’m not. I’m really not. I struggle just like everybody else with pride. Pride is the core of sin.

You know, when Adam and Eve were in the garden and the serpent approached Eve and said, ‘Did God really say if you eat from this you shall not die?’ I think he was playing with her pride, testing her, and saying, ‘If you do this you will be like God.’ So there is something inside us all that wants to be our own little gods. It’s a challenge—it is. I don’t always succeed.

Now, God humbles me regularly. Right now, for example, I’m battling a heart condition. I’ve had fifty-two years of phenomenal health but the last nine months I’ve had an atrial fibrillation. I thought I was Mr Bullet Proof, that I would never have any health issues. It’s a reminder that I am very fragile, just like everyone else. And I think God sends us those reminders to keep us dependent on him.

We really are dependent on his enabling moment by moment, aren’t we?

Yes sir. He is faithful. He does watch after us. But he is prone to send difficulties to waken us up to look to him.

We’ve all seen the horrible effects of the Jimmy Swaggarts, Jim Bakkers and, more recently, the Ted Haggards of the Christian world who have had public moral failures. What kind of safeguards have you put in place to keep you on the straight and narrow?

I do believe of him to who much is given much is required. If somebody is entrusted with the care and teaching of a lot of people—hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people through books—integrity is very important. People interpret the credibility of God through the credibility of his children.

I try to be very careful. As we’re engaging in this phone call, for example, I’m in Seattle, Washington. I live in Texas—I’ve travelled up here to speak at an event this weekend. And I always have someone who travels with me. I never travel alone. When I speak I don’t request an honorarium, but I do request two airplane tickets. I know there is someone checking up or checking in with me. It helps minimise the temptation of wandering around in a strange city and doing something that I would live to regret.

Here in the United States pornography is so rampant that as soon as I check into the hotel room I have to call down to the desk and request they switch the adult films off in my room. I don’t trust myself for even five minutes alone with those films. So I have to do things like that, just to be careful.

In your book Cure for the Common Life, you talk about us finding our ‘sweet spot’ in life. It’s a golfing term, but describe how it can be applied more broadly.

I believe that every single person has a uniqueness about them—a particular aptitude, bent or strength that is unlike any other person alive or indeed has ever lived. When we discover that uniqueness we discover the reason we were placed on this earth. To try to be anything that I want to be is really impossible. I may want to be a certain mechanic or certain carpenter or certain singer, but if those aren’t the skills God gave me, I can want to be one all day long. Desire alone won’t do it.

I honour God when I study myself and assess what I do well. When what I want to do and what I do well converge together, there I find my ‘sweet spot’.

Would you call it the same as finding one’s calling or vocation?

Yes, yes. You know, vocation comes from that Latin word vocare, or vocal—‘to call’. I believe God has given each one of us a calling. There are many places in the Bible that teach this, and of course there any many psychologists and sociologists who embrace the idea. If we can equip our children, especially, to understand that God has made them in a unique fashion and help them understand what is unique about them, we are doing them such a great favour.

Max, how did you personally discover your calling—the thing in life that you were supposed to do?

I assumed that I would be like my father. We all assume that we will be like whoever raised us—whether it’s an uncle or a coach or, more personally, a father or a mother.

My dad was a mechanic. He loved to fix things. The problem was that I couldn’t tell a carburettor from a spare tyre. I really wanted to be a mechanic like my dad, but I couldn’t. I mean, I would try and it just didn’t make sense.

But what I could do was read. I loved books. Even though my family was not a family given to a lot of books—there weren’t many in our house—I could read books all night long. My father noticed that and he made sure that I had a library card.

I also noticed that I loved to write. While other kids groaned at English assignments, I would get excited. I wouldn’t get excited at chemistry assignments, or math assignments.

As you look back over your life, what things have you consistently enjoyed doing and done well? Study your life and read your own story, and assume that there is something unique about you.

Let’s unpack that further. You use the acrostic STORY as a tool to help us discover our sweet spot and live an uncommon life. Break that open for us.

I could spend the whole program on it, but I’ll try and do it quickly. Strength, Topic, Optimal environment, Relationships, Yes—that’s your STORY.

What is your Strength? What is that one thing that you do that you do relatively easily? In fact, Sheridan, there is probably something that you do that is not without challenge, but when you do it you say that it wasn’t that hard. It came together pretty quickly. That is your strength. When you catch yourself saying, ‘Well, that wasn’t very hard; why can’t everybody do this?’, then you are operating in your strength.

You also have a Topic that fascinates you. It might be nature, it might be numbers, it could be colours. But when you find that one topic—for me its words and messages—then you’re finding your sweet spot.

We all have Optimal environments in which we work. I have a friend who works at a hospital and he loves emergency moments. He is, I guess, an emergency room junky. He is at his best when he has to make a decision within a matter of two or three minutes and it’s a life or death decision. Others of us would just panic; we need time and space to be able to process. So what is your optimal environment?

The fourth letter stands for Relationships. Do you work better leading people or following people? As you look back over your life and your successful moments, were you by yourself or were you in a group?

Then the last word is Yes—when you do something and you look up and you clench your fist and say, ‘Yes! That was great!’ My youngest daughter does that when she cooks. She’s eighteen, will prepare a meal, and at the end of it say, ‘Oh, that was so much fun.’ I cannot comprehend that! I see no enjoyment whatsoever in cooking. But I’m still grateful that she does; and because she does, I eat well!

That’s the STORY we all have.

I think of when I had three or four months alone to write a book. It was my optimal environment. I also think of the night we launched this show. I was driving home around two o’clock in the morning after we’d wrapped up the very first show and I was slamming the steering wheel, saying ‘Yes, yes, yes!’

Way to go, Sheridan! See, what you are doing is you are being responsive to God’s story on your heart. I think there is an assumption sometimes made by Christians that if it’s enjoyable then it mustn’t be my assignment; that to be a follower of Christ means being miserable. It’s just the opposite.

I think of Frederick Buechner’s great phrase: ‘The place God calls you to is where the world’s deep hunger and your deep gladness meet.’

I have read that phrase and underlined it myself. I think it’s the great summary of the theme of vocation.

As you mentioned before, you’ve recently had some issues with your heart. How has that changed your understanding of your own unfolding story?

I’ve not had any health issues for fifty-two years, my entire life, and all of a sudden I’m being reminded on a regular basis that even if you try to take care of yourself these things happen. So it’s a wake-up call to me. It encourages me to focus. I’m fifty-two years old; I figure I have two or three decades left if I can take care of myself. What is the lasting contribution I want to make? This gives me a wonderful opportunity to focus in on that and see if I can do a good job.

So what will be your lasting contribution over the next three decades?

I’m going to do more of what we are doing now: writing, and doing more talking about writing about this message. I will probably do a little more travel. My health is doing better now; I’ve had some good treatments for my heart and, God willing, I would like to travel and encourage people.

Who has been the greatest influence in your writing life and your shaping of words?

You mentioned Frederick Buechner, who is a wonderful writer. I was introduced to him in the 1970s, if not 1980. Somebody gave me a Frederick Buechner book and I remember being amazed at how he could write so creatively about the Christian faith. So he was an early influence for me.

Later on I began reading Chuck Swindoll’s writings. Chuck is a dear friend, a man whom I respect very much. The fact that he is a pastor and a writer inspired me to try and do both.

So those two men have had a good influence on me through the years.

What is your optimal environment for writing? Do you need solitude?

I do. I have to get off by myself and need several hours of uninterrupted time. I am no good at writing for thirty minutes here or sixty minutes there; I need a good five or six hours. After five or six hours my brain cells begin to fizzle and so I have to call it a day. I’ve heard of those who can go all night long. I don’t do that well.

As we speak you’re starting to finish a chapter of your life—completing twenty years of service as the Senior Minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. Did life ever slip into commonness during those years?

Yes, I have battled that. Leading a church can feel like you’re just leading a company, an organisation. You have budgets, you have personnel issues, you have property issues, and it begins to take on a corporate feel.

We have to remind ourselves regularly in church that this is an absolutely unique organisation on the face of the earth. The church is the only organisation God calls to pray. He did not call universities or hospitals to be houses of prayer—the church is God’s house of prayer. The church is the institution to which God gave his gospel, the promise of eternal life through the death of Christ on the cross. That is a high and holy call that God gives the church so we have to battle against mediocrity as we express those two great gifts.

I want you to leave us with three pieces of advice: one for church leaders, one for aspiring writers and one for those feeling that their life is trapped in the common and the mundane. What would you say to each of those three groups of people?

To church leaders I would say pray and preach Jesus. If we succeed there, great. If we fail there, we fail.

To writers I would say that the secret to good writing is re-writing. Most books could use another draft.

To those whose lives are trapped in the mundane I say listen carefully to the promises of the Bible, like John 3:16—that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. You are loved by God. Your name is known in heaven. God smiles when he thinks of you and he has an eternal plan, a plan that is beyond this world, beyond this life, for you.

This transcript and audio is from an old interview between Sheridan Voysey and Max Lucado for Open House in August 2007.