From our childhood we begin looking for inspiration from others. Many of those who were fortunate enough to have our fathers at home as we grew up looked up to them (and not simply because of their height). As children, we viewed our dads as the strongest, smartest, bravest men on earth! Who knows how many times the statement, “My dad can (fill in the blank) better than your dad!” has been repeated by children over the years!
All of this reminds us of the pursuit of examples. We all need them. We all want them.
I think of people who inspire me to be the best and there are many. They include the legendary and famous like the Apostle Paul, Joshua, Charles Spurgeon, Adrian Rogers, and Al Mohler as well as those who are less well known. For example, my wife is a beautiful example of godliness, grace, intelligence, integrity and faithfulness. Other examples who challenge me to be my best include pastor-friends like Hal Mayer, Dick Lincoln, Kevin Hamm, and the list goes on…
Now, I can gladly add a young man named Tim Tebow to my list. Tim Tebow – one can hardly speak his name in public without inviting comments. He has been criticized, idolized, ridiculed, analyzed, evaluated, and even the subject of parody on Saturday Night Live. I am told that in a skit an actor portraying Christ entered the Bronco’s locker room and told Tebow to, “Tone it down a notch!” Blasphemy notwithstanding, “Tebowmania” has everyone talking. Even his trademark of kneeling on one knee to pray (“Tebowing”) has been duplicated with sarcasm as well as admiration.
The problems with examples are two-fold: first they remind us of our own inadequacies and inabilities. Second, they inevitably disappoint us.
The one thing that all of my “heroes” or good examples have in common is that they all are better at what they do than I am. That’s why I like them. That’s why I consider them an example to follow. They challenge me to grow and improve.
But if my perspective isn’t balanced, I can look at these people and simply feel inadequate. Soon I may feel that there’s no hope for me and say, “What’s the point? I could never live like that; why try?” That is when inspiration turns to desperation.
Every good example should not only remind us of what excellence looks like, but how we may achieve it as well. If I looked at Tim Tebow’s athletic ability and tried to imitate his workout I might not only be frustrated – I might very well get hurt! So, while I greatly admire his physical abilities, I cannot expect what is unrealistic. I should be inspired by his attitude and discipline and in some small way try to apply his work ethic to my workouts.
The other problem with having good examples and “heroes” is expecting too much of them. If we are not wise we may begin to think that our favorite athlete, pastor, or politician can do no wrong. This would be a terrible mistake.
Thinking too highly of someone can turn a good example into an idol. “American Idol” notwithstanding, idolatry is wrong.
Thinking of Tebow again I am reminded of how much he inspires me. Anyone who looks at his life, attitude, benevolence, faith, and work ethic cannot help but hold him in respect. He is everything I want to be. He uses his God-given abilities for good. He serves others. He cares, gives, inspires – he does what I desire to do – and all for the right reason – to honor God. But even though all that and more is true about this fine young man, no one should think that he doesn’t have his days – days of discouragement, temptation, and defeat. To forget that as good as he is, he is still human is to idolize him. And when the day comes where he slips-up we who have set him on an unrealistic pedestal will be greatly disappointed. Sadly, some will even be angry.
Whatever mistake our examples may make will be their fault, but our shock and anger over another human behaving humanly will be our fault. We cannot hold others up to an unrealistic standard, then be mad at them when they can’t maintain it.
Ultimately there is only One Perfect Example – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One after Whom we should ultimately model our lives. He is the One Who is able not only to inspire us but also to enable us to be the people we were meant to be. And most assuredly we can be confident that He will never disappoint. He cannot be less than perfect. He is Lord. He is the Only One worthy of worship. He is our Best Example.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12