Through touching true stories and inspiring insight, Debbie Macomber takes us on a journey to discover the influence others have on us—and the power we have to influence them in turn.
Who is on God’s “guest list” for your life…and why? The answers may surprise you.
Each of us have “influencers” that have affected our lives—some from a distance, some through word or deed, some through example, be it good or bad. Often we don’t even recognize the deep impact others have had and how God has used them to shape us into who we are. By pausing to recognize these influences, we begin to grasp how God’s guest list has a purpose far beyond what we imagined. We begin to see the seeds of influence that grew into our personal values and character.
In some people God invites into our lives, we see only what appears to be painful or negative influence. In God’s Guest List, Macomber redirects our attention, opening our eyes to how those experiences prompted strength, resilience, resolve, and choices about how we would change and who we would become. In other instances, God has surprised us with just the people at just the right time to support, teach, lead, or love us, but perhaps we haven’t quite recognized God’s timing and work through these “guests.” This book also offers the chance to grasp our own power to influence others, and even to anticipate what lives we have yet to touch.
In the bestselling tradition of How to Win Friends and Influence People, Macomber shares her vision to seize every opportunity to be a positive and faithful influence on others. Filled with true stories and rich insight, God’s Guest List will forever change how you see the people in your life.
God’s Guest List One PRESENTS, PEOPLE, AND ONE MORE LIST
An Unfinished Guest List
THERE’S A STORY that goes something like this:
A woman arrived at the gates of heaven to be met by St. Peter.
“You may first want to join the others at the throne,” he said to her, “and then greet those you loved on earth. But when you are ready, I’ll take you on a tour of heaven.”
When the time came for her tour, she could hardly take it all in. It reminded her a little of her earthly home, but she could see that earth had only been a pale shadow of what she was seeing now. They explored every nook and cranny of heaven—waterfalls, fields of flowers, exquisite buildings, and streets of gold.
As the tour drew to an end, she noticed one massive door they had not yet explored. A gold padlock secured it. “What’s in that room?” she asked.
“You don’t want to see that room,” St. Peter said, steering her away from it. “It’s only a storeroom.”
“But I do. May I see inside? I want to see every bit of heaven.”
St. Peter didn’t answer. Instead he took a large key out of his pocket, put it in the lock, and turned it. The tumblers clicked and the padlock opened. He took the lock off and opened the door. The woman had to blink several times to take it all in. Inside the cavernous room were stacks and stacks of gifts, wrapped in all the colors of the rainbow and tied with all the colors of heaven.
She clapped her hands with delight. “Is this where you store presents for everyone in heaven?”
“No. These gifts are not for heaven, they were meant for earth.”
“What do you mean ‘were’?” She walked through the stacks and came to a pile marked with her name. “Look, these gifts are for me.” She fingered the paper and ribbons. “May I open them?”
“No. You don’t need them now.” St. Peter put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her toward the door.
“But if I don’t need them now, does that mean I needed them on earth?” She couldn’t take her eyes off the pile. To think she would never get to enjoy all those beautifully wrapped gifts.
He nodded his head. “Yes, you needed them on earth.”
She looked around the room, realizing that there must have been millions of gifts. Maybe more, since she couldn’t see an end to the room. “Why weren’t my gifts sent to me on earth?” As she looked closer, she could read names on all the gifts. “Not just my gifts; why haven’t any of these gifts been sent?”
St. Peter sighed. “You don’t understand. Every one of them was sent.” Moving his arm in an arc that encompassed the whole room, he said, “All of these and more. These are the ones that were returned unopened.” He moved her toward the door. “Many people on earth don’t recognize God’s gifts and fail to open them.”
I love gifts—both giving and receiving. When I first heard this story, I wondered if there was any truth to the parable. Had God sent gifts to me that I hadn’t opened? When I get to heaven, I don’t want to discover that I failed to recognize the gifts God sent into my life. I don’t want to miss a single one.
Unfortunately, in real life God’s presents don’t always come gaily gift-wrapped, and they are not always easily recognized. Some even initially come looking like challenges. And often these gifts are people shaped.
THE SECOND LIST
If you’ve read any of my nonfiction books, you know I’m a list maker. Goals, objectives, tasks. They all go on lists. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’ve taken his advice to heart and take a careful look at my life day by day in order to make the most of my time and efforts.
Many years ago I read The Aladdin Factor by Jack Canfield, who coauthored the Chicken Soup series. This was before that series was as well known as it is now. The one thing I remember most about that book was something Jack Canfield wrote. He made a list of thirty people he wanted to meet in his life. Entertainers, authors, musicians—people whose work he deeply admired and whom he wanted to thank.
What an idea!
It inspired me, and I set about making a list of my own—thirty people I wanted to meet. I started out with Pat Conroy—one of the most gifted writers of our time. The list was filled with people I’d admired throughout my life—writers, musicians, speakers, and others. At the time, the possibility of meeting those on my list seemed impossible, but one by one God brought them into my life, and I gratefully checked them off my list, one by one.
A few years ago I attended a writers’ conference. An author from my list whom I’d long admired was to be the keynote speaker. I wanted to tell him the story of how I came to find him and how his writing had inspired me, so it was arranged for us to meet and talk. We sat in a quiet corner of the hotel lobby and I began to tell him what his work has meant to me. Halfway through the story, he stopped me. “Just a minute. You have to stop, because I need to bask.” That’s B-A-S-K—bask. I didn’t know what he meant until he closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply through his nose. He waved his hands as if to fan my words toward him and got a weird look on his face as he appeared to soak in my words of encouragement.
It was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing. That someone would need to bask in the glory of a simple compliment flabbergasted me. Long after that conference was over, I continued to think about that incident. It was so odd. The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became in this person. I had held him in such high regard. How could I have been so wrong? Instead of reflecting any glory back to God, this author chose to absorb it for himself. To bask in my praise.
The sad thing is that he wasn’t the only one from my list who turned out to be a disappointment. I had listed a well-known, much-loved singer with a career history that spans forty years. The lyrics he sings are so beautiful and touch me deeply, but I came to find out they’re lyrics written by other people. It soon became obvious that he was so plastic, so saccharine, that if I had met him in any other circumstance, I confess I would have automatically avoided him. His world revolved around him. Because people had kowtowed to him for so long, he had no patience. His frustration threshold was dangerously low. I watched as he snapped his fingers at people, signaling them to bring him things. It was cringe-worthy. Even more telling, his annoyance and rudeness turned to smiles the moment someone lifted a camera in his direction. Sad.
During my morning prayer time, shortly after my visit with the author at the writers’ conference, I found myself telling God how disillusioned I was with so many of the people on my list. It didn’t take too many disappointments to conclude that unless the person stayed God-centered, fame and talent seemed to ruin the person in some way. Basking in their own accomplishments led to self-absorption and self-obsession. Many of them didn’t even seem to see other people. So that morning I complained to God how disappointed I was in several of the people on my list. Then it hit me. My disappointment stemmed not from the fact that these people were flawed. We are all flawed. The true source of my disappointment was that I had misplaced my admiration.
As I prayed, I sensed that God was saying, There is a reason I had that happen, Debbie. It’s because I want you to make another list. You asked Me to send those thirty people into your life. You’re My daughter. I love you, and as your Father, I want to give you the things that you ask for, but I also wanted you to see people through My eyes. Now make another list and put down thirty more spaces, but leave them open for the people I want to send into your life.
God would send people into my life? An open list. A guest list. It was as if He had issued invitations to my life and asked me to watch for the people He would be sending.
What a concept!
Knowing that God had already compiled a guest list filled me with anticipation—a sense of discovery. From that point on I’ve looked deeply into each face I meet. Could this be one of the guests God invited into my life? Little by little, I’ve been filling in those spaces on that list. And you know what? I have yet to be disappointed with God’s guest list for my life.
This list has become one of the most important lists in my life. I call it God’s guest list. Though I arbitrarily started with thirty blanks, a finite number unnecessarily limits this list. God’s guest list for my life is meant to be lived out as an open invitation, welcoming those whom God sends our way.
I know that God is sovereign. He sends every person we meet into our lives, but I’m talking about a list of special guests—the ones who have changed us, or who will change us, in some significant way. They don’t necessarily have to be our closest friends. Sometimes you’ll read something by someone that affects you deeply. You may never even meet that person, but you discover that God sent him or her into your life.
One of my friends has been deeply affected by the writings of C. S. Lewis. He died when she was only a child, but the things she learned from Lewis have forever changed her. If she were making her list, Lewis would certainly be on it even though she will never meet him this side of heaven.
Recognizing those who will influence us is no easy task. Sometimes we meet someone and are immediately drawn to that person, confident that he or she may very well be an important part of our life. We might even seek someone out. And at times we may even feel like our life has been invaded by someone we’d rather have avoided, only to discover that God sent that person, wrote that person on our list, for His own surprising purposes.
LIVING WITH OUR EYES WIDE OPEN
Filling out our lists will take a lifetime. It’s not something that can be ticked off a task list in an afternoon. But if we commit to discovering God’s guest list for our lives, we will move through life with our eyes wide open. Here’s a promise from the Lord: “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers” (Matthew 23:34). It’s up to us to recognize them. When we start searching, we’ll begin to look deeply into every person we meet to see if we can find God’s fingerprints on that person. We don’t want to send a single gift back unopened.
I’ve begun to practice this with people I meet as well. Whether at the grocery store, in my family, among friends, at church, in my industry, or in the line at a book signing, when I’m on the lookout for those who may be on God’s guest list, I’ve come to appreciate people in a whole new way. Even those who are just passing through become reminders of God’s gifts to me. That sense of anticipation and awareness heightens the fun of meeting people.
As writer Ashleigh Brilliant quips, “My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.”1
In the pages of this book, I’ll share what I’ve discovered from my own guest list. As I tell you stories about these people, you’ll see how they’ve changed me. And hopefully you’ll see God’s hand in my life. Be assured, however, this book isn’t about me. I want to tell you these stories so you can see how God works and begin to look for His fingerprints on your own life. It’s a quest that could very well change your outlook and your attitude toward others the way it changed my own.
Each guest that God brings into our lives leaves us with a unique gift. Once I fully understood this truth, I began to intentionally look for and recognize these gifts. To help you compile your own Gift List, look for this Gifts from Our Guests feature throughout the book.
Gifts from Our Guests: The gift of seeing God at work through life’s guests gives us new eyes to see and appreciate God like never before.
Why do we create a physical list? Isn’t it enough to simply look at all people as the potential VIPs of our lives?
It is important because the list itself is part of the discipline. Remember Socrates’ unexamined life? He said such a life is not worth living. If we want to live a fulfilling life, we need to examine it. The key to accomplishing any discipline in life, whether it is setting goals, losing weight, changing behavior, or discovering God’s guest list, is to be intentional, to be aware, and to be able to chart our findings. Discovering God’s guest list is the same. We write it down because it becomes a chronicle of our journey.
You could keep God’s guest list in your daily journal, your prayer journal, or your gratitude journal if you use those. You may want to buy a special journal to log your discoveries and annotate the names you add. Or you could keep your list right here. I’ve given you thirty slots but I hope you fill up all the slots and run out of room for all the people God sends.
The letters RSVP stand for the French expression répondez s’il vous plaît, meaning “please respond.” The purpose of this book is to help us identify and welcome those special people God sends into our lives, but if we believe that God has a hand-picked guest list for our lives, it stands to reason that He’ll have us on the guest lists for others’ lives. Throughout the book, when you see the words RSVP, we’ll be turning the tables and examining our own potential influence in the lives of others.
I’m challenging you, as you begin to discover the guest list for your own life, to also be intentional about your influence in the lives around you.
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1. What is it about choosing just one word to chew on for a whole year that seems like such an adventure? Have you ever had a word or an idea crop up again and again over a short period of time? What was that word or idea? Why do you think it kept surfacing?
2. In 1977, the word that kept cropping up for Debbie was the word desire. What does that word conjure up for you? If you could name one desire—a secret dream—for your life, what would it be? (Don’t be afraid to dream big.)
3. For Debbie, the word believe came at a time of great uncertainty, right at the turn of the millennium with all the hype of Y2K. Does this give us insight into God’s timing as he gives us a word assignment? Why do you think he gave Debbie the word believe when she was facing misgivings and fear? Why not courage or another buck-up type word?
4. Debbie confessed that she chose hunger in 1979 as she struggled with her eating addiction. She thought the word would take her one place, but she ended up learning something entirely different. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever set out thinking you were going to explore one thing only to find out God had a different plan? What was the surprise lesson you learned?
5. The year 1986 was a troubled one for Debbie. Why do you think God chose trust? Do you see God’s hand in the choice of words? Do you think we are somehow asking for trouble when we choose a word that only grows out of challenges? You’ve heard people jokingly advise, “Never pray for patience. You’ll only get trials.” Is there an upside to choosing a potentially difficult word?
6. During one of the toughest years in Debbie’s life, her word was brokenness. Look back over your life. Was there a year that seemed to reflect that theme, even if you didn’t intentionally choose it? How did God work through that with you?
7. In 1990, Debbie chose the word prayer. Have you ever had a yearlong adventure in prayer? If you were to choose this word, how would you explore it? How does one move prayer from the coulda-woulda-shoulda list to the just-can’t-get-enough- of-this list?
8. When you saw that Debbie picked the word obedience in 1998, what was your reaction? It’s not exactly a motivational word, is it? Debbie says, “We need to recognize that if we ignore His rules, there will be consequences.” Why is obedience so difficult for us, especially when we consider that it will save us untold chaos?
9. In 2002, Debbie’s word was seek. She believes it’s been a theme for much of her life. What happens to us when we seek God? How do we go about doing this? How might our lives be different if we were never called to seek God?
10. When Debbie chose the word balance in 2009, did you identify with her? What is it that keeps us off balance in this hectic world? If you could somehow find balance, what would it look like? How do we take steps to get our life in balance?
11. Wisdom is one of those things God promises to give us if we ask. In this age of quick judgment, impetuous actions, and on-the-spot decision making, how do we cultivate wisdom? Think of the people you know? Describe your wisest friend. What sets that person apart?
12. In 2004, Debbie was surprised by the word that came to her: surrender. Have you ever been surprised by something God seemed to have in store for you? How hard is it to surrender to His agenda? When we work so diligently to keep control, is it scary to consider surrender? What does it take to get there?
13. It was 2006 that Debbie’s word was hope. She found out it was very different from simple optimism. What is the difference? How do we learn to hope?
14. Passion is an exciting word. When Debbie chose it, she already knew she was a person who embraced things in a big way. During the year she learned that the world is sometimes uncomfortable with passion. It’s not cool. How do we give up the cool detachment that is thought to be attractive? How do we stop holding back? Do we worry that if we become passionate people we will somehow burn out? What does God have to say about this?
15. Debbie explored the word purpose a couple of years ago. The yearlong study took her some interesting places. Do you believe God has one big purpose for your life like he did for Esther? Or are our lives made up of many opportunities—many purposes? How do we find our place? What holds us back from realizing our potential?
16. Were you surprised to see all the verses used throughout the book that had promises attached? Why is it we hold back from seeking all God has promised us? Is it that we think we are not worthy? Are we afraid to take the Lord literally? Look through the verses Debbie outlined in chapter sixteen. Rewrite them into your journal—one a day—putting your own name in each one, personalizing them like this: If SUSIE remains in me and my words remain in HER, SHE CAN ask whatever SHE wishes, and it will be done for HER (John 15:7). Meditate on these powerful promises.
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