God’s Guest List
, PEOPLE, AND
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.
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.
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 intention
ally 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. Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart.