Last Tuesday I lost one of my heroes. Christian speaker, author, and editor Jim Sire passed “from the land of the dying into the land of the living” to a great reward at age 84. He not only had a massive influence on me and countless others through his many books (such as The Universe Next Door, which is one of four books I suggest each parent read with their children before college), he was also a friend and mentor to me and so many others. We can learn at least three lessons from Jim’s life.
It Is Possible To Love God Fully With Mind And Heart
First, Jim showed us how to love God with both our hearts and our minds. So often we hear and see these bifurcated. Some believers have staggering intellects but do not see the value of developing intimacy with God or others. Some believers are extremely loving toward God and others, yet are not interested in developing their intellectual lives to understand God and his world better. Jim rejected both extremes and showed us how to do both.
Intellectually, Jim was a giant. Each time I visited his home, there were always new books scattered everywhere—on his desk, by his reading chair, in the kitchen. It was apparent he wanted to know what was true. So he read. Constantly.
This desire to know and live what is true came through in each conversation we had as well. Jim constantly referred to ideas, people, and books that helped me understand better something I was asking him about or with which I was struggling.
As a lasting reminder of his love of God with his mind are the twenty-five books he left us. Some were bestsellers, read widely and enormously influential, such as his Discipleship of the Mind. Others simply needed to be written, though Jim knew they would never enjoy a wide readership. An example of the latter is his wonderful Vaclav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics: an Introduction, Appreciation, and Critique (a biography of a Christian who also loved God with his mind and heart, rising to be president of the Czech Republic). No matter their popularity, all Jim’s books were masterful compilations of careful research to highlight important issues and ideas through clear and witty writing.
However, anyone who spent even a short time with Jim knew he was so much more than a great thinker and writer. He was a man who sought God with all his heart. Due to his intimate relationship with the Lord, he was an example of how to combine thoughtfulness and curiosity with warmth, compassion, authenticity, and zeal for the things of God. It was an absolute joy to be around him and see in flesh and blood the type of love Jesus requires of us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
Relationships Are Our Greatest Legacy
Second, due to Jim’s loving God with mind and heart, he was able to sincerely incarnate the second part of Jesus’ greatest commandment in Matthew 22:38: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jim showed his love for me in tangible and encouraging ways. I remember sitting with him in his study, his desk full of books, articles, and scribbled notes, no doubt for a book he was writing. However, at that moment his only interest was in me—how I was doing, how my family was, how my ministry was going. He was treating me as someone worth his full and undivided attention, rather than his projects or agenda. Times like this with Jim were encouraging, invigorating, and thoroughly refreshing.
Jim also showed his love for me and others by freely sharing of his time and reputation. He provided me much wise counsel both during my time giving leadership to InterVarsity/USA’s Faculty Ministry, and more recently in my work with Global Scholars. He was always willing to provide an endorsement when needed, and most recently served on the Global Scholars Board of Reference.
As I read some of the tributes written by others this past week, Jim loved scores of others in the same way. These relationships may end up being Jim’s greatest legacy, even beyond his books. Without his encouragement and wise counsel, I am sure many of us would have made mistakes and missed opportunities for Kingdom work. There is no way to know the extent of Jim’s influence through those of us he mentored, but it is well beyond what we can imagine.
The Importance of Being Faithful to our Calling
Finally, Jim was a man who knew what God called him to do, and he did it with his whole heart. Ultimately this is why he had such a significant influence in the lives of so many for so many years. He fulfilled this calling in at least three contexts.
As mentioned above, Jim was an author. He took this vocation seriously. His research was meticulous. He was not interested in writing books for his own glory or financial gain. He wrote his books “as unto the Lord.” As a result, he spent enormous amounts of time doing research and background reading to be sure he understood the issues he was addressing and could do them justice. When he critiqued a person or an idea, it was never unfair or one-sided. When he needed to make a delicate or nuanced point, he agonized over just the right words to use. His books are works of art, the result of painstaking work by a master storyteller. This was one aspect of his calling, and he worked exceptionally hard to be excellent at it.
Another aspect of his calling was as an editor. Jim served as chief editor of InterVarsity Press for over thirty years. In this role, he epitomized the fact that “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit” (Harry Truman and John Wooden, quoting Charles Edward Montague). Jim’s editing stands behind some of the most influential books written by evangelicals, such as the works of Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness.
Once he received a very poorly written manuscript from an unpublished pastor. However, Jim saw genius in the ideas contained and worked relentlessly with the author to rewrite large portions of the book. Once published, it became an international bestseller and continues to be an influential book to this day. Yet very few people know it was Jim’s faithfulness to his calling as an editor that brought this book to life, resulting in the impact it has had on millions of people worldwide. No one needed to know. He was merely being faithful to what God had called him to, modeling Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
A third expression of Jim’s calling was as a speaker and teacher, primarily on apologetic and worldview topics. He had an uncanny ability to combine rigorous thought and argumentation with a winsomeness and freshness in his presentation. As a result, he influenced hundreds of thousands (or more) to consider the gospel, or if believers develop a deeper understanding of what they believed, and why. Again, by being faithful to his calling God used him in astonishing ways to grow the Kingdom.
Now and then the Lord gives us someone like Jim Sire. His presence greatly blessed us and we are deeply saddened by his absence. However, his life will influence countless others for years, decades, and even centuries to come. I know my life and ministry have been profoundly shaped by the books, ideas, love, encouragement, friendship, and wise counsel of Jim. I stand on his shoulders, and can only hope to have a shadow of the influence for God’s Kingdom he has had.
If you have never read anything Jim has written, you truly have missed a great gift. I encourage you to pick up one of Jim’s books and see what a blessing he has been to the body of Christ and will be to you. (For starters, I suggest The Universe Next Door, Discipleship of the Mind, Learning to Pray Through the Psalms, Why Good Arguments Often Fail, or Chris Chrisman Goes to College and Faces the Challenges of Relativism, Individualism and Pluralism.)
Until next week, grace and peace. (Next week I’ll resume my series on Christianity vs. Buddhism: Five Reasons to Believe God is a Person.)