The Power of the ‘Who’ Question

My good friend Tommy Spaulding wrote a blog a few weeks ago, and he agreed to let me share it as a guest post. I found it a wonderful illustration of how we all should strive to grow like Jesus in our own unique ways. Tommy is a best-selling author and an even better public speaker. If you run a company or organization and need someone to keynote your event, give him a call. You won’t regret it.

Now, on with the blog …

By Tommy Spaulding, Oct. 12, 2017
Tommy Spaulding

Yesterday was my fathers’ 75th birthday.  The greatest man I’ve been blessed to know.  My two sisters and I flew to upstate New York to surprise him on his special day.  These are the words I wrote in his birthday card.

Dear Dad,

Like Father – Like Son.  Many hear those words all the time.  “Your son is just like you!”  “You’re the spitting image of your father!”  But, Dad, you and I are different in so many ways.

I love to travel the world – you do not.

I am organized – you are not.

I am a risk taker – you are not.

I am an entrepreneur – you are not.

I love sports – you do not.

I’m driven – you are not.

I’m adventurous – you are not.

I am an extrovert – you are not.

And I love sushi, golf and rock concerts – you do not!

The list goes on and on.

The beauty in all these differences is that you have many talents and attributes that I don’t have.  But there is one amazing thing in my life that we have in common. It has brought me the most happiness and the most success.  And I learned it from you.  LOVE.

I learned to love from you, Dad.  To receive love.  To give love.

I remember when I was a young kid and would come home from school.  Most parents would ask, “What did you do today?” “What did you accomplish?”  You never asked me those questions.  Instead, you always asked, “Who did you bless today?”  “Who did you love and serve?” The “what” never mattered to you, Dad.  You only cared about the “who.”

Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?

Those two questions have changed my life.  They define who I have become.  They have directed my career.  They have made me into the husband, father and friend I am today.

Thank you, Dad, for not being like all the other parents.  Thank you for always asking me the “who” questions and not the “what” questions.

Makes me proud to say…. Like Father – Like Son.

Happy 75th Birthday.  I love you!

Your son,


Maybe today can be the day that we stop asking our kids, our employees and our colleagues all the “what” questions. What did you do today?  What did you accomplish?  And we start asking all the “who” questions.  Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?  My guess is that it will change your work and your life, just as it has changed mine.

The Sins of My Writing

Spellcheck says everything’s good. But I’ve learned not to fully trust spellcheck. So, I read over it – one … last … time …

Yep, all looks good. I hit send or print or whatever pushes my writings into public view. In this particular case, it’s a blog post.

I’m never sure how many folks will read my blog, but I hope it’s well received by all who invest five minutes of their lives. I put my heart and soul into it and, frankly, I believe the content and writing is some of my better work. Perhaps it will have a positive impact. That’s always the goal – to get people to think and act in ways that help them grow like Jesus.

So off goes the post into the cyber world, released and free. And I move on to other things.

Then comes that email from a loving friend who gently points out the typo. Not just a random typo, but a typo in the lead (or, if you prefer, the lede). Sure, it’s the second paragraph, but it’s still part of the lead. First word of the first sentence in the second paragraph – standing out like a zit on the forehead of a teenager on prom night. Image should be imagine. Spellcheck won’t catch that, by the way.

I sigh. I thank my friend. I update the post on my website, although by now I suspect that everyone who will read it already has, and I’m certain that each of them snickered at the whiff. Another shot across the bow of my credibility. My insecure self whispers: See, I told you. You’re a hack. This is why you’ll never really make it as a writer.

Little things have always risen up to bite my writing in big ways, and especially spelling. I misspelled water in an elementary school spelling bee, and a high school teacher told me I’d never be a good writer because I was such a poor speller. As a cub reporter for a newspaper, one of my egregious spelling errors resulted in an editor getting chewed out. And I once misspelled a billionaire’s name in a magazine article.

But image instead of imagine wasn’t really a spelling error. I know how to spell imagine without looking it up. It was more of an oversight. It’s one of those words that this writer’s eyes – those eyes that have become all too comfortable with the content – are prone to see as correct, even when it is not. Reading it one more time seldom matters. I look at image and see imagine.

Unless you, too, write professionally or have some other form of OCD, you might think this is much ado about nothing. You’d say that chances are, very few people noticed, and those who did probably didn’t care. Maybe. But I care. And I suspect there’s something in your life – in everyone’s life – that you care deeply about doing well but that you fail at from time to time.

What then? Grace. Forgiveness. Growth.

In my experience, it’s all but impossible to grow like Jesus when I’m wallowing in self-pity that’s swimming in self-doubt. I have to remind myself that Christ died for my sins, that I am forgiven, and that I can walk and live in that forgiveness.

When Jesus encountered and confronted sinners, He never condoned their sins. He offered forgiveness and commanded them to stop their sinful behaviors. (See John 5:14 or John 8:11) So even with something as seemingly trivial as a mental error/typo/misspelling, I am compelled to admit my mistake, embrace forgiveness and try to avoid repeating that mistake.

How? I’ll be more aware of that word, but I’m also investing in a copy editor. Every writer needs one. I’ve avoided it because, well, it’s an expense – either I’m paying someone money or I’m imposing on a friendship. But I work with clients all the time who want to avoid this expense, and I always tell them that doing so is a huge mistake. Every writer needs an editor, usually more than one. It’s time to heed my own advice.

We all need others to help us walk through this broken world – someone who helps us edit our lives. That was a key point of the image/imagine post. And while we’ll never get it totally right, that type of discipleship helps us walk more comfortably in the peace and joy that come from grace and forgiveness.

(Note: My good friend and super wordsmith James Gilzow edited this piece, and I assure you it’s better now than it was when I sent it to him!)

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Our Sanctification Puzzle

Sanctification lives at the heart of the Grow Like Jesus message, and it’s something we do both individually and in the context of our relationships with others.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that never stay the same but that somehow always fit together. We never know how or when our lives might provide the right fit for others or how and when someone else might provide the right fit for us. But we know we need each other to fully grow like Jesus. Our sanctification puzzle is incomplete, of course, without Jesus. His presence fills the voids and gaps, heals the wounds, and makes all things new. But He regularly uses broken human pieces during our earthly journey.

This helps me see myself and others in a different light. My sin nature often tugs at me to judge first and seek understanding later. When I remember that God might use me to somehow contribute to someone else’s sanctification puzzle, or that He might use someone else to grow me, then I become much more empathetic and far less judgmental. I want to know the other person’s pains, baggage, joys, and experiences. I want to understand who that person is and why, not focus on his outward appearance or actions. And I want him to understand who I am and how God has transformed me and is transforming me.

The Me Piece

The biggest, most complex and complicated part of my sanctification puzzle is me. My sanctification begins with my attention to my personal walk with and growth in Jesus. No one else owns it or is responsible for it. When God confronted Adam and Eve for their sins in the garden, Adam immediately blamed Eve and God. The woman you gave me – that’s the problem! (See Genesis 3:12) God, of course, knew better. Like Adam, we can’t shift responsibility for who we are and how we live. We have to own it so we can fully surrender it.

The Us Piece

The next most critical piece of my sanctification puzzle is my wife. God gave her to me, and me to her. While some pieces of our puzzle come and go, this one is ever-present. She adds to my growth, and I contribute to hers. She is my helpmate, which clearly means this: I need help! And I’m called to love her as Christ loves the church, which is no small deal – I am called to give myself up for her to make her holy, to cleanse her by the washing with water through the word, to present her as radiant, without stain or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27). What an awesome privilege and responsibility when it comes to her growth!

The Others Piece

Finally, there are those pieces of my sanctification puzzle that involve “others.” Some are regular parts of my life, like my family and closest friends. Others are people I know but interact with less frequently. And others still are simply divine appointments – people God places in my life for a short period and then they’re gone. They all shape my spiritual growth, if I’m open to how God wants to use them. And I have an opportunity provided by God to fit some need of theirs, but it’s up to me to embrace that opportunity.

Every day, our puzzle pieces change. We’re reshaped by our experiences. Our needs are different. Our opportunities for growth are different. And what we have to offer others is different. Our challenge is to figure out how we all fit together for the glory of God as we strive to grow like Jesus.

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11 Things Followers Learn from Followship

Are You a Servant Leader who Serves Leaders?

Michael Brown and I partner on a few projects from time to time, and one of those projects is a training program called Followship: Servant Leaders. Serving Leaders. This week we launched a Kindle version of the participant guide, which is pretty cool, at least in our minds. You can read it on your Kindle reader and it has links to the videos and articles that are referenced. You just need to take notes in a journal or using your computer.

So, in celebration of the launch, I thought I’d share some key points that people takeaway when they go through this training. The actual training goes deeper into each of these to explain things like why they matter and how we can live differently. So these are just highlights.

I started with about 25, with the intention of cutting it down to the top 10. I settled on 11, because who says you have to use round numbers anyway?

  1. Everyone is a follower.
  2. Followers build others up, show respect, and promote collaboration.
  3. Our values drive who we are and how we behave, so we should identify what we believe and why.
  4. We each must take responsibility for our role in effective communication; it is counter-productive to blame others. Own it.
  5. Keep an open mind when listening; don’t jump to conclusions so you can respond rather than react.
  6. Bloom where you’re planted.
  7. The best organizations promote growth, but we ultimately are responsible for our personal growth, regardless of what others do or don’t do for us.
  8. You really can’t “be anything,” but you can find satisfaction in whoever you are and whatever you become.
  9. Contentment is a place within you, not a place you go.
  10. A mark of a great follower is the ability to step in and out of that role in appropriate ways at appropriate times.
  11. Happiness is a creature that feeds on emotions and lives according to the circumstances of the moment. Joy maintains a sense of peace while moving through good times and bad.

If you’re interested in the Kindle version, here’s the link.

If you’re interested in the print edition and/or the leader’s discussion guide, or if you just want more information about the program, the here’s the link you need.





One Year Later …

A letter to a 1-year-old

Happy Birthday, Grow Like Jesus!

You were years in the making, so it’s amazing to celebrate this day with you. It was one year ago today that you officially “launched,” which is book-trade jargon that means you officially became available to the public. There were pre-orders before that, of course, but it was on this day that those orders shipped and sites like changed your status to “available.” No more waiting.

I’ll never forget that day, especially when it comes to It seems the big, bad online bookseller didn’t have much faith in the demand you would create, so it didn’t stock up. Within a few hours it indicated you were “out of stock.” I took it as a good sign, but it would have been better if Amazon had started with, say, 1,000 copies rather than … well, let’s just say it was far fewer than 1,000. Nevertheless, it felt like there was a gold rush of demand for you.

Truth is, sales have not been spectacular. That’s no surprise, frankly, because, as you know, salesmanship and marketing are not my forte. Oh, I know how to market books. I just don’t execute it very well. It’s a learning opportunity, I guess. But the truth is, I’m pretty content in the background. I don’t mind speaking to audiences, but it’s not my calling to be a sage on the stage. I’m not naturally self-promotional, and, unfortunately, it’s hard to promote you without feeling like I’m promoting me. I have friends who are great at this. They promote themselves and their books, and somehow they seldom come across as egomaniacs who are only in it for the fame and the spotlight. I’m happy for them and all, but I’m not gifted in that way. As a result, my “platform” is limited and, thus, so have been your sales.

That’s not to say sales are non-existent. People are buying you. In fact, several people bought 50 to 100 copies. You’ve been read and shared and gifted. You’ve had an impact on teenagers, as well as folks who are older in life. You’ve been there for people who are new in their faith in Christ, and there for people who are looking for new ways to experience growth.

In fact, I want to make it clear that modest book sales is not an indication of success. Indeed, my first measure of success for you is found in the reality that you actually exist. I felt called to write you and find a publisher and, albeit reluctantly at times, I followed that call. So obedience is one measure of success.

Another measure of your success is found in the feedback. Not everyone who has read your pages has provided feedback. But among those who have, only one offered what I would consider a negative review. He said the book didn’t “connect to his heart,” which, frankly, stung more than a little bit. Many others have found your pages helpful. Here’s a link to read some reviews, if you’d like a few ego biscuits. Aside from those written reviews, I’ve also heard positive feedback from several pastors and friends and business leaders.

The greatest measure of your success, however, is still unknown. Audrey (that’s my wife) and I have prayed from the beginning that you would make a difference in the lives of people who read you. We believe that’s happened, but that’s still our prayer – that God will use this book to help people who want to grow in their faith in Jesus.

Whatever happens, with sales or with impact, God gets the credit. Everything valuable in your pages, after all, came from Him. And everything that happens with you or through you will come by His hand.

So happy birthday, and here’s to many more bright days and deep influence. God willing, you will continue to make a difference in the lives of more and more people.

Oh, yeah. Sorry I didn’t bring a cake or presents. What would you do with them, anyway? You’re a book. But I love you just the same.


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Creating a Style Guide for Life

Creating a Style Guide for Life

You might not immediately make the connection between a newspaper’s new style rule and how we go about our personal development journey, but the connection is there. Trust me.

Regular readers of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the statewide newspaper in Arkansas and my former employer, might have noticed a change in recent weeks in how the paper refers to the state’s largest and best-known university. The new style guide apparently requires that at some point in the article the author refer to it as the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville,” even in the sports section after a first reference of “the Arkansas Razorbacks.”

As a writer, editor, and former newspaper hack, I understand all too well how and why such silly policies are created. I can’t tell you the specifics of this one, but it no doubt involved many meetings and a great deal of hand-wringing. And after all that debate, the editors arrived at what is, without question, an awful result.

Why? They lost focus on what really matters.

To some, the purpose of a style guide is to create consistency in the written language. But that’s just one result, not the real purpose. The real purpose is to help readers better understand what they are reading. This policy neither creates consistency nor helps the reader. Just the opposite, in fact.

For starters, the policy creates what I call “reader roadblock.” It introduces unnecessary words that forces me-the-reader to pause and ask, “What up with that?” before moving forward without a logical or reasonable answer. So it’s a waste of space and it’s a waste of my time. Second, it doesn’t create consistency because the paper doesn’t apply the same style to other universities. For instance, it doesn’t refer to the “University of Kentucky, Lexington” or the “University of Arkansas, Little Rock” or “Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.”

One day shortly after the paper adopted this new style, I noticed a story about the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville” defeating “IUPUI” in a softball game. I can assure you that at least 99 percent of the ADG’s readers know that the Arkansas Razorbacks represent the Fayetteville campus of the University of Arkansas, but almost none know what IUPUI stands for (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis).

So what’s all this have to do with personal growth, you ask? Well, we all do the same thing in our lives. We see a small issue in our life and become consumed with finding a solution that ends up creating more problems than it solves, all because we lose focus on what really matters. We stubbornly hold to some viewpoint, refusing to let go, and we find ourselves on the slippery slope toward legalism.

We all need structure, discipline and boundaries in our lives. We all need the equivalent of a “style guide” to help us order our worlds. For me, that guide is the Bible. But when I lose focus on what really matters – to love God and love others, to grow like Jesus and produce Kingdom fruit – then I soon find myself obsessing about things that ultimately don’t matter. I’m not saying there’s anything in the Bible that doesn’t matter. I’m saying that we don’t need to complicate it with guidelines that solve problems that don’t really exist.


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3 Phases of Spiritual Growth

One of the great paradoxical realities of life is that we’re continually growing while we’re continually dying – physically and spiritually. Our bones and muscles might stop growing during our teen years, but our cartilage never stops – which is why I’ll someday need a box truck to haul around my ears. Spiritually, we die to our sins every day, while longing for spurts of growth that bring us closer to God.

Our spiritual growth spurts typically happen in three distinct phases: Times of inspiration, times of desperation, and times of gratitude. (Side note: Attempts at alliteration resulted in frustration, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.) Those phases often start out sequentially, but then they tend to come and go and return again in no particular order.

Times of Inspiration

I originally saw this as the time of conversion, that period right after we surrender our lives to Jesus and we’re on fire to learn anything and everything about what it means to follow Him. We read. We listen. We are proactive in our pursuit of the head knowledge that strengthens our heart knowledge. Then someone in our Bible study noted that this period often repeats when we attend events where a speaker inspires us to greater obedience. These mountaintop experiences can happen during a Sunday morning service, a conference, while reading a book or a blog – anything that re-ignites a passion for spiritual growth.

Times of Desperation

Christianity isn’t a faith that offers the promise of happiness in this life; instead, it offers peace and joy in the midst of trouble and a trouble-free existence only in eternity. Jesus promised that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and our experiences confirm it. But it’s in times of trouble that we often experience the deepest dependence on the Father, and thus our greatest spurts of spiritual growth.

Times of Gratitude

We might never live on Easy Street, but there are times when life rolls along in ways we can only describe as blessed. For instance, God has blessed me with an amazing wife, consistent work, wonderful friends, and a great family. We have “issues,” but they are pretty small compared to those others face or even those we’ve faced in the past. This state draws me closer to God because hardly a minute goes by when I’m not overwhelmed with gratitude for all that He’s given me – so much more than I deserve. When my response is to run into His arms, my heart and mind are open to spiritual growth.

So why is it important that we recognize these phases of growth? Because we need to appreciate them when we’re experiencing them and we need to find our way back to them when we’re not. All three draw us to surrender to and dependence on God, two essential ingredients for spiritual growth.

If we attend a conference or worship service and hear an inspiring talk but greet it with indifference, we’re missing a growth opportunity. If we encounter troubled waters and fail to reach for Jesus in the storm, we’re missing a growth opportunity. And if we’re bathed in the blessings of our Father and fail to hug Him tightly in gratitude, we’re missing a growth opportunity.

What happens when we miss these growth opportunities? You guessed it. The only thing that’s growing is our ears. The rest of us is dying.


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The Growth Benefits of Fasting

Some followers of Jesus like to start the New Year with an intentional time of prayer and fasting, a practice that I’ve found helps me grow like Jesus.

The church my wife and I attend (Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark.) is among those that promotes this spiritual discipline. We’re blessed to have leaders who value the things Jesus values and who challenge us to live like Jesus. And it’s encouraging to know we’re going on this journey as a collective body.

We know that Jesus went through an intentional Spirit-led fast as he launched his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-4). We know He was tempted during this time. We know it prepared Him for what was to come. We know He gave us instructions on how (not if) to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). And we know there are many other examples in scripture of people fasting to strengthen their walk with God.

So there’s no doubt that followers of Jesus should follow Jesus by fasting.squirrel-monkey-1438538_1920

There are many ways to fast. Our church asks us to sacrifice something for 21 days. Some people give up food and live on juice and water. Some give up television. Some stay off of social media. The point is to give up something (or some things) so that you can focus more intently on your relationship with God. My wife and I adjust our diet and scale back our television hours.

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Hunger pains (or the “off” button on the TV remote) become a reminder to have a conversation with God.
  • We start the fast by updating our prayer journal, which lists 63 things we regularly pray about throughout the year. This is an amazing opportunity to re-focus our prayer life.
  • We eat a pretty healthy diet to begin with, but the fast helps cleanse us physically and that makes us feel better in every aspect of life. (The Daniel Plan is an excellent resource for a healthy approach to food and exercise.)
  • Some of our most transforming spiritual disciplines began with a fast. God has used it to help us create good habits.

A fast isn’t something you only do at the start of the year or only in one prescribed way. I’ve fasted to help me make what I saw as life-altering decisions, to seek God more desperately during times of trouble, and to support a friend who was going through the ringer.

I’m no expert, but God has always connected me when I’ve sought Him in this way. As you continue to grow like Jesus, ask God how He wants to use this discipline to help you on the journey.


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16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.


For a limited time, you can still get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.


Follow Me on a Path to Followship

Once upon a not-too-long ago, I began thinking of leadership in a slightly different light. Different for me, at least. I couldn’t escape the fact that Jesus calls us to be His followers. I am, therefore, a follower of Christ. His disciple. So it only makes sense that my leadership reflects my followship. In other words, to be an effective leader, I have to start by being a great follower.

After noodling on this idea for a few years, I began working with my friend Michael Brown to develop some training around the concept of “followship.” Michael and I worked together at a training and development company, and he’s now a part-time pastor of a church and a part-time coach/consultant in the corporate world. In short, he knows his stuff.

followship-logoWe designed “followship” as a self-directed and interactive training program. It’s secular in that we don’t quote Bible verses or share the Gospel, but it’s based (to the best of our abilities) on the truth found only in the Word of God. It’s perhaps best suited as a complement to employee on-boarding programs. We think the younger generation will get the most from it, because it provides some much-needed perspective on the attitude they need as they launch their careers. But, frankly, we all can benefit from learning, as the training puts it, to be “servant leaders serving leaders.”

The product launched this week with a blog we wrote and posted on Michael’s corporate site.  So click to read Three Lessons on Followship. Let us know what you think of the idea. And if you run a team and are interested in learning more about the product, by all means let us know.