“I feel sorry for anybody who’s trying to make a mark and doesn’t know the Lord [Jesus]…Who is changing lives today? Is Buddha? No. Is Krishna? No. Is Mohammed? No. I’m talking about transforming lives to give them joy.”
John Edmund Haggai
The founder and chairman of Haggai Institute for Advanced Leadership is truly a Christian world statesman. In more than 70 years of public service, he has pastored four churches, held evangelistic campaigns around the world and has established an advanced leadership program with over 93,500 alumni in 186 countries. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Furman University, Dr. Haggai has also received honorary doctorates on both sides of the Pacific. In spite of an intensive travel schedule — including more than 100 round-the-world trips and scores of intercontinental trips — he is a prolific author. His first book, How to Win Over Worry, has sold millions of copies in 19 languages.
Unfortunately, our world is surrounded by hopelessness. Could you briefly share with us an event in your life when you lost all hope and maybe even doubted if God was able to help? What did you learn from this experience?
Well, I’ll sound like a goody-two-shoes, but I really can’t remember a time in my life when I was without hope. I did have an experience when I was in Chicago as a student. I was born into a Christian family. I wondered what I’d be if I had been born in a Buddhist family or a Hindu family or an atheist family, so I started studying, and it didn’t take me long. I went to the Newberry Library in Chicago and started doing some studying when I was a student at Moody. I didn’t tell anybody, but it didn’t take a week for me to find out that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a pivotal point, and that settled it for me. No other religion has anything like that. Buddha is dead, Krishna is dead; they’re all dead. Jesus is alive! And He’s still changing lives. They’re not changing lives. So that was the only time. It lasted maybe a week.
How can leaders revitalize a God-given vision when they have probably been praying for a long time and the vision seems not to be becoming real?
I’ve always taken very serious steps. First of all, write out the vision in detail. The Lord told Habakkuk, “Write the vision and make it plain” (Habbakuk 2:2).
Write it in detail. I find that for most people, it’s not a vision, it’s a wish, and it’s amorphous. It’s not detailed.
What is the vision? Why do you think it honors the Lord? Write that out.
Why would anybody be opposed to it? Write that out. And how will you deal with those who are in opposition to it? Write that out.
I’m a strong believer in writing. A French philosopher said, “How do I know what I think until I read what I wrote?” So writing clarifies your thinking. Francis Bacon said, “Writing makes an exact man.” So, write it out.
And then, what steps are you going to take? If you drive from here [Atlanta] to New York City, you’re not going to do it in one hour. You’re not going to say, “That’s a fine looking road, I think I’ll go that way.” No. What are the steps, the action steps?
Write specific goals with rock-solid action steps.
For me to do what we did here as a ministry, everybody was opposed to it, because nobody had ever done it. Nobody had ever done this. My denomination was opposed to it. Some of the most famous evangelists were opposed to it — good men, godly men. The head of the National Association of Evangelicals (he’s now with the Lord, a dear friend of my family, a fellow pastor of my father in Massachusetts) went around the world saying, “Young Haggai is setting missions back 50 years.”
So don’t be arrogant, but don’t be timid — and smile.
What I would do was say, “Do you understand what the vision is? Tell me. Tell me what it is.” Well, they couldn’t do it. I’d say, “How can you be opposed to something you don’t even understand?”
And then you have to go over it every single day.
I can show how I have everything written out, and I go over it. You have to go over it repeatedly. If a man marries a woman and never tells her he loves her, their marriage is in trouble after a short period of time. The guy says, “You know I love you.” No, he’s supposed to tell her that.
So on this vision matter, if it seems that it’s not working, what steps have you taken? If you have a vision to build a great congregation and you don’t even have a church, well what steps have you taken? Why don’t you get some folks into a Bible study? Dr. Johnny Hunt started with just a handful of people and now he has 7,000, but that didn’t just happen. He had a vision, but he put legs to the vision.
So you’ve got to take action every day, and if a person’s taking action every day, he won’t get discouraged. That’s my view. Of course, I have no time for discouragement. Discourage means absence of courage, “dis-courage.” I have two secretaries working for me for years who came to me and asked, “Are you ever down?” I said, “Have you ever seen me down?” They said, “No.” I said, “Down is for losers.” Of course, I’m not down. Why should I be down? God is my Father. The Lord Jesus is my Savior, the Holy Spirit is my abiding Comforter, Heaven is my home. Why should I be down? It doesn’t even make sense. So that is the way I move ahead. If a vision’s not coming about, my thought is what are you doing to bring it about?
Haggai Institute is celebrating 45 years of ministry, training leaders from all over the world and you yourself are celebrating 90 years of age. Although it might be almost impossible, can you summarize or define all these years? What has been your greatest satisfaction as the founder of this ministry?
Well, the greatest satisfaction has been for the people who have been through the training to go back and have such an amazing response. For instance, one of our alumni is Eddie Villanueva in Manila. He has preached to as many as a million people on a weekend. Well, that is satisfaction. We’ve had some who’ve founded hospitals, some who’ve started churches — all that is satisfaction.
I don’t know if I can pinpoint one particular one. Every time I go overseas and see what they’re doing, it’s so far bigger than anything I’d ever dreamed. I could not have imagined it. I think that’s the biggest satisfaction, seeing what they’re accomplishing.
You just mentioned one or two examples, but could you think of a person doing the work the Lord has been allowing that person to do who has really touched your heart, that has even made you weep because of the transformation that is coming to any nation or any land?
I don’t know that I can point to one. My emotions run deep. I wish I could weep. I don’t weep outwardly; I weep inwardly. Of course, what’s going on in China — we have alumni in every province, including Tibet. Now that really moves me. Some of them have huge churches, much larger than many of the churches that we have here.
Or what’s going on in Indonesia. I just had an e-mail. Money is always a challenge since you have to be very quiet. The reason we have to be quiet is that it could endanger some of our alumni in the terrorist nations where there are suicide bombers and everything else, and so we keep quiet for their sake. Well, to raise millions of dollars for a secret is pretty much a challenge, but I got an e-mail recently from a man in Indonesia and he said, “In honor of your 90th birthday, I’m sending you US$500,000.” Well, that brought tears to my heart. Why the Lord touched him at this time, I don’t know.
Most probably, some readers of the Towards Excellence Blog who are not necessarily committed to the Christian faith will be reading this interview. What would you like to say to them? What do they need in order to live life to the full, to live a truly successful life?
The question is, “What components of your life today that you have carried out for whatever years the Lord gives you — 20, 30, 40, 50 — will make you happy at the end?” And you can say, “Well, that was something I’m very grateful for. I’m glad that my children are going to be the beneficiaries of this.” If you can’t point to something like that, there’s something radically wrong.
Have you ever heard of “Pascal’s Wager”? Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher, said either there’s a God or there isn’t. If you assume that there is not a God, then of course, you have no hope at all. If you assume there is a God, you have everything to gain, and even if there isn’t, you’ve not lost anything. That’s roughly stated. Anybody can Google “Pascal’s Wager.” It’s really quite good.
I feel sorry for anybody who’s trying to make a mark and doesn’t know the Lord. I’m not talking about being a Baptist or a Presbyterian or a particular denomination. I’m talking about a personal relationship with Jesus, the Person. How anyone can study His life and deny that He was different than any other leader, I do not know.
Who is changing lives today? Is Buddha? No. Is Krishna? No. Is Mohammed? No. I’m talking about transforming lives to give them joy. A lot of these folks are very vigorous or they’ll take vigorous action, but they don’t give evidence of having really great joy in their families.
So I would say to just study, read up on this and find out why some of the great leaders found it entirely consistent to be children of God. Ask why John D. Rockefeller was a child of God. Ask why Dr. Howard Kelly of Johns Hopkins found it consistent to be a scientist, medical doctor and a follower of Jesus Christ. Ask why Dr. William Lyon Phelps of Yale said if he had to choose between a college education and a knowledge of the Bible, he would say a knowledge of the Bible. Why did he say that? And then come to your own conclusions.
What has made you happy then?
The knowledge that I am His and that I have all the resources I need for whatever comes. We had a son who was brutalized by a drunken doctor. The veteran nurse supervisor said, “I’ll put my 23 years on the line and testify, if you want to sue him.”
I said, “No, I’m not litigious. Why do I want to sue him? I’m sure he’s shaken.” It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I’ll tell you why. There were six repetitions of that, and he finally murdered his wife, murdered the doctor who was taking action to bar him from practice and then he committed suicide. All of that would have been spared if I had taken action, but I don’t believe in sawing sawdust or crying over spilt milk. God knows my heart and that was it.
To see Johnny spastic — he could not walk or talk, but he had a brilliant mind… Dr. Eugene Spitz of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School said he had no doubt that if he could speak and we gave him a normal IQ test, he would have an IQ over 170. But you just say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” And all these things will be taken care of when we get to Glory.
(*) “I thoroughly believe in a university education for both men and women; but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible.”
William Lyon Phelps
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