Stephen Covey changed my life. I never met him. Yet I know he changed a lot more lives than mine before his unexpected death this week.
But I suspect he would be the first to agree — it wasn’t really Stephen Covey who changed anything.
It was wisdom.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. (Prov. 4:7 ESV)
Where does wisdom come from?
I trust most readers in this evangelical Christian audience would agree with Scripture (wisdom literature, as Covey often called it). God is the giver of all wisdom. (James 1:5) As best I can tell from quite a distance, Stephen Covey was not a Christian as evangelicals would define it. But if God is the source and giver of all wisdom, should it matter to us as evangelical Christians how wisdom comes as long as it lines up with the Word of God?
Stephen Covey’s collaborative effort First Things First is one of the top five books that have shaped my personal life. Ironically, I bought it for a quarter at a library book sale. It was the best investment I’ve ever made. In it Steven taught me the wisdom of fashioning a personal mission statement. It captured succinctly with practical words and examples so much of the wisdom that had swarmed around me for decades. Among other things, it showed me the power of using the right words to communicate essential life truths. I’ve returned to it often to find my “true north.”
Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families would also make my top five list as it has shaped my family with its practical wisdom. It inspired my wife and I to take a retreat to put our family mission into words. It equipped us to make family meetings part of our family culture and motivated us to cultivate family traditions — such as our frequent trips to Disney World and family nights. As an added bonus, his candid stories of his own failures and successes as a father gave me hope.
Stephen’s son Sean Covey followed up by putting the 7 Habits into the language of children with The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. Now our kids can and do recite them — even the five-year-old. Even this morning, he asked for clarification on Habit 1 (the kids version ): “You’re in charge of you.”
I’ve taught the Habits and associated life principles many times, often without using those words explicitly. Wisdom rubs off after you hang out with it long enough. I’ve counseled countless families, parents, teens, and children applying these simple principles and more:
- The freedom that comes Covey’s explanation of the circle of concern vs. the circle of influence
- The clarification I get from his “big rocks” language that has become a shorthand tool for my life choices
- The intelligent manner in which he spoke of the role of faith in life without apologizing or sounding as if he were preaching
- The four-quadrants — my personal favorite:
Each time I’ve applied these lessons when counseling, listeners express gratitude for the keen insight.
But it’s not me. It’s not Stephen Covey. It’s wisdom.
Should Christian’s welcome wisdom from non-Christians?
So I return to my earlier question: does the source of wisdom matter? One time after applying these habits in a session with a group of Christian professionals, someone privately raised a concern. It was this: “Shouldn’t we be focusing more on Biblical teaching than the wisdom of men (such as Stephen Covey)?” Of course, there is wisdom at the core of that concern. God’s word should always be the standard we use to evaluate all alleged wisdom. Even our own. I believe I responded by saying essentially, “All truth is God’s truth.”
What concerned me was that it seemed to signal a disconnect between the secular and sacred, as if some wisdom was valid and some not based on who brought it to our attention. It troubled me for a while as I did some soul-searching after the criticism. Should the messenger matter?
As hew was, by all accounts, a practicing Mormon, I doubt that I agreed with Stephen Covey about the details of salvation or even on a bigger concern — the divine nature of Christ. I don’t know this for certain. I’ve found that upon talking to people who belong to different churches or denominations, we find we agree on more than our official groups do. Maybe that would have been the case with Stephen Covey. I hope so.
I found his teaching to be more insightful and consistent with Scripture than many evangelical pastors and teachers I’ve known. Follow my series here about the Biblical foundations for the 7 Habits if you’re interested.
I concluded that if what Stephen Covey said was, in fact, consistent with biblical wisdom, I would be wise to listen.
So I did. And am grateful for it.
Paying my respects
My friend Hugh Hewitt reminds me to “know whom you owe.” I owe Stephen Covey a debt I can never fully repay except by living a life saturated with divine wisdom.
As his family and friends take time to celebrate his legacy in the coming days, I hope that through the tears and remembrances they will somehow know that Stephen Covey’s legacy of wisdom changed my life. And will continue to change more lives through me by the grace of God — the giver of all wisdom.
And that, when you think about it, is what leaving a legacy is all about.
If the feeble words of one Christian dad matter, “Well done, Stephen Covey!”
I’ll miss you.
Follow my series on the Biblical foundation for the 7 Habits here.
How did Stephen Covey’s legacy of wisdom touch your own life? Share a story or your favorite wisdom from his teaching with a comment here to celebrate his legacy.