"He's always had an interest in government," Wood said. "He's been an avid reader of things that were political in nature. He quotes the Federalist Papers as well as he quotes the Bible.
"I think the truth is, he's been heading this way all his life and now he's finally here."
Harrison said Lankford didn't leave Falls Creek because he was tired of the job and needed a new challenge. Harrison believed Lankford when he said he felt called to run for the office.
Lankford, he said, was just following the advice he gave students at Falls Creek, which was to be open to opportunities for which God might call you. Wood said Lankford gave him similar counsel when he was trying to decide whether to pursue his doctoral degree, telling him that it could be a way for him to be more useful to the lives he would later touch.
"His life has to be open to that, too, and I think he feels called to do it, and he feels passionate about it," Harrison said.
Asking the hard questions
Lankford's dad "kind of floated in and out" of Lankford's life, Wood said, but Lankford's mother "is one of the most exceptional people I've ever met."
A librarian for the Dallas school system, she remarried when James was 12 and the family moved from what Wood described as a tough part of Dallas to Garland, where he attended high school before going to University of Texas.
Though he was influenced early in his life by Criswell's sermons at the Dallas megachurch and by his experiences at the small church he started attending when he was in junior high, Lankford said his path to the ministry didn't become clear until he was a teenager and started "asking the hard questions."
What he decided was that he believed in a God you could "know" and that if you could know Him, He could care about your daily life.
"I want to follow you," he prayed to Christ then, "but I don't even know what that means."
In Austin, he began working as a youth pastor, which led to summers organizing Baptist youth gatherings around Texas.
In 1992, he married Cindy, whom he had known since high school. They didn't date then — in fact they went out on double dates, with different mates — but they kept in touch while she was getting her bachelor's and master's degrees at Baylor University.
The couple have two daughters, Hannah, 13, and Jordan, 10.
Lankford's friends say the toughest part of his yearlong campaign has been the time apart from his family.
Harrison, of Piedmont, said he expects Lankford to go to Washington and build coalitions to solve complex problems. The people he represents, he said, "will be pleasantly surprised with what they get."
And Wood said Lankford won't have any trouble representing Jews, Muslims and atheists along with Christians.
Lankford's faith "is a big component of his life and will guide some of the decisions that he makes," Wood said. "But it doesn't define James in toto."Profile: James Lankford