Tomorrow I turn 40. Lord willing, I’m about halfway done with this marathon we call life.
God has been so gracious to me. I have a godly wife who makes me laugh every day and two teenage children who grow daily in faith and wisdom. 25 and 27 years from now Camille and Soren will celebrate their 40th birthdays. This post is for them: it’s the hard-earned wisdom that I’ve accumulated over my years that I hope they can learn from. I hope it blesses you as well.
Here are the top ten truths I’ve learned in my 40 years:
1) Seek wisdom
There is no end to foolishness in this world. Wisdom is a rare commodity. Run hard after it. Look to those whose character you admire. Listen to what they say and read what they write. When I was a kid, I was a sponge for sports trivia. I got a jolt in being able to know something someone else didn’t. In college I caught the bug for philosophical and theological knowledge. It took me until my later twenties and thirties to develop a stronger thirst for wisdom than knowledge. Accumulated wisdom is like the water of a river, it will smooth and shape the stones in its bed over time.
Let the wise hear and increase in learning…
2) Don’t go into debt
I wish I could have gone back to my 21 year-old self and admonished him not to spend the money on that new couch, on that car alarm, on eating out, on that apartment upgrade. Debt is a snare that will not be content with your foot. It wants your leg, and then your legs, and then your hips, and then your whole body. Don’t let it be your master.
[T]he borrower is the slave of the lender.
3) Choose your friends well
Your friends, especially in your teens and twenties, will imprint themselves on you. Choose well. One of the most important decisions I made was switching my primary friend group when I moved from middle school to high school. The things that high schoolers and college students can value—clothing, beauty, musical tastes—these will all fade. Choose wise friends. Choose friends who respect you. Choose friends who push you to Christ. Choose friends who make you laugh in the way you should laugh.
Do not be misled: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Cor. 15:33
4) Don’t be afraid of failure
I was going to be a professional baseball player. I went out for the freshmen baseball team and was cut. I probably wouldn’t have stepped into a leadership role with Fellowship of Christian Athletes if I hadn’t been cut, which set my course for pastoral ministry. I sent out about fifty resumes to churches in Arizona my senior year of seminary and didn’t have one serious offer. I started my own consulting business about five years ago and had (count ‘em) one paying client. I got turned down from what I thought was my dream pastoral job when I had unanimous support from the elders and pastors and was the only candidate presented to the search team. Every one of those failures (and hundreds more!) have shaped me, and have built character, perseverance, and humility. I wouldn’t trade any of them.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.
5) Don’t measure yourself by others
I’ve watched as friends and acquaintances wrote their first book, got published by Christianity Today and other major publications, stepped into senior pastor roles before they turned 30, and pastored churches with attendance in the thousands. Each success of these men and women is a danger to my soul. Christ has called me to under-shepherd a particular people, and to steward a particular set of gifts and opportunities. I will be judged by my faithfulness to what God has called me to, and I need to trust his purpose of that calling. He has given you a particular set of gifts and opportunities. Be faithful to his calling on your life, not someone else’s.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?… If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
You’re going to be hurt. You’re going to be betrayed. Don’t harbor unforgiveness which turns into bitterness in your heart. It is deadly. As a pastor, I have a far greater opportunity to sin against others and I have a far greater opportunity to be sinned against. When forgiveness is not a daily discipline for me, darkness takes hold of my heart. Forgive daily; forgive because Christ forgave you.
[L]ove covers all offenses
7) Choose your habits well
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can slide into habits? When I look at areas of my life that I need to grow in, it is a reflection of habits that have not been cultivated. There are seasons that I allowed poor habits of not setting boundaries to lead to not protecting time with Angel and you. There are seasons that my eating and fitness habits have led to a poor stewardship of my body. On the flipside, the best parts of my character have emerged from my healthy habits. I have developed wisdom because of habits of learning that have been weaved into my life for years. Choose your habits well and cultivate them purposefully.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.
8) Choose your spouse well
I remember when I was ten years old and just starting to be aware of this fascinating species called “girls.” I remember telling myself that I wanted to marry a tall girl so that our kids could play professional basketball. Later, I remember thinking that it would be great to marry a girl whose family had money. And of course once the hormones kicked in, it sure is hard not to have beauty rocket right to the top of that list. God was so merciful to me. I married a woman who has proven to grow in godliness and grace. If God has called you to marry (and if he has called you to singleness, that is a tremendous blessing to steward!), choose a spouse who loves Jesus more than you. Choose a spouse who is devoted to the church. Choose a spouse who is wise and generous. Oh, and definitely choose a spouse who makes you laugh. Beauty will fade, but godliness and a sense of humor never will fade.
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
9) Cultivate spiritual disciplines
I remember in college my roommate (who is now your uncle!) and I went through several seasons of video-game addiction. There was that old-school baseball game we poured hours into, there was 007, and there was Grand Theft Auto. The statistics of time that is poured into video games, television, and social media is jaw dropping. The recent numbers suggest that the average American spends over four hours a day watching TV and another three plus hours on their phone/tablet.[i] There is nothing inherently evil about any of these diversions, but build your life around spiritual disciplines, not ephemeral diversions. Fill your mind and heart with the very words of God, the Bible. Develop a rich prayer life. Learn to fast. Give generously. Commit yourself to Christ’s bride, the church, and serve her.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge…
10) Give up your life that you might find it
The life that matters is cruciform: shaped by the cross of Christ. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”[ii] There has never been a moment when I’ve walked the hard road of the cross that I’ve regretted. The moments that have led to profound regret are moments of selfishness: they are moments when I have dropped the cross of Christ. Don’t fear the greatest sacrifices of your life. Lean into them with expectation for what Christ has for you on the other side. Live with courage and hope.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
That’s the best I have to offer, kids. And it’s not mine to begin with: it’s his. I pray I learn these truths even deeper in these next forty years and I look forward to learning from you along the way. May Christ shape you in his image and lead you in the paths of life and righteousness that your life might be used for his glory.
As you listen along, I want to learn from you: what wisdom has Christ taught you in your years on this earth?
[ii] Matthew 16:24