1. I would read my Bible more, and I would read it differently.
I am a reader. I have been all my life. For most of my life I have read 4-5 books each week. At times that number has more than doubled; from Louis L’Amour to Jean-François Lyotard, from Doc Savage to Doctor Zhivago. I read because I love to read, and I read because I cannot not read. Reading is essential when you are preaching and teaching 10-12 hours each week if you are going to prepare vibrant and creative messages.
And yet, I have often neglected the most important book of all, a book whose author is God, the book that explains the meaning of life and tells us how to live it — The Bible. Even this week I have spent more time reading Stephen Crane and Aldous Huxley than I have spent searching the Word of God and meditating upon its teaching. Do you know how difficult it is for someone who has been preaching for 36 years to confess to not always making the Bible the priority that it should be?
Why would a mature Christian neglect the Word of God? Ultimately there are only a few possible answers; we do not really think the Bible is important, we do not really think the Bible is interesting, we do not really think the Bible has anything to teach us (that is, we think we already know what it says), we do not really think the Bible is _______ (you fill in the blank).
It I had my life to live over, I would read my Bible more frequently, more studiously, more meditatively, more prayerfully.
2. I would pray more frequently, praise more expressively, and repent more quickly.
The Bible speaks in several different ways about the gift of faith. First of all, saving faith is given to us by God (Ephesians 2:8). Beyond this he lives in and through us to make possible a life of faith (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). But the Bible speaks of the spiritual gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9), a special assurance of the sovereignty of God that is given to individual believers to be exercised in building up the church by constantly pointing to God, his activity, and his goodness in all circumstances.
We tend to take for granted those in whom we place the most confidence, whether a dear and trusted spouse, a faithful employee, or God himself. And thus, for those who are most convinced God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent — for those who trust him most completely there is an ever-present temptation to not bother God with our petty prayers because we know he has every situation under control.
But the Bible is clear in its teaching that prayer changes things. God has given us the wonderful privilege of participating in what he is doing through the medium of prayer. God uses men, God uses means, and God uses the prayers of his people as means to bring about his sovereign will.
But, we don’t just pray to change the world, Paul says that we are to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. Inside the temple the curtain separating God and man has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and yet all too often I have stood in courtyard failing to throw myself at his feet, failing to throw myself into his arms with utterances of praise and thanksgiving, and with cries of “Abba, Father.”
And, with shame I confess my failure to hasten to him with prayers of repentance. I have all too often succumbed to the “strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or the guilt of sin.” (C.S. Lewis) Or, as Ed Litton has said “It is our nature to hide our sins in the dark and foolishly think we’ve dealt with them.”
Oh Lord, if I could live my life again I would resolve no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delights, but to hasten to him, hasten so glad and free.
3. I would adopt a more theocentric theology and praxis earlier in life.
I was twenty-five years old and pastoring my first church when I really came to an understanding that the Bible was not as much about me as it is about God. As I taught through the Gospel According to John, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and the epistles of Peter I went through a huge paradigm shift; man is frail and passes away as a vapor but the Logos is the eternal, self-existent creator of all who gives meaning and purpose to everything, salvation is dependent upon the Savior, the chief end of man is nothing other than glorifying God and enjoying him forever.
Don’t misunderstand me, I had not previously succumbed to the anthropocentric heresies taught by the likes of a Joel Osteen or Myles Munroe. Nevertheless, my focus was on man — man’s need, man’s responsibility, man’s opportunities. When we get the starting point wrong (man rather than God) our theology becomes anthropology, and God become little more than a commodity for consumption.
But, when we focus our attention upon the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, we come to understand ourselves and the world around us and we cry out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6)
If I had my life to live over, I would spend much more of it contemplating the intrinsic eternal perfections of God and less of it engaged in navel gazing.
4. I would change my perspective on the church.
I recently saw a response that a professor sent to one of his students. The student asked, ‘I don’t understand why my grade was so low. How did I do on my research paper?’ The professor responded, ‘Actually, you didn’t turn in a research paper. You submitted a large, awkward, random assemblage of sentences. If fact, the sentences you apparently kidnapped in the dead of night and forced into this violent and arbitrary plan of yours dearly seemed to be placed on the pages against their will. Reading your paper was like watching unfamiliar, uncomfortable people interact at a cocktail party that no one wanted to attend in the first place. You didn’t submit a research paper. You submitted a hostage situation.”
Anyone who has spent time grading student essays gets satisfaction from living vicariously through that response. We sometimes want to say something like that, but refrain for the sake of decorum and a more productive teacher-student relationship.
Upon reflection, I thought of another way in which that response would frequently be apropos — the local church. All too often the church seems to be little more than a large, awkward, random assemblage of people who appear to have been kidnapped and forced against their will to uncomfortably interact with unfamiliar people. The church appears to be more like a hostage situation than the assembly of God’s people.
For too many years I attended church rather than seeking to live as part of the church. When we attend church rather than be the church, we fail to embrace a biblical ecclesiology and our churches become an abomination rather than the bride of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
If I had my life to live over I would more aggressively pursue relationships within the body of Christ that exemplify its true nature, glorify its head, and builds itself up in love.
5. I would hold my family closer.
I read a Tweet from R.C. Sproul, Jr. who recently lost his wife to cancer. He wrote, “I wish I had held her hand more.” That simple sentence said more than would a long treatise.
With the exception of God, there is probably nothing we take more for granted than our families. And, most people reach some point in their lives when they realize what a huge mistake that is and say, “I wish…”
“I wish I would have held her hand more.”
“I wish I would have read more to my young children.”
“I wish I would have looked my children in the eyes when they told me how their day went.”
“I wish I would have played catch with my boys rather than watching TV.”
“I wish, I wish, I wish I …
If I had my life to live over, I would seek to fully appreciate and cherish the special people with whom God chose for me to share life.
6. I would take love more seriously.
The four cardinal virtues of classical antiquity were justice, wisdom, courage, and self-control. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and others spilled much ink discussing these and other virtues such as magnanimity, liberality, and gentleness. To these we add the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
As I consider what it takes to be a good man, and how to raise my children to be virtuous, I inevitably turn to thoughts on these human qualities. However, they are not all equal. Plato argued for the preeminence of Justice, as a virtue functioning in a distributive and mediating capacity for all other virtues.
Similarly, when addressing Christians at Corinth who had serious ethical shortcomings, Paul shares a list of admirable behaviors but then denies their axiological force if they are not practiced out of love. Without love it is just more noisy activity, without love it means nothing, without love I gain nothing, without love I am nothing.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
If I had my life to live over, I would make love primary.
7. I would be more intentional about sharing the gospel with those closest to me and around the world.
In 1985 I was doing street witnessing on the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland. Most Icelandics in the city are fluent in English and love a good discussion so street ministry there will almost always result in some great exchanges. On this occasion however, I ended up engaged in an encounter with a man who was very interested in the gospel message I was sharing, but who understood very little English. The communication gap became so great that he began to weep and broke off the conversation with these words, “Don’t ever forget me.”
I haven’t forgotten him and what he represents. There are so very many people who are open to the gospel, but for one reason or other they are not hearing it.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)
As long as I have breath to share the gospel, doing so must be a priority for me. And, if it is a priority then I should plan it out and make sure it occurs.
If I had my life to live over, I would be a more intentional witness to the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.
8. I would focus more attention on fewer things and finish more of what I started.
I have a problem — I am interested in almost everything. That means that almost everything serves as a distraction. If I am reading one book there are thirty more that seem to be calling out to me. I may start preparing a sermon but find that I have spent two hours collecting quotes on taxidermy. I actually had 220 college credits before getting by baccalaureate because one semester I would be studying Crisis and Change in Southeast Asia and the next pursuing studies in Oceanography.
The short of it is this — I leave behind me a string of unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams.
In Luke 14 Jesus speaks of the economics of discipleship, and in the process places value on completion:
- Saying yes to Jesus means saying no to other things, and other people, who would draw you away from him.
- Don’t start building a tower without resources to complete it.
- Don’t go into battle without first deliberating on your ability to succeed.
If I had my life to live over, I would say “no” more often to the things that are not important, in order to focus my attention, efforts, and resources on those things that should have been priorities.
9. I would be a better listener.
In Proverbs 18:13 we are told that it is shameful to answer before listening. In Proverbs 19:20-29 we are told to listen to advice and accept instruction.
And this applies on both a horizontal and a vertical dimension.
In the Epistle of James, he connects our propensity to hear others and to sympathetically receive others into our life with our capacity to hear God and receive what he says to us.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21)
It is similar to the distinction that we sometimes make between those who respond to outside input and those who react to it.
How many of us have fallen for the lie of postmodernism that our own opinion is to be valued above all else? Even if we theoretically disagree with that premise, is it possible that we are practicing it?
If I had my life to live over, I would seek to become a person who is quick to hear, and slow to speak.
10. I would read better books.
About a year ago I post to Facebook, “If I had my life to live over I would read better books.”
At the time I was looking at my personal library and realizing that if I did nothing but read for the rest of my life I wold never get to some of those books that are “important”, “great”, “essential” — I am running out of time.
One of my friends responded to my post with the comment, “It’s not too late to start.”
His comment is appropriate for all of the items I have listed above, “It’s not too late to start.”
I cannot live my life over. I must live my life forward — so must you. And the advice that Gandolf gave Frodo is appropriate to the task, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”