I wanted to imagine that 50 year old me could go back in time and have a coffee with 25 year old me. What would I say to myself? (And would younger me take the advice?). Here are the 10 things I think I would say to myself. Admittedly, this does expose the sins I have been seeking to deal with over the years.
1. Trust God and his word over what people are doing and saying
At the moment you (25 year old me) have the temptation to follow what people are doing, either in what they are saying books or the latest idea on the net or just as you talk about ministry from the people around you. There are some good ideas there, but at the end of the day trends don’t save people, God does. You know his Word, trust it. Don’t go after the trend, don’t look for the silver bullet (there isn’t one). God’s ways really can be trusted
2. Watch what God is doing and don’t miss it
Connected with this, you need to take time to see what God is doing. Sure, there is what you think he is doing and even, what you think he should be doing but stop and look at what he is doing. By this I mean watch for the people that he has put in front if you, sometimes the strategic person is not the best person. Character can take some time to be shown. Sometimes the opportunity you want is not the best one, the one in front of you is.
3. Don’t neglect your ministry of prayer
You have been employed to “the ministry of the Word and prayer” (Acts 6:4). You have been trained well in the Word, but don’t forget that prayer is part of your ministry. It will feel like you are doing nothing, but that is what the devil wants you to feel. So do it. Even the pope commits an hour of his day to prayer, how much more you! And get organised in it, you are organised in your Word ministry, get organised in your prayer ministry.
4. God will give you what you need and not what you want
You will spend a lot of time in sleeplessness nights trying to work out if you can make it through the next month, either emotionally or financially. You will spend some time thinking whether ministry is for you if you cannot make it through that month. Firstly, ministry does not define you, the cross does. So if you don’t make it, that’s OK. Secondly, God will get you through it, go to him in prayer.
5. Protect your wife and your family
Do not take your wife and kids for granted. They are awesome and it would be easy to do so. But remember that they are also people who are sinful and Satan himself would like to divide your family. You need to pray for them and look to the Spirit to change and protect them. This needs to be a priority for you.
6. People will respect character in the long term
If you are doing your job right, from time to time you will be attacked. At this point your character needs to shine through. At first people will not see it or understand it, but don’t bow to their level. If something needs to be said, say it to them. If need to turn the other cheek, do it. If you need to forgive someone, forgive. You would think people will see this and understand. But at first they won’t so don’t expect them to. However, they will come around.
7. It is loving to be clear, even if people don’t like it
At the moment you think there is a dichotomy between being loving and being truthful. There isn’t, and when you stop to think about it, you know this. To be clear is to be loving. There might be some short term gains from being unclear and warm and trying to keep everyone happy, but it is selfish. Yes, people may have their toes trodden on. But they will love you more for it so take the hit, make the decision and wait.
Well, some will and others will never be happy with you, so live with it.
8. Evangelism is something you will grow to love
I know at the moment, evangelism intimidates you, but you will grow to love it. There are two things you will need to do to get there. Firstly, throw yourself in front of the bus and take the opportunities to preach the gospel: take the invitations to speak, go door knocking when asked, pray for people when you can. Secondly, preach the gospel to yourself every day. The more you hear the gospel, the more you will know how important it is to make it known.
9. Be who God made you to be
You won’t preach like everyone else, you won’t lead like everyone else, you won’t parent like everyone else. But lean into your strengths, the ones that God has given you and don’t try and be like anyone else. People will ask you why don’t you…? Learn from those you can learn from, but do it the way God made you.
10. You don’t really matter
I know that one of the reasons that you went into ministry was to make a name for yourself. (You don’t tell people this, but remember I actually know you!). You will preach in some extraordinary places around the country and even overseas. But it doesn’t matter. Any name you make, any success you see will be short lived. What really matters is what God sees in you. And what matters to him, is not what everyone else sees: it’s spending time with the person that annoys you, unpacking the dishwasher, it’s thanking God for the other people’s successes you would have loved, because it is not about you, it is about the Kingdom of God.