― Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections
― Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections
The scene is indelibly etched in my memory. I was 19 years old. My family was on a mission trip in Haiti—my parents’ (and my) favorite type of family “vacation.” We were worshiping in a small Haitian church, sitting on hard wood benches. In the middle of the service, my dad leaned over to me and whispered, “Honey, what are your 50-year goals?”
Now, I’ll confess I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my 50-year goals, prior to that moment. But over the next weeks, I set out to respond to his question. Of course, I didn’t know things like whether I would be married or single or what my specific ministry path would look like. But I tried to record what I wanted to be true of my life in 50 years—by the time I was 69—if the Lord was pleased to give me that many years.
Periodically I’ve gone back and reviewed the document that resulted from that exercise more than 35 years ago. It has proved to be a valuable reminder to be intentional, stay the course, and focus on the things that matter most.
While I would no doubt craft these goals a bit differently today, these are the same basic categories that I still believe are important. Even this week, in re-reading this list, I’ve been challenged to recalibrate my thinking in one particular area.
As a teen sitting in that Haitian church, 50 years seemed like an eternity away. I could not have imagined how quickly those years would pass—or how easy it would be to fritter away days, months, years—a lifetime.
Today, with less than 15 years left till I turn 69, I wish I were a whole lot further along toward these goals. I haven’t even come close to attaining all of them. But I’m confident I have grown more in these areas than I might have if it hadn’t been for my dad’s question. So for challenging me to this exercise—and for so much more—thank you, Dad!
I believe there is value in doing this kind of thinking at various points in life. And not only for yourself . . . don’t underestimate the potential impact of encouraging your children, grandchildren, and young friends to think through these kinds of big-picture questions.
Less than two years after I wrote these goals, on the weekend of my 21st birthday, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. I’m so thankful for his efforts to encourage me to live a purposeful life to the glory of God. And that he didn’t think the teen years were too young to challenge me to seek and embrace God’s vision for my future.
1st Priority: To love God with all my heart, soul, mind, body.
2nd Priority: To love God’s people (encouraging, affirming, exhorting)—building them into committed reproducers.
3rd Priority: To love God’s work in the world (i.e., evangelism)—to build disciples (committed reproducers) in every nation.
P.S. All these commitments: to death (i.e., no retirement!)
John Fletcher of Madeley, England (1729-85) was an early Wesleyan pastor who used the following 12 questions to challenge his congregation to apply God’s Word to their lives. More than 225 years later, they remain a exercise for us to gauge our spiritual effectiveness. Consider reading these questions on a regular basis and answering them with the utmost honesty.
1. Did I awake spiritual, and was I watchful in keeping my mind from wandering this morning when I was rising?
2. Have I this day got nearer to God in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy, idle spirit?
3. Has my faith been weakened by unwatchfulness, or quickened by diligence this day?
4. Have I this day walked by faith and eyed God in all things?
5. Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts; have I delighted in seeing others preferred before me?
6. Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I had light, strength and opportunity?
7. Have I kept the issues of my heart in the means of grace, so as to profit by them?
8. What have I done this day for the souls and bodies of God’s dear saints?
9. Have I laid out anything to please myself when I might have saved the money for the cause of God?
10. Have I governed well my tongue this day, remembering that in a multitude of words there wanteth not sin?
11. In how many instances have I denied myself this day?
12. Do my life and conversation adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?
About that time Herod the kind laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. Acts 12:1-5
Our prayer is often dull because there is so little earnestness in it. We pray as if no one is listening. We pray as if nothing will happen. We pray as if nothing were at stake. We pray without vim or vigor, without passion, without purpose. We pray to pass the time not to pull down blessings from heaven.
How often do we gather together with God’s people for the purpose of prayer?
If we are not often gathered for earnest prayer, we must consider why not. Is it because we do not have great needs in this body? Is it because we do not have fears and sins that beset us? Is it because there is no opposition in the world which threatens to snare us or no devil on the prowl who seeks to destroy? Is it because we are sure of ourselves and so self-reliant that we need no divine assistance? Or is it because we consider help from God to be so negligible that it is not worth our time to ask for it? Do we not think God listens when we pray? Do we not think he cares? Do we not think he is more than able to give us grace to help in our time of need?
What is the reason we have this apathy for prayer? Do we not see the critical importance of prayer? Have we forgotten what a privilege we have in prayer? Have we no confidence in the power of prayer? Do we take the example of the early church to be unreachable and impractical? Have we no sense for the blessings that await us in prayer and through prayer? Have we lost sight of the great glory God receives when his people pray? Who knows what new victories we would experience, what divine favor would be ours, what surprising providences we would enjoy if earnest prayer were made to God by the church?
God stands ready to hear us. He is eager to help us. His ways are not always our ways, but his love never fails and his mercies are new every morning. He who is omniscient delights to know our requests. He who is omnipotent acts when we call upon him. He who is omnipresent will never be nearer to us than when we pray.
We must pray, but more than that: we can pray. And God will listen. Why would we not gather often with the body of Christ for earnest prayer?
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
from: Kevin DeYoung