Every once in a while, God will lay a message on my heart to share with my little brother’s in Christ, the guys 16-24 who are in the critical times in life when their actions and behaviors can make or break their future, especially if they are planning a life of ministry.
Recently, as I celebrated my 37th birthday, complete with a bunch of new gray hairs, a few wrinkles and questions of who the old guy in the mirror was and what happened to the 20 year old who use to be there, I started reflecting on my younger days and the things I wish I had known when I was first starting out in adult life and ministry. So I jotted down a few thoughts that I want to share with all of you, but especially all my little brothers in Christ.
What I wish I knew when I was younger:
1. You don’t want your dreams to come true when you're 21.
Why? Why wouldn’t you want your dreams and ambitions to become a reality as soon as possible? The answer is simple: You’re not mature enough to handle it, and you won’t appreciate it like you will when you’re older.
You will take it for granted, most likely get prideful, and end up losing it because you didn’t appreciate it like you will when you are older and have experienced both life’s successes and failures.
2. All the talent in the world is useless if you don’t have a good work ethic.
Talent can only carry you so far in life. Without a good work ethic, all the talent in the world is useless. You need to know what it means to work hard, to do a job to the best of your ability, and to spend time in preparation. All the talent in the world cannot conceal a bad work ethic or being unprepared.
I worked with a young man who was very talented, but he refused to prepare or plan. At first, he could pull off his job without putting in a lot of work. But over time, his lack of a good work ethic started shining through, and his talent was soon overshadowed by the obvious lack of preparation and hard work that should have been done behind the scenes. As a result, he lost his position. He made the fatal mistake of thinking talent is all you need. It isn’t. Hard work, planning, and follow through will carry you further than talent ever could. Talent may get your through college, talent may even open doors for you, but it will never be enough to get you through the days and years of life. So develop a good work ethic.
3. If you are going to do something, do it right.
If I had a dollar for every time my mom said this to me growing up, I’d be a very wealthy man. This was her motto for life. To be honest with you, growing up it wasn’t my motto, and we had many arguments about it. However, over the years, I began to see why she drummed this lesson into my hard head, and I am eternally grateful to her for this lesson.
You see, now I am the one in charge, pushing people to do things and do them well. Recently, I realized that I, too, have adapted this attitude in my life and I expect it from others around me.
Seriously, why go through the effort and work if you’re only going to do a mediocre job? Aim for excellence, and accept nothing less of yourself. You will develop a reputation for excellence and hard work, and people will respect you and want to work with again.
4. If you can’t function as part of a team you can’t function in God’s kingdom.
The last thing that God or anyone else needs is another man who looks out for himself first, often at the expense of others. It is frustrating, annoying, and eventually, detrimental to the team.
I once worked with someone who was unable to function as part of a team. EVERY action, decision, or choice this person made was based on what was best for him or what advanced him the most, leaving the rest of the team feeling frustrated, angry, and annoyed.
Life, especially life in ministry, needs to revolve around working together and helping others. We should work as a team doing whatever is necessary to advance God’s kingdom.
If you see something needs done, then do it. Don’t stand around saying it isn’t your responsibility or job, just do what needs to be done. Remember, Jesus could have told any of the other disciples to get the bucket and wash everyone’s feet, but He didn’t. Instead, He grabbed a towel, and did what needed to be done.
Just remember, if you set yourself up in a “me against the team” attitude, you will quickly find yourself all alone as your team leaves you behind. But if you are a team player who works well with others, you will be an unstoppable force in God’s kingdom.
5. You don’t want to be a flash in the pan…you want to run a marathon, not a sprint.
Life, especially in ministry, is a marathon. This sentiment was recently spoken by one of our speakers at a recent Mantour Conference, and he was right. Too many approach it like a sprint. They want instant success, huge numbers, and lots of followers. They measure success in the number of Facebook or Twitter followers they have or how big their Sunday morning service is. Often, they do anything to achieve this success, even watering down the message. However, many people with this attitude soon fizzle out as they produce weak Christians. Why? Because they didn’t approach their ministry like it was a marathon and strive for slow, steady progress. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
6. Don’t put God in a box
This is one of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me, so I wanted to pass it on. Often, we look at our Almighty, All-powerful God through human eyes and expect Him to work in ways we can see or comprehend. However, we can’t put God in a box. I have learned that God rarely does things the way we think, expect or can understand. Instead, He will move, and we are left looking in awe and amazement at what He has accomplished. We can’t put God in a box, instead we need to follow Him wherever He leads, however He leads.
7. Don’t pray small.
This is another golden nugget I learned from others.
The first time I ever heard this phrase was while reading a book by Franklin Graham. We often pray in human frame of mind, and we pray small. It is time we learn to pray big. If we aren’t afraid that if someone else read our prayer journal that they would put us in a straightjacket we are praying small. Pray big, pray crazy, pray so boldly that it leaves yourselves and others shaking their heads in disbelief at how bold you are. Our prayers often underestimate and undervalue the true power of God. So pray big!
8. Embrace Correction
Let’s face it; no one likes to be corrected. Our pride gets wounded. However, we need to see correction as a blessing, not a rebuke. Correction is just people who have been where you are before trying to spare you what they have been through.
I have been blessed to have two men in my life who have taken an interest in me and are helping me become the best man I can possibly be. One of these men is VERY encouraging, always building me up and making me feel like I can do anything. The other man tends to be ALOT harder on me, telling me things that could be changed or made better. Now, he never does it with a negative attitude, he is not the type to always dwell on the bad. But I know if I do 9 things right and 1 wrong, the only thing he will mention to me is the one wrong thing and tell me how to do it right next time.
Now I will be honest with you, for a long time, I tended to lean towards the first guy more. Praise is my love language. Because of my abusive background, I looked at the 2nd mentor through unhealthy eyes. I thought he HATED me. However, I began to realize that he actually loved me and respected me and wanted me to become the best I could be, and I began to appreciate his advise and correction. Now I not only accept it, but I seek it out from him.
As you grow older, you realize that we all need both types of men in our lives. We need a friend to polish us and shine us up with praise and encouragement, but we also need a friend who will take a smoothing stone to our sharp points. I have come to love and appreciate both men’s influence in my life, and I embrace the correction instead of running from it. I encourage you to do the same…embrace correction.
9. Fads come and go—don’t invest everything you have in fads or things that will fade away.
How often do we see this in the church? God works in a unique way in one place, and everyone scrambles to do it exactly the same way. Hollywood puts out a semi-Christian movie, and we show it on a Sunday night. WWJD bracelets, purity rings, the list goes on and on.
Now, THESE ARE NOT BAD THINGS!!! I am not picking on them or saying they are not legit. What I am saying is not everything works in every place, and not every idea is a good idea universally. You need to pursue God, His kingdom, and His Word, not the latest fad in the land.
10. Embrace Change
“Wait, I thought you just said to avoid fads. Now you’re saying embrace the new and change?”
Yup, that is exactly what I am saying. While we can’t always invest everything we have into the latest fad, we also can’t fall into the rut of “This is how we always did it”. I have seen this attitude cripple and destroy many a minister and ministry. Change is good. Change is healthy. Change shows growth. It gives a new perspective to a classic situation. We cannot run from change, we must embrace it.
11. Deal with your past so it doesn’t constantly get in the way of your future.
There is an old song by John Schlitt of Petra that says, “You can’t go forward if you keep looking back, how you can think about the future if you’re haunted by your past.” This lyric is SO true. We cannot let our past and past failure dictate our future success.
I know from personal experience that you have no future until you deal with your past. For instance, go back to point 8…until I stopped looking at my mentor who corrected me through the eyes of my abusive past, I was unable to accept his correction, learn and grow. The only way to do this was to deal with the past and the abuse and forgive. We can’t drag garbage bags of crap around from our past everywhere we go. We need to face it and deal with it.
12. Learn to laugh at yourself and life
When I was younger, I was unable to laugh at myself. If I get embarrassed or did something dumb, I would crawl inside myself. If someone else laughed at me, I was done with them in my life. However, this just led to a miserable, lonely life.
Over the years, I have learned the power of not taking myself seriously at all. I have learned to just laugh when I mess up. I have learned to enjoy the awkward moments in life. I have made this my motto for living: “I take my ministry and service to God deadly serious, but myself, not so much.”
I have realized that nothing diffuses a situation faster than laughter. I realize that people will take you a lot more seriously and respect you a whole lot more when you don’t take yourself so seriously and can laugh at yourself. Why? Because it shows your human, it makes you relatable. So learn to laugh at yourself and life.
13. Surround yourself with people who will stretch your character, not your career.
This is a HUGE lesson. Many young men and young ministers look to climb on the backs of other people’s success. They look for relationships who will advance their career and take them to what they see as the next level. I would encourage my brothers in Christ to avoid doing this. Instead, surround yourself with people who will stretch your character, not your career.
What you are is way more important than where you are going. Success without character is doomed to fail, but character lasts forever. So choose to surround yourself with people who exhibit the character traits you want to develop, not people who hold the positions you strive to achieve.
14. There is never a reason to tell a lie, speak only the truth all the time
I will never forget the first time someone spoke those words to me. Of all people, it was a garage door salesman who came to give us a bid for a garage door. I don’t even remember why he said it, but his words still ring true in my ears. He said, “I have learned one thing over the years. It never pays to tell a lie. You make sure to remember and never forget: there is never any benefit to telling a lie to someone. Always tell the truth.”
I try and always life my life by this standard. There is really no reason to ever not speak the truth. Lies always come to light, and as a result, character is destroyed and trust is lost. There have been times where I have spoken the truth to someone and they didn’t believe me, choosing to instead believe their false misconceptions about me. However, I was always able to walk away from the situation with a clear conscience knowing I had not compromised the truth. Why? Because I learned from an old garage door salesmen that it never pays to lie.
15. Remember, the higher up the ladder a monkey climbs, the more it shows its butt.
While being quite colorful (trust me, this is a cleaned up version of the saying), this statement is so true. The more successful you are in life, the more people will see your flaws and weaknesses. How much they see depends on how much you work on your own life and deal with weaknesses. The more weaknesses you have, the more they can see.
These are just a few thoughts I had as I looked over my life heading into another year of life. While I know I have a million more lessons to learn, I also wish someone had shared these lessons to me when I was a younger man. So I wanted to share them with my younger brothers in Christ so they can learn the easy way what I had to learn the hard way. That way, when they are 37 and pulling out gray nose hairs infront of the mirror, they will reflect on a deeper level of lessons to share with the next generation. Men helping men, a guided tour of manhood, a Mantour.