As I just celebrated my 64th birthday last week (and thank you for the birthday greetings I received from many of you), I reflected on what were some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the nearly 6 ½ decades of life. Some of them are changes to how I used to think. Others are principles that have grown and deepened over the years. Though these things are strong in my soul, I found them particularly difficult to articulate in words. So, my apologies if they sound confusing or trite or not well-put. And I welcome your help and input (as well as questions and pushback) as I try to express these life lessons on the page.
I brainstormed a big list of 10-15 things, but I narrowed it down to just three things I want to share with you today (did I hear a collective sigh of relief out there?) I’m not sure if they’re the top three, but I can say they have been important to me and vital to steering my life; especially over this “second half.” And I hope they are lessons that resonate and, perhaps, slightly convict you (as they have me) as we consider our journey in following Jesus:
1. Jesus is more concerned about me becoming loving than being right.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way many, many times. Wanting to “be right” always feels good initially, but it deteriorates rapidly into alienating others, becoming judgmental (and, oh, how sitting on that “high horse” really massages my fragile ego!) and closing off my soul from life. And it’s so easy to justify being right (to steer the “wayward” in going the right direction), but often in my case it’s all about having the upper hand and being in control.
I do want to say that I strongly believe that truth is very important. But there is a big difference between being truthful and pursuing truth versus wanting to be right all the time. A lot of it has to do with motive and patience: why do I really want to show someone the “correct” way? And why do I really feel the urgency to show it, say it or prove it right now?
And I also find that when I choose the path of love over the path of wanting to be right, that the truth is revealed in a profound and timely way. Sometimes that truth is revealed to the other person. Many times that truth is revealed to me, that over time I see that my version of being right was actually closer to fiction than it was to the Truth.
And that’s where becoming loving comes in: Love always checks the attitude and the motive. Love is always patient and kind and other-focused. I use the phrase “becoming loving” because I know that to love well, whether it’s God, others or even myself, requires a long journey of constant development that involves much grace (from God) and surrender (from me).
2. It is important to embrace suffering and hardships and not avoid them.
I’ve written on this topic many times in this blog (for an example, click here). I think it is a game-changer in giving us true perspective and true life; especially for those of us who seek to follow Jesus.
Let me begin by stating: how I hate pain! How I bristle at obstacles that slow me down! And how I cling to my comfort and desire to have everything go my way!
But four years ago when my body went through kidney failure and I had no choice but to experience suffering, I found it to be a vehicle of discovering the true treasures of grace, God’s presence, and receiving love from others. Not only that, but I found the words of Paul (Romans 5:3-5) and James (James 1:2-4) to be so true: that persevering through suffering, trials and hardships – with Jesus – leads to a strengthening of character, a softening of the soul, and a sensitive awareness that couldn’t otherwise take place in my life.
Simply said, embracing my trials (whether they are great or small, like having to sit in traffic) is key to the transformed life and seeing the Kingdom of God at work.
3. I can never rely too much on the Holy Spirit or prayer.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that reliance on the Holy Spirit and seeking God’s face in prayer is a high priority with me. But as much as I believe that, the practice of that belief constantly needs to deepen and grow.
As you probably know, the Holy Spirit is often an “after-thought” in the hearts and minds of many Christ-followers (including pastors and leaders). Sometimes He is, as Francis Chan so aptly puts it, the “Forgotten God.” As well, prayer can devolve into a “holy assumption” (I thought about praying, so that counts, right?) or an incantation that slaps a “God label” on a gathering (like the traditional opening or closing in prayer) or a list of “honey-do’s” (a.k.a. prayer requests) to give to Jesus to accomplish.
Now, I’m not trying to slam on prayers of invocation or prayers of asking God to do things for us. I practice both of those. But the prayer I’m talking about is the one that invites the Holy Spirit to fill us, direct us and empower us.
I am learning that Psalm 127:1 is so true: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. I can do NO good work without God’s Spirit and the way to rely on the Spirit is through this type of prayer: the prayer of seeking and surrendering, the prayer of watching and waiting, the prayer of silence and stillness before the One who is both the Lover of my Soul and the Lord of the Universe.
There’s another lesson I’ve learned that I wanted to really share with you, but I should end this here. You’ll hear about the other one in the months to come; it’s something that I’ve reflected upon a lot over the past couple of years (Ha! How do you like that “teaser”?)
But of these three lessons, which resonate with you? Do any of them cause you to feel resistance or disturbance? Share your thoughts with me, either on FaceBook or the WholeLifeWorship website. I’d love to have a conversation about it!
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11 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from 64 Years of Life”
Very Very well-put! Your first two points are very consistent with my own personal development and walk with Jesus especially these past few years. Your last point, I’m a not embarrassed to admit, frequently loses its priority for me. I’ll have moments of seeking God’s Spirit but those times too often fade into times of thinking my own way through life. I enjoyed your encouragement to get back into the practice of seeking His Holy Spirit. Thank you Pastor Doug.
Thanks, Scott – and great to hear from you, bro!
I relate to the struggle of keeping my heart and mind fixed on the Spirit. Perhaps I need to think about it a little differently. While I still desire to proactively seek and ask the Spirit to fill me and lead me, I think there are many more times when the Spirit is working to get my attention. It becomes more a matter of pausing just a moment and responding to that “prompting” from the Spirit. Neither the proactive or the reactive movement toward the Holy Spirit is easy – it goes against the grain of our fallen human nature. But I think it helps knowing that God’s Spirit is reaching out to me as much, if not more than me tying to become more aware.
Let’s keep encouraging each other on this. And thanks for your comment and encouragement. Blessings!
Love this Doug! I’m praying to be more in tune and lead by the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is our direct connection! Yet because we’re human- we forget so easily!
Praying to be much more intentional! 🙏❤️🙌🏼
Thanks, Nancy! I believe you’re spot on about the limitations of our humanity. As I shared earlier with Scott (above), I think the part I miss is that the Holy Spirit is reaching out to me through prompts and things that get my attention much more than my efforts to keep the connection going. It’s a matter of stopping what I am doing and responding, “Holy Spirit, what are you trying to tell me?”
What do you think?
This is all so good, Doug! I especially resonated with your #1 – Jesus is more concerned about me becoming loving than being right.
And learning that “loving” really doesn’t mean pointing out the error of the other.
Thanks, Benjamin! This has been a biggie for me, especially recently. While it really bugs me to see Christians holding on their right to be right over the command of Jesus to be loving first, I become more aware how entrenched I am in wanting to be right. Even my own judgment over people who do that points to the fact that I’m doing the very same thing! It is insidious, isn’t it? The only saving grace is to let go of my judgments of others (especially to those who judge others) and to focus on my own journey of loving others well.
All 3 lessons resonate with me, especially at this time in my life. Maybe it’s because I am 64 too? Hahaha. Our particular journeys are different, yet the trials and journey of maturity seem similar. A realization jumped out at me while I was reading your explanation of lesson 2. My first reaction in a trial, for me at least, points to where my heart is focused. If for example, I’m coming towards heavy traffic and I tense up, try to immediately figure out if I should get off the freeway or switch lanes, then I am often focused on my own needs and at the world’s level. However, if I genuinely react with peace and patience, my focus is on other people’s needs and is at love’s level – is there an accident that I can be praying over – are there driver’s who need prayers as they face delays that will alter how they meet their responsibilities, etc. When I am not self-focused it is because I am already practicing turning to God in trust that he has me in this situation for a good purpose. Then I am more aware of the needs around me and of other’s who could be negatively impacted and start praying for them with a peace that God will rearrange things for a better outcome. Unfortunately, I am more often self-focused in practice. But I have experienced the other way, God’s way, and find it so much better. By taking the time and choosing to be courageous to sit in my uncomfortableness, realizing and accepting the truth that I am being selfish, and reminding myself that I have God’s Grace and forgiveness to help me try again, I am motivated to continue to seek God more often and with more depth, to listen more and to take more purposeful moments throughout the day to be aware of God’s presence. And this, as you said, “leads to a strengthening of character, a softening of the soul, and a sensitive awareness that couldn’t otherwise take place in my life.” And I become thankful to God for who he is and how much I still need him! God bless you Doug! And thank you for your blogs!
Thank you, Lynne! That was a beautiful and inspiring example and explanation of a powerful aspect of the WholeLifeWorship journey, especially how embracing the trials we face tweaks our souls to a larger, more giving and compassionate side of life. I call that “Kingdom of God” stuff. I believe that embracing our trials, while holding on tight to Jesus, is a huge portal into the Kingdom life; what Jesus calls the “abundant life.” Thanks so much for sharing!
I appreciate your lessons. Mine, so far on this journey, is one of trusting in God’s timing and control. A consistent area that God is growing me through is learning to accept what I cannot control and trust Him to lead in times of uncertainty. When I jump in, in whatever fashion, a simple issue becomes complicated, others may be hurt, and the struggle is often extended. If I pray, watch and wait expectantly, I can see Him move in ways beyond my solutions. It is rarely the approach I would have thought of, but is so much richer in its outcome.
By no means do I have this nailed! I have to work through it over and over, but as I age, it is more of a first thought than an afterthought.
Thank you, Kathy! That is a great lesson – one that I am learning, too. What I hear in what you shared are two things: one, to be prepared (prayed up, walking w Jesus) ahead of time so that our souls are ready to trust in God before we “mess things up.” The second is to be in the moment; that when things go sideways or become overwhelming that we surrender it to God. Your lesson also reminds me of R. Niebuhr’s prayer: “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Great Blog Doug! You hit on 3 very important lessons of life and I hope I will put them more into practice. Thank you,Debbie Bremer