This year I'm celebrating 30 years of ministry. As you can see, I started early. I was converted at the age of 19 and had preached my first message by the time I was 22. It seems like only yesterday.
So what's all the hoopla about 30? I suppose there's nothing really special about the number, other than recently I've sensed the Lord challenging me to prepare for the next 30 years of ministry. Now, I'm not brash enough to assume my encounter with God means I'm promised 30 more years. But do I believe He's asked me to look back on my life to distill valuable principles that can be passed on to fellow travelers.
Unfortunately, most Western-world thinkers are unaccustomed to the idea of distilling life's experiences into key lessons. We'd rather wipe our foreheads and say, "Whew, I'm glad that's over!" Consequently, we're forced to repeat similar experiences over and over again before we "get it." Gleaning from life is much better as you learn from both the positive and negative.
Here are a few of the principles I've distilled—conclusions that may help you. In 30 years of ministry I've learned that ...
1. God's will generally moves slower than you think it should. God rarely operates on the same timetable we do. Just ask Abraham, Job or anyone who has walked with Him for a long time. If this is true—and it is—then biblical patience and flexibility are great virtues. Do you have the biblical quality of patience that's required to inherit God's promises (see Heb. 6:10)? Whoa, partner. Slow down!
2. Great people have great people in their lives. You can never be all God has destined you to be without great people in your life—people who aren't impressed with who you are, but who will tell you the truth and not back down. Do you have these kinds of people in your life?
3. Knowing God is a journey. I've found that God is so awesome that He can't be known all at once. He's bigger than an experience, more substantial than an event, and He can't be captured merely by our minds or feelings. So knowing God is a ride, a journey. Are you ready for it?
4. Balance in your personal life is crucial to longevity in ministry. We all desire balance in life; few seem to find it. Balance begins in your personal life and flows to all other areas. If you can't seem to get it together, how can you lead others to do so? This isn't a plea for perfectionism, just a call of priority for those in ministry. Start by focusing at home. Continue elsewhere.
5. Serving God is not an automatic inoculation against life's ills and woes. Sometimes life comes at you hard, fast and furious. Injustice seems to be one of life's greatest mysteries. Job was stumped by it; Solomon wrote volumes trying to explain it—all to no avail. So don't be surprised when the wind blows and the rain falls. Stay positive and you'll outlast it (see Rom. 8:28).
6. Personal development is necessary to stay relevant. It is the practice of periodically allowing God to reinvent who you are and redefine your usefulness. Most leaders sidestep the issue of personal development. It's too demanding and it's hard work! However, every forward-thinking leader must pay the price.
What lessons are you distilling from life? Lady wisdom is always speaking, especially to those who will listen (see Prov. 8). So let every life experience be a learning one. Go ahead, distill a few principles and pass them on to fellow travelers. You'll be glad you did.
A certified professional coach and trainer, John Chasteen is also the assistant dean of Southwestern Christian University Graduate School in Bethany, Okla. You can read his blog at heycoachjohn.com.