“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Some lessons I wish I had learned earlier in life. It’s been said that experience is the best teacher. Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case. Actually the best teacher is evaluated experience. Only those who seek to learn from bad experiences are destined not to repeat them. Evaluated experience leads to wisdom. And there is no better source of wisdom than the perspective that comes from God inspired evaluation.
That is what this short prayer from Psalm 90 is all about. It is a prayer that I now pray frequently and have adopted as one of my life verses. It is noteworthy that Moses is the author of this Psalm. There is probably no one better qualified than him to pray so authoritatively for wisdom. After spending forty years in exile in the wilderness evaluating his deadly misjudgments in Egypt he knew what it meant to number his days aright. And the heart of wisdom God imparted to him during that time positioned him at age eighty to begin a forty year run as one of the greatest leaders of all time.
As I look back over four decades of work and ministry experience there are three very important lessons that I have learned through Holy Spirit inspired evaluation. My prayer is that you can benefit from my mistakes and not have to learn them the hard way.
1. Don’t sacrifice outside friendships for institutional loyalties. When I first became a Christian and then entered into the ministry I made some friendship decisions I later regretted. There were many friendships that I had from my college days that I let lapse in lieu of selective new friendships in which I chose to invest. I spent all my time with those whom I knew and worked within the church. Unfortunately it was not until just the past several years that I began to seek once again to cultivate friendships outside the church. Some of the most significant and lasting friendships are those formed in our teen years and early twenties. I am thankful to God for giving me the pleasure of rekindling a few of those friendships and they have deeply enriched my life. Social media has proven a great help for that.
2. Be yourself and don’t be so concerned with the expectations of others. Having spent nearly twenty years in bondage to the fear of man and pleasing others I can speak with authority on this one. The defining moment for me came at age forty-eight when I stepped out of the boat at God’s bidding to start Bridgewood Community Church.
The revelation God gave me at that time that set me free from the controlling expectations of others was the story about Isaac in Genesis 26. It is the account of Isaac’s preoccupation with trying to keep the wells open that his father Abraham had dug. He had settled in Philistine territory and they were continually opposing his well digging as he sought to live in deference to his father. It wasn’t until he finally launched out from that place and dug his own wells that he eventually found “fresh” water and room to really flourish. When I read this I heard the Lord say very clearly to me, it’s time to “dig your own well!” I’ve been digging my own wells ever since and I’m loving it!
3. Don’t sacrifice your Sabbaths on the work/career altar. One of the liabilities of the ministry is working on the weekends. As a result, like most people in the ministry, I have had difficulty carving out a Sabbath some other day of the week. Susan and I attended a Christian conference recently as a vendor promoting our Interactive Church Resources business. Over the course of three days we got a chance to get to know the other vendors whose booths were in proximity to ours. It was revealing, almost startling that six out of nine were former pastors. One of them, Jack, shared why he left the ministry to work as a seminary recruiter. He said at age 40 he looked at the next 20 years of Sundays and realized He just couldn’t do it any longer. He wanted his weekends back for his family and the redemption of a true Sabbath. His story hit very close to home.
Sadly, it was not until Susan and I built a vacation home several years ago that I finally learned how to take a Sabbath. Our frequent trips up north, leaving Sunday afternoon after church and returning on Tuesday taught me how to take a weekend rest. That practice has helped me regularly carve out a Sabbath in that same time slot now, even when we don’t leave town. I am so thankful for this.
And here is one additional thing I have realized. A major key to unlocking the Sabbath also has to do with practicing the first two lessons learned mentioned above – cultivating outside friendships and being set free from being controlled by the expectations of others.
What Godly wisdom have you gained by evaluated experience that you can share regarding these life-balance issues?