A number of weeks ago I shared an article titled 40 Random Pieces of Advice for the Christian Life. This isn’t something I intend to do often but did want to follow up at least once with a sequel of sorts. I hope there is something here you find helpful.
Be appropriately skeptical about new movements, new terminology, and new methods. If the church has gotten along pretty well without it for the past 2,000 years, it’s unlikely that it’s actually a key to success in the Christian life. This is as true of phenomena in the wider Christian context (e.g. The Prayer of Jabez, Purpose Driven) as in the narrower Reformed subculture (e.g. the terms “missional,” or “gospel-centered”).
One of the best ways to show love to your friends is to show love to your friends’ children. Take an interest in them, love them, and be a friend to them.
You can count on it as a general rule that what you gain from a church service will relate directly to your level of expectation and preparation. Expect little and you are likely to gain little. Prepare little and you are likely to benefit little.
Don’t put too much stock in parenting books written by parents who haven’t yet successfully launched their kids into independence. None of us really knows how we’ve done until our kids have moved beyond our oversight and authority.
Understand that if you will only follow those in positions of authority over you when they do the things you want them to do anyway, you’re not actually submitting to their leadership. Sometimes submission to our leaders means joyfully following their leadership even when we disagree with it. (Which is not the same as saying we should obey our leaders when they tell us to sin.)
In your personal devotions, try listening to the Bible if you typically read it, or try reading the Bible if you typically listen to it. Both are good and both are modeled in Scripture. Each engages the mind in different ways.
Remember that you may share the blame for your children’s sin. You may have exasperated them to such a degree that you bear at least part of the responsibility for their sinful response to your poor leadership. And because this is true of parenting, it’s true also of other positions of leadership. (See Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21)
Be aware of the natural human tendency to consider what a given Bible text does not say before focusing on what it actually does say. Your first consideration should be “how do I obey this?” rather than “what are the exceptions?” This happens most often when it comes to passages about honoring parents, submitting to the government, waging total war against sin, being constant in prayer, and so on.
Be sparing in criticisms of the local church or its leaders in the presence of your children. Your grumbling could teach them that they ought to relate to the church as critics more than participants. It could turn them against the local church as an institution.
Distinguish between reading the Bible for depth and reading it for breadth. In other words, invest some effort in going deep into particular books, chapters, and verses, and also some effort into gaining an overview of the entire book. Read fast sometimes and slow other times; read huge passages on some occasions and small ones on others.
It is a wise habit to pray for your children with your children. It is a blessing to children to hear your heart for them. (Also, pray for your spouse with your spouse, for your church with your church, and so on.)
Embrace diversity in the local church, acknowledging the tendency to eschew it. Also, understand that diversity comes in many forms—racial, cultural, political, ideological, theological, and so on.
Relational problem-solving is almost always best done face-to-face. When that’s not possible, FaceTime or a phone call is second best. Email and social media are usually about as bad as it gets. Fight the tendency to attempt to solve problems at a distance instead of close-up.
When you are at your best, plan for your worst. In those times when you are spiritually healthy, make plans for the times when you may be spiritually weak or despondent. In those times when you are zealous, make plans for the times when you may face fierce temptations to sin.
It is good to train children to work. However, they will spend the rest of their lives working hard, so it’s not a bad thing to go a bit easy on them and let them enjoy their childhood. Life is long and it will only get more difficult.
Learn to say “I love you” to more people than merely family members.
When someone suffers a sore loss, grieve with them and offer them your condolences in a way that is appropriate to your relationship. But then also put the anniversary of that loss on your calendar and get in touch with them a month and a year later to say that you remember them and are praying for them.
One of the rare virtues in the workaday world is the ability to take things to completion. It takes little skill to begin something, but often takes great skill and perseverance to complete it well. Be known for finishing what you start.
Try to learn a good number of hymns by heart. They will serve you well throughout your life.
Pray through your church’s directory. Make it one of your ministries to the local church that you pray for each person specifically and by name. The directory is the perfect guide for this.
If wives are to submit to their own husbands, husbands are to live and lead in such a way that they make such submission natural and easy. If husbands are to love their wives, wives are to do all they can to make themselves easy to love.
Occasionally ask yourself, “If I was Satan how would I tempt me?”
It’s almost impossible to ruin a child when they are young, so don’t despair if you aren’t perfectly consistent or sometimes have to veer away from your philosophy of parenting. The kids will be alright—they are nothing if not resilient.
Before you visit a country or culture that is not your own, ask someone what customs you should practice and what customs you should avoid in order to prevent offense. What is polite in your culture may be downright insulting in another (and what is insulting in your culture may be courteous in another).
At least occasionally, visit a church in which you are a clear visible minority. This may help you better understand the challenges and discomforts people may face when they visit your church. Even better, you may learn how other traditions worship in ways that are different but no-less-faithful.
Pray with your spouse before you go sleep at night, even if only very briefly.
When you vacation far from home, and especially in other countries, don’t neglect attending church, even if the service is in a language you don’t speak. You may be surprised at how much you gain even if you can’t understand much of what is being said or sung.
Read biographies written for children or young adults. They will give you an easy-to-read, compact, nothing-but-the-essentials overview of a life. If you are intrigued, you can advance to a grown-up, full-length biography.
Every Sunday, try to speak to at least one child at church who is not your own. It’s generally best to get down on their level to do this, so be prepared to hit the floor.
Terms like “introvert” and “extrovert” may be helpful descriptors of personality types, but they should never be used as an excuse to neglect opportunities to love and serve others. Whether introverted or extroverted, be dutiful in all God calls you to, even when it cuts against the grain.
In all the duties and responsibilities that comes with raising children, don’t neglect to just plain enjoy your children.
If you find yourself struggling to pray in your times of personal devotion, try praying out loud. The car is an ideal place for this, perhaps especially if you have a commute.
Have an awareness of those times when emotion tends to overwhelm reason and determine that you will not attempt to have hard conversations in those times. This may mean instituting something like a “10 PM rule” in which you set issues aside at that time and pick them up again the next day.
Commend parents who are parenting well but who may not have a lot confidence in themselves. Few parents really believe they are carrying out their task well.
Less important than complimenting a fellow Christian is identifying evidences of God’s grace in that person’s life. It is always encouraging to hear how others see God working in us and through us.
Don’t whine about the “greet one another” time at church and don’t be anxious about it. Rather, embrace it and make the most of it, whether you naturally love it or dread it.
Read catechisms and confessions. You may be surprised to learn how many issues they speak to with thoughtfulness, clarity, and deep biblical grounding.
Embrace your finitude—the fact that you are limited and weak and in so many ways insufficient and incapable. This is a feature of your humanity rather than a bug.
If you begin each day asking “What is my God-given duty today?” and then do your best to carry it out, you will not go far wrong in life.
And, to end this time where I did before, always be certain to distinguish between what the Bible mandates and what a mere human suggests. Apply human wisdom only when it complements and applies what the Bible demands.