Not every idea is worthy of an entire article. Hence, this one contain a long list of brief, random (and unsolicited) pieces of advice for living the Christian life, most of which I’ve gleaned from others over the course of the past 45 years. I hope there is something here that benefits you.
When offering counsel to others, always carefully distinguish between what the Bible says and what is simply your best attempt to apply wisdom to a particular situation. Get used to saying, “This is me, not the Bible.” There is a reason I have made this the first in a long list of pieces of advice.
Learn to appreciate the ways in which other people are different from you, not just the ways in which they are similar. Contrary to the way you tend to the think, the world would actually not be a better place if everyone was just a little bit more like you.
Learn to apologize. Learn to apologize first. Learn to apologize often. Learn that to apologize is a mark of strength of character, not weakness.
Remember that your children are sinners who are beset by the fierce enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Be gentle with them and have pity for them. Don’t be yet another enemy to them.
Don’t let yourself slip into believing that growing older will magically confer you some gift of godliness. Who you are now—or who you are becoming now—is a pretty good predictor of who you will someday be. If you want to be godly then, you have to learn to be godly now. This is true of young men and women as they ponder marriage and parenting; this is true of middle-aged men and women as they ponder retirement and old age.
Understand that you don’t need to have an opinion about everyone and everything. In fact, it is a mark of maturity to deliberately not have opinions about things that don’t concern you and things you know nothing about.
Find a couple whose grown children you’d be proud to call your own. Ask that couple if you can spend some time with them to either ask them questions about parenting or to simply observe life in their home. This may prove more valuable than any book on parenting. (Make sure their children are old enough that the parents have proven they can do more than raise obedient toddlers or submissive tweens.)
Change churches as seldom as possible and only when necessary. Never change churches without seeking the counsel of the church you are considering leaving and the church you are considering joining. When you do leave, it is almost always best to leave in a quiet and dignified way that preserves the church’s unity.
You get no free pass from the sin of slander when it pertains to an enemy, a heretic, or a politician. Each of these people is made in the image of God and each of them deserves to be spoken of in a way that befits their humanity. Only ever speak of them what is demonstrably and provably true.
Try raising your hands in worship at least once. It’s okay to get used to the idea in private first. Perhaps you’ll find that a little bit of physical expression engages your heart in unexpected ways.
Don’t put your hope in a particular method or system of parenting. Put your hope in the gospel, then consistently teach it to your children and consistently model it for your children during the 18 or 20 years they are in your home. It is the gospel that is the power of God, not any method. But we are easily confused.
In any given situation, it’s always good to ask “What does the Bible tell me to do?” or “what does the Bible say about this?” A great follow-up question is “why am I not already doing it?”
When the church service ends, make it your goal to meet someone you don’t know or connect with someone you don’t know well before you spend time with friends. Make a beeline for anyone who is alone or who looks awkward.
Embrace the tension between knowing that you are called to steward the wealth God provides for you and the fact that life is insanely expensive. Budget your money, control your expenses, give generously to the church, set some aside for the future, and use some to occasionally treat yourself to something nice. But also get used to saying, “it’s only money” as you swipe your card when yet another big and unexpected expense has come along.
Spend lots of time considering how God relates to his children, then imitate that in your parenting. When asked who most influenced your parenting, “God” is a pretty good answer.
Read The Pilgrim’s Progress at least once. If you find you are struggling to read it, try listening to it instead. There is a reason that it is the best-selling fictional work of all-time. (I recommend the recording narrated by Nadia May.)
Think often about that well-worn definition of character: character is who you are when no one else is looking. Consider whether who you are when you are all alone is consistent with who you are when other Christians are present.
It is good and necessary to shelter your children from the world. It is also good and necessary to expose your children to the world while they are still under your care and you can help them interpret what they are seeing and experiencing. Do that with wisdom. Your task as a parent is to prepare your children to live and thrive in this world, not some other one.
Acknowledge that in most friendships one person will be the main pursuer and the main initiator. Don’t feel sorry for yourself if you are that person.
Listen carefully to believers who come from cultures other than your own. You may learn valuable critiques of your own culture with all its presuppositions and you may learn valuable insights from another.
Foster relationships between your children and other trustworthy adults. Confidently direct your children to those adults when they have questions or disagreements with you. Don’t be upset if your friends give them counsel that contradicts your own. It’s possible that you’re the one who’s wrong.
Be loyal—loyal to your family, loyal to your friends, loyal to your pastors, loyal to your church. Loyalty is a beautiful virtue; disloyalty is an ugly vice.
If you find that your children are rebellious, take the time to honestly assess if you are modeling rebellion or submission to the sources of authority in your own life—whether in government, workplace, church, or home. There’s no reason to expect submission in your children if all they see is rebellion in you.
Sing loud in church, especially if you are a man. Don’t be content with mumbling as if it’s somehow embarrassing to have a male voice.
Never disrespect your spouse, or speak disrespectfully to or about your spouse, in the presence of others. (Or outside of the presence of others, for that.) If you need counsel or advice about your spouse or marriage, speak to a friend in a way that respects your spouse’s dignity.
Imagine your children as some day being close friends. Relate to them today in such a way as to make that vision come true. This will look different when they are toddlers, teens, and young adults.
Open your home to other people often. Help foster a culture of hospitality within your local church by being the one who invites people over on a regular basis. The living room is one of the best contexts in the world for friendship, discipleship, and evangelism.
Be appropriately romantic and affectionate with your spouse in the presence of your children. It’s okay—good even—if they know the spark is still alive. It’s okay—good even—if they occasionally say “oh gross.” You can do that without ever crossing a line.
Embrace singleness rather than resenting it. Pursue joy and contentment knowing that the God who withholds no good thing from his children also dispenses to them no ultimately bad thing. This is his good and perfect plan for you and he means for you to embrace it, whether it is a temporary state or a permanent one, whether it is involuntary or chosen.
Find common interests with your spouse. Learn to enjoy what your spouse enjoys, even if it’s a sport you wouldn’t otherwise care for or an art form you aren’t naturally drawn to. (Do the same with your friends and children.)
It is good to read widely but also good to read deeply. Find at least one author whose writing particularly helps you and commit to reading as many of his or her books as possible.
Expect to be sinned against even by people who love you. Don’t over-react when it happens. You’ve probably sinned against them many times as well. Remember that is the glory of a man to overlook an offense and that love covers a multitude of sins.
Nobody wants to be part of a church that doesn’t pray, but also, (almost) nobody wants to attend the prayer meeting. Believe in the power of a praying church enough to attend and champion that meeting. Make prayer instrumental rather than supplemental to your church.
Don’t feel the need to finish a bad book, or a mediocre one, for that. There is no shame in tossing it aside and trying something else.
Pursue friendships with people who are different from you. The deepest compatibility is often not easily visible.
Make it your habit to find something positive in the sermon and tell the pastor how it benefitted you. He probably gets less encouragement than you think.
It’s almost never the wrong time to say, “Let’s pray.”
Believe in the big picture of family devotions even when it’s hard to believe in the day-by-day results. Trust that a time of reading the Bible and praying together, repeated on a near-daily basis, will leave a deep and positive impact in the family as a whole and in each of its members.
Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Bitterness grows in the dark and harms you more than it harms anyone else, so the proper time to stop it is before it starts.
Distinguish between what is mandated by God and what is simply a matter of wisdom or prudence. Much of what Christians advocate with such strong words falls under the latter category more than the former. The Bible says nothing about date nights, the Billy Graham Rule, sleep training, and so on. Don’t hold strongly to what the Bible holds loosely (or vice versa). And that includes pretty much everything I’ve included in this article…