The scene is indelibly etched in my memory. I was 19 years old. My family was on a mission trip in Haiti—my parents’ (and my) favorite type of family “vacation.” We were worshiping in a small Haitian church, sitting on hard wood benches. In the middle of the service, my dad leaned over to me and whispered, “Honey, what are your 50-year goals?”
Now, I’ll confess I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my 50-year goals, prior to that moment. But over the next weeks, I set out to respond to his question. Of course, I didn’t know things like whether I would be married or single or what my specific ministry path would look like. But I tried to record what I wanted to be true of my life in 50 years—by the time I was 69—if the Lord was pleased to give me that many years.
Periodically I’ve gone back and reviewed the document that resulted from that exercise more than 35 years ago. It has proved to be a valuable reminder to be intentional, stay the course, and focus on the things that matter most.
While I would no doubt craft these goals a bit differently today, these are the same basic categories that I still believe are important. Even this week, in re-reading this list, I’ve been challenged to recalibrate my thinking in one particular area.
As a teen sitting in that Haitian church, 50 years seemed like an eternity away. I could not have imagined how quickly those years would pass—or how easy it would be to fritter away days, months, years—a lifetime.
Today, with less than 15 years left till I turn 69, I wish I were a whole lot further along toward these goals. I haven’t even come close to attaining all of them. But I’m confident I have grown more in these areas than I might have if it hadn’t been for my dad’s question. So for challenging me to this exercise—and for so much more—thank you, Dad!
I believe there is value in doing this kind of thinking at various points in life. And not only for yourself . . . don’t underestimate the potential impact of encouraging your children, grandchildren, and young friends to think through these kinds of big-picture questions.
Less than two years after I wrote these goals, on the weekend of my 21st birthday, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. I’m so thankful for his efforts to encourage me to live a purposeful life to the glory of God. And that he didn’t think the teen years were too young to challenge me to seek and embrace God’s vision for my future.
1st Priority: To love God with all my heart, soul, mind, body.
2nd Priority: To love God’s people (encouraging, affirming, exhorting)—building them into committed reproducers.
3rd Priority: To love God’s work in the world (i.e., evangelism)—to build disciples (committed reproducers) in every nation.
- Love God
- Learn/practice the art of public, corporate worship.
- Learn/practice the art of consistent, aggressive private worship (response to God’s revelation of Himself).
- Know every part of the Word thoroughly and intimately (i.e., be able to maturely teach any book/major topics of the Bible).
- Become one who prays prayers of faith.
- Conscious, moment-by-moment practice of the presence of God—intimate friendship with God—enjoyment of Him above all others—singular love for Him that makes all other attachments seem as hate in comparison.
- To mirror His sweet beauty in a gentle, gracious spirit.
- Love God's People
- Always have a “Jonathan”—souls knit together in love; one who encourages my heart in the Lord.
- Always have a group of “Timothy’s”—i.e., people whom I am teaching all that I understand of the Christian life and ministry—who are faithful, available, and teachable—who will in turn reproduce this commitment in “faithful men who will in turn pass it on to others.”
- Be a sweet-spirited, habitual encourager of God’s people; shepherd carefully those whom He puts under my care (following principles of 1 Thess. 2:1–12)—being willing to give my life for any of them.
- Always be a committed member of a local Church that is committed to these three priorities.
- Always have a team (loose sense) that ministers supportively and/or alongside of me.
- Love God's Work in the World
- Be a consistent, aggressive, effective soulwinner locally; always be training a soulwinner(s).
- Become a “World Christian”:
- Pray regularly over all countries of the world.
- Develop basic understanding of major cultural/religious divisions in the world; keep abreast of their attitudes toward the gospel (i.e. resistant/ receptive, etc.).
- Regular financial support of other “World Christians.”
- Regular visits to significant world areas of need or missionary effort.
- Read 6–12 missionary biographies/year.
- Develop a personal, worldwide ministry:
- Develop committed reproducers—“World Christians”—(i.e., those committed to these same three priorities and equipped to reproduce that commitment in others).
- Strategize with Christian leaders worldwide (in the relay of world evangelization, pick up the baton from today’s leaders; before I die, pass on the baton to the next generation).
- Develop and start implementation of a comprehensive strategy to accomplish some aspect of world evangelization (e.g., discipling children)—this strategy must require the local church for fulfillment.
P.S. All these commitments: to death (i.e., no retirement!)