10 Lessons That Changed My Life
In 2007, I was asked to be the graduation speaker at a Christian high school in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. I was honored but soon realized that no retread sermon would do. I prayed and considered what lessons that changed my life the most since high school.
As I gave my message, I hoped the high school students would listen and remember my words. At the end of the ceremony, two young men in their twenties came up to me and said they wanted a copy of the message as God spoke to them during my speech.
Read: Talkers and Doers
Thirteen years later and with the world is upside down with the virus and social unrest, I am revisiting these ten lessons and updating my comments. At the end of the article, I will also add a couple of study questions. As always, to God be the glory for any wisdom and good things He does through me.
1. Get Your Priorities Straight. (Matthew 22:36-40)
Most men will say they put family first, but that is not your top priority. Loving, serving, and knowing God is your top priority, and then everything else will be better. When I feel my life starting to feeling difficult and discouraging, I want to think about myself first. Selfishness is a lifelong battle we all face. Start each day by praying, “God, I put you first and help me be a man you can bless.”
2. Pay attention to the patterns of your life. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Many men have healthy patterns and routines that lead them to success. Keep on doing those disciplines, and you will be blessed. Sin is a barrier for blessings. Men, we all have patterns of behavior that can be destructive. Be a student of yourself when times are good and when they are stressful. Pay attention to your choices with sleep, food, and entertainment (internet, tv, etc.). With age, experience, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, I have learned the early signs of my unhealthy patterns and depend on the power of God to be healthy.
3. If you dare to dream, but ready to pay the price. (Philippians 2:5)
I love having a dream and a goal to work towards. Whether working towards a degree or finding a new job, I like to achieve new goals. I am tempted to complain too much during the process because it is hard, and I am impatient. Keep on dreaming, but know that anything worth having is worth working for. Achieving our dreams is dependent on our mindset. We should be like Christ and count the costs (money, time, effort) that it will take to achieve our purpose and goals.
4. Learn from others whom you respect. (Luke 24:32)
Stubborn. Yes, I am one who has allowed pride to prevent me from learning from others. Eventually, I learned that God was putting other men in my life to help me learn and grow as a man and a Christian. Having respect for another man is the key to finding a mentor or teacher. If you respect his life, faith, and relationships, you have a lot to learn from a Christian mentor. I am 58 years old, and I still have mentors teaching me how to be a godly man.
5. Problems can be delayed, but they rarely go away by themselves. (Numbers 32:23)
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Men like to say this line, but the trouble is many things, or relationships are indeed problems and close to a breaking point. For years I avoided significant conflicts and thought if I used all my charm and wisdom, I could resolve the situation. Wrong. Avoiding conflict is not healthy. The anger and anxiety of conflict can seem overwhelming. Know your own pattern of responding to conflict, seek godly counsel, and then seek a peaceful resolution if possible. You cannot avoid change and conflict in life, so learn from God and others to work through a tough situation.
6. Timing is everything, and God will help. (Ecclesiastes 3)
Men tend to prefer taking action to wait. When in doubt, just do it. Life is not a running shoe commercial. I get it – no one likes to be patient. Yet, some of the greatest stories of the Bible is when God’s leaders prayed and waited on the perfect timing of God (i.e., Moses, Joshua). When I was younger, I kept on thinking, “Is it time yet?” Now, I am seeing that our lives are not as much about time as about seasons. Your season of life is probably much different than my season as a grandfather. With each season in a man’s journey, God has much to teach you that each season comes with its own blessings.
7. People are more important than accomplishments. (John 21)
I work as a manager and chaplain at a senior living community of over 400 residents. It is so clear which residents are happier than others. When we get older, you realize you cannot buy health or time. Having money is essential to provide for your family, but making it your primary pursuit is not worth sacrificing your relationships with your family and friends. At the end of your life, no one may care about your box of degrees and awards, but they will care if you cared about them.
8. Being right is not as important as being a friend. (Proverbs 16:18)
Remember the problem of pride? Somehow we believe if we are right, others will look up to us or think we are smart. I would rather have someone as a friend because I did not argue over little things. Are you a friend in all seasons? Even when your friend is being a pain, will you show mercy and grace? Once again, the true riches of life is about faith and relationships.
9. No person is as one-dimensional as you think. (Luke 6:37)
I am a “one-look” judging machine. Or at least I can be. I see that co-worker smirk when I say something in a meeting, and I am quick to judge them as a no-good, arrogant jerk. Alright, that is going too far, but we spend too much time judging and deciding people are our enemies.
If we just look at each person the way God does, then we may see their facade of arrogance is their attempt to see they are in an unhappy marriage, or had a difficult childhood, or having a bad season of self-doubt and temptation. Jesus’ death on the cross was for all of us. None of us deserve His unconditional love, so my attitude is much better when considering what it may be like to walk in the shoes of another.
10. Live as Jesus Christ did – full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
At forty, I became the senior pastor of a relatively large church with 12 staff, three services, and language congregations (Spanish, Japanese, and Deaf). I was eager to do well and was praying a lot for wisdom but soon felt overwhelmed. Everyone was looking to me to be the leader and make great decisions. So I turned to the scriptures for all the ways Jesus was described and was powerfully impacted by John 1:14 – 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
It has been my goal to live with both grace and truth. To live with grace means to show love and forgiveness to others as God has given to me. To live with truth means to live by God’s standards for righteousness and be honest with people about their sins. To only live with grace allows people to keep living with destructive patterns without accountability towards healthy and holy living. To only live with truth leads us to be judgmental and harsh in expecting unrealistic goals of perfection.
There are many more lessons in life, but these ten are a good start if you are a high school senior or a senior citizen!
- Take one or two of the lessons, look up the scripture reference, and write down what lessons God wants you to learn and take the next steps.
- It has been said that faith is caught as much as it is taught. Who in your life has modeled being a Christian to you? What lessons did you learn from him or her?
- You can always expect two things: change and conflict. What is your typical reaction to change? What is your usual response to conflict? Write down your pattern of behavior, list two people who can help you to be more like Christ.
Paul Arnold is a husband, father, grandfather, and currently serves as a chaplain to a senior living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He hosts several podcasts – Man to Man (career advice for men) and Pardon the Confusion (Sports) that are found on iTunes and www.redcircle.com