My early years were characterized by a mad rush to the pastorate. I took a Bachelor of Theology Honors degree, which was a Master of Divinity with a year tacked on for those with no undergraduate degree. I graduated and took my first pastorate at the age of 24. I was ordained less than two years later.
I don’t regret any of it. The professors who taught me in seminary were world class. My first pastorate had some hard moments, as all pastorates do, but was a gift from God. But looking back, I think I made a mistake I see many younger people making today. I couldn’t wait to get in the game instead of preparing to play for the long haul.
If God allows, I’ll be pastoring for over four decades. If I’d been wiser, I may have spent more time mastering the languages, serving under mature leaders, reading formative texts, and growing my soul. An extra four or six years seemed like an eternity then, but the payoff from those extra years would have been significant.
I can’t go back, but I can adopt that approach now. In a world of endless distraction, decide how you’re going to spend your remaining years.
You can’t keep up with all the new releases. Don’t even try. Find a hero from church history and read everything about them. Don’t be afraid to pick someone who will take years of reading.
Keep two lists of books: those you must read, and those you’d like to read. Zero in on those books that you must read, and commit to making progress. You’ll find, as I do, that the list of must-read books grows at such a rate that you won’t have any time to read those on the second list. Life is too short for anything but the best books. Read for pleasure too, but decide that you will invest most of your time in reading the best books.
Get a Bible, an actual paper Bible. Spend the money on one you like, even if it breaks the bank. Get a set of highlighters. Pick a scheme for marking your Bible, and determine to wear that Bible out. Start saving now to get it rebound. Treat that Bible well, and get to know it so well that you can picture where key passages appear on the page.
You get the idea.
Tremper Longman III tells the story of skipping a dinner with colleagues one night at the age of 39 to think about his writing aspirations. He set a writing goal, and made some other key decisions: to write more than one book at a time, and to write for different audiences. His plans that evening helped shape his energy for years to come.
Nobody can predict the future, and we know that the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). But we could all do what Longman did: to take some time and reflect on how we want to spend the remaining time God gives us, and begin to make some long-term investments.
Start today. Skip social media or dinner if you must. Start planning and pacing yourself for long-term fruitfulness, even if you won’t see an immediate payback.
This article originally appeared here.