My Bucket List for Christians: 50 things every believer should do before going to Heaven (Part I)

This has become a popular parlor game and a best-selling theme for all kinds of books–places to go, things to do, foods to eat, scenes to see, before you leave this world, or “kick the bucket.” That’s what gave it the name “bucket list.” Hollywood made a movie about this a few years ago.

Today was evidently a morning of slow news because one of the television shows ran a feature on beer, “50 brews on our bucket list.” “Oh great,” I thought. “Just what some beer-guzzling couch-potato needs, an excuse to indulge himself even more.”

So, let’s try to do the right thing here and come up with some positive, non-alcoholic deeds which every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ should do before departing this earthly sod.

Everyone will have his/her own list. This is mine, with a little help from some Facebook friends whom I’ve asked for contributions. Since we’re going for 50 things to do, we’ll break this article down into several manageable segments.

Putting them in any kind of order would be impossible since I don’t know what we’ll end up with. So, just because one item is low on the list and another is high says nothing about their relative importance.

You’re invited to click on “comments” at the end and give us items on your bucket list…places to go, experiences to have, things to see or taste or hear, before the Lord sends His angels for you.

50. Visit the Holy Land.

Margaret and I went to Israel once, over 20 years ago, and found it life-changing as well as ministry-altering. Honestly, I probably would not have gone then had it not been a 10th anniversary gift from the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi. For months after returning, I ran a low-grade fever just thinking of where we had been and the sights we had seen. I’d turn a page and there would be a photo of Jerusalem or the Sea of Galille and my eyes would tear up. It had that kind of effect on me.

So, go. Traveling to the Middle East is as safe right now as it has ever been, and you’re not getting any younger. I’m thrilled to see the occasional seminary program that allows young preachers and missionaries to visit Israel as a part of their education. Wish I’d gone when I was 25. But on the other hand, I got far more out of it by going when I was 44. Best solution: go twice.

Oh, and send your preacher. Even if he’s reluctant to go.

49. Win someone to Jesus.

To do this, I suggest three steps: pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you in this. Second, find a plan. If someone walks up and says, “Tell me how to be saved,” you need to have an answer. Remember, no sermons. And no fuzziness. Get it straight and keep it simple. (Go to my blog,, and click on “How to Know Jesus Christ and Live Forever” for a simple approach. Or ask your pastor.) And three, start asking people.

I’m serious; ask people if they would like to know Jesus as Savior. The next time you attend your family reunion, I double-dog dare you to stand up and announce, “Hey, everybody! I’m trying to learn how to lead people to know Jesus Christ as Savior. If anyone wants to know how or if you have a question about this, I’ll be over here under this tree. Come over and let’s talk.”

See what happens.

48. Stand up to a church bully.

You remember how you have sat in church and recoiled at the antics of some brute who was smarter than God, holier than Jesus, and delighted in spewing venom in the direction of the pastor? He is so used to throwing his weight around and having timid Christians cower in his presence that he’s forgotten what it’s like for someone to challenge him. The pastor, bless his soul, has grown weary of standing up to him alone.

In confronting him, you’re not going to do it his way. You’re not going to be brutish or mean-spirited; otherwise he wins, since he holds a black belt in that art. You’re going to out-sweet him. So, the next time your church has a business meeting in which this guy (or in rare cases, this woman) sets in to undermining the self-esteem of the pastor, you raise your hand and ask to say a word.

The pastor will call on you. Believe me, he will. He lives in hopes that someone, anyone, will stand up and do the courageous thing.

You stand to your feet and say so graciously, “Pastor, I’d like to read a verse of Scripture to Mr. Bully (insert his name here).” And you read Hebrews 13:17. (If you find something else better for this purpose, fine. Otherwise, this says it as strongly as any place in the Bible.)

Then you say one more thing. “Mr. Bully, I know you will stand before the Lord and give account of what you do at the judgment. But, my friend, I can’t wait that long. I just want you to know that I for one have had a belly-ful of your ravings. Please sit down and shut up.”

Then sit down.

Regardless of what happens, you have done what no one else in the church had the courage to do: confronted the bully. Good for you.

The rule of thumb here is that the meaner Mr. Bully is, the sweeter your spirit must be in standing up to him. If the bully is just your average guy, don’t go for overkill in responding to him.

47. Memorize an entire chapter of the Bible.

Which one? The one that delights your soul and ministers best to your life. Some I’ve memorized and preached series of sermons from include Psalms 1, 23, 103, and 139. Also, Isaiah 40 and Philippians 4.

How to memorize? The easiest way is not to try at first. Just read that chapter again and again, thinking about it, learning it, enjoying it, savoring its insights. After becoming familiar with it, visit your church library and pull out a commentary on that chapter and read what others have written about it. As you dwell on the riches of this motherlode, you will end up memorizing it without trying.

Then, when you’re ready, write out the chapter or type it on a large sheet of paper. Go for large, bold print. Arrange it into paragraphs. And work on learning it one paragraph at a time.

Everyone will have his own techniques for memorization. Frank Pollard, longtime pastor of Jackson, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church, once showed me his exercycle and said, “That’s where I do my memorization.”

I find I memorize better when my hands are busy–maybe driving or mowing the grass or washing dishes.

Once you’ve got the chapter memorized, don’t lose it. Say it to yourself frequently. Think about it. When you lie awake in the middle of the night, go over it. David said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart.” That’s the idea.

46. Visit a mission field and do something there for Jesus.

When I was a young preacher, this was practically unheard of. No one but career missionaries went to the trouble of traveling to a foreign country to work for Jesus. But in the last generation, that has changed. The tiniest church in the remotest part of Mississippi or Alabama will often have members who do regular mission work in countries like Nigeria or Belize or Mexico.

You’re too old? You’re not even close. I’ve seen them go in wheel chairs, some in their 80s. If the pastor or mission team leader approves you, go for it.

I promise you one thing: after visiting with believers in Haiti or working alongside a mission team in Recife or seeing the conditions in Guatemala City, you will never be the same.

45. Join a choir.

Your church doesn’t have a choir? Start one. You can’t sing? No excuse. You’re too old? Start a senior adult choir.

There’s something magical about working with a group of your peers to learn a new song, forcing yourself to master that part and to blend in with the other voices, and then performing it at the local nursing home or in your church. You will have fun, laugh a lot, develop friendships, and be serving God.

Hey, you and I are going to be singing in Heaven. Might as well get in a little practice here.

44. Learn to pray better.

One of the finest things that could happen to many of us would be to develop a divine dissatisfaction with our prayer life. Just make up our mind that there’s more to this prayer business than I’ve found out, and set ourselves to learning how to pray better and more effectively.

How to do that? The church library is a good place to start. (Or a local Christian bookstore.) Pull out a dozen books on prayer and read the first chapter of each one. You’ll find one that hits you between the eyes. That’s the one. Read it. And remember: if you find one great idea that makes your praying better, it was worth the money or time and trouble.

Ask people whose prayer lives you respect to pray with you and to teach you how to pray. And if you are the preacher and can’t see yourself asking a church member for this kind of help, do it anyway. The humbling will be good for you.

I’m not saying you’ll ever reach the place where you’ll feel you’ve arrived in your prayer life. You’ll know you’ve progressed when you love the Lord more and can’t wait to speak with Him about this person or that need.

43. Become a person of good humor and frequent laughter.

Even though I’m personally gifted in the art of silliness, I don’t recommend you go that far. But there are too many dead-serious Christians in the pews today, too little laughter, too few spontaneous smiles.

I’ve not heard this in years, but people used to chide one another with, “If you’re happy, tell your face about it!”

This is about two things: the sounds of joy coming from your mouth–words, laughter, positive words–and the appearance of your countenance, your facial expressions.

Get a concordance down and look up “countenance.” Some of us will be surprised to know what a premium the Lord puts on sunshiney countenances. None of us like to be around droopy faces and it turns out the Lord doesn’t either!

In drawing people, when I find someone who doesn’t want to smile–I’m amazed how many people fall into this sad category–I tell them: “Look at my face. Notice how it sags when I look normal. And now watch when I smile.” The face lifts and the entire shape of my facial outline changes.

Next Sunday, as you get out of your car, make a conscious effort to force a smile onto your face and greet everyone warmly. Some will be so shocked they’ll want to know what happened. Just tell them it’s on your bucket list.

42. Volunteer in your community.

The Meals-on-Wheels people need drivers. Big Brother/Big Sister needs sponsors. Tutorial programs need volunteers to work with children. Your homeless shelter needs helpers. The elementary school could use volunteers.

A group of seniors in Mississippi started the Macedonian Call Foundation a few years back to provide automobiles for furloughing missionaries. People donate their used vehicles, they get them in good running shape, and then hand them off to missionaries who plan to be in the States for a few months before returning to the field. My wife and I donated a car last year. The state director drove down to McComb, Mississippi, about half way from Jackson, with a friend who drove the donated car back. It’s a wonderful ministry and has given these beloved senior Christians a vital way to make a lasting difference for Christ.

If your community has nothing important for which you could volunteer, then assume there are needs going unmet and look around for them.

41. Find someone from your past and apologize.

If you’re like the rest of us, you can recall people from your school days or later whom you were rude to, offended, or hurt with some careless act or word. You’ve not seen them in years, and yet you think of them with regret from time to time. The thought keeps recurring, “I sure wish I could go back and undo that.” You can’t, but you can do the next best thing.

Find them. Ask the Lord to bring you together. Contact the alumni office of your school or a church in that town or some old friend who might know their whereabouts. Type their name into Facebook. The internet has No one can hide for long these days!

Then, write them a letter or make a phone call. Plan how to say what you want to say so you will not make matters worse. Tell what you did and how sorry you are. Tell them you have often wished you could go back and undo that, and that you want to ask them to forgive you. Then wish them well.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t remember it. That’s all right, even good. But you remember because you did wrong, and now you are trying to make it right.

I’ve told on these pages of how when I was in the 7th grade, a classmate and I stole Dixie’s billfold at school. My friend, a candidate for the reformed school if one ever existed, suggested that I move her billfold to an empty desk nearby. When the bell rang, she would leave without noticing it was gone. He would get the wallet and later divide the money with me. I did and he did.

Our class was having its 40th reunion when I saw Dixie. I called her off to the side and said, “I need to confess something to you. When we were in the 7th grade, I stole your billfold.” She refused to believe it. “Anyone but you,” she said. That made it even worse.

I told her what happened. She tried to refuse to accept the $20 I handed her, but I insisted it was for me. I was purchasing peace. She wrote me a couple of weeks later to say she and her husband had bought Bibles for a mission organization with that money.

And I have wonderful peace in place of an old self-inflicted wound.

40. (That will be our Part II.)

2 thoughts on “My Bucket List for Christians: 50 things every believer should do before going to Heaven (Part I)

  1. I’m kind of skimming around here, but my eye ran across the Scripture memorization tip (in #47), and it struck me how similar the idea is to memorizing music. (Dr. Joe has had some excellent insights on music, by the way.) You don’t really try to memorize music, except for a few thorny passages perhaps. But you play the piece over and over again–and it’s pure enjoyment, not practice, at this age. Before you know it, over the days and even weeks, it’s memorized, and a part of you.

  2. Joe-this is great – we just had one of our pastors share with our ministers’ group today about hosting a trip to the Holy Land – and you put it on the bucket list that I read today! OK -I’ve wanted to go, now it’s really up there on the list for me and Karla. Thanks for the encouragement…

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