In looking over the ten items-in-our-bucket so far, it occurs to me that I may be stepping into a little trap here: listing only what I’ve already done. I’ve been to the Holy Land, memorized chapters, that sort of thing. How convenient for me this would be, and how pointless.
So, I promise to try to keep it honest here and speak to myself as well as to the rest of us.
40. Pay off everything and get out of debt.
Is this a “Christian” goal? Or just something that would be good for everyone to do? In Scripture, one reason for believers having money in the first place is so that we may be generous. One of the great hindrances to our generosity is the heavy debt load we stagger under. We’d like to give to help those poor people or to support the missionary, but we don’t have it to give.
If we paid off our debts and did not incur additional financial burdens, think how liberating that would be.
The question is how.
Answer: live simply, get everyone in the household behind this goal, say no to expensive choices such as eating out or purchasing entertainment centers or new cars, and double up on the existing payments. If you have too many credit cards, cut all but one or two up and close the accounts. The way I understand Galatians 5:22-23, discipline or self-control is a part of the fruit of the Spirit. You’ll be needing it to get control of your finances, so it’s good to know the Lord wants to produce it in us.
39. Find your spiritual gift and put it to use.
According to the Bible (Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12), every believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual capability. We can only dream of how effective the Christian community would be if we all claimed our gift and put it to use for the Lord. My hunch is less than one-third of the members of a typical church even make an effort toward this.
Rather than take some kind of printed inventory that purports to tell you what your spiritual gift is, my suggestion is rather that you try a lot of things. To find out if your spiritual gift is teaching, sit in on Bible study classes, then volunteer either to substitute for the teacher or to assist him/her. To find out if your gift is in “helps,” volunteer to assist in some kind of project–a church banquet, a Vacation Bible school, a youth camp–and try your hand at it.
The best way to recruit people to the place where the Lord has prepared them is simply to expose them to various kinds of ministries. Their spirit will respond to the right one.
38. Develop some latent talent such as for music or art.
Often when I’m sketching people, someone will say, “I used to enjoy art. I just got away from it.” I suggest that they get back to it.
When churches began having orchestras in worship services, members remembered their old high school saxophones or clarinets gathering dust in closets. They cleaned them up, began practicing, and now they play in church every Sunday. For some, this has opened up a new world.
I’ve known retirees who began taking piano lessons for the first time. “I’ve always wanted to play,” they would say. They’ll not turn into concert pianists, and that’s not their goal. It’s something for their own growth and fulfillment.
Take a cooking class. Find out when your local plant nursery is having classes on growing roses and sign up. The local art store has postings for new classes all over town, from beginners to intermediate to accomplished. Ask the Red Cross about classes for CPR and lifesaving training.
37. One time in your life, contribute twice as much to the work of the Lord than you did the previous year.
If you are a tither–and my strong conviction is that this is God’s plan for every believer–that would mean giving one-fifth of your income to the Lord the following year. And that would require sacrifices, or at least life-style changes.
36. Tell everyone you love that you love them.
Emmalou Holland was lying in the hospital and growing weaker daily. She said to me, “Pastor, I must be worse off than I thought I was. Everyone who comes in here tells me they love me.”
What a pity that we wait until someone is dying to tell them how much they mean to us.
What if you and I made a list of those we love most–family, friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters in the faith, pastors, teachers–and made it a point to tell them that we love them and are grateful to the Lord for bringing them into our lives. Don’t qualify it, don’t complicate it, just tell them.
35. Drop by the Intensive Care Unit at your local hospital and see if there are family members of critically ill patients who need you.
A family from Tennessee spent several weeks basically living in the ICU waiting room at one of our hospitals while their son lingered between life and death. After he died, the father said to me, “I never knew there was so much suffering in these places. When I get back to Chattanooga, I’m going to become a visitor to our hospital’s waiting rooms. The Lord has opened my eyes to this need.”
If you decide this is a special concern of yours, I would suggest you work through the volunteer office of the hospital and get their endorsement for what you have in mind.
34. Visit a nursing home and minister to patients who rarely have visitors.
Again, you will want to work through the administration for this. Most would be thrilled to have you come by and read to people, chat with them, or even sing to them.
If you have not visited a nursing home (retirement home, senior living center, they go by various names), you would be surprised how few people have family members come by on a regular basis. For the most part, these are not especially pleasant environments. Many elderly patients hardly know they’re in the world, the odor of ammonia is often the dominant fragrance, and the staff is usually overworked.
If this is something you’ve never tried, get with whoever on your church staff visits nursing homes and ask to accompany them a few times. Expose yourself to this ministry and pick the brain of the one leading it.
Charlotte Arthur of Charlotte, NC, is a champion of nursing home ministry. Once when she and I were making the rounds, she said, “My mother loved this kind of work and began taking me with her when I was six years old. That’s how I learned to enjoy it.”
33. If your city has a children’s hospital, become a volunteer.
These days I’m not actively a volunteer for the children’s hospital of New Orleans, but I once was. Every Friday, my off day from the church, I would check in at the volunteer office, pick up my badge, and then roam the halls looking for children to draw and entertain and minister to. Nurses would give suggestions and direction. In the cafeteria and waiting rooms, siblings of patients sat with their parents. and most were delighted at this little ministry.
My wife used to be a volunteer in the neo-natal ICU at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. So many of the newborn babies were born to drug-addicted mothers, meaning that the babies arrived that way also. Margaret’s only role when she walked in as a volunteer, was to sit in a rocking chair and rock these tiny babies.
32. Plant some flowers or even a tree.
This one doesn’t sound as spiritual or as life-changing as the others, does it? But aren’t we grateful for those who beautify our world by such labors of love.
I recall being surprised one day when I was about 8 years old. We were living in a mining camp on a West Virginia mountaintop. Everything about that place was dreary, mainly due to the smoke from fires, cinders from steam locomotives in the valleys, and the produce from the mines itself. One day I noticed my parents had planted some seeds along the walk in front of our house. Thereafter we had marigolds and petunias, bright colors to contrast with the ugliness around us. In time, they set out roses and let the runners expand as they wished. Years later, long after we had moved away and the camp had been disbanded, we visited that site again and walked the hillside. Here and there, the only evidence that humans had ever lived here was the flowers.
Someone approached Francis of Assisi as he worked in his garden. “What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” they asked. He answered, “Go right on working in my flower garden.”
31. Read A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.”
A Facebook friend suggested this for our bucket list. I recall reading it more than half a lifetime ago, so I’ll put it on my own personal list to do.
Tozer was a Godly leader in the Christian-Missionary Alliance denomination. His columns for their monthly magazine were widely read. Long in heaven, his writings continue to bless and challenge, to convict and to inspire God’s people.
Tozer’s writings are dense. That means you’ll not read the book at one sitting or even in one afternoon. It’s not that kind of reading material. The book is small but the reading is heavy. You will read a page and lay the book down and repent. That may be all you get to today, but tomorrow you will review what you read today and take in a few more pages.
My guess is you’ll want to read more of his books after this one. (Where to find them? In Christian bookstores or go to any online source of used books. I recommend www.alibris.com.)
30. (We’ll get to this one in the next segment.)