What advice would you give your 18 year self?

This is graduation season. Thousands are graduating from high school. Some will be going to the next level of education and some into the full time work force.  As they will soon discover, life is full of surprises and challenges that they have not anticipated. When we look back at our life in retrospect we all have some things that we would do different.  As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

I have been thinking, now that I am in my twilight years, if I could go back to my 18 year old self and give him some advice what would I tell him?  Or what if  I could speak to an audience of 18 year old high school graduates, what advice would I give them? Three things come to my mind as I anticipate this conversation.

Make sure of your salvation –  If you ask the average religious person on the street, “If you died tonight are your sure that you would go to heaven?” They would probably say I am not sure, or I hope so, or no I am not sure.  This is the most important aspect of life to settle. The scripture tells us in 1 John 5:13,  I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.”  Salvation that Jesus gives us is a “know so” salvation.  When we trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross for our sin, and put our trust in Him for our salvation, He gives us eternal life. (John 3:16)

Why is it important to settle our salvation?  It gives us inner peace and assurance that heaven is our home.  Also, at salvation we get Jesus in us, changing and conforming us to His image.  It gives us confidence that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  We now have a “belongingness and an identity.”  We are a child of God that is positionally “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We are now on a spiritual journey, not trying to work our way to heaven, but moving toward spiritual maturity that allows us to be salt and light to the world. 

Set your moral compass –  There are many voices that are clamoring for your attention.  If you don’t set your moral compass early on, then the many voices around you will determine your direction.  There are two primary models of moral compasses, the moral compass of culture and the moral compass of the Bible.  Your level of peace, contentment, satisfaction, happiness and inner joy is directly related to which moral compass you follow. If you follow the cultural model your moral compass will change as the culture changes.  Your morality will reflect the movement and trends of the culture.  You will have no moral absolutes because when the trends of culture change so will you.

But if your moral compass is based on a biblical model then your morality is driven by truth. You have a set of absolutes that guide your life.  These absolutes are given by the wisdom of God. He gave us these moral principles based on His foreknowledge.  He knows what happens to humans when they reject the moral absolutes of scripture. 

Having moral absolutes takes a lot of pressure off trying to conform to cultural demands.  Your moral compass will always guide you in the right direction.  The moral compass also includes the indwelling life of Christ and the Holy Spirit to guide you in all your decisions.

Let go of your life –  The most important command of Scripture is to “love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul.”  In other words, live life in a state of full surrender and abandonment to the will of God.  Happiness is always found when you are willing to surrender all your dreams and plans to the Lord.  Does that mean that you don’t plan for your future and work toward success in your profession?  No, it just means as you plan and dream ask the Lord to guide in the direction that pleases Him and fulfills His will for your life.

This is where having a correct moral compass comes into play.  Instead of trying to keep up with the trends of culture, you are able to avoid the mental struggle of being like everyone else.  You realize that God loves you and has made you unique to the whole world. He has a plan for your life that will suit your natural gifting and that will bring joy, happiness and inner peace to your heart. That can only happen if you are willing to let go of your life and trust God with your future.

Bottom Line

There are things in life that happen that we can’t explain or change… that’s just life.  But there are many things in life that we can prevent or change if we had the proper tools to make those decisions  

When you are sure of your salvation it gives you the boldness to believe that God is always with you to navigate every challenge of life.  When we set our moral compass it gives us confidence that we are not going to throw away our life on the whims of the culture. Because we have a compass, it always points in the right direction.  When we practice letting go of our life, then we open ourselves to all sorts of possibilities to serve others and give God the glory in the process. 

Now that you are older, what advice would you give your 18 year old self? It’s never too late to apply these principles to your life.

Jesus As Our Shepherd

The 23rd Psalm has been a favorite among many believers for centuries.  Many of us the learned this passage when we were a child.  I remember quoting this verse as a young boy in public school as our daily prayer before class began. 

There is just something calming about this passage of Scripture that speaks to the longing of our soul to be connected with our Creator.  It’s not just a coincidence that David, a shepherd boy soon to become the greatest king Israel has even known, would pin this unique passage of Scripture.  His firsthand account of how a shepherd loves, cares and disciplines his sheep is a perfect picture of how the Good Shepherd (Jesus) loves and cares for us.

When you observe the 23rd Psalm from a shepherd’s point of view there is depth to the passage that ascends normal human understanding. It becomes a picture of our Savior’s unique but complete care of His children.  Each phrase tells of a different level of care and love that Jesus has for His children.

In this passage Jesus is the Shepherd and the sheep are His children. Because each phrase in this Psalm is packed with a unique truth I want touch on just a couple of phrases that are especially meaningful to me. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

 The Lord is my Shepherd”This speaks of the believers submission to God’s ownership, guidance and care.  Many want to claim Jesus as their Shepherd but they are far from full submission. They want to live their life without accountability to His will.   It’s like a sheep who keeps wandering off from the flock and starts grazing among poisonous weeds.  Or the sheep who wanders from the flock and becomes easy prey for the wolves and coyotes. A sheep on his own puts himself in danger that he doesn’t have the wisdom to foresee or discern.

The same is true in our life.  Anything but full submission to the Lord Jesus puts us in danger of  going down a road we never intended. Submission is not following certain rules or regulations but living in a state of daily dependence  upon the Savior for every aspect of our lives.  It’s having such confidence in the Good Shepherd’s care that whatever comes in our life we know  our Sovereign God is fully aware and in control, even though we may feel out of control. 

I shall not want”   This phrase is connected to the first phrase.  Because the Lord is my Shepherd then I live in a condition of wanting nothing.  It’s a phrase of contentment.  When we are utterly dependent upon Him for our provision, care and love then our life is complete.

  • He is our provision – ” And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)
  • He is our care – “Casting all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
  • We are the beneficiary of His unconditional love –  “For I am convinced that…nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God’s plan of complete dependence upon Him allows us to find our contentment in Him, not in things, status, or acceptance by the culture.  We are to be so dependent upon Him that when loss occurs we know our Shepherd is in control and has our back.  We don’t crave or desire anything more.  It frees us from the trap that satan sets to ensnare us into believing that we need more to be truly happy and content.  As a follower of Jesus, contentment is truly the key to our happiness.

Bottom Line

Is the Lord Jesus truly the Shepherd of your life, or are you trying to live life in two worlds?  Can you say that you are content by resting in His love and care?

A partial surrender is not surrender at all.  A shepherd cannot care and protect a sheep who thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Without true contentment we will live a life of always needing more. 

 Our life has a destiny and it can only be found as we give our life in full surrender to His control and leadership.  As the Scripture declares, “He knows the plans He has for us.” (Jeremiah. 28:11)

Philip Keller in his classic book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”  writes the following words: 

As I have moved among men and women from all strata of society as both a lay pastor and a scientist I have become increasingly aware of one thing.  It is the boss/master in peoples lives who makes the difference in their destiny.”

Who is the boss/master of your life?       

God’s Wrestling Match

“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. (Genesis 32:24 NLT)

Jacob had been abundantly blessed by God.  He was materially prosperous and blessed with a large family.  His life was complete except for one thing.  He was estranged from his twin brother Esau.  

When their father Issac was near death Jacob deceived his blind father by posing as Esau and stole his brothers birthright. When Esau found out about his brother’s deception Jacob fled for his life.  Years had passed and now Jacob was attempting to reconnect with his brother.

As Jacob was preparing to meet with Esau he sent part of his family ahead and he stayed in camp all alone.  All of sudden, out of nowhere, a man appeared and began to physically wrestle with Jacob.  Jacob and this man wrestled all night long.  Just as dawn was beginning to appear the man realized he could not win and he touched Jacob in the hip socket and Jacob ceased his struggle. The Scripture records:

“When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.” (Verse 25 NLT)

This story is a supernatural event which has application for us today.  There are at least three elements of the story that are key to understanding this passage.

1. First the man doing the wrestling with Jacob is none other than the Lord Jesus.  This is known as a Christophany.  A Christophany is an Old Testament appearance of the Lord Jesus. This is one of several recorded instances of Jesus appearing in the Old Testament. Notice what Jacob said about the man.

“Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Verse 30 NLT)

2. The wrestling match was about breaking Jacob’s self-will. Even though it was a physical wrestling match the real battle was about surrender of the will.  The passage says “When the man saw that he would not win the match he touched Jacob’s hip.“  If it was a typical match of strength all Jesus had to do was speak a word and Jacob would have been immobilized.   It was about Jacob being unwilling to let go of his stronghold of living as a liar and deceiver. 

3. When Jesus put his hip out of socket Jacob gave up the fight.  This was Jacob’s brokenness moment which led to his repentance.  His repentance from his deceptive ways changed his life.  He was never the same again.  To reflect this change in Jacob’s life God changed his name from Jacob ( liar, deceiver ) to Israel ( God fights).

“ Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  What is your name? the man asked. He replied, “Jacob”, the man told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, from now on you will be called Israel because you have fought with God and man and have won.”(Genesis 32:27-28 NLT)

Bottom Line

This story holds valuable instruction for us today.  God wants to deliver us from those things that keep us from being totally committed and fully obedient. There are at least three lessons we can learn from Jacobs wrestling match. 

Lesson 1: Strongholds are those things that keep us from living out our God given destiny.  Jacob’s birthright and destiny was to fulfill the promise given to Abraham of making a great nation. Jacob’s deception and lies kept him from fulfilling this destiny. His sin created a stronghold that caused him to miss God’s best for his life.  

We also have a destiny and our strongholds keep us from realizing God’s purpose for our life. What is it in your life that keeps you from a life of freedom? What has God been wrestling with you about?

God might strive and wrestle with us for a while but in the end it is our choice to stop struggling, surrender and trust God.

Lesson 2:  Notice that God had to injure Jacob in order to get his attention. If necessary, God would rather see us crushed rather than living  an un-surrendered life. Are we sure that our dreams and plans are congruent with God’s plan?

God loves us unconditionally, but sometimes He is not content with us as we are. If we keep wrestling with Him and holding on to something He wants us to surrender, then  He may have to bring us to the end of ourselves. He may bring us to a point that we have no place to run and no one to turn but to Him. 

He wants to change us into His image. Brokenness is often God’s method of getting us to the end of ourselves.  Jacob was running from his problems.  He knew he had to make it right with his brother or he would never enjoy God’s full favor or blessing.

Jacob was full of fear until he was tired of wrestling with God. He finally gave up, repented and put His trust, and his life, in God’s hand. That’s all that God ask of us, to surrender every aspect of our life to Him and then learn to trust him fully.  

Lesson 3: Sometimes the scars of our past is a good reminder that full surrender and abandonment is the best place to be.  I don’t know how long Jacob limped after that event, maybe till his death.  But I can imagine every time he had a hip pain it reminded him of the price he paid of doing life in his own strength.