One of the chief advantages of writing in your sixties is that you’ve not already spouted a bunch of printed “pronouncements” you have to retract. You still eat crow…just not so much you choke on it. Most of my misstatements and missteps have gone unrecorded anywhere else but in my memory and that of innocent bystanders. At the same time I would say to my younger brothers and sisters, “Don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes.”
I’ve learned that one gains wisdom from the experiences of life, especially the mistakes. James Joyce said, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” Oscar Wilde (who ought to know) said, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
Through taking the risk of making mistakes significant things are accomplished. A lot of sayings back that up such as, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” or something like that.
The heroes of Hebrews 12 exemplify this principle. They were “…not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Hebrews 11:39).”
Looking back there are things I wish I’d done differently. I wish I had…
…proclaimed Christ more than the church.
…made disciples who would make disciples instead of mere converts.
…worked more with young people.
…stayed at my mission point longer.
…loved the one for whom we battle more than the battle itself.
I wish, when I came back from Australia that I had done something else besides “pulpit ministry.”
In a couple of cases, I wish I had moved on before I did.
I wish I had found more God-glorifying ways to use the voice God gave me.
I wish I had given more love and attention to my wife and children and less to the demands of others.
I wish I had maintained a better connection with potential mentors.
There’s more, but that’s enough regret for today.
Some folks are amazed that I so easily admit past mistakes. The truth is, we all make them, no matter how great we think we are. I saw a T-shirt recently emblazoned with the tongue-in-cheek phrase, “The older I get, the better I was.” Well, I’m not particularly good now and I certainly wasn’t so hot back then either…might as well admit it. Furthermore, others need the benefit of the wisdom gained from my mistakes. So, out of mercy and benevolence I’ll bless you with just a few hard-won insights for your chewing pleasure.
1. Don’t be too quick to take an immovable doctrinal position. By doing so, I have caused pain for others and great regret for myself. At the time, I thought some of those positions were solid truth upon which salvation depended. Now I know them to be matters of opinion. Hold your beliefs but don’t impose them (Romans 14). Test them in the crucible of discussion. Listen to the opposition, you might learn something! No one has a premium on truth except the Holy Spirit. I wish I had learned that lesson much earlier.
2. Don’t assume anything about anyone. I still make this mistake but less often these days, I think. I have made too many assumptions about too many people. Don’t assume someone thinks, believes or practices something until you have asked them face-to-face. This will save time and embarrassment. As another saying goes, we are great about building straw men and then beating them to death. When discussing differences, make sure you listen and comprehend the position of the one with whom you disagree. You may be reading them all wrong resulting in one of your pedal extremities in your oral cavity.
3. Don’t dismiss or fail to seek advice from others who have been where you’re going (Proverbs 15:22). I made many mistakes that advisors could have helped me avoid. Advisors were available, but with few exceptions, for some stupid reason, I did not seek their advice. It is to your advantage to gather into your brain-basket the observations of others who have sailed the same seas upon which you are about to embark. We all need mentors whether or not we think so. You may cherish the ridiculously arrogant foolishness that you don’t need advice. You will humbly learn the sad truth sooner or later. Search for a trustworthy advisor and make yourself listen and learn.
4. If angels fear to tread somewhere, don’t foolishly rush in; there’s probably a reason for their hesitation. As a kid, I was trained to “Stop, look and listen,” before crossing a street or railroad track. “Look before you leap.” Sound advice for all of us! I have noticed that some of my contemporaries who became authors at an early age now have the rest of their lives to repent of words rashly written. What is the cost of the journey you are about to make? What are the consequences? At the same time after you have had a good look and a listen…
5. Go ahead and boldly take appropriate risks. My leaps of faith have too frequently resembled little hops. Too often I fearfully heeded the misgivings of others and failed to leap at all. As we said above, no ventures…no gains. Have you noticed the lack of statues dedicated to the timid and the fearful? David Crockett, a man with a background of risky behavior, ventured into Texas and stayed too long at the Alamo. His philosophy was, “Be always sure you’re right-then go a-head!” He is consequently honored with statues and namesakes all over Texas. Your boldness may gain the censure of your family, friends and fellows, but you may also gain a victory for the kingdom of God. No victories are won by the faint-hearted. No progress is made by insular, conformist, slaves to tradition. The kingdom needs warriors who pray in faith and then go for it.
The times and seasons call for men and women who will embrace the risks, make a few mistakes, suffer some setbacks, experience the occasional shipwreck, endure a whipping or two and not throw away our confidence so that, when we have done the will of God, we may receive what was promised (Hebrews 10:35).