Recently, I was asked to give advice to young people by looking back on my own experience—things I am thankful I was counseled to do, and other things I wish I had been admonished to do differently. This is some of the advice I wish I had received, and I pray it encourages your heart too—no matter what phase of life you find yourself in.
For those of us who graduated high school without a confidently narrowed plan for life after college, keeping every door open was often the name of the game—taking on one more class, one more activity or one more commitment. But by always saying yes and always looking for more, it is easy to lose sight of the priorities we hope will define our lives.
While there is something to be said for being open to spontaneity and exploring uncharted territories—as some of my best experiences came about by taking up unexpected opportunities—not until my mid-20s did I accept the reality that every “yes” I say is a no to something else.
Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing. For example, saying no to Netflix in order to say yes to a new organization, ministry or act of service is surely the right trade to make. But each yes or no is much more likely to be the right decision if made within a pre-established framework of priorities. What are our highest, most ultimate goals in life? What do we want to be known for? What are the few things we want to do really well? And then, most challenging of all, does our schedule reflect our answers?
No two people’s priorities are exactly the same. Even no two Christians’ priorities are the same. But for those who follow Jesus, all priorities are to align within the ultimate two Jesus set for us—the two that encompass the entire sum of God’s commands: to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will never regret a decision that enables us to love Him more deeply. We will never regret the aim to love people more sacrificially. And we will never regret choosing the right things and doing the right things well.
In your 20s, the urging of society is to brand yourself, promote yourself and “network”—often the cover-up phrase for trying to form relationships for the sole purpose of getting a self-serving benefit out of others. Nowhere else do we consistently hear the far opposite truth that humility brings honor, and that those who humble themselves will be exalted but in Scripture.
Living in a broken world with a fallen nature through sinful flesh, this mindset of humility will not come naturally. We have to fight for it. Remember that you have accomplished nothing on your own, and that you need the Lord and His people more than you know.
Find mentors and ask the tough questions—where your blind spots are, what your generation makes you biased toward and where those farther down the road see you going based on your current projection. Keep an intimate, personal set of truth tellers around you who know you incredibly well, who have walked with you in your lowest points, who see through the acts others often don’t and who aren’t afraid to call you out when you need it.
With each accolade, thank someone who helped you reach it. Use each recognition to turn outward, not inward—toward others to serve through your influence, rather than boasting yourself through self-centered promotion. And when you doubt the sincerity of your own motives, look to do good things that will never be seen or praised.
Even if you think you are succeeding, stay on guard against the most subtle and sneaky of all forms of pride: comparison and envy. Counter them by celebrating others—rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15), knowing you serve the God who sees you, and that as you turn and question others’ lives more than your own, you may hear Jesus ask you the same question He asked Peter: “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22).
The only way we can maintain a posture of sincere humility forever is not by self-deprecation, but by turning our eyes to the bigger picture of God’s unfathomable work around the world and throughout the universe from the beginning of time, seeing ourselves in perspective to it. As we behold His greatness, we focus more on—and find far deeper joy in—being even a footnote in His great story than we do in making our own story great.
In a world urging us to “live our own truth,” arguing that truth is either relative or altogether nonexistent, may we be the generation courageous enough to expose this deception for the delusion that it is. Truth does exist. It is findable. And we will forever be lost without it.
Don’t hide from the tough questions in intimidation or in overwhelmed confusion over the vastness of options on the table. Start at the very beginning of what you know to be true, and when you feel really lost, retrace your steps. How did we get here? Why is there evil in the world, and who gets to decide what’s evil anyway? What do we do about it? What is the meaning of our lives? What happens after we die?
In your pursuit, remember that the loudest voices aren’t always the right ones. In fact, they rarely are. Be less persuaded by the general consensus on your social media feed than you are with the timeless truths that have endured the ages and the honest realities of life today.
In the midst of all the decisions, choices, paths and options, when you feel the least sure and the most confused, just do the next thing. Do the very next thing that you know to be right. Take out the trash. Pack your lunch. Show up to work on time. Get on your knees and open up the Word. Take Him up on the promise to grant wisdom to those who ask, acting on the confidence that you’ve received it, trusting Him above your own understanding, acknowledging Him in all your ways and running in the straight path of His commands.
Along the way, keep your hands open. Receive every blessing with gratitude and praise. Receive every trial with trust and hope. Let go of everything He takes away with surrender and peace. Sometimes, even the most painful setbacks or the withholding of things you thought you wanted most deeply of all, can be the greatest blessings in the end—ones you would have never chosen for yourself.
If right in this moment, you are where you are supposed to be, with whom you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing, how could you be missing out on anything good He wants to bring you? And for every mistake or misstep, may you be counted among those who love Him, for whom He is working all things for the good (Romans 8:28).
Current troubles are sufficient for the day (Matthew 6:34), and His grace is sufficient for today too (2 Corinthians 12:9). Fight the temptation to run too far ahead in your own plans where you were never asked to be now. You can do nothing to affect it apart from what you do today and more specifically, what you do in this very moment to prepare for it. Instead, focus on taking the right next step right now that will eventually lead you into it. Then, take the next right step after that, trusting what’s out of your hands to the One whose hands hold your future.
A FEW MORE THINGS
For everything else I forgot, call your parents. And your grandparents. Honor the fifth commandment and guard your rest—real rest with Jesus, not the TV-watching kind. Take care of your teeth. Spend less time on social media. Pick a church and be consistent. When you feel sad or purposeless or lonely, look for someone to serve. Every once in awhile, stop taking pictures and just enjoy things. Never stop making new friends, but keep up with the old ones too. Look to the Lord your Maker. And whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
This article was originally post in 2017.