Have you heard of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life? Released earlier this year, it is written by Charles Murray, the rather controversial political scientist, author, and public intellectual. In this short, whimsical book, seventy-four-year-old Murray offers advice—lots of advice—to readers still in their twenties. The wise old sage prepares a younger generation to get ahead by telling them to make their beds in the morning, to avoid tattoos and piercings, to learn proper grammar, and—my favorite—to eschew the word like as a meaningless filler in almost every sentence of one’s speech.
Do you use the word like as a verbal tic? I mean, like, do you insert it in, like, random points in your, like, spoken conversation? If the answer is yes, this is the single most important tip in the entire book: STOP IT!
This guide to the “treacherous” transition from college to adult life is a fun read even for an almost-curmudgeon such as myself. Murray advises his readers to marry young, to stop fretting about fame and fortune, to work hard, and to take religion seriously. This last piece of advice is illuminating insofar as Murray professes no particular faith. He writes, I still describe myself as an agnostic, but my unbelief is getting shaky.
Reading The Curmudgeon’s Guide got me thinking about what I would say to the younger generation who want to get ahead, not in life, but in Christ. What would my advice be to those still in their twenties who want to mature in their faith? If Murray is “getting shaky” in his unbelief as he ages, what steps can we, who love and adore Jesus, take to ensure that our faith remains rock-solid as we pass through the seasons of life? Accordingly, I offer nine almost-curmudgeonly words of guidance to those wanting to set the right course. I say “almost” because I’m not quite old enough or grumpy enough to qualify as a full-fledged curmudgeon. (If you disagree: BE QUIET!!!)
1. Surrender to Jesus. Be born again. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved. If you don’t take this step, skip the rest of these words of advice.
2. No surprises here! Open your Bible daily and pray before you do anything else. This is the spiritual equivalent of Murray’s first word of advice, “Make your bed.” Begin a lifelong habit of opening God’s Word and praying before you begin your day. This trumps exercise at the gym, meditation in the LA Times, or communing with Good Morning, America (as if anyone in their twenties watches that!). Start the day with the Lord, and your trajectory will be established.
3. Seek first God’s kingdom. Your life is not your own. Read that countercultural statement again: your life is not your own. You were bought with a price. You were fearfully and wonderfully made… to serve God. Consider missions, honor God with your work, serve in your community. Make a difference in your world.
4. Serve your church. Be on the giving end, not the receiving end. Of course, in order to serve your church, you have to be involved in your church. And that’s the point. Teach Sunday school, make coffee, clean the parking lot, lead a home group, do something, do anything! Just be sure that you are serving in some way—and make serving a habit for life. You’ll find that it contributes to your growth as a believer.
5. Give regularly of your money. Practice tithing (give the church a tenth of your income). Your church probably doesn’t need your money, and God clearly doesn’t need your money. But you need to give some of it away. If you do this throughout your lifetime, you will give away a lot of money, but by doing so you will, at least partially, break money’s hold on you. If you consider what this money might have made had you invested it in the stock market, you will see that you have given a fortune to the Lord’s work. And—trust me on this—when your life is over, you won’t regret it. The money you gave to God will be the only investment over which you will rejoice. Trusting God with your money is one way to trust God with your heart. Heart always follows money. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Someone important said that.
6. Remember the Sabbath. One of the primary curses of the digital age is that nothing stops. There are no breaks; there are no days off. Amazon never closes; an iPhone never sleeps. As a pastor I marvel at how few of us observe a Sabbath, myself included. I see people rushing into services on Sundays only to rush out to the next soccer game, or baseball game, or BBQ, or the beach, or (fill in the blank). I like what pastor Mark Buchanan says in his book on the Sabbath: Sabbath is that day in which all other days have no claim.… It is a day as different from those other days as an ocean is from a lagoon. Buchanan goes on to say that the Golden Rule of the Sabbath is Stop doing what you ought to do. It is the one day when the only thing you must do is to not do the things you must.
7. Get married if you can, stay married if you do marry, and don’t despair if you don’t marry. Marriage matures us. For decades now Lisa and I have been telling people that one great reason to get married is that the institution reveals to us what jerks we are. It does. Marriage will break us in the same way a wild horse needs to be broken. But after we are broken, we will find the pieces greater than the former unbroken whole. And stay married after you make the vow. God has much to teach us in marriage, especially if our marriage is difficult.
But there is more. Don’t despair if God doesn’t give you a mate. The Bible exalts marriage higher than we ever could on our own, but at the same time the biblical writers keep marriage in its place. Marriage is a good gift, but it is not ultimate: marriage is not God. In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul said some utterly shocking things about the institution of marriage. One of them, written in a culture where virtually everyone was married and there was no group of people called “singles,” was the notion that the believer can live a full life without marriage. Widows need not remarry, and virgins need not marry at all. How could Paul say this? Because of the age to come. The present form of this world is passing away (v. 31). Jesus is coming again, and that changes everything. Marriage and family, as important as they are, will not fulfill us. Jesus has, and Jesus will.
8. Glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:20). Meaning, practice chastity outside of marriage and fidelity inside of marriage. This almost-curmudgeon has seen more heartache than you can imagine on the part of those choosing to ignore this command. If you haven’t glorified God with your body, repent and claim the wonderful grace of God. But repent—and then glorify God with your body.
9. To borrow from Max Lucado, make important decisions in a graveyard. As the famous missionary C.T. Studd wrote,Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. Kind of corny; very true.