Today, on your birthday, Pastor John, we want to hear from you because I know when birthdays and anniversaries come around, you spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting and a lot of time in prayer. And I want to ask you, what is your prayer today, on this, your 67th birthday?
My prayer is first an overflow of thankfulness to God. I am thankful for 67 years of physical life. And they have been remarkably easy, I think, from my standpoint, compared to most people in the world. I have not, at least from my memory standpoint, been all that sick. I can remember times when it’s been difficult, but a relatively smooth 67 years.
I am thankful for 61 years of life in Christ and his amazing faithfulness to me. I am thankful for 44 years with Noel and her rock-solid commitment to stand by me in everything. I am thankful for 33 years with my church. What a gift they have been to me. I think I have gotten to know God more and people more in these 33years than I could have in any other path that he would have given me. I am thankful for 40 years of parenting, with the ups and downs and joys and sorrows of that. And thankful deeply for my five children who love me. I just got a beautiful email this morning from one of my kids just saying he loved me. It really touches you pretty deeply.
“God, do not let me waste my retirement.”
So, thankfulness is just big. And then when you let it turn from thankfulness, it becomes, “God, do not let me waste the next chapter.” Everything feels like chapters right now, Tony, because years do not seem to matter so much as eras right now, for me. I am finishing at Bethlehem, after 67 years. So right now it does not just look like I am facing a year. It looks like I am facing an era, as God gives me life. So, I say,
God, do not let me waste this, and grant that your name would be hallowed through my life and that your kingdom would come through my life, that your will would be done in my life. I want to spread a passion for your supremacy, O Lord, in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. So keep me on task, and do not let me fritter my life away.
Any Surprises As You Look Back?
Looking back over the previous chapters of your life now at age 67, are there things that surprise you? I imagine there are a lot of things that surprise you.
Oh my, yes! You know, as a kid I was so insecure and so pimple-faced and nervous and socially mal-adapted. And if you had told me that I would speak at Passion — to 60,000 students — I would have said, “Yeah, if the sun stops in the sky and the ocean dries up, I might be able to do that.”
So, my present role as a preacher to a church every week and to groups around the country, that is just unheard of. I did not plan that; it was not on the agenda. People would ask me, “You going be a preacher like your dad?” I would say, “No way, I cannot begin to be a preacher like my dad.” So, my whole vocational trajectory is a surprise to me.
And then, writing started to be a love for me in the eleventh grade, ironically. I did not read until the eleventh grade, hardly. I hated to read. I would rather be outside throwing a ball or digging in the dirt. And suddenly, Mrs. Clanton, I do not know what she did in the eleventh grade literature class, but wow, something just locked in on me for poetry and writing and reading.
So from my gut, it does not surprise me that I am a writer. From my gut, it does surprise me that my books have sold and that people care to read them. I have always written — written for journals and written birthday poems for my family and things — but that I would be a writer and a preacher, those two things are surprising to me.
Please Pray for Pastor John
Pastor John, how can we be praying for you as this new chapter of your life as your ministry now unfolds?
I really do feel remarkably vulnerable to distraction because of the lifting of certain pressures. You know, deadlines are wonderfully productive. And pressure, while we hate it, really does help us. Living a life in the ministry, every week you must preach, every Tuesday you must lead the staff, and every time a retreat comes around you must have a plan. And the pressures of the last 32 years have been wonderfully productive and effective.
Now, those pressures begin to lift, and I need to adjust my internal motivational powers. So God needs to give me the grace to have my own intrinsic personal resolves to set goals for myself and patterns of life for myself so that I can continue to be fruitful and not wasteful of my time — because I can taste it. I can just taste that it is easy to drift when you do not have deadlines.
“It seems to me that the closer we are getting to Jesus, the more we should be devoted to him.”
So just pray that I would not be a drifter either spiritually or productively. By spiritually, I mean that I want to go hard after God in this new season. What strikes me about retirement and the way the world conceives of it, is that generally the world recommends pretty poor ways of getting ready to meet King Jesus. It seems to me that the closer we are getting to Jesus, the more we should be devoted to him in focused ways of fellowship and communion.
So pray for my own personal aggressiveness in spiritual life. I want to go hard after Jesus in my devotions so that I know him better and better through his word in order that when I die, the transition will not be abrupt. It will not be surprising. When I look at Jesus, I want to say, “You are what I saw and came to love in the word of God.” I will not have to radically adjust in seeing him.