A wise man named Blythe Harper told me at nineteen that one of the smartest things I could do in my life was to keep a personal spiritual journal or diary.
I started practicing his advice on October 30, 1972. I’ve been doing it ever since–for the past forty-four years.
At the moment, I’m looking down at the yellowed first page of that record when my hand-writing was still young and vibrant, and the thoughts flowed like water!
I’m sure glad I heeded his advice.
You can also leave a legacy through journaling.
To the left of my desk is a shelf that contains more than four feet worth of those journals, painstakingly kept over four decades. The early years were written on college-ruled paper and filed in notebooks; the middle segment were penned into the pages of a Youth With A Mission Prayer Diary; the last ten years have been complied and stored on computer with a paper copy back up.
I’m really glad that I did it. These precious journals contain many things that are irreplaceable to me:
- They share the story of my growth as a young believer to a forty-plus year career missionary with YWAM.
- They contain my thoughts on many subjects, personal, theological, practical, and relational.
- They tell all the stories of my travels, ministry, and spiritual highlights over a lifetime.
- They record the details and records of all the people I’ve met during my life on all the continents of the world and in sixty nations–what a treasure!
- They expose my personal failures and struggles, and how God made a way out of them for me.
- They help me remember the many things that God has taught me and spoken to me over forty plus years of walking with him.
It’s amazing how much you forget in a single day, let alone a year or a lifetime. One of my current practices with the journal is to print it out at the end of every year and then use the month of January to read it through again and remind myself of the things God has showed me and what he’s doing in my life. I’m always amazed at how much I forget–if it weren’t for the discipline of writing.
That’s why they say writing is 20/20 memory.
Yes–I’m like everyone else–not always faithful to record in the journal. When I started out in 1972, I wrote something down everyday. But for years now, I don’t write daily, just regularly to record the highlights of life and keep the thread of continuity going. Sometimes I get way behind and have to catch up on a trip or long flight across the ocean.
But I always catch up and keep the tale building. It’s a tremendous benefit to my own life–even if no one else ever sees it.
One thing I use the journal for is to organize my time wisely–what the Bible calls “numbering our days” (Psalm 90:12). About thirty years ago I prayed about the possible length of my lifetime based on the ages of parents, grandparents and other factors–and settled on eighty-five years. There’s no guarantee, but that’s what I’m aiming for.
Then I decided to “number my days”–literally–and place the number of days that I’ve already lived and the number of days I could possibly live (up to age 85) on each entry page of my journal. The purpose was to remind me that life is short, there’s no time to waste.
Thirty years ago those numbers stood at 10,952 days lived with 20,067 to go. Today those numbers stand at 22,968 days lived, and 7,963 left. Looking at those stats almost daily places a great motivation in my heart and conscience to make my life count for eternity. At this stage in my career, the hands of the clock are turning faster and faster.
But besides the personal benefits of journaling, I figured out a long time ago that recording my journey might be a blessing to my family, my children and grand children, or anybody else who might be interested. Years ago God impressed me that journaling was a great way to leave a legacy to those who come after you–so that they can learn from your mistakes and be inspired by your victories.
That’s a great motivation to keep writing–for the help and encouragement of others–especially those who are your own flesh and blood. (Nobody else may be interested!)
Sometime in the future I’m going to put those journals into a book form that can be passed down to my ancestors. I want them to learn how I survived the death of my mother, the imprisonment of my father, how I found God at fifteen and was called into his service at nineteen. I want them to read of all of God’s miracles in my life and how he carried me through the trials and stressed that we all face. I want them to know that I loved God with all my heart and want them to love him too.
Even if I don’t get around to the book, the journals are there. They’re a permanent record that I’m sure someone will enjoy.
They won’t know much about the real me unless I tell them–and write it down for them to read. The cool thing about today’s world is that it’s pretty easy to put your thoughts in a book form. Computers make that process easy and it doesn’t cost much to self-publish. You can print ten copies for your grandkids or 100,000 if your life is a block-buster. By the time I reach eighty-five in 2038, they’ll probably have figured out a way to take my old written journals, and scan them straight into type!
It gets easier every year.
Journaling is one of the simplest and most long-lasting ways to leave a legacy to your family and friends– one they can hold onto and cherish for the rest of their lives–and pass on to others. As Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a full man…writing an exact man.” I want to “fill up” my descendants with the great news of God’s grace in my life–and the only way I can be “exact” about it is to write it down.
It’s that simple.
So how about you? You say you’re older and it’s too late to start journaling? How about doing a “recap” of your life that can be a blessing for generations to come. If you’re closer to mid-stream, why not get started with that wealth of life experience that can be a help to those that follow you.
And if you’re young, this is the time to begin. Take the wise advice I was given over forty years ago:
Keep a personal, spiritual journal.
It’s your legacy to pass on for the glory of God.
The recent passing of Steve Jobs, one of the brilliant pioneers of the Information Age, has brought many thoughts to my heart and mind over the past week.
I certainly share the global adulations of his amazing life and work. He changed the world through his numerous inventions including the MacIntosh computer, The iPhone, iPod, iPhone, iPad and the multi-million dollar industry that they spawned. He was one of the great pioneers of the high tech era—an eclectic icon to this generation.
But I wonder if Steve Jobs ever correctly answered life’s three most important questions. His ultimate fate and legacy will hinge on those answers.
So will yours.
Before looking at those questions, I agree with the outpouring of global sentiment that Steve Jobs made a significant contribution to the world as we now know it—especially in computing and digital entertainment. Ed Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation, and certainly one of opposite political persuasion from Jobs, had these kind words to say:
“Apple Computer, the company Jobs founded at the age of 21 was valued at the close of business yesterday at $350 billion. From computing to music to journalism, Jobs changed the way the world did its business and leisure. Very little of what we do today has not been impacted somehow by Jobs and his company. He certainly changed my life from my first Apple III with floppy discs almost 30 years ago, costing about $6000 and possessing a small fraction of the capabilities of my streamlined new iPad 2, all at less than 10 percent of the cost of that early dinosaur.”
“Macs transformed the way people came to see computers, from gizmos only nerds understood or liked to things almost as organic as the partly bitten apples of the ever-present logos. Creative designing and thinking flowed naturally from a Mac, powering the creativity and productivity that have become the hallmark of the American economy. In music, Jobs changed the industry by taking it digital.”
“As for journalism and reading in general, we have now gone back to where we started: the biblical tablet. The elegant slab we take with us wherever we go can do the same for us and take us, no matter where we are, anywhere in the universe our imagination wants to visit. All this was the result of the happy coincidence of genius in an individual and a system. Jobs was an individual with special DNA.”
I agree wholeheartedly.
I never met Steve Jobs, but I’m aware of his history. He was adopted as a child–a half-Arab boy from a Persian background. After living a fairly normal American middle class life, he went in his early twenties to India in pursuit of religious truth and enlightenment. What he learned there must have stuck. When he later married, the ceremony was conducted according to Zen Buddhist ritual.
In Steve’s interviews and speeches, there’s an absence of references to God. However, not long after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, he gave a commencement speech at Stanford University that gave us a small window into his soul. Here are some excerpts:
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my
life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything ‹ all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Facing his own mortality motivated Steve Jobs to think about priorities. To his collegiate audience he stressed the value of living as if it was his last day; He talked about the need to “follow your heart and intuitions;” He encouraged the graduates to reject the “dogma” of others, and think for themselves.
But I hear a deafening silence on life’s three most important questions. What are those questions, and how do they impact the true legacy of our lives?
Number One: Is there a God?
This is the most important question. Everything else hinges upon it. If there’s no God, then I can pretty much do what I want. Without God, each one of us is our own god and everything is unanswerable, without purpose, going nowhere, and in a word—meaningless. If there’s no God, then you don’t need to listen to others but simply follow your own heart desires.
However, that answer is not true.
Yes, there is a God.
Like many folks, including Steve Jobs, I encountered some problems in my youthful years that sent me searching for truth. I found it in the reality of God as vividly seen in his creation and wonderfully revealed in His Word—the Bible. Once I knew there was a God, that revelation changed everything in my life, world, and calling.
But God’s reality only prompted the second most important question:
Number Two: If there is a God, then how do I come into right relationship with Him?
It’s one thing to be aware that there’s a God, a moral universe, and a right and wrong way to live—i.e. good and evil. It’s another thing to meet God’s conditions for friendship with Him.
As I sought to get to know God, and studied His Word, it became plain that the problem on earth and in my own life was selfishness; That God was a Holy God who hated sin out of love and truth; That I was a sinner and couldn’t change myself; But that God had provided a way for my forgiveness and transformation through the death of Jesus Christ his Son because of His incredible love for me and all human beings.
I came to discover that I could have a right and eternal relationship with God by faith. I could be saved and changed through trusting Him. This faith would direct my life on earth and allow me share eternal life with God and all other redeemed human beings after this life was over.
That led me to the final critical question:
Number Three: Then what kind of faith saves me?
There are different types of faith. One type of faith is mental—you simply agree with certain facts in your mind. I’d practiced it as a child, but it didn’t change me. I know many people that have “facts” about God without relationship or power. It doesn’t work.
The Bible also said that “even the demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19). But their type of faith doesn’t save them either. They know God exists and they’re scared spitless. But this type of demonic faith doesn’t change their life or fate.
As I studied God’s Word, I came to understand what saving faith is. The New Testament makes it clear that saving faith is a heart-felt trust that invites Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I need to agree with God about my evil heart, confess my sins, turn away from a selfish lifestyle and put my trust in the Savior to change me. He is the new boss—and I am his follower.
Many years ago I embraced God’s grace with saving faith—and became a child and friend of God.
I don’t know if Steve Jobs ever asked or answered these pivotal questions. I pray that he did. I hope that in the latter days of his life—regardless of all the great stuff he had launched and invented—he bowed his heart before God, asked his forgiveness for his sins, and put his faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord of his life.
Because this is also true: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul. What can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26). And “one small life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Steve Jobs was right that we all face death. That also means we all will face God. I hope that he did so with saving faith in his Creator and Savior.
If he did, his life and legacy will endure forever. If he did not, then his contributions to our world will be helpful in this life, but not eternal.
There’s truth to the idea that wisdom comes with the years. The following list of wisdom ideas comes from Regina Brett who is now ninety years old and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
If you practice a tenth of this list you will do well. If you aim for all of them, you will live a truly blessed life and help to change the world. RB
By Regina Brett
“To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more.”
1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t mess up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ”In five years, will this matter?”.
26. Always choose life.
27. Forgive everyone everything.
28. What other people think of you is none of your business.
29. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
31. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
32. Believe in miracles.
33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
34. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
35. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. The best is yet to come.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.