Our culture talks a lot about bucket lists: doing things, experiencing things, achieving things before the clock of life runs out. Mainly, it’s used to talk about travel, places to see, places to go. So, what about Christians talking about bucket lists?
That’s the question from a listener named Christine: “Pastor John, hello. Recently, you wrote this on Twitter: ‘Retirees pack in their bucket list quick before they die as if there is no glorious resurrection, no new earth, no wonders of the new world, no presence of Christ to sweeten every venture in eternity. It is a very strange way for Christians to act in a world of desperate need.’ That’s poignant.
“I feel this pressure as a twenty-year-old woman. All my friends have bucket lists, too, for places to see and travel to before they get married and have kids. I’ll admit I’m tempted here, to get all my adventuring in now. It’s not just a retiree temptation. Can you further unpack this point for me? It seems tied to your themes of not wasting our lives and ‘anti-retirement.’ But how do you balance this eternal hope for the next life while taking and enjoying vacations with your family in this life?”
Let me clarify at the outset that, yes, I am on a little crusade to motivate Christians over the age of 65 (and those who are planning to be over the age of 65 someday) not to waste their remaining healthy lives in bondage to the worldly mindset that earthly adventures are to be packed into our final years, as though on the other side of death, just a few years away, the adventures with Jesus will not be a thousand times better. Instead, they will probably be enhanced if we spend our final healthy years here serving other people rather than chasing earthly excitements.
I don’t know how you can read and believe the Bible and look at this pervasively broken, suffering world, this lost world, and think otherwise. I really don’t. Baby boomers, my generation — I’m the oldest baby boomer, just eleven days short (my birthday is January 11, 1946) — baby boomers own half of the nation’s $156 trillion in assets. Seventy-five million American boomers are expected to be retiring or to have retired seven years from now — all of us, more or less, retired by 2030.
And about 28 percent of those 75 million boomers call themselves evangelical Christians. That’s about 21 million people. If we had the will, we could finish the Great Commission before we were off the scene, both by hundreds of thousands of us going and by billions of dollars being given to send others to the least-reached peoples of the world.
So, maybe you can see why I am on a crusade to say to Christians, “Don’t waste your final two decades chasing earthly excitements when excitements a thousand times better await you just over the horizon of this life.” That would be like a person on the way to inherit a million dollars spending the last mile picking up shiny pennies. It seems to me that it would make a lot more sense to spend the last mile emptying your pockets for lost and needy people.
Focus on Mindset
Now, I know Christine did not ask me about what I’ve just talked about — namely, the retiree. She asked me about twentysomethings who have bucket lists of adventures to pack in before they get married. And then more generally, she asks about the relationship between eternal hope and family vacations.
“Death is not the end of your bucket list. It’s the beginning.”
The reason I have spent half my time now talking about the final twenty years of life is because I think if I could win over some of the Christian twentysomethings to this way of thinking about future decades, then it would inevitably have a powerful impact on their present decade. It would. The reason people waste the last decades of their lives is because the world has taught them to for the previous sixty years, including their twenties.
So, I would say the same thing about globe-trotting at age 25 as I do at age 65: Is the mindset governing this way of life a biblical mindset? That’s the question. “Is it a biblical mindset?” is a different question than whether it’s right to take a family vacation or whether it’s right to buy your rail pass and spend the summer after college visiting every country in Europe. Both of those decisions may be right. The question is, What’s your mindset? Is it biblical?
That’s a different question, because we can’t spend every hour of every day or every day of every year in focused, productive, valid work, whether in Christian ministry or some other vocation. It is biblical and wise to build respite, rest, from work into our lives, both for the sake of recreation and for the sake of legitimate enjoyment of God’s world. Those two impulses are very different from a worldly mindset that is oblivious to the needs of the world, the shortness of life, the joys of service, and the preciousness of the glory of Christ.
Not only is respite from work wise and biblical, so that vacations and days off are totally legitimate, but the adventures themselves — the ones you might do during those times when you’re not working — the adventures themselves need not be merely self-gratifying.
For radically Christ-exalting Christians, adventures (whether in your twenties or seventies) won’t be conceived merely as checking off earthly excitements before you marry or before you die. These adventures will be conceived as adventures with God — on the lookout for his handiwork and his glory, eager to build experiences into our lives for greater usefulness in Christ’s cause, eager to approach every amazement worshipfully, eager to cross paths with people providentially placed there for you to bless.
So, my main desire for twentysomethings and seventysomethings is that they think like the Bible and not like the world, that they think God’s thoughts more than man’s thoughts, that they look at the world through a biblical lens. This would include at least these seven perspectives, which I’ll just name.
Seven Ways to Think God’s Thoughts
1. God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Therefore, we are sojourners and exiles here.
2. This earth is not our home. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).
3. Life is a vapor, with many troubles here, and eternity is endless, with no trouble there — only joy (James 4:14; Psalm 16:11).
4. We are called to have a healthy, heavenly mindset, having our priorities and desires shaped by things that are above, things that are unseen, things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
5. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) — far more gain than anything obtained on earth. Death is not a threat to happiness. You don’t need to squeeze happiness in here because death is coming. That’s ridiculous — I mean, ridiculous. Death is not a threat to happiness. It’s the door to happiness. It’s not the end of your bucket list. It’s the beginning. Come on, we’re Christians.
6. Many people are lost, broken, and more important to help than places are to visit (Galatians 6:10).
7. Finally, life exists, old and young, for the sake of Christ, to make him look supremely valuable (Philippians 1:20). “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
I think if we embrace these seven biblical perspectives, God will show us how to use our earthly early and later years.