I’m fascinated by the advice that older saints give near the end of their lives, particularly when the advice isn’t what you’d expect.
I came across two pieces of advice this week from J.I. Packer and John Stott. Both seem to go together. Both are helpful reminders for me, and I’m hoping you find them helpful too.
J.I. Packer’s Advice
J.I. Packer is now 91. He’s a British-born theologian living in Vancouver. He’s author of many books including the classic Knowing God, and is surely one of the most influential evangelicals in North America.
In their book The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel recount traveling to Vancouver to meet with Packer. Packer gave this advice during their conversation:
You should have a fifty-year plan— a vision for growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness.
This isn’t the advice I would have expected. Three things stand out to me:
- Packer argues for intentionality. Learning the ways of Jesus won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate planning.
- Packer also argues for the long view. We tend to be in a rush, but God isn’t in as much of a rush as we are. Learning to walk in God’s ways can take a lifetime.
- Packer also focuses on weakness. We tend to like strengths; God tends to use our weaknesses. When we embrace our weaknesses, we’re really embracing dependence on God.
Packer reminds us not to coast. No matter how old we are, we can plan to use the remaining years and decades to intentionally grow in God’s ways as we embrace our weakness.
John Stott’s Advice
John Stott was a British pastor and author, and one of the primary authors of the Lausanne Covenant. Before he died he gave this advice, recorded here:
Dr. John Stott’s last bit of advice to his assistant before he died was simply this, “Do the hard thing.”
“Uncle John” believed that choosing the easy trail, the road most taken, and the path of least resistance can only end in mediocrity – even if it comes with praise.
I, like most of us, tend to like to do the comfortable thing. I have a section in my regular prayers in which I repent of my love of comfort. It helps me to repent of the times I want to find something easier to do. It helps to correct my tendency to coast rather than to risk.
Stott’s call reminds me of Jack Miller’s advice to risk or rust. It’s better to be all in than to coast with comfort.
Two Practical Examples
John Piper is retired from pastoral ministry and could be taking it easy. I was struck by this quote from Piper:
Rose Marie Miller, who was married to the late Jack Miller, was born in 1924. Today she serves as a most of her time in London, serving with Serge’s Southall team, building friendships and sharing her faith with Asian women in London.
Both Piper and Miller seem to have a long-term plan to grow, even in weakness, and to do hard things. May their tribe increase as we follow the surprising advice of older saints.