As a young believer, I heard a talk by Walt Henrichsen called Many Aspire, Few Attain on cassette tape (vintage, huh?). In it, he explains that idealism and energy flow during our teen years and into our 20s, making it easy to follow Jesus. And while many of us aspire to live a life of devotion, precious few will stay the course. As the years pass, most of us will move off the playing field and onto the sideline.
I must have listened to that tape at least 15x during my 20s. It never got old. And I knew it was true. I looked around and saw very few people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond who were all in for Jesus. And because I could already feel myself being pulled away from full devotion to Jesus as I moved into my late 20s.
But Walt’s dire predictions do not have to be our fate! Instead, we can take the words of Paul to the Corinthians and take up his challenge to always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
So, if you’re like me, and you’re past the 20s, then it’s time to double down and get serious.
The Dirty 30s
In fact, I have a suspicion that, if there’s one decade that is the most dangerous to our devotion to Christ, it’s the 30s. This will be the make-or-break decade for most believers. Most of those who aspired in their 20s will end up expiring in their 30s (spiritually speaking).
On the other hand, if you can somehow come through your 30s with your devotion intact, I believe you will probably stay the course for the rest of your life.
(Btw, my wife Cindy and I discuss this in detail with Abigail on the latest episode of the podcast. You can check it out here.)
For most people, the 30s are a pressure cooker. It feels like the walls are closing in on us. Here are 3 reasons why:
Whether it’s parenting young children at home or taking on greater responsibilities at work, these years are filled with new challenges… all while feeling we don’t have adequate experience or expertise for the job.
Instead of leaning in to trust Jesus more and continuing to seek first His kingdom, many of us give in to the temptation to make our families and/or our careers the priority. We reason, “This is important, and God wants me to do a good job in these areas, right?”
Subtly, the sideline calls to us.
Another dangerous combination that appears in our 30s is the convergence of money and opportunity. We’re making more money, and suddenly we find ourselves in a position to pursue better experiences and possessions.
Instead of focusing our lives on the King and his kingdom, many of us give in to the temptation to chase after the new and the more. Without really thinking too carefully about it, we buy into the lie that because we can chase it all, maybe we can have it all. (Hint: you can’t)
Fewer people are left on the playing field.
This is really a byproduct of the previous danger. By their mid-thirties, most people are overwhelmed by debt, both financial debt and time debt. They’re overextended.
They simply don’t have time to give themselves fully to the work of the Lord. They don’t even have time for their families or to maintain good health. Their Kingdom Aspirations have been crushed by the American Dream.
How to Aspire and Attain
Are you depressed yet? Don’t be! Feel sober, yes. But not depressed.
Because you can be one of the few who comes through the pressure cooker of your 30s still living a life of devotion to Jesus. You can stay in the game while so many have moved off to the sidelines. Here are a few of the ways to overcome the pitfalls we’ve talked about.
Being aware of the danger is a huge advantage. Jesus knew this and it’s why he often gave his followers stark warnings (see Mark 13, especially vs. 5, 23, 33, and 37).
If your life looks like most of the people around you, that’s a big yellow flag. Being fully devoted to Jesus will always put you in the minority. And that minority will become more exclusive as the years pass.
Anchor Your Identity and Purpose in Christ
As believers, we don’t figure out our identity and purpose in Christ and then move on. We have to continually refresh these essentials and recommit to them as time passes. That’s why we’re told to remember Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2.8), and to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12.2) and to arm ourselves with the same purpose as Christ (1 Peter 4.1-2).
Don’t forget, that who Jesus is defines who we are.
As we go through life, we need to constantly ask the same two questions Paul did in Acts 22: “Who are you, Lord?” and “What should I do, Lord?” Otherwise, we forget and lose our way.
Learn to Say No
I truly believe we live in the best time in history, and for that we should be grateful. Not since Adam and Eve in the garden has humanity had it this good. I also love my country and believe those of us who live in the United States enjoy unparalleled affluence and opportunity.
But we need to understand that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lives in tension with deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me. Part of living faithfully as disciples of Jesus in our modern world is learning that there is a dark side to affluence and opportunity. We must say no to many more things than our ancestors did… so that we can say yes to Jesus.
Practices That Helped Me
Here are a few practices that helped my wife and me stay devoted during our 30s:
We committed to being part of a fellowship of disciple-makers… not just a church. I made space in my weekly schedule for events and interactions that kept me connected with them. These relationships were my priority, and they helped me stay centered on Jesus and his mission when life got crazy.
We stayed out of debt. We lived within our means and learned to focus on contentment and gratitude as a hedge against covetousness and material ambition.
We gave generously and sacrificially. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. That’s what Jesus taught. Giving away this world’s riches forces your heart to move in the direction of eternity.
We stayed personally engaged with Scripture on a daily basis. By our 30s, many of us can feel like we basically have Jesus and the Bible figured out. We’ve read through it before, perhaps multiple times. But the Word of God breathes life into us and keeps us anchored as we go through our days. We need it.
I hope this article can encourage you to persevere and to stay focused on Jesus as you move through life, especially those of you in your 30s. I hope it helps you to not only aspire but to attain.
I intend to be one of the few who remains fully devoted to him throughout all the decades of my life. I hope you will too.
See you at the finish line!