“If you could go back in time to when you were in your 30s, is there anything you would do differently with the wisdom you have now?” This question-from-the-floor was addressed to Tim Keller and Sinclair Ferguson (moderated by Peter Lillback) at a Q&A session held this past Spring at Westminster Theological Seminary. It was one of a dozen or so probing and provocative questions raised during that fruitful two hour session.
So, what would these two men have done differently in their lives and ministries if they could go back and do a re-set in their 30s?
Keller (54:50 into the session): I’ve already in a sense given my answer—it’s that I certainly underestimated the importance of prayer and self-examination—that would be mine.
What was Keller referring to? To find out, we have to rewind about 25 minutes in the Q&A time to hear what he said about prayer. Here’s what he said:
Keller (31:58 into the session): I would say that the main temptation is to underestimate the importance of prayer. And I don’t just mean time in prayer. Prayer and mortification. Sinclair knows certainly about [looks at Sinclair Ferguson]…maybe you do…there was a certain very prominent Scottish minister a couple years ago who was found out to have been living a double life. And he did leave some suicide notes. There was one—maybe I shouldn’t know what’s in it because it hasn’t been made public—but there’s one place where he said, “I’ve been preaching many years without praying.” Now, if that doesn’t put the fear of God in you, I don’t know what will.
In summary, Tim Keller says that he would have spent more time in prayer and self-examination. (BTW, mortification” is an old word for “putting to death the deeds of the body” in Romans 8:13.)
What about Sinclair Ferguson’s answer to the same question? What would he have done differently if he could go back and make some adjustments in his 30s?
Ferguson (56:35 into the session): So, if I have something to go back and say to Sinclair Ferguson in his twenties, I think it would be that—if I were to have three score years and ten—I actually should number my days from now on, in terms of the general disciplines of my growth in understanding the gospel. I don’t think there is any point in having regrets about these things, but I’ve been more haphazard than I really should have been in those things, and…the people I admire—one of the things I’ve noticed, you know, when they die, they find the orderliness of their intercession. And, that to me is the sheer busy-ness, and the expected busy-ness of pastoral ministry in the modern church actually needs you to make very deliberate, concrete decisions about not just how you’re going to spend today, but, under the providence of God, the whole of your life. I am just often struck by Paul saying to Timothy, “Make sure that everyone sees your progress.” And I sometimes think: I wonder how many of my friends in the ministry have ever had anyone in the congregation saying to them—they may say lots of things to them…but—“Pastor, I’ve really seen that you have grown in these.” And growth in the spiritual life doesn’t happen accidently.
In Summary: Sinclair Ferguson would have concentrated more on disciplining himself to understand the gospel and grow in the spiritual life.
These answers come from two men who have in fact committed themselves to prayer and growth in holiness throughout their lives. So if they’re telling us that they would have concentrated more on these things, I think we should take it to heart.
If you wish, you can watch the entire question-and-answer time at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7q_Aa4BJLE