Recently I saw an ad in a magazine that listed the “20 Things You Should do in This Lifetime.” This is what the company suggested:

1. Visit the country your ancestors called home.
2. Leave a dollar where a kid will find it.
3. Fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.
4. Lend money to a friend without expecting it back.
5. Have a suit made by a Savile Row tailor.
6. Ride in a gondola down the Grand Canal in Venice.
7. Teach a class.
8. See the sunrise over the ruins at Machu Picchu.
9. Plant a tree.
10. Fly on the Concorde.
11. Stand on the Great Wall.
12. Make your own beer.
13. See an opera at La Scala in Milan.
14. Learn to speak French.
15. Take a balloon ride over the Serengeti.
16. Hang up on a lawyer.
17. Kiss someone passionately in public.
18. Play the Old Course at St. Andrews.
19. Shoot the rapids on the Snake River in Idaho.
20. Own (said advertisement) type of luxury vehicle.

I don’t know about you, but I think #21 should be “take a ride over a rainbow” because you’re going to need a pot of gold to pay for this list. I was amazed that this was something they thought “everyone” should do in a lifetime. A person would be blessed to visit just one of these places! But what disturbed me more than that was most of these items do little more than satisfy a curiosity. They leave no legacy or purpose. They are simply experiences.

Yes, travel and adventure can be enriching when used appropriately, but our current culture seems to almost worship the elite few who have enjoyed such extreme encounters, as if we are all in a race to be “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” But what good do all those experiences do if they don’t reach someone with the gospel, comfort the struggling, or show the compassion of Christ?

It’s all well and good to kiss someone you love passionately in public, but only if that person is someone you are growing old with at home, nurturing the traits of loyalty, trust, and mutual service even when no one is watching. It’s a great idea to learn French as long as your reason for doing so involves more than just bragging rights.

Our thirst for experience is little different than greed for possessions. It is itself a form of pride that can consume us. As 1 Corinthians 8:1a says, “Knowledge makes arrogant…” It should not be our goal as Christians to be the most experienced or exposed person, but the goal should always be much closer to home—the condition of the heart.

Look at the biblical examples—Mary was called “highly favored” by God (Luke 1:28) and “blessed among women” (1:42), but she lived a very humble life, never leaving her hometown. The Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament from a jail cell. He wrote these words, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” The secret: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

King Solomon, on the other hand, was considered the wisest man to ever live. He had all kinds of cultures and experiences at his fingertips, yet he is the one who wrote: “All is vanity … All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 8). He was not a better man for all the experiences his riches and travels could buy him.

It reminds me of the movie “The Bucket List” in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freemen play men who meet in the hospital while receiving treatments for cancer. Carter (Freeman) has lived a nice life with a loving family, but dreams of fulfilling his “bucket list,” a series of lifelong aspirations and goals. Edward (Nicholson) is a very rich man who has traveled the world, enjoyed the pleasures of it, but made a mess of his family and everyone other relationship he’s had. Most of the movie encompasses their travels as Edward helps his new (and only) friend fulfill his greatest wishes. In the end, Carter teaches Edward that life is more than finding momentary pleasure; it’s about love, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and generosity.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with travel and culture or enjoying a moment in just the right atmosphere. Heaven knows that I have had my share of them and still crave it. But if I were to list 20 things that every person should do, it would have less to do with experience for experience sake and more to do with experience for character sake.

So I decided to make my own list of “must dos” for the Christian. Some are spiritual; others are simply meant to teach life lessons, but each experience has a purpose intended to help us grow as we watch the workings of the Lord and encourage others to do the same. Here goes.

1. Go on a mission trip to a third world country or US city with comparable conditions.
Most Americans don’t realize how blessed we are. Even watching conditions like this on television simply cannot convey the differences in our cultures. Not only does a trip like this make a person more grateful, it offers the ability to reach out beyond oneself to the truly needy. I once knew a girl who was ready to sell all her possessions, including her home, when she came back from a trip to Guatemala and saw how extravagant the American lifestyle really is.

2. Give an anonymous gift of significant value.
It’s one thing to drop a dollar and quite another to drop several hundred. It’s even harder to do it anonymously. Jesus said, “when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3). You won’t get to see the looks on their faces. You won’t get to experience the excitement in the air. But the Lord promises an award from Heaven far better!

3. Go back to the house you grew up in (or other significant childhood landmark.)
Whether you had a great childhood or a terrible one, going back to where you were raised can give you a whole new perspective as an adult. For those with pleasant memories, your mind will flood with reasons to give thanks and be inspired. For those with sorrow, introspection can be a painful journey, but I believe it’s one of the best things you can do for healing.

4. Write a tribute to each of your parents.
A tribute is a letter explaining to your mother and father individually how they have impacted your life for the better. It can be long or short, framed as a gift or never even given. Whether your parents are deceased or alive, estranged or your personal mentor, this exercise will change you and your outlook on your relationship with your parents. To honor your mother and father is one of the Ten Commandments. If God says it’s important, it is.

5. Pray so hard that your face looks disfigured from crying.
Prayer in the church can so often be ritualistic—a prayer to open, a prayer to close, a prayer to take up offering. The congregation bows, but how many of those closed eyes are concentrating on sincere intercession and how many are thinking about lunch or next week’s schedule? Every Christian needs to experience the deep, emotional, gut-wrenching crying out of a sincere and desperate heart in the privacy of home. If not for your personal needs, then pray for the needs of brothers and sisters and the desperate needs of our Godless nation.

6. Read through the entire Bible.
I’m amazed at how many Christians have never read God’s word and have no idea what it says outside of the few scriptures they have encountered through church. The Bible for the Christian is our manual for living. It has power in wisdom, spiritual growth, and it’s necessary in defeating demonic opposition. You are not living the Abundant Life that Christ has provided for you until you read the Word of God from cover to cover.

7. Learn a new skill.
No matter how old you are, you can learn new skills. The sense of accomplishment helps depression or discouragement. You may even discover strengths and gifts that you can use to offer to the Lord’s ministry, like my friend Jenny who recently learned how to play the bass guitar at 37 years old and now fills a much-needed roll in the worship ministry at her church.

8. Write (by hand) your personal testimony and spiritual journey.
My current husband and I were both widowed before we married. After having gone through all the possessions of both deceased spouses, I now see the value in handwritten messages and notes. To have their testimonies or personal journeys written out by hand would be a priceless treasure for our children and grandchildren.

9. Plant a garden.
The original list suggests planting a tree. That’s fine, but I think a garden requires more work, and also provides you with fruits for your labor. If you don’t take care of your garden, it dies. Plain and simple. This is a principle the young people especially need to learn. Living in a fast-food convenient store world, there are few opportunities to learn this tried and true lesson.

10. Memorize a Psalm or other significant biblical passage.
The Bible tells us that the Word of God is a sword of the Spirit. It helps us battle temptation and fear. It comforts us in times of trouble and gives us hope for the future. But how can we experience the benefits of scripture if we don’t know it? I want to encourage you to memorize any amount of scripture—large or small. But memorizing one large portion of scripture is not as difficult as it sounds, and it will give you confidence to memorize even more!

11. Refurbish a piece of furniture.
I came from a family that didn’t throw anything away. We found use for everything. With a little imagination and sweat, an old piece of furniture can find new life. It’s a good feeling to step back and look at the work of your hands. It reminds me of how Jesus can take an old rusty life like mine and make it into something beautiful, finding purpose where there once was ruin.

12. Write a letter to a friend telling her how much he/she means to you.
Just as our parents play a significant role in our lives, close friends can shape who we are. Because we know good friends already understand our love and appreciation, it often goes unsaid. What a blessing to write an informal letter to a friend, just expressing how much you appreciate their unfailing love. (But only friends of the same gender, please.) Use specific examples of the times they’ve meant the most to you.

13. Teach a class on something you know well.
This is one line item (#7) from the original list that I agree with. It’s great to have knowledge or a skill, but why not use it to enrich someone else’s life. You don’t have to be particularly organized or a great speaker. Just share what you know well and watch how others benefit.

14. Find someone you admire and learn from them.
We should always be teaching what we know, and at the same time, learning from someone else. Is there a person at church who has a spirit you admire? Is there a co-worker that displays an exceptional work ethic? Look for traits you respect in others and emulate them in your own life. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from the people around you if you just look for it.

15. Print out all your photos and put them in albums.
I believe pictures are an excellent way of passing down your family heritage, so preservation of photos is a priority for me. In the digital age, it’s easy to leave snapshots on the camera or computer and never print them out. But this is another significant thing I’ve learned since the passing of my first husband and Robbie’s first wife—It’s easier (and more fun) to look through pictures that have been printed and stored in albums. Remembering the past is a very important part of our children’s lives, and one day it will be important to your children, as well.

16. Explore where you live.
You really don’t have to take a ride across the Serengeti or climb Machu Picchu to experience something amazing. There are places within driving distance of your own hometown that you just need to take time to see. Each part of the country has something special to offer. But what’s more important is that you can afford to take the whole family—and the memories you make will outshine the Venice canals any day.

17. Take a break from technology.
I recently read about a woman who insists her family take a “tech-free month” every July. Because she writes for a living, she allows herself to check email in the morning and before bed, but otherwise, they have no television, iphone, computer, or internet access for four whole weeks. Maybe you could only take a day or just a few hours. However long, try it and see how much more time you have and how much better you feel.

18. Twenty-four hours of tongue control.
Do you think you could go all day without saying something deconstructive? James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” Words have power, whether good or bad. Take one day to practice tongue control and eliminate anything negative. Watch what you say. Use your words to build up, rather than discourage. Be intentional.

19. Share your faith with a stranger.
There is hardly a more exciting (and frightening!) experience than witnessing to an unfamiliar person. But it reaps rewards of faith both in the listener and the speaker. It’s not your job to save someone. The Holy Spirit does that. We just get the privilege of sharing our incredible faith story. Even if you never see a single person pray for salvation, you will come away knowing the Savior will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

20. Stop looking for God’s purpose and find purpose where He has you now.
I talk to Christians all the time who seem to be wandering through life, looking for the perfect setting for their God-given purpose to take place. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). What is your purpose? He’s already told you—spread the gospel. There are poor to serve, sick to nourish, single moms to support, orphans to visit … You have been given gifts to use for the kingdom. What skills do you have? What jobs need to be done? What activities do you enjoy? There is a place for you in the work of the kingdom. You just need to jump in and do it with all your heart until another door opens.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Sabrina McDonald