This has become a popular parlor game and a best-selling theme for all kinds of books — places to go, things to do, foods to eat, scenes to see, before you leave this world, or “kick the bucket.” That’s what gave it the name “bucket list.” Hollywood made a movie about this a few years ago.
Here are 20 things to create the Ultimate Christian Bucket List:
20) Win someone to Jesus.
To do this, I suggest three steps: pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you in this. Second, find a plan. If someone walks up and says, “Tell me how to be saved,” you need to have an answer. Remember, no sermons. And no fuzziness. Get it straight and keep it simple. (Go to my blog, www.joemckeever.com, and click on “How to Know Jesus Christ and Live Forever” for a simple approach. Or ask your pastor.) And three, start asking people.
I’m serious; ask people if they would like to know Jesus as Savior. The next time you attend your family reunion, I double-dog dare you to stand up and announce, “Hey, everybody! I’m trying to learn how to lead people to know Jesus Christ as Savior. If anyone wants to know how or if you have a question about this, I’ll be over here under this tree. Come over and let’s talk.”
See what happens.
19) Memorize an entire chapter of the Bible.
Which one? The one that delights your soul and ministers best to your life. Some I’ve memorized and preached series of sermons from include Psalms 1, 23, 103, and 139. Also, Isaiah 40 and Philippians 4.
How to memorize? The easiest way is not to try at first. Just read that chapter again and again, thinking about it, learning it, enjoying it, savoring its insights. After becoming familiar with it, visit your church library and pull out a commentary on that chapter and read what others have written about it. As you dwell on the riches of this motherlode, you will end up memorizing it without trying.
Then, when you’re ready, write out the chapter or type it on a large sheet of paper. Go for large, bold print. Arrange it into paragraphs. And work on learning it one paragraph at a time.
Everyone will have his own techniques for memorization. Frank Pollard, longtime pastor of Jackson, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church, once showed me his exercycle and said, “That’s where I do my memorization.”
I find I memorize better when my hands are busy–maybe driving or mowing the grass or washing dishes.
Once you’ve got the chapter memorized, don’t lose it. Say it to yourself frequently. Think about it. When you lie awake in the middle of the night, go over it. David said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart.” That’s the idea.
18) Learn to pray better.
One of the finest things that could happen to many of us would be to develop a divine dissatisfaction with our prayer life. Just make up our mind that there’s more to this prayer business than I’ve found out, and set ourselves to learning how to pray better and more effectively.
How to do that? The church library is a good place to start. (Or a local Christian bookstore.) Pull out a dozen books on prayer and read the first chapter of each one. You’ll find one that hits you between the eyes. That’s the one. Read it. And remember: if you find one great idea that makes your praying better, it was worth the money or time and trouble.
Ask people whose prayer lives you respect to pray with you and to teach you how to pray. And if you are the preacher and can’t see yourself asking a church member for this kind of help, do it anyway. The humbling will be good for you.
I’m not saying you’ll ever reach the place where you’ll feel you’ve arrived in your prayer life. You’ll know you’ve progressed when you love the Lord more and can’t wait to speak with Him about this person or that need.
17) Become a person of good humor and frequent laughter.
Even though I’m personally gifted in the art of silliness, I don’t recommend you go that far. But there are too many dead-serious Christians in the pews today, too little laughter, too few spontaneous smiles.
I’ve not heard this in years, but people used to chide one another with, “If you’re happy, tell your face about it!”
This is about two things: the sounds of joy coming from your mouth–words, laughter, positive words–and the appearance of your countenance, your facial expressions.
Get a concordance down and look up “countenance.” Some of us will be surprised to know what a premium the Lord puts on sunshiney countenances. None of us like to be around droopy faces and it turns out the Lord doesn’t either!
In drawing people, when I find someone who doesn’t want to smile–I’m amazed how many people fall into this sad category–I tell them: “Look at my face. Notice how it sags when I look normal. And now watch when I smile.” The face lifts and the entire shape of my facial outline changes.
Next Sunday, as you get out of your car, make a conscious effort to force a smile onto your face and greet everyone warmly. Some will be so shocked they’ll want to know what happened. Just tell them it’s on your bucket list.
16) Volunteer in your community.
The Meals-on-Wheels people need drivers. Big Brother/Big Sister needs sponsors. Tutorial programs need volunteers to work with children. Your homeless shelter needs helpers. The elementary school could use volunteers.
A group of seniors in Mississippi started the Macedonian Call Foundation a few years back to provide automobiles for furloughing missionaries. People donate their used vehicles, they get them in good running shape, and then hand them off to missionaries who plan to be in the States for a few months before returning to the field. My wife and I donated a car last year. The state director drove down to McComb, Mississippi, about half way from Jackson, with a friend who drove the donated car back. It’s a wonderful ministry and has given these beloved senior Christians a vital way to make a lasting difference for Christ.
If your community has nothing important for which you could volunteer, then assume there are needs going unmet and look around for them.
15) Find someone from your past and apologize.
If you’re like the rest of us, you can recall people from your school days or later whom you were rude to, offended, or hurt with some careless act or word. You’ve not seen them in years, and yet you think of them with regret from time to time. The thought keeps recurring, “I sure wish I could go back and undo that.” You can’t, but you can do the next best thing.
Find them. Ask the Lord to bring you together. Contact the alumni office of your school or a church in that town or some old friend who might know their whereabouts. Type their name into Facebook. The internet has whitepages.com. No one can hide for long these days!
Then, write them a letter or make a phone call. Plan how to say what you want to say so you will not make matters worse. Tell what you did and how sorry you are. Tell them you have often wished you could go back and undo that, and that you want to ask them to forgive you. Then wish them well.
Don’t be surprised if they don’t remember it. That’s all right, even good. But you remember because you did wrong, and now you are trying to make it right.
I’ve told on these pages of how when I was in the 7th grade, a classmate and I stole Dixie’s billfold at school. My friend, a candidate for the reformed school if one ever existed, suggested that I move her billfold to an empty desk nearby. When the bell rang, she would leave without noticing it was gone. He would get the wallet and later divide the money with me. I did and he did.
Our class was having its 40th reunion when I saw Dixie. I called her off to the side and said, “I need to confess something to you. When we were in the 7th grade, I stole your billfold.” She refused to believe it. “Anyone but you,” she said. That made it even worse.
I told her what happened. She tried to refuse to accept the $20 I handed her, but I insisted it was for me. I was purchasing peace. She wrote me a couple of weeks later to say she and her husband had bought Bibles for a mission organization with that money.
And I have wonderful peace in place of an old self-inflicted wound.
14) Find your spiritual gift and put it to use.
According to the Bible (Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12), every believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual capability. We can only dream of how effective the Christian community would be if we all claimed our gift and put it to use for the Lord. My hunch is less than one-third of the members of a typical church even make an effort toward this.
Rather than take some kind of printed inventory that purports to tell you what your spiritual gift is, my suggestion is rather that you try a lot of things. To find out if your spiritual gift is teaching, sit in on Bible study classes, then volunteer either to substitute for the teacher or to assist him/her. To find out if your gift is in “helps,” volunteer to assist in some kind of project–a church banquet, a Vacation Bible school, a youth camp–and try your hand at it.
The best way to recruit people to the place where the Lord has prepared them is simply to expose them to various kinds of ministries. Their spirit will respond to the right one.
13) Develop some latent talent such as for music or art.
Often when I’m sketching people, someone will say, “I used to enjoy art. I just got away from it.” I suggest that they get back to it.
When churches began having orchestras in worship services, members remembered their old high school saxophones or clarinets gathering dust in closets. They cleaned them up, began practicing, and now they play in church every Sunday. For some, this has opened up a new world.
I’ve known retirees who began taking piano lessons for the first time. “I’ve always wanted to play,” they would say. They’ll not turn into concert pianists, and that’s not their goal. It’s something for their own growth and fulfillment.
Take a cooking class. Find out when your local plant nursery is having classes on growing roses and sign up. The local art store has postings for new classes all over town, from beginners to intermediate to accomplished. Ask the Red Cross about classes for CPR and lifesaving training.
12) Tell everyone you love that you love them.
Emmalou Holland was lying in the hospital and growing weaker daily. She said to me, “Pastor, I must be worse off than I thought I was. Everyone who comes in here tells me they love me.”
What a pity that we wait until someone is dying to tell them how much they mean to us.
What if you and I made a list of those we love most–family, friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters in the faith, pastors, teachers–and made it a point to tell them that we love them and are grateful to the Lord for bringing them into our lives. Don’t qualify it, don’t complicate it, just tell them.
11) Visit a nursing home and minister to patients who rarely have visitors.
Again, you will want to work through the administration for this. Most would be thrilled to have you come by and read to people, chat with them, or even sing to them.
If you have not visited a nursing home (retirement home, senior living center, they go by various names), you would be surprised how few people have family members come by on a regular basis. For the most part, these are not especially pleasant environments. Many elderly patients hardly know they’re in the world, the odor of ammonia is often the dominant fragrance, and the staff is usually overworked.
If this is something you’ve never tried, get with whoever on your church staff visits nursing homes and ask to accompany them a few times. Expose yourself to this ministry and pick the brain of the one leading it.
Charlotte Arthur of Charlotte, NC, is a champion of nursing home ministry. Once when she and I were making the rounds, she said, “My mother loved this kind of work and began taking me with her when I was six years old. That’s how I learned to enjoy it.”
10) Plant some flowers or even a tree.
This one doesn’t sound as spiritual or as life-changing as the others, does it? But aren’t we grateful for those who beautify our world by such labors of love.
I recall being surprised one day when I was about 8 years old. We were living in a mining camp on a West Virginia mountaintop. Everything about that place was dreary, mainly due to the smoke from fires, cinders from steam locomotives in the valleys, and the produce from the mines itself. One day I noticed my parents had planted some seeds along the walk in front of our house. Thereafter we had marigolds and petunias, bright colors to contrast with the ugliness around us. In time, they set out roses and let the runners expand as they wished. Years later, long after we had moved away and the camp had been disbanded, we visited that site again and walked the hillside. Here and there, the only evidence that humans had ever lived here was the flowers.
Someone approached Francis of Assisi as he worked in his garden. “What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” they asked. He answered, “Go right on working in my flower garden.”
9) Give a needy child the Christmas of his life.
A Facebook friend suggested this and gave no other information. I suppose it stands as it is.
A hundred questions flood my mind: what if the child has siblings? would you omit them? can you do this once, then abandon the kid because “I checked it off my Bucket List”? what else will you do for him/her? what would be the most beneficial type of Christmas to give a child? And how would one go about this?
We’ll leave the questions there. It’s an idea.
8) Make sure all within your sneeze halo are saved.
I’m indebted to Harry Lucenay, longtime friend, neighboring pastor, and now pastor of an international Baptist Church in Hong Kong, for the “sneeze halo” concept.
A few years ago when a flu epidemic broke out in his part of the world, members came to church wearing masks. Health experts cautioned people about the distance germs travel from a sneeze, some 15 or 20 feet. They called it the “sneeze halo.”
The people inside your sneeze halo would be your immediate family members, co-workers, and next door neighbors.
Best way to find out if they’re saved? Ask them. Start with yourself: “Look, I know you say you believe in Jesus Christ and in His Word and His Church. But have you genuinely repented of your sin and put faith and trust in Him for eternal salvation? Are you trusting in what He did on Calvary as payment for your sins? And are you abiding in Him and living your life for Him?”
Then, it gets a little harder. In asking those nearest you this question, you might want to preface it with an explanation that this is a Bucket List item dear to your heart.
When baseball pitcher Al Worthington came to know the Lord in a Billy Graham Crusade, he went to a phone and started calling his large family to tell them about the new Master of his life. When an older brother said, “Why, Al, I’ve been a Christian for 8 years,” the Minnesota Twin hurler answered, “Brother, I don’t believe it. If you had, you would have told me about it before now.”
Have you told those nearest you?
7) Do a random act of kindness.
This too was a suggestion from a Facebook friend. I’m not sure it belongs on a Bucket List for the simple reason that it’s not large enough.
A “random act of kindness” is a good deed done anonymously. You’re in the drive-through lane at a fast food place and you pay for the order of the car behind you. You’re in a poor neighborhood and you drop a $5 bill on the sidewalk for someone to find. You’re at the toll plaza on the highway and you pay the toll for the car behind.
In counseling with Al and Alison about their marriage, I learned that his greed and materialism were destroying their relationship. One day when he was in my office without his wife, I said, “Al, I have a suggestion. Give away your money.”
He almost had a stroke on the spot. “Are you serious?”
“I’m serious about giving a lot of it away. It’s killing your soul, friend. Unless you master your love for money, it’s going to destroy you.”
The next week he walked in beaming. “I did it,” he smiled. What he had done was to give his step-daughter a $100 bill. That’s all he did, just gave that to her. It was not anonymous and probably was never repeated. You would have thought he had set up a million dollar foundation though, the way he was so satisfied with himself.
The bad news is Al never broke the bondage to the dollar. His marriage self-destructed.
Acts of kindness are good any time and any way, but anonymously is great. And they should be a regular pattern, not a one-time thing.
6) Keep a journal for a year of your life.
The best way to keep a journal is by purchasing hard-bound wordless books at the local bookstore or stationery dealer. It is not essential to wait for January 1 to begin. Just buy a book, letter it “No. 1,” jot the date at the top of the page, and start writing.
I kept one for an entire decade. It filled 46 books which now occupy a bottom shelf in my home study. It chronicles every sermon I preached, every grandchild’s birth, every event in our church and family for the decade of the 1990s.
I recommend hand-writing the journal.
What will you write? Tell about what you did today, whatever news everyone is talking about, important things that occurred, what you ate (sometimes; don’t do that every day), what movies you saw, what television you watched, what books you are reading, what magazines, what the preacher preached last Sunday (as well as who he is, where you go to church), what you feel strongly about, what the doctor said about your condition, and remember to include the conflict.
If your neighbor stood in the yard and cursed you out over something, write it down, leaving out the actual words. If your boss accused you unfairly at the office, write it down. Defend yourself. Hey, it’s your book–you can write anything you want. Do so. Have fun. You heard a good joke; write it down.
5) Master one of the new techni-gadgets.
The cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, iPhones, and such seem to be endless. Do not ask me the difference. My cell phone is standard issue and no doubt has capabilities that I’m not aware of. All I want is a phone, not a computer in my hand. But that’s what I have. It’s a still camera and a motion picture camera and a hundred other things.
I suspect that many of my generation (I finished high school in 1958) would not fear the modern techno-craze so much if they were skilled in the use of some of the gadgets.
How to learn: ask a grandchild. (Works for me.)
4) Widen yourself.
For one year, try this: each week visit your local library and spend a minimum of one hour in the periodicals section. This is the sitting area with tables and chairs and with magazines on display. Take down several magazines you have never heard of and flip through them. Read anything that attracts your attention.
If you are a preacher or teacher, always have a notepad handy. I guarantee you are going to run into fascinating articles with information you’ll want to remember. And think what fun it will be when you stand before your group and say, “The other day, I was reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine….” Or, Electronics Monthly. Or, Archaeology in Zimbabwe.
You may discover a new career this way. (It’s been done, believe me.) And if nothing else, you’ll broaden your scope.
3) Deepen yourself
The 8th item was to widen yourself by reading widely. This one is the opposite. Pick a field you find fascinating and delve into it.
Years ago, we might have said, “Take a course in that subject at your local community college.” That still might be the thing to do, but you can almost do as well with your computer. This is somewhat of an overstatement, but…
…the world’s knowledge is as close as your fingertips.
Go online. It’s all there. You might have to dig a little, and you will definitely have to wade through a lot of irrelevant stuff (I started to call it junk!). And you may end up needing to ask someone more knowledgeable about cyberspace how to find what you’re looking for. But it’s there, I promise you.
2) Forgive someone.
This pertains to those who have someone in our past who has hurt us deeply and left scars on our soul.
Do yourself a great favor: forgive them. Get rid of the anger, turn loose of the ill will, and even erase those ugly memories.
It’s possible. Not necessarily easy, but it can be done. The Lord is a great healer of the soul. His restoration work will require us to obey Him, however.
This involves bringing ourselves under His lordship in every area. It means humbling ourselves to the Holy Spirit and obeying Him.
If you know where the individual is–and if you are confident he/she knows of the strife between you–then a phone call or letter will do the trick. If you have no idea where they are, ask the Lord to bring your paths together.
In the call or the letter, it’s not necessary to rehash old stories. Just say, “I want you to know I have forgiven you. I hope you are doing well. I’ve prayed for you today.”
My guess is you’ll want to rehearse that several times to get it right. Don’t overtalk, however, and do not stir up more strife by blaming. Just say it simply and close your mouth.
Depending on the circumstances, you may or may not want to renew the friendship. You may or may not want to contact them and tell them of your forgiveness. Ask the Lord to guide you in these matters, or talk to your pastor or another trusted counselor.
On this subject…
It could be you are the one who needs forgiveness. So, you will be the one who calls or writes the individual you have wounded and ask them to please forgive you.
Once again, keep it simple: “I’m so sorry for the pain I caused you back when (and finish the sentence). I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Don’t overtalk, don’t excuse yourself, and do not make matters worse. Say it, mean it, and shut up.
1) Get saved.
We’ve built this Christian bucket list backwards, beginning with #20 and working downward. But the first priority in all of life, no matter our age or circumstances, should be this: get to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and start living faithfully for Him.
How to do that? It’s the simplest thing ever: repent of your sins and invite Christ to come in and take over. Yield yourself to Him. Start reading your Bible every day, praying throughout the day during which you worship Him and tell Him what’s going on, and find yourself a great church family to join. (Ask Him to lead you in this. Don’t try it on your own.)
I said it was simple; I did not say it was easy.
To turn to Christ in repentance and faith involves humbling yourself before God. That’s harder for some than others. It might require going against everything you have believed (or not believed) and been taught (and mistaught) for a lifetime.
Why would you want to do this? The reasons number in the hundreds, but here are three–
–The God who created you knows you better than anyone and has plans for you beyond anything you ever dreamed of. Get your life back to the Master Designer and ask Him to proceed with His will for you.
–You and I were not given an infinite number of days for this earthly life. Just as there was a beginning point, there will be an end to it. Thereafter, our eternal destiny will depend on one major thing: your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 25 describes the eternal abode of the faithful as “a place prepared for you from the foundation of the world” and the wicked as “a place prepared for the devil and his angels.” We each get to choose. We have to choose.
–This life can be so much more with Jesus Christ reigning as our Lord and Guide than otherwise. Jesus put it this way: “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
That’s it. 20 items on a Christian bucket list. Now it’s your turn!
What would you like to have done before departing this earthly scene for heavenly realms? Build a plane? Jump out of a plane? Fly a plane as the pilot? Or just take a ride on a plane? Put it on your Christian bucket list.
We’re all so different, no two people’s bucket list will be alike. Some years back, I would have put toward the top of my list to attend the annual meeting of the National Cartoonists Society. These men and women are the heroes, so to speak, of this cartooning business, the best there are, and some are household names in America. I own original cartoons from many of them, drawings they did for their newspaper strips which are now signed, framed, and (mostly) displayed on the walls of my home. In the study where I’m working at this moment, 13 original cartoons are staring down upon me.
I’m past the groupie stage of cartooning, for the most part, so that would no longer be on my list. So, lists vary and they have a way of changing.
Using this as a prompter, make your own Christian bucket list.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt.