May 18, 2023

What Advice for the Christian Life Would You Give to Your Younger Self?

Nathan W. Bingham & Sinclair Ferguson
What Advice for the Christian Life Would You Give to Your Younger Self?

The longer we walk with the Lord, the greater perspective we can gain on the Christian life. Today, Sinclair Ferguson shares several pieces of advice that he would give to his younger self.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I’m joined this week on the podcast by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. He’s a teaching fellow here at Ligonier and also the host of our daily devotional podcast, Things Unseen. Dr. Ferguson, if you could go back and give advice to your younger self, what would you say?

DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Actually, I think that question should be directed towards my wife since we’ve known each other since I was seventeen, and I’m sure she would have some very helpful things to say to me. And I’m not really sure I’m great at giving my younger self advice, but I think there are some things I would say.

The first, I would say, would be to call myself to greater and deeper study of God’s Word. Looking back, I did study God’s Word, and I studied God’s Word seriously. But for the rest of my life, and especially if I’ve gone to a conference or a church conference or weekend or something, I’ve so often come away thinking, “If I only knew the Scriptures better, I would’ve been more useful to these people.” And I don’t just mean informationally knowing the Scriptures. I remember somebody saying something about Jonathan Edwards like this, that you felt as though he had taken the text and he’d turned it around like a diamond and looked at all its facets. So, I’m not just talking here about more study. I think I’m talking here about more meditation and prayer. And since I’m constitutionally very slothful, that would be a serious—I probably wouldn’t have looked like that when I was seventeen or eighteen—but that’s one piece of counsel I think I would give to myself.

Another piece of counsel I would give to myself is this: “When you get older, Sinclair, you will realize that the things that you do not deal with in your earlier life don’t go away just by becoming older.” And so, it’s so important to deal with our failures, our twistedness, our slothfulness when we are younger, and to build in habits of knowing how to deal with it.

I’ve long been impressed by the fact that one of the most famous books the Puritan John Owen wrote on the modification of sin was originally a series of sermons he preached when he was at the University of Oxford. He was vice chancellor of the university, and he preached every second Sunday, and he must have been preaching to teenagers. And a modern-day Christian would think that’s a bit heavy for teenagers. And yet the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve thought he really had insight into, if you build into your life early on the ability to deal with sin, it will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Another piece of advice I would give to myself would be study the book of Proverbs. So, when I was young, there were certain books that I gave special attention to studying, but one of them was not the book of Proverbs. And now looking back, I realize one of the great things about the book of Proverbs is it was clearly intended for teenagers. And the other thing is the answer to the question, Why was it intended for teenagers? Answer: because it gives teenagers experience before they’re old enough to have had the experience. I mean, in a sense it’s full of kind of slightly cartoonish pictures, but so many of them really give you a real insight into how you negotiate life in a fallen world as somebody who’s trusting in the Lord. And so, I wish I’d paid more attention to the book of Proverbs.

Another thing I think I would say—and this is a counsel of perfection, I realize—“You need to learn to be patient.” And you can only learn to be patient when you are an impatient youngster by learning (a) to wait on the Lord—to use the biblical expression—and (b) to wait for the Lord. I don’t think those two expressions mean the same thing. And so, I think that would be another piece of counsel.

And then one final piece of counsel, I think. Given the way I’m wired, I think I would say to my younger self, “Work harder at being able to articulate the gospel clearly and simply, and discipline yourself more to be able to speak articulately,” because I was basically a shy person. I was educated not to speak but to write. And I recognize there are many young Christians who are educated to speak and not to write, but I was educated to write and not to speak. And so, I think I’ve always struggled with a kind of—I mean, it may seem odd to people—a kind of deficiency there in ease of speech. I mean, I’m okay where there’s the space and somebody says, get up and fill the space and speak. But I think that’s something that discipline could have helped me to do better than I’ve done.

So, those are a few random pieces of advice to the seventeen-year-old Sinclair Ferguson that he is not able now to take.