by Mike Nichols
If I said to you, “I’ve got a plan for you to take ten easy steps that will ruin your life,” would you jump at the opportunity? Of course not! “Ruin my life” is not exactly the stated goal of the average high school or college graduate. No one tacks that to a bulletin board to remind themselves to take steps toward accomplishing ruination today. It isn’t anyone’s essential in a life plan. Teens don’t dream of becoming an alcoholic or drug addict, students don’t enroll in college-level courses teaching how to go bankrupt, and newlyweds don’t say their vows planning to fail one another or themselves.
Ruination occurs when we are faced with tough decisions, and make the wrong choices. The plan may be to do well, but the execution lacks commitment. These are the tough decisions your family has helped you make, up to this point. But you are now entering a phase in your life when the only one who can make those tough decisions is you. You are now old enough to be making important decisions about life, but young enough for those decisions to go south and become disastrous rather than successful.
How can you avoid making such mistakes? Below are ten things people can do to ruin their lives before age thirty. These are things not to do, or things to stop doing immediately if you already do them.
- Hang with cretins
Be very careful who your friends are, and where your friends lead you. You are, in short, who you hang with. It’s been said you are the average of the five people with you whom you spend the most time. You do what they do – because a bad idea always sounds better with peer approval. You pick up on their ideas and beliefs, and you even start exhibiting their speech patterns and their mannerisms.
If you hang around with cretins, addicts, or criminals, you will become a cretin, addict, or criminal. But if you hang around with wise people, who are committed to following Christ and to making a difference with their lives, then that is what you’ll become. Change your playmates and playground.
He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. – Proverbs 13:20
- Be certain the world revolves around you
You are one of the more than seven billion people currently alive, and though you are special, so is each of the other 7,399,999,999. And the billions who have come before also believed they were special, and I’m certain many of them believed they were the center of the universe. We can’t ask them about it now, though – they’ve returned to dust and ashes, as will we, unless Jesus comes first.
Like those before you, you are not the star of this show. You have a cameo, a walk-on roll that will be forgotten as soon as the scene changes. Some of us are fortunate, by circumstance or blessing, to be named in the credits. Most of us remain anonymous, “a vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Christ did not intend for us to draw the spotlight to us. He is the Light, and we reflect it back to Him.
People who live life at Center Stage of the one-act play of their lives are dysfunctional. They have a twisted view of life. They will always end up either disappointed or delusional. And when they go, their world disappears. They don’t actually leave any impact, no indication they were ever here.
To be important, to truly make a difference in this world, live for Christ. Be intentional in giving your life away for the bigger plan, and make an impact on the people around you. If you want to make your life count for something, make it count for Christ.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. – Proverbs 16:18
- Wantonly seek instant gratification
There is very little in this life that comes to us quickly if it is truly worthwhile. Thomas Edison tried two hundred different elements and alloys in the light bulb before having success. A friend asked him why he continued in such futility, and Edison immediately dismissed his efforts as futile, saying, “I know two hundred ways that don’t work, don’t I?”
Olympic athletes train for years, sometimes for a two-minute race. If we want to simply get in shape, it often takes months. It takes four years to get a degree, and two to four more years for post-graduate recognition. Becoming a lawyer requires seven years of sweating through the most difficult concepts written into the legal system. Medical doctors work for ten to twelve years just to legally treat their first patient. To become a great husband or wife requires willingness to become someone we heretofore have not been.
It may sound trite, but it is true: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Anything worth having is worth working to achieve. Any of the things you truly want long-term can be derailed by indulging yourself in the moment.
Do you want an amazing marriage, or just one (questionably) amazing night? Do you want to retire in 36 years, or drive a luxury car for the next 36 months? Choosing the latter makes it more difficult – if not impossible – to achieve the former. Don’t choose ramen over riches.
There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up. – Proverbs 21:20
- Live beyond your resources
Consider my home county, Johnson County, Kansas: The third-richest in the country and one of many places that daily live out the concept of the “$30K millionaire.” Not familiar? $30K millionaires earn $30,000 a year but act like they earn millions. The quickest way to ruin is to engulf yourself in debt living the life of the $30K millionaire.
When you spend more than you can afford, you still have to pay for it – plus interest. By living the “good life” now, you ensure you’ll be living the bad life of debt payments, downsizing, financial worries, and delayed/nonexistent retirement in your future decades. Bad credit may cost you the career of your choice. It most assuredly will cost you the spouse of your dreams. Others won’t take on your debt.
Go ahead, if you must – live the “good life” without being able to actually afford it. The one thing I can guarantee is that, thirty years from now, you will be wishing you hadn’t, because your credit will be shot and your name will be Mudd. Many people today are still paying for their poor decisions at your age, long after the “instant gratification” has been forgotten.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. – Proverbs 22:7
- Give in to an addiction
Whether it is alcohol, drugs, gambling, money, pornography, shopping, or something else, I am firmly convinced everyone has an addiction of some kind. These addictions bring death: Literal death, or death to the human spirit and its connection to God, to relationships, to freedom, and to joy.
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and an overall spiritual/emotional breakdown, with dysfunction in those venues leading to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. The one suffering addiction of any kind pursues reward and/or relief from the pain of that breakdown by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is cunning and powerful. It grows from being a “treat” to becoming an appetite. It’s no accident the Bible talks about the human appetite nine times without mentioning food.
I’ve suffered multiple addictions, and they all sucked me in before I realized what I had done. Each of them took something from me, particularly in the realm of the spiritual/emotional, and it took a long time to get that back when I finally sobered up.
You don’t drink one beer and immediately get addicted. Marijuana is particularly enticing, because those pushing for its universal legalization have convinced millions that it is a “safe drug.” There is no such thing as a “safe drug.” Gambling is easily the most subtle addiction, because it has become so widely available – even the state says “it’s good” – and socially acceptable. Pornography is perhaps the most dangerous for the average young man, and the most spiritually destructive.
Addiction takes repetition, just like exercise. The more you do a thing, the stronger the addiction grows, and the harder it is to stop doing it. Stop now. It will only be harder with the attitude you can do it “one last time.” With that attitude, you won’t quit. Ever.
The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the treacherous will be caught by their own greed. – Proverbs 11:6
- Foolishly give your heart to anyone
Want heartbreak? Give your heart to someone who will break it.
How do you know who will break it? Everyone will.
Except, that is, for the one who truly commits to protecting your heart and loving you until the end, no matter what. Someone who loves you for who you are, rather than what you have or what you do, will gladly vow to do just that, officially through marriage vows. The one and only time to give your heart away is at your wedding. Until then, guard your heart. Be careful with what entertains it and with what you allow it to seek.
It is far too easy to believe that the one you are attracted to is “the one.” Hormones are flowing, and what seems like “true love” may actually be only a furtive attraction based on looks, hairstyle, and physique.
True love endures – even the lies. True love sees past the flaws – even the nose picking and the lead foot on the accelerator. True love comes only from Christ. It is perfect, unconditional, and does not stop. It may falter, among those in this life who practice it, but Christ’s perfect love is what we should share.
Until you know He has sent “the one” – guard your heart.
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23
- Believe thoughts, words and actions have no consequences
When I was 21, I was in the military, a very disciplined life. Nonetheless, this was the biggest lie I believed back then. I thought I could do what I wanted and get away with it. “After all, I’m young, right?” What quickly became apparent was that I could no more live selfishly than I could flap my arms and fly. I suffered the consequences of poor choices made in the process of tackling tough decisions.
Right now you are in the process of becoming what you will one day be. Right now, you either do the things that will make you a great Christian, spouse, parent, employee, friend. Or you don’t. And if you don’t, then you will be none of those things until you make that effort.
Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become actions. Watch your actions. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything. Everything you think, say, and do now forms your character. Choose your daily path carefully, and make sure it is Christ’s path, not that of the world. Anyone can go the way of the world. It takes commitment, study, and intention to follow Jesus.
The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps. – Proverbs 14:15
- Endure wickedness
Irish statesman Edmund Burke said in 1789, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Guess what? It’s still true today. Evil exists. It is real, tangible, and rampant. Evil is afoot in the world, actively seeking to destroy others, and if nobody opposes those actions, evil will succeed. Where evil succeeds, it does not stop, but continues to grow, pervade, and devour a community, a culture, a nation.
“Tolerance” is a big word right now, and is often held up as an absolute good—that you should always tolerate every person and every idea. But some kill, through abortion. Some take part in sex trafficking, simply by not standing against pornography and prostitution. Some promote ideas of genocide or infanticide. Some argue that they should be able to sleep with whomever they feel like, even children. None of that is good in God’s economy, but people ask you every day to “tolerate” it.
There are those in this world today who demand not just tolerance, but acceptance. If you don’t call their lifestyle or their choices “good,” regardless of whether it actually is in the sight of God or not, then they will say you are intolerant.
The “politically correct movement” has redefined the word. Tolerance means “putting up with” something. It does not mean accepting it as “good” or “right” just because the few or the multitudes who practice any given sin say it is good and right.
God does not tolerate sin. On the cross, He paid the price for all sin, so no, my friends, He will not “tolerate” it. Stand against evil, but do so in love, showing true tolerance – loving those who remain in sin, believer or nonbeliever – while expressing Christ’s love for them. He died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) – and He died for those who still are, too.
“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” – Proverbs 8:13
- Call the ordinary holy and the holy ordinary
If an outsider were to observe how you spend your time and resources, what would they end up saying your life is about? Making money? Looking good? Fantasy football? Would they say you worship God, or worship that 60-inch HD TV?
There is nothing wrong with working, or working out, or having hobbies, or being interested in the opposite sex. Those are all good things. Just don’t go overboard and make them the focus of your life. They are all secondary, the side dishes of an eternal life.
God is holy. He is the very reason you are here, and He is the only One of those things that will last forever. Our life isn’t about a nice home, a fast car, a six-figure job, and a life of leisure. It is about Christ, and preaching Him to the world around us, both in words, and in our actions.
Our lifestyle can be comfortable and Christ still at its center. The question is, do we make Him, or something else, that center?
Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8, 9
- Refuse to be accountable to anyone
No man is perfect, nor is any man perfectly self-insightful. We have all screwed up, we can all be blind to our own failings, and we all believe we can change if we just try hard enough, even though it’s never worked in the past.
God created us to live in community with others, so we can encourage each other, or call one another to repentance, by helping identify our blind spots, or so we may have help in times of weakness. Paul, in his letter to the church at Galatia, speaks of bearing one another’s burdens while also carrying our own load. The implication is that there are spiritual burdens in everyone’s life that are too big for one person to lug around. Living in community means there are others there to help.
Those burdens can be of all shapes and sizes, ranging from family illness or death to our own failings in our marriage, our finances, or our employment. The question is, do we actively pursue community and accountability, or do we rationalize that no one wants to hear our problems because they’ve got enough of their own? Or is it due to shame and/or guilt about what our burden represents that makes us unwilling to seek help with it?
Some people avoid admitting to weakness and failure like the plague. The only reason you avoid accountability is because you don’t want to be corrected, even though that means you then continue to do the things that ruin your life.
If you really want to change, and really want to put God first every day, then do the one simple thing that makes that possible: Be accountable to a Christ-centered community.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. – Proverbs 12:1
There you have it: How to ruin your life in ten simple steps. Do these things even half-heartedly, and they are guaranteed to work.
But now, please don’t. Instead, take these ten positive steps in your Christian walk so you are sanctified, not cast aside by society, becoming useless to Christ. They are not simple. But they are definitely worthwhile.
- Resolve to evaluate your friends, and where necessary, change them.
- Resolve to remove yourself from the center of your universe.
- Resolve to delay gratification..
- Resolve to live within your resources, and start saving some of them up.
- Resolve to resist addiction.
- Resolve to guard your heart.
- Resolve to recognize actions have consequences.
- Resolve to resist evil, and where possible, eradicate it.
- Resolve to make holy things holy and ordinary things ordinary.
- Resolve not to attempt these changes alone, but be accountable to others.
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Mike is a home builder with a psychology degree entering Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in January toward a Masters in Counseling. A “four-percenter” (only four percent of Christians believe after age 40) who came to Christ 22 years ago, he is happily married to his beautiful wife Liz, lives at the “center of the land of the $30K Millionaire,” and enjoys his blended family of seven children and four grandchildren.