Who we are in our twenties, for better or worse, inevitably shapes who we become, for better or worse.
If you’re in your twenties now, you will trace threads of your story — joy and sorrow, success and failure, gratitude and regret — to the paths you chose at this wild, uncertain intersection in your life. You will reflect on friendships you made and kept (and lost), where you spent your time and money, whom you dated (and perhaps married), where and how you worked, and maybe most of all, what kind of relationship you had with Jesus (or not).
Our twenties need not decide how the rest of our lives play out, but despite how many treat those years, they do really matter. In God’s patience, mercy, and power, any of us can suddenly repent and dramatically change anywhere along the way — at 35, at 55, even at 75. Whatever decisions we’ve made so far, the Holy Spirit still says to each of us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7–8). The best day to finally be done with sin, to lay aside spiritual complacency and procrastination, and to change the trajectories of our future will always be today.
What mercy and kindness, though, when God softens our hearts when we’re young, so that we can lay a firmer, surer, more satisfying foundation in Christ for the decades to come.
When Foundations Fail
Many of us fail to even realize that we’re building a foundation in our twenties. We assume we’ll settle down and get serious in a few years. We’d like to rent life for a while.
Our spiritual lives are not apartments, however, to be traded in and out when we feel ready for a change. We are always becoming who we will be (Romans 6:19; Proverbs 4:18–19), even when we’re young. Maybe especially when we are young, because life-change only gets harder. What we do today either solidifies the foundation under us or chips away at and weakens it. And as almost any homeowner can tell you, foundations are notoriously hard to repair (a lesson many learn too late).
Jesus warns us about the dangers of failing to build good foundations. He tells of two houses, one built on something stronger than the house itself, the other built on something as light and soft as sand. Both built brick by brick, day by day, decision by decision. Both surely built with confidence. Both built with anticipation of many great years to come. And then the rains came.
What happened to the life built on a weak and careless foundation? “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:26–27). There are far more ways to ruin our lives in our twenties than there are to establish and strengthen them. The way is wide that leads to falling away.
But with his warning, Jesus makes a promise to the faithful: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24–25). No one glories in a good foundation (or even thinks about the foundation), until the wind and rain come to knock your house down. For those who built well in their twenties, the winds of adversity and rains of disappointment and thunder of reality will still come, but our hope in God won’t crumble.
Five Lessons for Your Twenties
So, how do we build a good foundation in our twenties? After years of good counsel, humbling personal experience, and then walking with and guiding others, I have tried to isolate a few especially precious and fruitful lessons (among many).
1. Secure your foundation with devotion.
Secure your undivided devotion to Christ. Many of us marry and begin having children in our twenties, and when we do, we will be divided men and women. The apostle Paul says,
The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. (1 Corinthians 7:32–34)
God may soon call you to care for your spouse and kids in ways that inevitably divide your heart, time, and devotion. So, Paul encourages believers to seize the opportunity in singleness for “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). Singleness has its unique sorrows and challenges. Singleness is not easy for many (it wasn’t for me). But don’t let the difficulties in singleness rob you of the opportunities of singleness — for focus, for ministry, for enjoying Jesus, for building foundations.
If we can’t devote ourselves to Christ when we are single, what makes us think we will when life gets more complicated and our responsibilities multiply? Now is the time to anchor our hearts, our priorities, and our plans in the purpose for which we were made and saved: to glorify God by enjoying him today, tomorrow, and forever. So many tragically lose sight of this calling in their twenties, and then never fully recover it again.
2. Learn how to read the Bible.
You may have thought you learned how to read in high school and college, but reading the word of God is unlike any other reading we do. And many of us never really learned to read in the first place. Many classes taught us to read quickly and to be able to recite some fact for a test. Hearing from the God of heaven, however, is an entirely different kind of reading. So, it’s no wonder that many of us try to read the Bible in our twenties, and find it difficult, confusing, and often unrewarding. Too many of us give up, and end up relying on someone else to tell us what God says.
God says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man [or woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17) — that you might be complete for every good work, prepared for whatever you face in your twenties, thirties, and beyond. And when you get confused, discouraged, or overwhelmed, remember what Paul promised: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7).
If you give yourself to this book, day by day over lots of years, praying and asking for help, you will watch God break through again and again with understanding.
One of the best ways to learn to read the Bible for yourself is to start reading the Bible out loud with someone else, especially if you can find someone who has already read and enjoyed the Bible for years. But even if it is someone essentially where you are, consistently reading the Bible through someone else’s eyes will widen yours. Whether on your own, or with a friend, you might start with just a chapter each day, perhaps beginning in the Gospel of John, then moving on to Ephesians, and then finally to the whole New Testament from beginning to end. From there, I personally enjoy a reading plan that includes readings from the Old and New Testaments (and includes several days each month for catch up or more focused memorization).
3. Get comfortable on your knees.
Prayer, like any other aspect of the Christian life, does not come easily for any of us. For as many young people as I have met who struggle to read the Bible, I have met twice as many who struggle even more to pray — especially alone, but also in groups.
If God is not real and Christ did not rise from the dead, then prayer really is as strange, even pitiful, as anything else we can do (1 Corinthians 15:19). But if God is real, and really listens, then prayer is the most important and productive activity we can do every day. And he wants us to pray persistently and confidently, not occasionally and hesitantly. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). It is not a throne for the perfect, the deserving, the well-spoken and well-off. A Father sits on this throne, filled with patience, mercy, and grace for those who trust him enough to pray.
We need God in and through prayer more than we need anything else. We will not do anything of any real and lasting value without God (John 15:5), which means we will not do anything of any real and lasting value without prayer. So, ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1–4), practice some simple prayers in the Bible, and set aside enough time to wait, experience, and keep pressing in. We get more comfortable on our knees by being there more.
4. Hone your warfare against sin.
While there may be hundreds of ways to ruin our lives in our twenties, they can be traced to one great enemy: our own sin. Surely Satan will tempt, threaten, and attack us, and others will sin against us, and suffering will disrupt or even derail our plans, but sin can undo us.
Paul writes, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Many learn to fight and join that war in their twenties. Many more avoid the battle and pay for their complacency later. The wise learn how to discern sin, rush to confess or confront sin, rest in the forgiving and purifying power of Christ, and then do whatever they can to go and sin no more.
One of the first things to learn about this war is that no one should fight it alone. As we take on the stubborn and dangerous sin still in our hearts, we need others to fight with and for us. Hebrews 3:12–13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin targets our particular weaknesses with the lies we’re most susceptible to believe, so we often need someone without our same weaknesses and struggles to consistently remind us of what’s really true.
5. Commit your life to the local church.
If you forced me to pick just one lesson from this list, it might be a surprising one: join a healthy local church, and build your life in and around that body. Find a Christ-exalting, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, sin-despising, church-discipline-practicing, disciple-making church, and then treat it like your family (Matthew 12:50). Church is an afterthought for far too many Christians, and maybe even more so for those in their twenties, when we’re often less settled and committed. Don’t wait to commit to the church until you’re more established. Instead, establish yourself in the context of people who love Jesus and inspire you to love, obey, and enjoy him.
The Lord of heaven and earth loves the church enough to choose her before the foundation of the world, suffer torture and death for her, build and lead her by his own Spirit, and then spend eternity with her. And yet how easily the foolish and immature among us despise, belittle, and neglect the church. Some are annoyed or inconvenienced by her neediness, and wearied by her weakness. They’re easily hurt or offended by her flaws and mistakes. And hold grudges. They expect her to thrill, fulfill, and comfort us, and yet resist sacrificing much to serve her. Our twenties, however, are an opportunity to learn to love the church like Jesus does — to treasure the bride he died to have.
Don’t let your church sit in the Sunday morning corner, but immerse yourself in their stories, their gifts, their needs, their lives. Don’t pretend like you can survive without the church (1 Corinthians 12:21), and don’t presume the people in your church don’t need you. Commit your life, now and for the rest of this life, to the local church.
6. Prepare to suffer well.
Why do so many professing Christians walk away from the faith in their twenties and thirties? Maybe they never understood the true gospel, maybe the cares of the world and the pleasures of sin captured their hearts. Many, however, despite everything Jesus has said, simply were not prepared to suffer. They expected Christianity to make life easier, more comfortable, less painful. And then their suffering came.
Jesus warns us about being unprepared: “The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13). They fall away because their roots were shallow and their “faith” fragile. They had not heard, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). They had not learned to rejoice in trials, knowing “that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3–4). Instead, suffering made them question God, then resent God, and then doubt that he exists.
If we want to suffer well, we need deeper roots of faith and perspective. We need to learn about the good God does in suffering — removing our self-reliance, purifying our pride, building our endurance, displaying our hope and joy, training us to care for others, preparing us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). In Christ, we not only expect suffering, but we know suffering will serve us, strengthen us, and mature us. Our twenties give many of us our first real tastes of suffering, our first opportunities to draw near to God in the fire or to slowly fall away.
Make Faithfulness Your Foundation
A thread through these lessons may simply be this: learn faithfulness in your twenties — faithfulness to Christ, faithfulness to his word, faithfulness wherever he has placed you. Jesus says to his disciples, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). The secret to future faithfulness and fruitfulness in much is the small, often forgotten faithfulness in what we’re called to today. And the proven way to ruin tomorrow’s faithfulness and fruitfulness is carelessness and complacency today.
Seek God for what he has called you to do with your life, and how those callings will further what he is doing in the world, and then ask him to make you faithful. Live in these years, and in the decades after, to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).