Sunday Sermon: ‘Lessons I Have Learned Over the Last 40 Years’



It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost forty years since I graduated from high school. I still remember that Friday evening way back in 1974. As I prayed over what to share with our graduates this morning, I felt led to talk about four lessons God has been trying to teach me for the last forty years.

I.  Need to Exercise More SELF-CONTROL

A.  Lack of Self Control

1. Quick to Get Angry and Upset   

a)  Parents

While growing up, I was always quick to get angry and upset. This especially became a problem about the time I finished high school and wanted my independence. Actually what I wanted was for mom and dad to run a free motel without any requirements or restrictions. I wanted to go where I wanted to go, do what I wanted to do, come home when I wanted to come home and always have a place to sleep and food on the table. The conflict came when my mom and dad wouldn’t agree with those arrangements and because I had never learned how to handle my emotions, I often got angry and upset.

b)  Work

This same pattern spilled over into other areas of my life as well. I sometimes got angry at work and did some foolish things. I remember an older giving me some very important advice very early in my career – ‘Don’t burn your bridges.’ Up until that time I had always been a hot-head and quick to tell somebody what I thought. Thankfully I listened to her advice for in the years ahead I needed to cross that same bridge many times.

c)  Marriage and Parenting 

It especially became a problem once I got married. The first few years of our marriage was pretty rough and a big part of the problem was my emotional eruptions.

It also affected the way I began as a parent. Though I was never physically violent, I sometimes became verbally violent. I tried to control others through my speech.

2. Out of control:

The truth is, I was out of control in almost every area of my life. I was out of control with my anger, my speech, my spending, and my impulses and desires.

a) Anger

b) Speech

c) Finances

d) Impulses and Desires

To some, being out of control may not seem like that big of a problem; yet notice what scripture says –

Proverbs 25:28 He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

The word ‘spirit’ used here refers to the seat of our emotions. It’s the part of us that involves our temper, impulses and moral character. The word ‘rule’ refers to the ability to restrain or control. A more common word would be ‘self-control.’ I had little self-control.

 B. Gaining Control

 1.  Self-control = Maturity

 But then God began to speak to me and to help me see the destructive effects of my emotional eruptions. I began to see that I was hurting myself as much as anyone else. He also began to reveal to me that self-control was a sign of maturity. The Bible says-

Proverbs 16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

The older I grew in the years, the more I wanted to mature as a person. Although a certain amount of maturing happened naturally, I still struggled in many areas of my life.

2. Spirit-filled Walk = Self-control

Then something major happened to me – the Lord began working in my life a major way.  As many of you know, it was about this time in my life when I finally answered God’s call into the ministry. With that surrender to the ministry came also my surrender to the Lord in my personal walk with Him. I began to get serious about my walk as a believer. As that happened, the Holy Spirit began to take control of my thinking and therefore my actions. The Bible says –

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance…

The word ‘temperance’ means self-control, or more specifically – the ability to restrain one’s emotions and passions. I didn’t change me. The Holy Spirit of God did!

II. Needs to Develop a Better Word-ethic

That was just the first lesson God wanted to teach me; next came the issue of how I viewed work.  

A. The Revealing of My Poor Work Ethic

While growing up, my parents did everything they could to teach me how to work. They gave me chores to do. They gave me an allowance. They gave me opportunities to make my own money. They taught me how to do lots of things. I knew how to work. The problem was – I just didn’t want to work.

That was revealed shortly after I entered New River Community College. All through high-school I made mostly B’s, with a few A’s and C’s sprinkled in. I only made one F along the way. For the most part, I never studied. Therefore, when I entered college, I didn’t know how to study and even more so, I had no desire to study. The result was my GPA took a nose dive. On one occasion I received what is called an Academic Warning which means if my GPA went any lower, I couldn’t come back to school.

This poor work-ethic revealed itself also in how I went from one job to the next. During those years I did everything from working in a bank to being a laborer in the field of construction.

B. The Development of a Better Work Ethic

1. Tennessee Temple

Then around age thirty the Lord began to do some things to help me develop a better work-ethic. Most of you have heard my story and therefore you know that for twelve years I ran from God’s will for my life. God began calling me into the ministry when I was 18 but it was not until I was 30 that I finally yielded.

When I first went back to college, I was thirty years old, married and the parent of one child. In addition, I was scared to death. I was afraid that I couldn’t do it. I remember how I studied and studied for the first quiz I ever took and made an A. Suddenly it dawned on me that if I worked, God would bless me. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and only one-one hundredth of a point away from Summa Cum Laude. Some have said that a better title for me would have been – Somma Come Later; nevertheless, at age 34 I finally finished my college degree.

2. Lima Baptist Temple

After finishing my degree the Lord called us to Lima, OH where I served as an associate pastor for eleven years. Now that I had experienced success in college, I wanted more. I saw the success of other men in the ministry and to be honest, I was a bit envious. But soon I discovered that the world hadn’t been waiting for Terry Covey to finish college. It was a large church and I was at the bottom of the totem pole. 

 At one point I began to blame God for showing favoritism. ‘Why do You bless them and not me?’ I asked. One day the Lord revealed to me that what He had blessed was their hard work. While I had been sowing my wild oats, these men had been preparing themselves and building their ministries.

One particular passage of scripture began to become very real in my life at that time – 

Proverbs 6:6 Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. 7 Without leader, administrator, or ruler, 8 it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest. 9 How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, 11 and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit. CSB

The Lord told me – ‘I will bless you, if you are willing to work; but don’t expect Me to hand it to you on a silver platter. After all, as you said, that would be showing favoritism.’

I once read somewhere –

Work as if it all depended upon you,
And pray as if it all depended upon God.

That formula doesn’t guarantee us that we will become the greatest, but it will help us accomplish many of the things God has planned for our lives.

III. Success Is Best Measured By What You Give and Not By What You Get  

We were in Ohio for eleven years. God blessed us in many ways while we were there. But as time passed by, I began to realize that I was never going to be the next Billy Graham. At times I felt like I was just a nobody.

I suppose some might call it a mid-life crisis. Though I didn’t go out and buy a red convertible, I did question where I was in life. And once again God began to speak to me. He said – “Terry, true success is not about what you get from life, but about what you give.” With this He began to impress upon me two very important biblical principles to shape my life:

A. The Greatness of Humility

James 4:6 … Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

God resists the proud. Proverbs 6 says that pride in one of the things that God detests. Humility was the first key word the Lord began to use in molding me. I was a very prideful person and before the Lord could use me, I have to exchange my personal pride for Christ-like humility.

B. The Greatness of Servanthood

I can think of no greater passage to use as an example of the greatness of servanthood than John 13-

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

Would you consider Jesus to be important? Would you consider Him to be a success? If so, how did Christ succeed? Did He succeed by demanding that men bow before Him? No, Christ succeeded by bowing before men. He took a towel and a basin of water and washed the grime from His disciples’ feet.

12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

If Christ saw serving as being important, so should I. I am not above my Lord and Master. It is enough that I strive to be like Him.

Young people, if you want to succeed in the eyes of God, then you need to make humility and servanthood a part of your vocabulary. You will not gain this from what you learn from the world. You are growing up in a time of selfishness and self-centeredness. This can be seen everywhere from politics to Wall Street to the lifestyles of man pro-athletes. ‘Entitlement’ is the big word today in politics. Many believe that they are entitled to certain things, regardless of whether or not they have contributed anything. Yet, in great contrast, the kingdom of God is not about what you can get, but what you can give.

IV. True Happiness Comes My Walk With God    

 The Bible teaches me that true happiness does not come from the size of my church, how many degrees I might obtain, how many people might know my name, or the size of my bank account, the car I drive, or the house I live in. True happiness comes from walking with God.

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

What does it mean to walk with God?

A. A Walk That is Based Upon Knowing Christ as Our Savior

The Bible repeatably warns us concerning a false relationship with God. Jesus said –

Matthew 7:21 Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? 23  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

If we took the time to carefully read what Jesus said leading up to these verses we would discover that He was addressing the problem of false religion. People who pretend to know God, but in reality don’t. How can a person know God? Jesus said –

John 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ. How can Jesus help us know God? Consider what else Jesus said –

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to come to this earth so that as a man He could die for the sins of mankind. Knowing God comes through knowing His Son as our Savior.

But that’s not all. For years I thought that this was all there was to it. I knew God’s plan of salvation, but that’s where it all ended. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last forty years. True life, true joy, true happiness come from not only knowing Christ as Savior, but also as Lord. Letting Him guide me through life.

B. A Walk That is Built Upon Knowing Christ as Our Lord 

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

God isn’t interested in how big our house is or how many know our name. What God is interested in the most is whether or not we know Him. How sad it is that many of us wasted a good portion of our lives chasing after things that really don’t matter when we should be seeking to deepen our relationship with God.

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