Thinking about the wisdom of experience and a long life of learning I sat down with my dad, Harold Johnson, who just turned 85. I wanted to pick his brain about the important things he's learned over the years about being a husband, father, and pastor.
You have been married almost 60 years. What is one important lesson about marriage you have learned?
I think the key is that verse, 1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (NASB). She is a fellow recipient of God's grace. Honour her and be gentle with her. Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Keep close accounts with God and your spouse. It is important to say, “I'm sorry.” Learn what frustrates her and don't do it!
What is one of the most important lessons about family you have learned?
Apart from my relationship with Christ, family comes first. That means not just going the extra mile, but laying down my life for them. I would do anything for any of them. I am not the central figure in our family. The key to the strong relationships in our family is mother. She is the catalyst. To put it another way I am the titular head, she is the heart. Families need both the wisdom of the head and the love of the heart to be strong.
You have five children, 14 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. What would you say is a key to developing and maintaining a strong family?
One of the reasons our family is strong now is because of the praying mothers in it—now and in the past. We are close-knit now because we still do lots together just like we did when the kids were young. We played hockey together, played instruments, and sang together. We travelled and took annual family holidays together. Even now the family shows up for holidays and birthdays. Some of the grandchildren phone almost every day.
Is there anything in life you didn't do that you now regret not doing?
Looking back I see how at times I drifted in my life and ministry. In Bible school and pastoral ministry I was so busy getting sermons and studies ready I neglected my own relationship with the Lord. I regret not being more intentional, consistent, and disciplined with it.
As the patriarch of the family, what do you want to be known and remembered for?
Looking back I see that my life is a testimony to three things. First, God's provision: Despite low pastoral wages while raising five kids we have never lacked, even now in retirement.
Second, a testimony to His protection: There were at least four instances when the Lord protected me from dying. I almost drowned as a boy, I came out of two major highway accidents unscathed, and then I was stabbed in the heart. God preserved me each time.
The third thing is that my life has been overshadowed by the presence of God: When I was stabbed, Hebrews 13:5 came to mind, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Then the hymn, “Jesus I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art.” I relish God's presence in my life. I dwell on that. I try to practice the presence of God. In life I've learned to be content. And I want to be known as a faithful father. My prayer is, “Lord, dwell in my life, mould me like Christ.”
The words of this hymn summarize how I feel about my life: All the way my Saviour leads me; / What have I to ask beside? / Can I doubt His tender mercy, / Who through life has been my Guide?