When I first read this list by Bob Goff in Relevant Magazine, my reaction was: ‘Damn, I don’t follow hardly any of these principles.’
Sometimes Advent can change everything, including your perspective. Reading over this list again while anticipating Emmanuel’s, God with Us, arrival on December 24, I notice that Goff’s guide to an extraordinary life is largely premised on being ‘with’ people as a priority.
And maybe there’s a theological reason this is the key to a good life. After all, if Jesus is true God and true Man then what it means to be authentically human- our true selves as we were created to be- is to be like Jesus. To be most fully alive is to be the sort of person who makes being with others more important than anything else.
That is, is it not, the priority God makes at Christmas. To be God with us. Indeed, as Barth says, God decides not to be God without us.
When Bob Goff answers the phone, it’s a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be. His phone number is one of the world’s most easily accessible—available at any bookstore in the country. He printed it in the back of Love Does, his best-selling collection of stories about a few ways he’s managed to turn each day into a “hilarious, whimsical, meaningful change to make faith simple and real.” As you dial the number, you might expect a hotline, or a secretary, or at least a voicemail. But you’ll get no such thing. Call the phone number, and you’ll be greeted with, “This is Bob Goff!”
If it’s possible for someone to become famous for no other reason than that he loves genuinely and lives fully, then Goff has done it. He’s a lawyer in Washington. He’s the Ugandan honorary consul to the U.S. He’s a professor at Pepperdine Law School and Point Loma Nazarene University. He’s the founder of Restore International, which serves underprivileged children in Uganda and India. His endless supply of stories charm, his overseas work inspires and his demeanor encourages—but the most truly fascinating thing about Bob Goff is Bob Goff.
Somehow, using the same 24 hours in a day the rest of us have, Goff has crafted an extraordinary life of adventure, joy and love. It’s an appealing prospect for anyone, and we wondered: What are his secrets? And: Will he share them?
The answer, as with most things in Goff’s life, was an emphatic yes.
1. Don’t Let Anyone Go to Voicemail
“We get really busy,” Goff says. “But the less time Jesus had on earth, the more available He became to people.”
So when Goff put his phone number in the back of Love Does, he made the promise to himself to answer every call—regardless of whether or not he knew who it was. There are practical limits to this, of course. “I don’t feel guilty if I’m on the other line, or on a plane,” he says. But from where Goff sits, Jesus wouldn’t have ignored many phone calls. So neither does he. “If I get a call, I answer it,” he says. “And it’s been terrific!
“There’s a God we can talk to anytime, anywhere, about anything, and I’m so glad He doesn’t screen my calls—because I don’t have anything that’s particularly interesting to say. And I’m understanding that better because I’m available to people.”
2. Don’t Make Appointments
Goff says, “When someone calls me and says, ‘Can we meet two Tuesdays from now at 3 p.m.?’ I say, ‘How about now?’ If you call me two Tuesdays from now at 3, I’ll probably say the same thing.”
That’s right. As implausible as it sounds, Bob Goff, lawyer and Ugandan consulate, doesn’t set appointents.
The benefit of this thinking becomes evident even now—he is, as we speak, driving home from an impromptu meeting with a young man who needed to talk.
“Guess what!” he says, laughing. “I didn’t have any appointments that I needed to cancel … I’ve got all the time in the world because I don’t have any appointments.”
Goff insists when your life is appointment-free, your time is at the service of others instead of your personal demands. Plus, you become a different person when you structure your life around others’ needs.
“Can you imagine a lawyer who doesn’t make appointments?” Goff asks, recognizing the absurdity of it. “But it’s been great.”
3. Be Incredibly Inefficient at Love
“Don’t do an efficient brand of love,” Goff says.
Then he does what he does best—launches into a story without missing a beat.
“The woman who lives across the street from us has cancer. She called me up and told me the bad news, and I told her, ‘I’m not going to call you ever again.’ She’s like, ‘What?’
“I went to Radio Shack and got us two walkie-talkies, and it was terrific. For the last year, we’ve been talking on walkie-talkies every night. It’s like we’re both 14-year-olds and we’re both in tree forts.
“She took a turn for the worse about four days ago, so this morning, I woke up about 5, and I went to the hospital. I sent the nurse in with a walkie-talkie, and I sat in the next room and called her up. I heard her just start crying—because there’s something inefficient and beautiful about it. We were sitting in a hospital, separated by a room, talking on walkie-talkies.”
Here he breaks off and seems choked up for a moment.
Then he continues. “Be inefficient with your love. The more in-efficient, the better. It would have been a lot more efficient for God to not send Jesus to die for us. That was very inefficient love. But so sweet and so tender.”
4. Don’t Have a Bible Study
When it comes to Bible studies, Goff says simply, “I’m done. I’ve got all the information I need.”
But this doesn’t leave the Bible out of his daily routine. To the contrary, he’s upped the ante.
“I’ve met with the same guys every Friday who I’ve been meeting with for a decade,” he says. “And we have a Bible Doing.”
The idea, Goff says, is basically that memorization is only effective if it motivates you to action. It’s great when believers meet together to internalize the Bible, but why not externalize it as well?
Goff is likewise unconventional in his approach to a morning quiet time. “I can’t do them,” he says. “I think I got sent to the principal too much when I was a kid.”
“Instead, I take Scripture, I let it wash over me, and I say, ‘What do I really think about this?’” Then he shares his reflections by sending out a morning tweet.
This morning habit helps his day start on the right foot in front of God and everyone else. “It helps me dwell in Christ,” he says. “But it also helps me not be a pill midday. I can’t send a beautiful tweet in the morning and then be a pill.”
5. Quit Stuff
“Every Thursday, I quit something,” Goff says. It’s one of his more infamous habits, one that he follows faithfully—and, often, dramatically. He’s been known to break apartment leases, throw out furniture and quit jobs. “You can quit cussing if you want,” he says, “but go a little higher up on the tree. It can be something really good.”
His most recent Thursday resignation was from the board of a prominent charity. “I called the guy that runs it up and said, ‘I’m out!’ And he said, ‘How come?’ And then he paused and said, ‘No! Thursday!’”
The idea is not to be a liability to charitable organizations (although that might be part of the fallout). It’s to give yourself room to grow and to give God room to work. The patterns of life can weigh down and hold back. Quitting things forces you forward to explore new opportunities, to try things you wouldn’t have time for otherwise and to fill your life with things that are fresh, different
6. Do What You’re Made to Do
In today’s functional culture, the common question is, “What am I able to do?” People take tests to determine skill sets and aptitude and then march off to pursue a career based on the results.
But Goff says the better question is, “What am I made to do?” He goes on to say, “It’s as simple as asking, ‘What are the things you think are beautiful? And you want in your life?’ … And then there’s other stuff you stink at, and they cause you a bunch of stress. I just try and do more of the first and less of the second.”
7. Get More Unschooled, Ordinary Friends
For most people, friendship is accidental. You see someone often enough, find a few common interests, hang out and strike up an easy friendship. New friends probably come from the people you work with or go to church with. The childhood idea of “making friends,” a proactive pursuit, has been replaced with the idea of “letting friends happen.”
Goff suggests making friendship intentional and, moreover, risky. Because sometimes you can learn more from friends who stand just left of center than those with whom you share everything in common.
One of Goff’s dearest friendships began with a simple thank you, for example.
“They call me Mr. G at the airport, because I’m there just about every day,” Goff says. And before every flight, the same TSA security guard—Adrian—checked Goff’s ID. After a few months of this, Goff decided to extend his appreciation.
“You start every day for me,” he recalls telling Adrian. “When I think of you, I think of God. You’re so tender and kind to everybody!”
And just like that, the diminutive security guard put his arms around Goff and held him, in front of a line of waiting passengers. “It started this terrific friendship,” Goff says. “We spent the next six Christmases together with his family at our house.”
Adrian tragically passed away last summer, but not before coming to Jesus. “And now, when I think of heaven,” Goff says, “I don’t think of St. Peter. I think of a guy like Adrian, who’s checking IDs. And all of that came because I decided to get more unschooled, ordinary friends.”
8. Jump the Tracks
Goff spends most Wednesday mornings at Disneyland, prepping to teach his courses at Pepperdine University. From his vantage point on Tom Sawyer Island, he watches hundreds of park visitors board the monorail, content to be whisked wherever the train takes them.
And their park experience, says Goff, suffers because of it. The real adventure, both in Disneyland and in life, is when you venture outside the fixed loop.
But Goff is quick to point out there’s a difference between fighting the system and choosing to explore new paths outside the system. He says everyone should be jumping more tracks: “Not with a militancy. Not with a black arm band around your arm, just saying what you’re against. But with a resolve.”
And what can you expect to find off the beaten path? Adventure, and good company. “I’ll know more about my character, and I’ll know more about Jesus,” he says. “I’ll meet a lot of cool people.”
9. Crowd-Surf Each Other
At a speaking event, Goff met a man who had just received word that his 8-year-old son had been diagnosed with leukemia. Someone suggested everyone lay hands on him and pray for healing.
“That means the four dudes next to him put hands on him, and the guy in row 50 is really just putting hands on the guy in row 49,” he says.
Not satisfied with this set-up, Goff called out, just as the group was bowing their heads, “Let’s crowd surf this guy.”
So the man was passed up and down the rows of the auditorium. “That’s the picture that’s etched in my mind,” he says. “This man in agony and delight.”
Goff, who is big on physical touch, doesn’t shake hands. “If we say we’re the body of Christ, let’s act like it,” he says. “Let’s stop treating this faith thing like it’s a business trip. I want us to treat it like it’s a family. Family picks up the phone. Family surfs each other. Family hugs each other.”
Goff’s personal policy is to hug whoever he meets. It doesn’t suit everyone’s comfort zone, but he says it’s part of his identity as a believer. And the benefit of breaking through these bubbles of security is being opened up to a deeper understanding of community.
“I’m the big winner,” Goff insists, on crowd-surfing others. “I understand more about my faith and the idea of being a body.”
10. Take the Next Step
Many people are passionate but often have no idea how to get where they want to end up. Goff says you don’t really have to. You just have to start.
“If I could do this Jedi move over a lot of people, I’d just tell them to take the next step,” he says. “And then the next step. You don’t know all the steps, but most people know the next step.”
And even if not, Goff says that’s no excuse. “I’m not that freaked out about knowing what the next step is. Because I know that if I trip, I’ll fall forward. I’ll be moving toward the next thing.”