As I skimmed back through my journal from 2017, I started making a list of common themes and lessons God taught me. Some of these lessons I’ve had to learn again and again and some of them were new or went deeper this year. As I look forward to a new year, I can’t wait to see all the things God teaches me in the year ahead! Post in the comments something you learned in 2017.
Here they are in no particular order:
1. Focus on what you DO know.
There are a lot of uncertainties in life, centering my attention on them just gets overwhelming, but dwelling on what is true and re-centering my attention on the things I do know, especially about God, keeps me going.
- “He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’” – John 9:25
- “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
2. Wait Well!
It’s so funny that this has been one of my prayers these past few weeks
and as I look back through my journal of this year it was one of my prayers all the way back in January in a completely different context.
- “Waiting is inevitable… waiting with hope and courage is optional.” – Renee Swope
- “Waiting well looks forward to the future while staying present in the present. Waiting well means I remain open to God and allow Him to move me toward the future He has planned, in His time. … Waiting well teaches us to trust His delays rather than doubt His ways.” – Wendy Pope (in Wait and See)
- “The wait is more about experiencing God than enduring the delay.” – Wendy Pope
- “Take courage my soul… He’s in the Waiting” – song by Bethel Music
- “Her wait didn’t end because she prayed, but her resolve strengthened, helping her to face each day.” – Wendy Pope
3. Put your whole effort into what you’re doing.
- “Go where you are sent. Stay where you are put. Give what you’ve got until He moves you on. All the way home.” – Jill Briscoe
- This quote I heard back in February has come up many times as an encouragement to keep moving forward even when I didn’t see results or aren’t sure why I was in a situation. It was encouragement to finish the year strong with my foreign exchange daughter. It pushed me through to see some ministry related prayers that have been 6-7 years in the making finally come to fruition. It is so easy to give up too quick or just move on. God has reminded me many times to stay put and trust that He will make it clear when my attention can shift elsewhere.
4. “This I know: God is for me!” – Psalm 56:9
Not much explanation needed here. I’m thinking I might need to write this somewhere to see it every day in 2018. What a great reminder and so much easier to face each day with joy and courage and excitement when this truth is ingrained in my brain!
5. Be light.
- During the season of Lent, I kept a journal page of all the hard, hurtful, painful, sinful, overwhelming, and evil things I saw around me (or in me) each day. Rather than being overwhelming me, it led me convincingly to two conclusions: we need a savior, and I need to be light. This world is so dark. Because of Jesus in me, I can do my part to shine a little bit of His light in the midst of all the darkness.
6. “To not take rest stops on the journey is dangerous.” – Pastor Chuck
In a lot of different ways God called me back to celebrating Sabbath rest and seeking rest for my soul this year. Reminding me that it is one of my greatest needs in life. I need a day each week to, as Ann Voskamp put it, “step away from the things that just won’t step away from us.” … a day to remember who I am after six days of the world telling me who I should be.
- “… enjoy the trees…” – Judah Smith “[Genesis 2:8-9 tell us] the original home of the soul had great looking trees and awesome food. That gives us a little perspective doesn’t it? Maybe what we are here for is not to be so important, successful, awesome, and busy that we don’t even have time to eat. Let’s enjoy God and his creation. … take time to laugh about life and consider the goodness of God. … enjoy the trees!”
- Get this straight: the rest of God, the rest God gladly gives so that we may discover the part of God we’re missing–is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It’s a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack dab in the middle of them without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.” – Mark Buchanan
- “Sometimes it is an act of obedience to just sit and receive what Jesus has already done for us.” – Christy Nockels
7. Emotions aren’t bad.
It seems like this is something God re-teaches me every year. This year, some great reminders came from the book “The Cry of the Soul” by Allender and Longman
- “If we view difficult emotions as problems to be solved, we end up looking for answers that will work rather than pursuing our relationship with God. … Encounter with God not only changes our emotions; more importantly, it has the potential to change our hearts.”
- “Emotions are like the messengers from the front lines of the battle zone. Our tendency is to kill the messenger. But if we listen carefully we will learn how to fight the war successfully.”
- “Wrestle with doubt until it gives way to the first rays of hope.”
- “Rather than focusing on trying to change our emotions, we are wiser first to listen to them.”
8. Cultivate Clarity
This learning centered around relationships of all kinds… dating relationships, teammates, family, etc. Rather than trying to define things or set things straight or force answers, I’m learning to cultivate clarity… motivating people in ways that show you respect them and offer them a chance to lead toward a healthier, more clearly defined relationship. Relationships take two people and if I try to define and manage it from just my perspective, or allow them to do it solely from their own, someone will be disappointed. But if we can work together to cultivate an environment where clarity about expectations and desires happens, we both win and there is less chance of hurting each other.
9. Take some risks. It won’t be perfect but it will be good.
There were a few situations this year where God challenges me to step out and take some risks, to go beyond my comfort zone without any promise of success or a favorable outcome. Some of those situations turned out great; others were less than perfect. However, because I took them with my eyes centered on Jesus, they all turned out good because God is good. (And I’m thankful that God is able to redeem even the downright mistakes I made when he WASN’T calling me to take a risk).
10. Give people grace! (This includes you!)
We all get a lot of law in our lives … all of us could use a little more grace. Grace is constantly needed in relationships, because relationships are made between two imperfect people. Grace for the other person… Grace for yourself… grace to take risks because risk is a necessary part of love. We see that all the way back in creation when God risked giving us free will so that we could freely love Him.
11. “I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King…” – Broken Things by Matthew West
Wow more than any other year I think so far, God has humbled me with an awareness of how sinful and broken I really am. Thankfully he follows that up with an abundance of His grace reminding me, I may just be a beggar in the presence of a King, but that King loves me with a faithful love and joyfully invites me to feast as His table! Also, God loves to use us beggars to welcome others in.
- “More and more I believe when we hear ‘not enough’ (from Satan), God is screaming: ‘You are EXACTLY the right one and I am ready to do mighty things through you!” – Michael Harvey
12. Refuse to Gossip
God has shown me again and again this year that gossip never helps anything. This goes back to the learning about cultivating clarity: Gossip only brings confusion to a situation. It does not help anything. If clarity and unity and healing are the goal, I must refuse to gossip even when those around me don’t have the same resolve.
Also… complaining, even just to God leads to the same results as gossip. Prayer. Prayer is what can help. Prayer reminds me what is true, gives me God’s eyes to see the other person, brings me to a place of humility, and in all of that shows me a better way to respond instead of just reacting.
13. “Because I knew you would.”
I’m not exactly sure how to phrase this learning as it’s one that still a few months later I totally “get” in my heart but I’m not sure my mind has caught up yet. I was reading the book Daring to Hope by Katie Davis and this quote resonated in my soul:
- “… I asked God why? again and again. What could all this suffering accomplish? Why would He allow us to love people so deeply? A dear friend suggested, ‘Maybe because He knew you would.’”
At the time I first read this, I found myself asking similar questions to Katie… why would God let things turn out this way? What were the people around me suffering so much? Why did I love this one person so much only to receive manipulation, pain, and lies in return? I’m not sure if this really is the answer for those “whys”, but it sure made sense in my heart that maybe… it’s because God knew I would love that person despite all that. And one step more, maybe that’s exactly what that person needed even if I can’t see the results of it now.
14. Take Brain Breaks
While I learned about the physical benefits of “brain breaks” at a conference this fall (taking a minute or two every 20-30 minutes throughout the day to do a different task to give your brain a break), I’ve also been learning about it in a general sense. I need time to step away, to rest, to laugh and just enjoy life, to not think about anything. Yes, it helps my productivity and my focus. But more so, I’m finding it help my soul!
15. LAUGH! A lot.
That’s it… just laugh 🙂
16. “You can’t choose your season, but you can choose your song.” – Carl Lentz
I’m not even sure were I heard this quote this fall, but it captures a lot of learnings this year about not being able to change my circumstances but being able, by Christ’s strength to choose how I respond. Will I respond with gossip or grace? Will I complain or focus on gratitude in the midst of challenges? Will I drown in despair or take hold of the courage and hope God provides? What will the song be that comes out of my mouth?
17. I need community.
This is nothing new but I saw time and time again this year the value of being surrounded by people to support, strengthen, and sharpen me.
- “Everyone who serves the Lord lives an abundant life full of ups and downs and we need community.” – Michael Harvey
This has been a year of plenty of ups and plenty of downs as I’m sure every single one of us in the world could say… that’s life. Because of Christ, both have led to an abundant life. Also true: I am so thankful for the incredible community I’ve had all along the way to remind me I’m not alone in the lows and to celebrate with me in the highs… to snap my focus back to Christ when it had wandered and to simply listen and show me I am valuable.
And, a bonus 18th Learning to Lead us into 2018:
Nothing can separate me from God’s love. NOTHING.
At the end of a year on the brink of a new one, it is so good to come back to this truth. Nothing that happened in 2017 was able to keep me from God’s love. Nothing in 2018 will be able to either…. nothing I do… nothing I don’t do…nothing that’s done to me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love! Amen!