God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart. – Charles Spurgeon
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Today is July 6th. Not necessarily a big deal, is it? It’s just another calendar year, or so we think. When it comes to months, seasons, or days, I sometimes get sentimental and wonder, “what was today like a year ago? What’s changed?” For me, today is special because it was the crux for change in so many ways. Perhaps I can list a few.
1. This last year for me is significant because it began to challenge in new ways, the very way I saw myself, others, and Christ.
2. This year has painfully extrapolated from me the disconnect I was facing with the outside world. I have had to reconcile the fact that what I see in Scripture directly and intimately relates to the world I am observing right now. In reading the works of Francis Schaeffer, I have learned that the Christian world is the real world. Whether I am dealing with romantic feelings and desires that want to control me, with a job that I am tempted to think lowly of, with customers and strangers who are unkind, with finances that lay on me burdens, with struggles within my friend group, with the sins of my own heart wanting to personalize everything someone does- in all of these things, I have to recognize that I live in God’s world and Scripture is God’s final word about it (2 Pet. 1:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is sufficient and I am deficient without leaning on it and loving it (Psalm 110:103). It must be what I learn from, and go to, and not my own vain theories or intuitions (Prov. 3:5-6).
3. It was my first day at Barnes and Noble: This is a store I have enjoyed shopping in for a long time. Working here has challenged the way I see how a Christian relates to work. When you work in retail, up-selling is the nature of things. Being behind a cash register and asking the same questions, offering hundreds of different kinds of customer service, and offering multiple programs in every season of the year, has taught me that in this world you are not guaranteed a rest. It can be exhausting. It can be infuriating. It can be tempting to hide and just pretend these people don’t exist, and treat them like that. But, people are valuable to God, they are made in His image, this is how you love the unlovable. This is why you do good even when you are given evil (1 Pet. 2-3).
4. I made a friend who changed the way I saw repentance and who is an example more and more of God’s grace.
5. You face pressures on all sides (as Paul lists in 2 Corinthians 6), but you will not be destroyed in this life. You are protected by God as His sheep that He watches over (John 10). He created shepherds but He’s the better one.
6. If your work can create a means for other people to glorify God by what you do, then your job is good. (Col. 3:23)
7. It was my sister’s 22nd birthday. It had been a week since my nephew was born. In this past year God has convicted me in the area of my family, and how critical, selfish, and prideful I can be. I have learned that family is a gift of God (Psalm 127), and if I ignore my family when I’m at home, then what does that say of my character in all areas of life? I need to step up and grow. I need to humble myself and listen. I need to take the heat when I’m wrong, and speak up to support them, and show them I’m there and listening.
8. Looking back, it was also the day a turning point began in my life in terms of how I thought about singleness, dating, and marriage. I have treasured the idea of marriage so much, and have valued it so highly, that romantic disappointments caused me to go into a tailspin. Yet, I am not going to sit around and wait. I am my own person- I am made in God’s image with my own identity in Christ that has a purpose and a unique gifting to do something in this life. I have a life to live now. I have responsibilities to fulfill now. There is no need to sit and wonder what if: I am choosing to serve with the strength God provides today (1 Pet. 4:8-10). I will wait but not be frozen by fear or what could have been.
9. Out of this year God has taught me patience and vigilance to do good now with what I have today, to value my friendships, to love my church, and to be patient for the gifts He sovereignty chooses to give.
10. When I think back on this past year, there has been more growth and more struggles than the prior years combined, or so it feels. Every year a new layer of my sinfulness is exposed and a deepening repentance is needed. We often forget the lessons we’ve learned, so it’s good to reflect when you can.
11. I have learned that friendships are precious and gifts of God to us. I have not always treated my friends patiently, or with empathy, or with godly concern and encouragement. God is teaching me to go in that direction and to make progress in caring for my friends.
12. Church is important, and the deeper you go with others, the more complex situations and relationships can become. People have always been complex, but as we begin to peel back the past with others, we are being tested regarding what kind of fellowship we have and what kind of friends we will be towards one another.
13. I have further learned the value of prayer. I have learned that I can be honest with the Lord! I can tell the Lord my worries and what they exactly are, and how they feel and what just plain hurts. I have learned that prayer can expose your idols because what you pray about reveals what your heart is for. I have learned that it’s good to speak about your troubles to Him, to tell Him what hurts, what frustrates you, what your sins are, and what Christ has done about it. God is there, He is listening, and He is not silent. Once you unload your burdens to Him, feast on His word to restore your soul (1 Pet. 4).
A year ago I thought I was a lot more mature than I actually was; I didn’t see the inconsistencies in my behavior. I didn’t recognize that my lack of confidence in God was an obstacle, not just to who I may pursue, but to everything I did. Beneath it all was an insecurity in myself, a weakness to appease others, and lack of faith that God had placed me in the moment where I needed to be to serve others and grow in the process.
The past year has been filled with more stressors and more tensions and more crashes with reality than I can number. I’ve had days that were absolutely ready to give up and lay there down in the dumps. But, this is my hope: That the God who began a good work in me will guarantee it’s completion (Phil. 1:5-6). That His promises will be fulfilled (Isa. 46:8-10; 55), and that I am not struggling alone, but am succeeding one day at a time as I pursue holiness and to please the Lord.
There are many lessons I could have shared, and many more encouragements to give. But, I believe what can be best put right now are these words from John Newton:
I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am
Until next time: Give thanks to God for everything.