Hey y’all. This is Part Two of the Top 10 lessons learned after being a Christian for a decade. If you missed Part Uno, you can find it right here. Of course, you’ll find there’s 11 instead of 10. One for every year I’ve been a believer and another for good measure 😉 So we will start with number 6!
6. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS CYCLICAL, NOT LINEAR.
There’s a reason God allowed us to have all of Israel’s history in the Bible. And what is that history? A big, long, detailed story of the people of God experiencing amazing things from Him and then forgetting Him. And then remembering Him again. And then forgetting. Oh, and then remembering one more time. And then forgetting who He is and what He had done for them. And then God reminds them again, and they are so happy. And then they forget again. The reason this story is woven throughout the whole Old Testament is for us New Testamenters to remember one thing: that’s who we are. That’s who I am.
You and I; we are forgetters of the goodness of God. And we have to return and return again to Him. Or better yet, He comes back to get us again and again.
If you want to find a fancy theological word for it, it’s called “repentance.” We keep repenting, or returning back to God when we forget him and go run after something else instead of Him. Another way of saying it is that I keep running into my inability to love God on my own. Left to myself, I forget him. But He always remembers me and pursues me again. Every season ends up being this: I love God. Then I slowly start forgetting Him in daily life. Then I come to the end of myself. And He comes back for me. I don’t know much but I do know this: You must come to the end of yourself before you can truly start with God. We cannot experience Him as our true, mighty, indestructible hero while we still delusionally galavant around in our own capes, thinking we’re really something. And my life with God has been many beautiful cycles of forgetting, finally taking the cape off, and God entering back in.
True growth with God is simply returning to Him. Returning over and over to Jesus, even as life pulls you in a million directions, and remembering all He’s done in the Gospel. And it’s trusting Him to grant you a heart that wants Him again, even when you know you don’t right now.
I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
If we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
After I’m [Jesus] gone, the Father will send your Advocate, the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who brings back remembrance of everything I have told you when you’ve forgotten. That’s his job–to point back to Me and help you remember. (John 14:26, paraphrased)
Going through the motions doesn’t please You; You can tell when we’re faking it;
a flawless performance is nothing to you, God.
The offering you really desire from us is an humble heart that is honest about it’s sin and struggles.
You will not reject a truly broken and repentant heart, O God.
(Psalm 51:16-17, The Message)
7. GOD IS ACTUALLY ACTIVE IN THE LIVES OF PEOPLE
This one is so profound, yet so simple. God isn’t on a lunch break. He’s here. He’s moving. He’s aware and involved.
I’ve been surprised to look back through my journals and find really specific answers to prayer. And I didn’t say vague ones. I said specific ones. And not just for my life. Something as simple as “God, I think so-and-so is spiritually interested, but perhaps to scared to bring it up. She’s never mentioned you before, but something tells me she’s curious. If she is interested, allow her to ask me a question about you today. You say that if we seek you with all our heart, you’ll be found. So if you’ve ignited curiosity in her, then show up. If you’re really working, guide her to ask me about the Bible, or the Gospels, or prayer, or something. Oh, and do it today.”
And guess what? I run into so-and-so and the first thing she asks me about is “Ash! I was thinking. I want to know what the Bible says about ______, but I don’t know where to look. And how do I know I can believe the Bible anyway? I know you’re into that stuff, and I’ve never asked, but I’m really interested.”
What?! I mean, come on! I know that’s just one of many examples, but God is at work in the lives of people! He just asks us to be available to carry out what He has planned for the day. It happens in big and small moments, but we must ask for the eyes and ears to see and hear when it’s happening. I’ve learned that when I ask God to show me when He’s working in someone, an amazing thing happens— He does. He gives me the eyes to see His work around me and the ears to hear it if I make myself available to Him. I pray often that I’ll keep a heart that is softened to His voice, as to not miss out on all He’s doing around me, as to not forget that He really does act in people’s lives.
No eye has seen any God like you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear? Can you remember all that I am doing? (Jesus in Mark 8:18)
That is why I use these parables when I teach,
For people look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’
…But blessed are the eyes that can see and the ears who can hear.
(Jesus in Matthew 13:13-15)
8. PEOPLE AREN’T PROJECTS
This one is refreshing. After about a year of ministry burnout, I have finally experienced a breath of fresh air when it comes to ministering to others. I’m not doing it on anyone’s timeline. There’s no event I need to recruit to. There’s no deadlines or things to turn in. There’s just other people and me, doing life together. This new-found freedom has given me more reliance on God than I ever experienced in professional ministry (although I should’ve been relying on him while in ministry!).
I really pray for people now. I listen to God for the proper timing in conversations. I truly sympathize with what’s going on in their lives. I let God take the pace He wants. I don’t have every conversation planned out with 5 verses to include. I don’t report every spiritual conversation and evaluate every move made. I give the Spirit room to move and breathe and do His thing. I let people be people, not projects. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this perfectly at all. I’m just enjoying the learning process of how to see people as humans. They are God’s masterpieces, not mine.
Now, some would say this is a hard thing, because there is no accountability or urgency if you go about ministry in a blasé way. To that I would say this: at first, yes, it felt like a get-out-of-ministry-free card. But God is, of many things, our Grower. He was faithful to convict me when I was not ministering to others with a sincere heart. He truly prods me when it’s time to take a risk, and he holds me back when it’s time to just sit and listen. This is our God! He was (and is) a great Guider in ministry when I no longer had the system to rely on. Imagine that.
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
[Disclaimer: I definitely think ministry is done best in community, for sure. The church is a preimeninent channel in which God ministers to people, and should not be discounted. And systems can be useful tools. I was just making the point that God is a better Guider in ministry than systems.]
9. WHAT GOES IN COMES OUT.
We get this principle with food. And we get it with exercise and healthy living. But for some reason, we forget it when it comes to faith. We forget that we reap what we sow.
If comparison, or desire for money, or comfort, or jealousy, or anger, or malice are pouring out of me, it’s probably because I’m reaping what I sowed. When all I do is guzzle down what the world has to offer, it’s going to come out of me. If I don’t feel spiritually healthy or fit, I need to look at my weekly spiritual intake. Consuming 9 Netflix episodes, 2 romantic comedies, 6 hours of Facebook “social research” (aka- Let me compare my life to yours for hours on end), and a bunch of Top 40 hits will probably make you feel “blah” at the end of the week. It’s because you consumed the world through a fire hydrant. When I do that stuff, I get spiritually bloated. I’ve feasted on potato chips all week when God had a steak dinner for me. I’m not saying I can’t enjoy an occasional box-office hit or funny show. I’m saying that spiritually speaking, we are what we consume. If everything I hear or see has nothing to do with God, no wonder I have no appetite for him at the end of the week.
In other words, if I don’t like the fruit coming out of my life, then I better take a good look at what kinds of seeds I’m planting.
What has helped me is a spiritually balanced diet: enough research to know what’s going on in today’s society, but paired with a ton of things that increase my appetite for God. I try and make sure I’m reading the Bible, listening to sermons or podcasts, and hearing music that makes much of God and His beauty. Just like food, the more I consume those things, the more I crave them. They enliven my heart for God.
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same. (Job 4:8)
Whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (Jesus in John 15:5)
10. A “BLESSING” ≠ A LOT OF MONEY OR GOOD CIRCUMSTANCES.
Period. Let me just say this: a “blessing” is whatever God appoints in your life that makes your love for Him grow. There have been plenty of trials of life that haven’t felt much like a blessing, but they grew me up in my faith. And those seasons were worth their weight in gold. So on the other end of things, they were a blessing.
A “blessed” person is a person whose joy is full in God, whether he’s in a shack or a mansion. I had a big aha-moment about 2 years ago: I need to ask for circumstances that make me more in tune with God, not more comfortable in life. A life lived near God is a blessed life, no matter what kind of financial or circumstantial situation we are in. A blessed person is one who trusts in God and experiences the depth of joy He offers apart from circumstance. A blessed person is someone who is free from the need of perfect circumstances, because he or she has something better.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. (Jeremiah 17:7)
11. THERE’S NO BETTER PLEASURE OR JOY THAN JESUS.
I can honestly say that any other place I run to for joy or satisfaction doesn’t hold a candle to the peace, tranquility, and uncontainable joy God offers in Himself. I know this because I tried all the other avenues whether it was money, a guy, a certain career, success, security, power over others, beauty, athleticism(let’s be honest, that quest didn’t last too long!), partying, what have you.
I tried it all and nothing has left me more uplifted or satisfied than life in Christ. He’s the greatest. He’s the man that traded places with me when He didn’t have to. He’s the man who gave me safe passage to the Father. He’s the one who took my botched record, paid for it, and then handed me a new one that had perfect deeds on it; deeds that He had done, but somehow said my name, as if I did them!
There is no greater joy than full access to the throne-room of God with a record that I not only never sinned, but perfectly obeyed every standard of God Himself. This is what Jesus gives us in his life, death, and resurrection: a record before the Father that we could’ve never accomplished on our own. There is nothing better than love like that.
It made sense to me: The Bible says God’s presence offers “fullness of joy.” There’s no capacity larger than completely full. You can’t get fuller than that. The Bible also says the joy and pleasure He offers the souls of men go on “forevermore.” It didn’t say “just in this lifetime.” It didn’t say “every now and then.” It says “forevermore.” And there’s nothing longer than forever.The word is translated as an eternal, sobering word, not just a fluffy word used for a poem. The author had an intent. He meant what he said when He stated that God’s pleasures for us go on forevermore. And so I took him at the word he chose and realized what this phrase meant. You can’t get fuller than completely full and you can’t go longer than forever. So the pleasure and joy found in God is the best, by the way I logically understand measurement, that I’ll ever get. There’s no bigger version of it and there’s no expiration date. So, from where I stand, it makes perfect sense to worship Him. He gets glorified and I get more joy than I know what to do with. It’s a win-win.
Listen, if I found anything on earth that has insanely lasting value like that, I’d worship it instead of God. If there was a pleasure that could feel fuller than completely full and last longer than forever, then I’d go for it. But it cannot be found. At best, earthly joys last a short season and don’t always fill us completely. The only kind of joy or experience that can make claims of “completely full” and “lasting forever” is God Himself, and it seemed logical to me to take Him up on His offer. I’ve never regretted it.
“In Him was [real, lasting, fulfilling] life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us [lasting, full] eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11)
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
*any alterations made to verses are to include the original Greek translation and connotation of the English word. Source: The Hebrew/Greek Keyword Study Bible complete with translation lexicon for linguistic study.
Let me know your story. Comment below and tell me what you’ve learned in your faith journey. I love learning from the experiences of others and gaining encouragement from their stories!