There have been seven or eight lessons I have learned over the course of my life that have altered my thinking in profound ways. They have become markers of what Paul calls, “Glory to glory.” They marked a step forward, not in closer or better union with Christ, but in closer and better understanding of him. Today I thought of sharing them briefly with you.
A love for the local church: This was pressed deep into me before I even understood the theology of the church. My pastor in New York wooed me to a love for the local, to what God was doing right here in front of me. To the people with whom I walked and lived and fought and fought for. We cannot say we love Christ and not love what he loves best. He loves the Church best. He gave His life for her. I learned to live and die for the Church.
To not rob others of their suffering: This came from a friend during a season of deep pain and sadness in my life. He could have relieved it, I suppose, but said instead to another friend that he would not rob me of my sufferings. It took me a very, very long time to understand what that meant, and it took more suffering and more observation of suffering to understand. But here is what it taught me: God doesn’t waste anything, not suffering, not difficulty, not pain. He is working and willing and waiting and faithfully attending to his children in the midst of it. There are no “meantimes” in the Kingdom of God.
To be a “There you are!” person, instead of a “Here I am,” person: My pastor in New York also taught me there was real value in showing true interest in another person and their life. To not stand on the sidelines waiting to be approached by others with a “Here I am, come find me,” attitude. OR to enter a room and be the life and center of the party with the exclamation, “Here I am!” But instead to enter a room and find others first. To be the first to ask questions about their lives and the last to talk about yourself. This lesson, for a shy, wallflower like me, was life-changing. God pursues us like that!
God is not surprised by my doubts, my questions, my fears, or life: My pastor in Texas taught me this and it was one of the lessons that has been the foundation of my faith for five years. I spent years and years doubting my life, my choices, my faith, my repentance. All of this because I somehow believed I was in charge of it all and God was shaking his head in disappointment at me. If, though, God is in charge of everything, that means he isn’t surprised by anything—and he isn’t waiting me to mess up some cosmic plan. He’s shepherding, giving, guiding, loving, hearing, and faithful every step of the way.
This gift is for this day: Elizabeth Elliot taught me this. She hammered into my little head that not only was today a gift, but whatever I had today was a gift, and whatever I didn’t have today was also a gift. “God still holds tomorrow,” she said. This lesson reminded me time and time again over the years that today held enough disappointment and treasure as it was. There was no use longing for tomorrow and ignoring what God wanted to teach me today.
Love Jesus and People more than things: I will never forget sitting in the living room of some friends back in New York and hearing the father talk of how if his kids squabbled over a toy or some plaything, they would immediately rid their home of the item. They would not sell it because they wouldn’t attach worth to some thing which had caused conflict. He wanted to teach his kids to love Jesus and People more than things. Shortly after that I began to get rid of almost everything I owned and began to discipline myself to not worship the idol of sentimentality or wistfulness. I wanted everything I had been stewarded to reek of the fragrance of God’s own. If it didn’t, I got rid of it.
Expectations are resentments waiting to happen: This from another pastor in my church in Texas. I heard it at a time when all my faith and trust in God was shattered because I had put all my expectations in certain things instead of in Him alone. I wanted expressions of His goodness, not simply his goodness. I wanted gifts of lavish attention, without his simple affection. When I began to see the discrepancy, it became immediately clear where my doubt in him was coming from. I resented him, plain and simple. When I began to simply hope in His character and not at all in his gifts, everything changed for me. Nothing about life itself changed, but everything about the way I saw him changed.
This are just a few of the small things that have changed me throughout life. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about one or all of them. I hope even more, though, that you’ve seen me live them. It would be a waste if all we did with theology was talk about it. These men and women, though their faithfulness, taught me in small ways huge lessons. This is the last lesson I have learned: To be faithful to God, not an outcome.
I doubt very much most of these people would know their small acts of faithfulness would have life-changing effects on me. But they did. My prayer today is two-fold: that you would find those benchmark moments in your life today, and that you would go back and thank the people who taught you those lessons. And second, that you would know you are being watched and studied by others in their walk. What we say and model and teach matters—and what a good gift that is from God!