As I just celebrated my 64th birthday last week (and thank you for the birthday greetings I received from many of you), I reflected on what were some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the nearly 6 ½ decades of life. Some of them are changes to how I used to think. Others are principles that have grown and deepened over the years. Though these things are strong in my soul, I found them particularly difficult to articulate in words. So, my apologies if they sound confusing or trite or not well-put. And I welcome your help and input (as well as questions and pushback) as I try to express these life lessons on the page.
I brainstormed a big list of 10-15 things, but I narrowed it down to just three things I want to share with you today (did I hear a collective sigh of relief out there?) I’m not sure if they’re the top three, but I can say they have been important to me and vital to steering my life; especially over this “second half.” And I hope they are lessons that resonate and, perhaps, slightly convict you (as they have me) as we consider our journey in following Jesus:
1. Jesus is more concerned about me becoming loving than being right.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way many, many times. Wanting to “be right” always feels good initially, but it deteriorates rapidly into alienating others, becoming judgmental (and, oh, how sitting on that “high horse” really massages my fragile ego!) and closing off my soul from life. And it’s so easy to justify being right (to steer the “wayward” in going the right direction), but often in my case it’s all about having the upper hand and being in control.
I do want to say that I strongly believe that truth is very important. But there is a big difference between being truthful and pursuing truth versus wanting to be right all the time. A lot of it has to do with motive and patience: why do I really want to show someone the “correct” way? And why do I really feel the urgency to show it, say it or prove it right now?
And I also find that when I choose the path of love over the path of wanting to be right, that the truth is revealed in a profound and timely way. Sometimes that truth is revealed to the other person. Many times that truth is revealed to me, that over time I see that my version of being right was actually closer to fiction than it was to the Truth.
And that’s where becoming loving comes in: Love always checks the attitude and the motive. Love is always patient and kind and other-focused. I use the phrase “becoming loving” because I know that to love well, whether it’s God, others or even myself, requires a long journey of constant development that involves much grace (from God) and surrender (from me).
2. It is important to embrace suffering and hardships and not avoid them.
I’ve written on this topic many times in this blog (for an example, click here). I think it is a game-changer in giving us true perspective and true life; especially for those of us who seek to follow Jesus.
Let me begin by stating: how I hate pain! How I bristle at obstacles that slow me down! And how I cling to my comfort and desire to have everything go my way!
But four years ago when my body went through kidney failure and I had no choice but to experience suffering, I found it to be a vehicle of discovering the true treasures of grace, God’s presence, and receiving love from others. Not only that, but I found the words of Paul (Romans 5:3-5) and James (James 1:2-4) to be so true: that persevering through suffering, trials and hardships – with Jesus – leads to a strengthening of character, a softening of the soul, and a sensitive awareness that couldn’t otherwise take place in my life.
Simply said, embracing my trials (whether they are great or small, like having to sit in traffic) is key to the transformed life and seeing the Kingdom of God at work.
3. I can never rely too much on the Holy Spirit or prayer.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that reliance on the Holy Spirit and seeking God’s face in prayer is a high priority with me. But as much as I believe that, the practice of that belief constantly needs to deepen and grow.
As you probably know, the Holy Spirit is often an “after-thought” in the hearts and minds of many Christ-followers (including pastors and leaders). Sometimes He is, as Francis Chan so aptly puts it, the “Forgotten God.” As well, prayer can devolve into a “holy assumption” (I thought about praying, so that counts, right?) or an incantation that slaps a “God label” on a gathering (like the traditional opening or closing in prayer) or a list of “honey-do’s” (a.k.a. prayer requests) to give to Jesus to accomplish.
Now, I’m not trying to slam on prayers of invocation or prayers of asking God to do things for us. I practice both of those. But the prayer I’m talking about is the one that invites the Holy Spirit to fill us, direct us and empower us.
I am learning that Psalm 127:1 is so true: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. I can do NO good work without God’s Spirit and the way to rely on the Spirit is through this type of prayer: the prayer of seeking and surrendering, the prayer of watching and waiting, the prayer of silence and stillness before the One who is both the Lover of my Soul and the Lord of the Universe.
There’s another lesson I’ve learned that I wanted to really share with you, but I should end this here. You’ll hear about the other one in the months to come; it’s something that I’ve reflected upon a lot over the past couple of years (Ha! How do you like that “teaser”?)
But of these three lessons, which resonate with you? Do any of them cause you to feel resistance or disturbance? Share your thoughts with me, either on FaceBook or the WholeLifeWorship website. I’d love to have a conversation about it!
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