I don’t know about you, but an ideal New Years Eve for Pat and I is quiet, cozy, and uneventful. This year, we had a fun and early dinner out, then came home to a movie and a relaxing evening. Perfect!
Even though I am not much for partying on New Year’s Eve, I do like to take a look back at the year that is ending and ponder what God has taught me along the way. Each year – without exception – I’ve looked back and been able to trace God’s faithful provision and care.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned in 2019:
Lesson One: I don’t know everything.
Let’s just start off with this lesson! I don’t know everything! A few months back, I made a leadership decision that was misunderstood. There was quite a bit of upset and feelings were hurt. Without going into all the details, I learned several lessons through this painful experience, but the most life changing was when God held a mirror up to me. He never misses an opportunity to correct us, if we are paying attention!
I realized that many times, I have jumped to the wrong conclusion, about someone’s motives, based on what I have heard or what I am seeing. In both cases, unless I have gone to the source, seeking true understanding, I’ve had a very limited view and only partial information.
Therefore, God reminded me that because I don’t know everything, I should not be concluding anything.
He brought these two questions to my mind:
- How many times, Laura, have you reacted negatively and questioned, both at work, church and elsewhere, why leadership made decisions you didn’t care for or understand?
- And…as a result of the decision impacting you, how many times have you gone directly to the leaders with kindness & sincerity asking them to help you truly understand the decision that was made?
My answers were yes to question one and rarely to question two. Ouch. The mirror doesn’t lie.
So, my mantra since then, is to say to myself, “I don’t know everything” before I jump to conclusions and wrongly believe I know all I need to know. This has not been easy for an over-thinker like me, but I keep working at it. As always, God always gives me plenty of practice when He is teaching and correcting!
Lesson Two: The enemy is relentless, and shame is his favorite fiery dart.
I knew this before, but this year I have realized it in a new and deeper way. Shame is one seriously debilitating emotion and it attacks the very core of our belief system. It is pervasive in Christian women and it does not come from God.
We must be alert for what Brene Brown calls, ‘Shame Storms.’ They can sneak up on us before we know it, with the proverbial accusing inner voice that says,
“Who do you think you are? Sit down and be quiet!”
People who use shame to control others are toxic and need to be kept at an arm’s length or even farther away. Which brings me to lesson #3…
Lesson Three: Accepting how much God loves you is at the core of spiritual maturity and emotional health.
Again, this is not new, but God is impressing this to me in a deeper way. You simply cannot trust or follow Jesus if you do not believe Him at His word. As I have traveled around doing ministry this year and also continued to work on my own internal health, I have come to believe that many Christians stay in the same unhealthy emotional and spiritual place for years, because they still do not believe they are loved by God.
This is not a simple thing, especially if you have not been loved well by people. It will take commitment to saturate yourself in His word and to ask Him to help you with your unbelief. It requires being resolute in letting go of old thinking and allowing His words to characterize how you think about yourself, people and circumstances.
Reflecting back over the painful experience alluded to in lesson #2, I can clearly see it was the understanding of my worth in Christ and His love for me that kept me straight. The path to accepting His love for us, as I described above, is one I have taken myself. It was beautiful to realize this truth protected me during an experience, that had it happened a few years ago, would have left me shattered. I love Jesus. His truth covers us and keeps us safe.
Lesson Four: When God clearly calls you to something new, fear is not an indicator that you heard Him incorrectly.
Any change is going to conjure up some fear. It may come from yourself, or from people who are fearful for you or for themselves. I have learned this year to trust His voice, seek wise counsel if necessary, and step out in faith. Fear causes us to rely on Him, His provision and it grows our trust. I’ve missed His direction and delayed decisions in the past because of being afraid. Don’t let fear scare you out of your calling.
Lesson Five: I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a temptation out there to change or downplay the Gospel message and our Christian ‘image’ to be appealing to people who are far from God. The more our culture whines to us about Christianity being offensive, we can be lulled into thinking we have to be very careful and not too ‘Christian’ in our presentation to those outside the church. It is well-meaning, but I believe it can be a slippery slope.
The Lord has impressed upon me that He alone is responsible for hearts to be changed toward Him. We are simply to live as followers of Jesus authentically and honestly. We are to live open-hearted, and share with anyone He places before us our story of God’s love and grace. We serve, we give, we love and we tell the truth about Jesus. The church at it’s finest and most effective is when it stands out in stark contrast to what the world is offering.
I’ve never picked a ‘word’ for the new year, but last night, before the movie, I came across two online quizzes. Just for fun, I took them both. After answering a series of questions, a result is generated with your word for the new year. Since I took both quizzes, I received two and I think they go perfectly together! My words for 2020 are abide and stand. Immediately these two scriptures came to mind…
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. … John 15:4-5
Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. – Ephesians 16:3
I cannot live out my five lessons without these two powerful words. I must abide in Him through the disciplines of my faith – scripture, prayer, worship, confession, obedience, and a commitment to follow. And, as I continue to grow, I am more and more able to stand firm when the fiery darts come at me. Abide first, then stand firm.
May we all learn from our failures, missteps, and difficult experiences from 2019. May we go into the new year with valuable lessons learned, and a new vision for greater growth and maturity! And may we, once and for all, accept the love of our faithful, honest and freedom-giving God.
I want to do better, and I suspect you do too. It is never too late for a clean slate and a fresh start!
Happy New Year, my friends! Love to all!