As I tuck away the year 2015 on the bookshelf of my life, I can’t help but take one last glance—flipping through the not-yet dusty pages, reminiscing on the great, the alright, and the difficult—which always seemed to rest a few pages before the beautiful. Now, I can sit and write a novel from all the golden nuggets of truth I’ve accumulated this past year. It blows my mind every time I look back at each chunk of 365-days that I walk with Christ—the amount of growth I experience is exponentially deeper than the year before it. I don’t know how God does that, but it’s humbling and hopeful…and grueling, at times. 2015 has been a year bustling with ups and downs, good and bad, but ultimately—faith and growth.
Maybe I will get to writing that novel one day, but until then, I will leave you with three shiny truths that have penetrated this little beating heart of mine.
1. Thinking is an art, and it must be cultivated
Going back to school after being fully emerged in the career world for a few years was…a challenge. Going back to school to study theology and philosophy and Greek after being away from the study world for a few years was…a grueling endeavor, at first. Reading texts about all things metaphysical and existential made my brain do somersaults, keeping me up way too many nights trying to make sense of the overload of deep information I was ingesting.
I’ve always been a thinker, but now my thinking was coupled with the ancient works of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and such. Reading their writings felt at times like drinking from a fire hydrant. But, the more time I spent reading and studying the works of world-famous thinkers, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder at their natural cultivation of thought…how they could articulate their ideas in such a way that centuries later, people would be reading and conversing about what went through their minds. And then it hit me: where is the self-discipline of thinking these days? Do we have so much information available to us that we just spend most of our time reading and merely regurgitating? Do we ever sit and just…well, think? And by thinking, I am referring to deep thoughts about God, death, the after-life, the mind, and topics of the sort? Where is our wrestling with these things? Where is our developing this self-discipline, cultivating this art? Some of us are indeed more introspective than others, but is our introspection leading to a deep well of mind-stimulating conversations? I encourage you, friend, to use 2016 to read hard texts and think deep thoughts. Don’t just regurgitate, but use your mind to wrestle.
2. Repentance is a sweet and gentle friend
The word ‘repentance’ hasn’t always had the best connotation. The idea of repenting is usually coupled with the pinch of regret and the need to apologize on a deep scale—the kind that causes us to feel all icky and uncomfortable about ourselves. And while this may be true to a certain extent, repentance doesn’t always have to be a downer. Fact is, when we actually take a good, long look at ourselves, we find we are filled with all sorts of uncomfortable ickiness…despite us choosing to partake in the whole repentance bit. In other words, we are a dysfunctional folk, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
Realizing that I’m not all that great is one of the greatest burdens that can be lifted off of my shoulders. No, I don’t have it all figured out, and that’s why the gift of repentance is so sweet. As God gently exposes the nastiness in my heart, I am led to a precious moment of humbleness. And in that humbleness, I am invited by God to let it go—purge myself of all that isn’t beautiful and perfect; and of all that isn’t, well, Him. I am free to ask Him to forgive, rid, and heal me from the parts of me that need to grow and mature.
This is part of the beauty of Jesus—the fact that He is in the business of ridding us of all that isn’t so great about us. As we choose to embrace this, we can look forward to sweet moments of repentance, because we can trust that His purging us of the evil inside of us leads us to joy and freedom.
In this New Year, take advantage of the gift of repentance—allow yourself room to be perfected by submitting in humility when God exposes the deepest parts of your heart that need to be renewed.
3. Rest is a state of mind
Rest had been a hot commodity the last few months of 2015. Lounging around was a luxury that I hadn’t had the privilege (or desire, really) of indulging in. With work, school, a social life, and ministry taking up all of my time, “rest” rarely found its way in my schedule. Until recently, when I thought of rest, I pictured myself vegging out on my couch with the perfect Netflix queue. This was a more regular part of my life until moving to New Orleans. Upon arriving to my new city, I decided I would spare myself the extra expenses per month and go without Internet in my bedroom. Initially, I felt like I was living in the cavemen era. Not being able to veg out on the Internet or with my favorite show before bed caused some hardcore anxiety. Before I knew it, I was forced to lie in bed and do other, er, more productive things with my time…like read, journal, write, and pray. The strangest thing happened once my vegging out was replaced with spiritual nourishment—despite the mental energy I would expend, I seemed to feel exponentially MORE rested.
One night, as I was reading through Scripture, the reality of Paul’s life really struck a cord with me. When did Paul “rest”? We read through his accounts—how he was constantly giving himself to the work of the ministry—undergoing hunger, persecution and all sorts of calamities. I wonder how he rejuvenated after a long day of getting beaten up and spit on. If the option would’ve been there, do you think Paul would’ve poured himself a glass of wine and binge-watched his favorite show? How did he cope with a rough day (which I might add, a “rough” day for us is heaven compared to one of Paul’s), giving him the energy to wake up and do it all over again the following day?
I find it interesting as I read Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, which he wrote while he was in prison, that he had learned to be content in every situation—whether in abundance or in need—he was able to do all things through Christ’s strength (Philippians 4:10-14). I can’t imagine Paul had any time to veg out while in prison, yet he talks about being content, because his strength and joy is in Christ—whether he’s tired or hungry or just having a straight-up terrible day.
Dear saint, don’t fall into the world’s trap of thinking that an idle mind is a restful mind. Imitate Paul in the outpouring of his life for the work of the ministry. Let us be just like him, as he was able to do all things—like find rest for his spirit—while sitting in a jail cell. Let our rejuvenation to wake up every morning and face whatever difficulties at hand come from Christ alone. Let us not seek to find energy in that which drains our weary souls.