January 21, 2021
You are not the same person you were a year ago.
Life has changed you.
In the last year, some of that is wonderful and worthy of great celebration. You have grown in ways that you may not yet fully appreciate or recognize. You have learned things about yourself you did not know before. Your faith in God has deepened in unexpected ways.
But of course, some of that is not so great. There may be areas of your life where you have taken a step back. Perhaps it has been a period of drifting or doubting you have not experienced before.
Some may not be positive or negative.
Change has happened because life is just different today as a result of the loss of a loved one, a meaningful relationship that seems to have fallen apart, the loss of a job or a dramatic change in the work you continue to do, the rhythms and patterns of your life.
And while some of this may be particular to this season, my absolute confidence in this statement actually has nothing to do with the challenges of a global pandemic.
Rather, it is simply a reality of our humanity.
Spiritual formation is not an optional addition to our human experience. It isn’t something that you do or choose not to do. It is a reality in which we live; a forming of the heart, a shaping of the soul that is happening all the time.
What we choose is whether or not we will be active or passive participants in our own formation.
Active participation requires regular attention to three primary forces that direct our change.
What You Believe
More than a list of what we say we believe, this is the framework through which we experience and respond to the world. Living in the convictions that God is always working, my whole life is fully funded by God’s grace, everything that I am, I have, and hope to be belongs to God and that I can trust God for the future changes the way I interpret and respond to my challenges, sorrows, failures, setbacks as well as celebration and success.
Investing in the avenues through which truth enters our lives is how we actively participate in shaping how we see and respond to the world.
Weekly participation in worship, daily time reading the scriptures and a prayer life in which we are both sharing full and listening carefully, seeking to follow and proclaim Christ in all you do are just a few of those.
Don’t miss that this also involves cutting off those sources that pollute and poison our hearts and minds!
How You Behave
We may not be excited about the exercise, but with just a few minutes we all could list a handful of habits we know are unhealthy, those we desire to change as well as those we know are life-giving. Those in this final category may be ones we have lost along the way. These are likely the habits you may be trying to re-establish at the beginning of a new year.
But this is broader than what we could easily identify.
How we behave includes how we respond, how we speak (what we say AND choose not to say), how we listen and – one we often overlook – the boundaries we have set for our own behavior.
These are the expectations we place on ourselves based on the decisions we make in advance of what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Who Influences You
Perhaps in your youth someone shared with you the statement,
“Show me your friends and I will show you your future.”
I remember hearing it long before I really understood it. When I made an intentional choice to ground myself in Christian community during my college years, my future began to change.
But this didn’t stop being true for you or me when we turned 18 or 25! This is the truth for all ages and stages of our lives.
Why is this so important?
Because the people who surround our life have incredible influence over the previous two – what we believe and how we behave.
This is not to say that we should close ourselves off to the world. We are called to be “salt and light.” (Matthew 5:14-16) There should be people in your life who will one day begin a relationship with Jesus because of their relationship with you.
My Hope For You
I hope that reflecting on how life has changed you is an encouragement. I hope that it leads you to pause, appreciate and express gratitude for God’s faithfulness in your life.
What it should not do is lead you to beat yourself up, feel defeated or increase a sense of guilt.
Guilt does not change anything. If anything, it just digs a deeper hole.
Grace is what changes us.
Grace covers our past and provides hope for a new future.
And if a new future is what you seek, let me encourage you to start by looking at these three areas – what you believe, how you behave and who is influencing your life.