Monthly Archives: August 2012

[lessons learned] in FAITH

i shared my story of focusing on faith for a year & how i learned more from failure than from any successes. still, i did learn. some of the things i learned may seem like common sense, obvious, & profoundly unprofound. but like i said in the last post, knowing these things in my head, from books & lessons, is incredibly different from knowing them in my soul, from my own experiences. my hope in sharing these lessons with you is not that you will be struck with the profundity of them, but that reading about them will cause you to be more observant of these same patterns & realities in your own faith journey, hopefully propelling you further along the way. being able to put into words the things i learned through my year on faith has done this very thing for me.

>> we can have faith because God is faithful.

it is recounted over & over in the pages of scripture. God is faithful. we can trust Him. we don’t have to be afraid because He is with us. He will not fail us. [that statement alone has carried me through more darkness than i can recount.] this is true even today. anyone who has walked with God for very long can share their own stories of His faithfulness. some stories are miraculous & exciting. others are simple, taking place among the mundane. but all are true & important. our faith is pointless without something worthy in which to place that faith. God is infinitely worthy. He proved it over & over in bible times. He proves it over & over today. 

>> it is important to remember how He’s been faithful in our pasts.

those stories of God’s faithfulness are important, & we would be wise to remember them, record them, & recount them. establishing memorials is an ancient practice of God’s people. the passover is one of the most prominent memorials that God established so the israelites would remember that He delivered them from slavery in egypt. my personal favorite is the story of the ebenezer stone. in first samuel, the ark was captured by the philistines, then it was returned. the israelites mourned their sinfulness against the Lord &, per samuel’s instructions, they got rid of all their idols & gathered together for samuel to intercede for them. while gathered together in prayer, the philistines came to attack them. the israelites cried out to samuel to keep praying. the Lord thundered against the philistines & threw them into a panic so that the israelites could easily defeat them. samuel sets up a memorial stone & calls it ebenezer [which means “stone of help”], & he says, “thus far has the Lord helped us.” that phrase has become something of a slogan that i’ve used in my faith journey. the implication is that God has helped us so far, & He will help us again!

i have taken this story to heart, & when i began regularly journaling in 2006 in conjunction with my focus on faith, i came to refer to my journals [there are now several tomes] to my ebenezers. they are filled with my own stories of how i have seen God faithful in my life. an answered prayer, a needed friend, a conflict resolved, a new lesson learned, a victory achieved. these stories remind me that if He helped me then, He can & will help me now. He’ll come through for me again. the practice of recording & remembering these experiences — setting them up as “memorial stones” — has significantly contributed to my increased faith. life is uncertain, whether you follow God or not. but when you walk with the Lord & actively remember what He has done for you, you can turn around anytime & see your path strewn with ebenezer stones. and it gives you the courage to take the next step into the unknown, with Him by your side. 

>> it’s never easy, but it gets easier.

faith in God is not easy. it is “being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we do not see” [hebrews 11:1]. these things are not easy for temporal, tangible creatures like us. that is why recording the times when we do observe God’s presence & experience His help is so important. when the enemy surrounds us with temptation or the storms of life rage around us, it is difficult to keep God & His promises in view. we need good memories in these times. we need to practice faith now & in the “small” things so that we can be ready when bigger trials come. and come, they will. standing firm against the enemy will never be easy. surviving the storms of life will never be easy. but we have great strength & assured victory in all things when we have faith in God to fight in our stead & to bring peace to/in the storm. and we have great hope when we have faith that God will bring good through any thing, no matter how awful. relying on His strength & goodness makes these times of trial so much easier. but it requires faith. not just faith in God existing, but faith in God coming through for us, being who He says He is, doing what He says He will do. we need to exercise this faith now & record His faithfulness in our pasts. He never promised this life would be easy. but He did promise that walking through this life with Him is easier. “My yoke is easy, & My burden is light” [matthew 11:30].

a year focused on FAITH

i have shared how i became convicted about setting annual goals for spiritual growth in my life. to continue the story from that thursday night devo in january of 2006… our friend, chris, challenged us to choose a theme or focus to guide our year in intentional spiritual growth & to choose a passage of scripture that could guide & encourage us. i chose FAITH.

the passage i chose to keep me focused throughout the year was ephesians 6:10-18 [nasb] —
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addtion to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…
like i said yesterdayi was completely dedicated to being a christian. but that was different from being completely dedicated to Christ. i didn’t realize that difference in myself until late 2005, early 2006. i had known for many years that i was better at the knowledge side of christianity & i struggled with faith. my sister & i have often commiserated over this shared fact about ourselves. we are incredibly thankful for the foundation our parents laid for us & the heritage from the churches of Christ in knowing the bible in depth. but we rarely experienced the emotional side of christianity, the passion, the heart of God in depth. we relied too much on our knowledge about God rather than on God Himself. i certainly don’t think that faith is a warm fuzzy, emotional kind of thing. faith is a decision. but there is an emotional side to God & the life to which He calls us. sorrow over sin, compassion toward the hurting, anger for injustices, & great joy in His presence. and life is emotional. there are times when no amount of biblical knowledge can stand up alone to our circumstances & emotional turmoil. these are times in which faith is a must. a different kind of knowledge. an experiential knowledge. a relational knowledge. this was the knowledge i lacked & desperately desired. i wanted to be real & for God to be real to me.
for christmas in 2005, my husband shaun gave me a most insightful gift, the book believing God by beth moore. the subject of the book is as plain as its title, dealing with our faith being real & active. it is one of the most influential books in my life. i don’t believe this to be coincidence. first of all, i believe that it was so influential precisely because it was a lesson & a journey that i so needed. shaun knew this & lovingly acted on it. another reason beth states best herself in the introduction: “i am convinced that Christ is always the initiator of matters concerning faith (heb. 12:2). so if i’m on target, you’ve neither stumbled onto this book nor accidentally found it in your hands. Christ is initiating a fresh anointing of faith in your life…” reading this book prompted me to choose faith as my 2006 focus. it was the area i most needed to grow in my walk with Christ. i still read this book through almost every year.
i don’t recall doing many proactive things to increase my faith that year beyond journaling a lot. i finished reading believing God & regularly engaged in the faith practices suggested by beth. my favorite was recording “GodSTOPs” — those times when you notice God active in your life, whether through a sunset or a particular bible verse or a timely conversation with a friend. i continue the practice of journaling these to this day. i also made one of my goals that year to study the bible & pray every day. i didn’t do it everyday. but by the end of december i had made significant progress in having regular “quiet time” with God throughout the week.
from my journal, january 18, 2006: i want to impact my generation & the Lord’s kingdom. i feel (& have always felt) called to stir things up, spark a fire, swing the baseball bat of truth, & dole out passion! and i have felt so helpless, not knowing how; and i have felt so ashamed, not having tried. i certainly don’t see myself or my church “causing the gates of hell to tremble.” we are working so hard, at what? if we’re not fighting for God, we’re standing around for satan. we are nothing more than a glorified social club. i am nothing more than a religious sorostitute. where did we put God? we blend seamlessly with the world… but i will not be like the rest of the world! i will be a follower of Christ, a co-conspirator to God!
i have to shake my head at some of the things i wrote back then… but i’m thankful for that humble beginning to a lifelong journey of learning.
from wanting to be real & effective, i gained a budding sense of urgency [something i’m still growing in & needing much growth in]. o Lord, be faithful to my faith. teach me Your Ways. drench me in a sense of urgency for Your kingdom. restore my life, my purpose, my passion. i wanted to practice my faith daily, even though i’ve never had a disciplined bone in my body. i became very attached to journaling which led to greater frequency in praying & greater thirst for studying & learning. i began to believe that He could help me believe. i began to believe that He could help me change. i began to believe that He could make me victorious in my faith, over my sins, in effectiveness for His kingdom.
but… 2006 was one of the hardest years in my christian life up to that point [& for being so young, i had already experienced a significant amount of trials, especially in the church]. there were many serious & divisive issues within our campus ministry at the time. differences of opinions & beliefs, conflicts, gossip & slander, factions, & poor leadership [including on the part of yours truly] all combined & escalated, creating some nasty consequences. the ministry that i had poured my life into, that i had allowed to become my very identity, was falling apart around me. it was a time of intense faith crisis for me.
i was tempted to & often acted on growing distant from God. and yet God continued to work on me to put my knowledge & fledgling faith into action. through spiritual disciplines, conflict, rebuke, forgiveness, obedience, depression, failure, & self-reflection. and then, it was september. one morning i happened to be doing my quiet time, reading through a book & meditating on some scriptures & songs. it hit me like a tidal wave. my own poverty of spirit. my own sin & weakness. what God has done for me & in me. that morning, i made a new decision. to follow God & not a church. to be in relationship with Him & not a ministry. to embrace the sorrow over my sin & the joy of His salvation. i was baptized at age 12, but i became a disciple at age 25. 
december 31, 2006 found me writing these words: this year has been a period characterized by my entrenchment in campus ministry, inconsistent faith & focus on God, & slavery to sin, depression, & selfishness. i am now reborn, recommitted, & repentant… i’ve spent a year “focused” on faith, yet find myself at the end so unfaithful… what i want from myself is to be unabashedly who i am, to always be willing to learn & improve, to become ever more Christlike, to work hard to reach my dreams, & to never settle for average.
i may have deemed myself still unfaithful at the end of 2006, but i realized a couple of years ago very suddenly how much God has grown me in the ways of faith. little by little, i flopped & failed my way to increased faith. as evidenced by all my falling along the way, no credit to increased faith lies with me. it was all God. i asked for increased faith, even begged for it, & did the few things i knew to do by reading my bible, praying, self-reflection, & attempting other spiritual disciplines. and in my meager efforts [sometimes in spite of my meager efforts!], He was faithful. even through the major faith crisis i faced last year, my reactions were so different from what they were six years ago. He never failed me, & He never forsook me. even in every awful thing that has happened, He has brought something good through it. God has proven Himself so faithful over these years, & He has blessed me with eyes to notice some of it.
He has turned my mustard seed of faith into a tiny seedling. it’s still small to be sure. but it has grown.

the goals of a student of Life

in my first post, how i became a student of Life, i listed several things that i think it means to be a student of Life. while that list is mostly not in any particular order, i did bookend it with the two things that matter most. in being a student of Life, the overarching purpose is … glorifying God in everything you do. in being a student of Life, the overarching practice is … intentionality in everything. everything else on the list is meaningless without the overarching purpose. everything else on the list will go undone without the overarching practice.

the first practice of a student of Life i would like to delve into certainly requires a great deal of purposeful focus & intentionality: … having goals & a plan to achieve them.

i don’t think i ever really understood the importance of this until one fateful thursday night in early 2006. shaun & i were still part of [& leading] the campus ministry at our church. at the time, i was 24 & in my sixth year of undergrad. the general practice of our campus ministry was weekly bible studies [guys’ & girls’] on tuesday nights & group worship & devotional time on thursday nights. it was the first thursday night devo of the spring semester, shortly after the new year began. our close friend & fellow leader in the ministry, chris kessler, was the devo leader that night. his lesson was on goals.

he challenged us to think about how much time we spend on school, working toward various career & personal goals. whether or not we made resolutions on january 1st, we all had goals. whether or not we had detailed plans on how to achieve those goals, we were likely spending much of our time working toward them. we talked about the kinds of goals we have — making good grades, getting internships, losing weight, being more productive, watching less tv, etc. but how many of us had spiritual goals? how much time did we spend working toward being Christlike? studying the bible? serving? praying? letting God work on our weaknesses? growing in our gifts & strengths? if we claimed to be christians & to seek after God, how much time were we spending actually doing this? did my annual resolutions or goals reflect my “priority” on God? that was the bomb he laid on us that night. and it tore my world apart. i have quite seriously never been the same.

i had grown up in church all my life. my dad was a preacher. i faithfully continued going to church even when i moved out & my parents couldn’t make me. i was a super involved member & later leader of our campus ministry. i was at church 3-5 times a week. i spent every spring break on a mission trip. i taught girls’ bible study. i attended bible camp for a week every summer, teaching & counseling teen girls. surely, no one could dispute that i was a christian who was giving God my all?!

but that night, God cut me to the deepest places in my heart & mind. i knew that my goals, what i spent all my time working towards, was not God. it was not to glorify Him. it was not to become more like Christ. and i wanted that to change.

chris issued a challenge to all of us that night. he asked each of us to choose one thing we needed to work on in our spiritual life & to set it as a focus or a theme for the year. he asked each of us to choose one verse or passage in the bible that could be a regular reminder & encouragement throughout the year to intentionally work on our theme. he warned us that he would be asking us to share what theme & verse we chose the following thursday at devo. oh, how accountability can motivate!

most of us did our homework. i don’t know whether it affected everyone else’s 2006 like it did mine. i don’t know if it’s still affecting everyone else’s 2012 like it is mine! but for me, that was the beginning of a whole new christianity & a whole new life. really, if i could pinpoint the time that i became a student of Life, it wasn’t when shaun & our teens first coined the phrase a couple of years ago. it was that seemingly ordinary but fateful thursday night in early 2006.

from that point on, i have made goals for myself every single year. i set 12 goals & divide them evenly into 3 spiritual goals, 3 physical goals, 3 intellectual goals, & 3 emotional goals. [some other time i’ll share what kinds of goals i’ve made over the years & how i’ve done accomplishing them.] and every single year since 2006, i have chosen a new theme for my year — something i need to cultivate in my walk with Christ. every year, i choose a theme passage from the bible to keep me focused. of all the practices i’ve developed in my life, that make me a student of Life, this one is the most pivotal & most profoundly influential. 

i know you’re probably wondering what i chose as my theme that first year. that’s another story for another time. [specifically, for tomorrow.] for now, i want to ruminate on how intentionally setting goals matters. we’ll never change without a goal & a plan. and probably not without some accountability, too! to be a student of Life, you have to make your whole priority be glorifying God. to be a student of Life, you must have goals that challenge & change you more into the image of He who is the Life.

what do you most need to work on in your walk with Christ? what is your goal? what are you going to do to get there?

[lessons learned] vol. 1

it’s only been a couple of years that i’ve been called [& been calling myself] a “student of Life.” but even in that time, i’ve learned much. here are a few lessons among many, in no particular order:

>> being “right” without being loving is still wrong.
boy, have i gotten myself into plenty of trouble with this one. i’ve learned this more by being wrong than right. i am a passionate, opinionated person. i feel strongly convicted about my beliefs & values. but my means of communicating them can be abrasive, unloving, & ineffective. thankfully, & by the immeasurable grace of God, He’s grown me a lot in this area. but i had to learn the hard way. the way that has lost me many a disagreement & cost me many a friendship. because no matter how “right” i am on the issue, if i don’t act rightly as i communicate what i think, i’m still wrong. railroading people is never right. dismissing people & their thoughts, beliefs, & opinions is never right. and even arguing a point just because “i’m right” is never right. there needs to be a point beyond “i’m right” for engaging in disagreements. there needs to be something at stake besides my pride & need to be right. plus, it’s just not effective to share your thoughts in these ways! Jesus & the apostle paul taught that quarreling is never becoming or productive for a follower of Christ. they also taught that when disagreement arises, perhaps even in the manner of correction, it is paramount to treat the other person with love & gentleness. this is a tough teaching for someone like me, but it is the way Christ, the Life, has called us to live.

>> education does not equal effectiveness.
i can not preach this one enough! having a degree in a particular subject does not make one an expert. it does not mean you are guaranteed to know more than someone else who does not have that same degree or education in that same subject. and it certainly does not mean you are or will be effective in the active field of that subject. i might say this from some personal experience… i’ve seen this to be true in several areas, including design & teaching, but i’ve learned this lesson most strikingly in the area of ministry. knowing a lot about theology &/or ministry tactics will not ensure a person to be an effective minister. and it does not necessarily indicate gifting or calling from God. conversely, not having attended seminary or having a degree in theology does not necessarily mean a person cannot be extremely effective in ministry & even called to it. God does not gift or call people according to the letters after their name or the fancy framed paper in their office. He calls who He calls, for His purposes, & God has a long track record of working through people the world would deem unqualified. i’m certainly not against going to seminary — my sister is studying theology on a graduate level right now. i also don’t think that hiring ministers with degrees is a bad thing — i have lots of godly & effective degreed minister friends. rather, i have learned that a degree is not an absolute indicator, nor is the lack of one.

>> embrace the current season.
i just turned 30 last year, & for over a year leading up to that milestone, i was dreading it. and then a dear longtime friend of mine told me this attitude didn’t seem consistent with or becoming for a student of life. she said she imagined a student of life would embrace the season in which they currently found themselves, no matter what it might be, & they would intentionally prepare for & even look forward to new seasons in life. and she was right. i still often struggle with the reality that i’m 30. working with teens can cause that! but reflecting over my 20s, i am thankful for all the ways in which God has grown me up to this point. i have plenty of regrets, mainly the regret of squandered time, but i also have lots of triumphs, to the glory of God. side note: i asked another friend if i should “freeze” my age at 29, & she advised against it. instead, she said to wait until i turn 32 to “stop aging” because who would ever think you’re lying about being 32?!

i’ve learned much more than these three lessons, & i’ll write more at another time. but these lessons have been pivotal for me in learning how to live the good life. 

 

how i became a student of Life

let me start by saying i do not have a college degree. i attended a prestigious high school that was like going away to a top-notch university for my junior & senior year. i attended n.c. state university / college of design / school of architecture, which has a pretty impressive & competitive program. after four years of college, i switched to a major in english with a focus in linguistics & editing. i was in college for six years. i am well-educated. i am very intelligent. but i do not have a college degree.

i ended up quitting school after a couple of rough semesters due to focusing more of my time & energy on working with the campus ministry at our church than on my classes. my heart was in ministry, & i wanted to be single-minded, focused. one thing led to another, one job to another. i have been a preschool teacher, a mary kay consultant, an administrative assistant, a production manager at a design studio, a freelance editor & designer, & a ministry leader in both campus ministry & youth ministry. i rarely do any one thing for more than a year. i have never really known “what i want to do when i grow up.” those who know me will ask me what i’m doing this year. i really am a jack [or jill] of all trades. and definitely a master of none.

the conclusion i’ve come to is that i like living this way. i enjoy experiencing new things & not being confined to one career or path. i relish learning a variety of skills in many different fields. nowadays, i can tell you with confidence that i am called to lifelong vocational ministry. but what i may do at any give time within the scope of ministry, only God knows!

currently, i work with my local church body running a ministry called “conneXions” in which i help people get connected to God, to people, & to opportunities to serve in areas that match up with their giftedness & passions. i love it. but i doubt i’ll do it for the rest of my life. i’ll do it for as long as God calls me to work in this particular area, then i’ll pass it off to another person He has prepared for it. and i’ll move on to something else He has prepared me for.

but i’m getting ahead of myself. a couple of years ago, i was doing youth ministry as the interim youth minister for this same local church. teens are so funny. they were asking me one wednesday night what i studied in college & what i really do for a living. my husband, shaun, jokingly said, “danae’s a student of life!” i laughed, thinking it pretty clever, but i didn’t think much more of it. however, our teens grabbed hold of that phrase & have been calling me a “student of life” ever since. when i realized how much it had caught on, i thought more seriously about it myself. it had a nice ring to it, but it also had a nice reality to it. if i am a student of anything, it is of life. Life. Christ. and living the abundant life He came to give. like henry david thoreau, “i want to live deliberately. i want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” in fact, i believe one can only live life to the fullest by doing so intentionally. and i believe Christ is the Way, the Truth, & the Life. [in case you’re not familiar with the bible, don’t think that’s original to me; Jesus said it about Himself. His words are recorded in the bible, john 14:6.]

ever since that fateful evening, i’ve been consumed with this idea of what it means to be a student of Life. here’s what i think so far:

being a student of Life means . . .
. . . intentionality in everything.
. . . having goals & a plan to achieve them.
. . . putting your knowledge & faith into action.
. . . keeping in mind the big picture.
. . . studying & following the life of Jesus Christ.
. . . regular self-reflection.
. . . willingness to improve oneself.
. . . a thirst for knowledge & an appetite for adventure.
. . . knowing when the little things are the big things.
. . . sacrificing the urgent for the important.
. . . an abiding relationship with God.
. . . glorifying God in everything you do.

this blog is a place to record & facilitate what i have learned, my evolving understanding of what it means to be a student of Life, my “majors” in different “subjects” periodically, & my personal & spiritual growth. i hope it helps you do these same things as needed in your own life.

join me. let us be students of Life together under the greatest Teacher ever known.