“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”Psalm 31:24
2019 was a year full of lessons learned, but before I get to them, I think that some background is in order.
The vast majority of the changes in my life this year occurred around the April-May timeframe, though some extended beyond this. First, I moved from my rented house in Bay City to the house of Owen and Leigha Tosh. Next, I joined The Church in Drive, a small fellowship that met in a storefront at a stripmall. In early May, I graduated from Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) with a Bachelor of Business Administration. Finishing my time in university ended my cooperative employment and prompted me to get a new job at the Freeland SportsZone. Working here part-time allowed me to take the plunge into the final two major changes in my life in 2019. As the fall began, I threw myself back into the halls of academia in the form of Bethany Theological Seminary. I only took classes there part-time, however, since I also took on the role of Intern Campus Pastor at the SVSU chapter of Standing in the Gap.
In other words, just about everything in my life was thrown out, and everything that was left was condensed down to form four categories: work, school, internship (campus ministry), and church. It is through the lens of these various changes that I learned the following three lessons in 2019.
- Intentionality in Relationships
When it became that I was to be the Intern Campus Pastor at SVSU, it became just as obvious to me that I was not ready. Fortunately, this realization came at the beginning of the summer, rather than the day before the internship was to begin. This gave me about three months to get my feet under me. To this end, I enlisted the help of three of my closest friends: Ben, Becca, and Jenna. With the first two, I embarked on a journey through Francis Chan’s excellent book Multiply, which essentially goes through the whole story of the Bible. The three of us hammered our way through the book, sharpening each other along the way (Prov 27:17) and we found our friendship with each strengthened as our understanding of our faith grew (Ecc 4:12). At the same time, I went through another book by Francis Chan, called Crazy Love, with Jenna. This book was challenging from beginning to end, and it was the main frame I used in my meeting with students in the fall semester.
It was through this furnace of friendship that I was made more ready for the fall. There, I put to the test many of the lessons I had learned over the summer. The ultimate lesson I took away from this experience is that intentionality in relationships produces an intensity of growth that cannot be found anywhere else.
- Intentionality in Life
I hate navel-gazing. The self-pitying, self-exulting pondering of one’s inner machinations overmuch is far more corrosive to the soul than any physical self-indulgence. We are to keep our eyes ahead of us, in order to know where we are going (Prov 4:25). Yet that must be balanced with checking our paths to be sure that they are good (Prov 4:26-27).
As such, I learned to periodically examine my life and ask each area and activity, “What are you doing in service to the goals of my life?”
In this case, the goal of my summer was to prepare for the internship.
If the answer was “nothing” or “not much”, the next question I learned to ask was: “What shall I replace this thing with?”
From these questions, I gained a deeper understanding of how to use the resources I have, particularly time, in a more God-honoring way. I learned to see what needed to be done — in this case, preparing for my internship — and see what processes needed to be set in motion to meet that goal when the time came.
Is the process easy? No. Am I very good at it? Also no. I have made many mistakes and backslidden multiple times. But I have learned this: as you measure what you do against your goal(s), what must change becomes painfully obvious.
- Unlearning Old Habits (And Learning New Ones)
It’s one thing to know that things need to change. It is quite another to actually change them. As I began to take graduate-level classes at seminary, I realized that my old way of approaching classes would not accomplish the goal I now had, which was to actually learn from the classes in order to use what I learned in ministry and life, which are really the same thing. The problem was that at SVSU, my goal had been to get a degree and have a decent GPA. Not incredibly high goals, and neither were they difficult to attain. Thus, my methods were to conserve effort and apply myself as little as possible while also attaining a good grade in each class. As I came to seminary, though, I realized that this method would not accomplish the goal I now had. I wanted to gain something of actual value from my time at seminary.
To really learn, I had to have two things firmly in mind.
First, the end goal. In my case, beyond just learning, that could be classified as earning my Certificate of Achievement in Theological Studies. For others, the goal may be to reach a target weight, to have read a certain number of books this year, or something else entirely.
But it is the second thing to have in mind is just as important, and perhaps more so. It is to enjoy the process of pursuing goals apart from attaining them.
To read and struggle to understand the Bible feels very different from being a “strong Christian”. Running (for me, anyway) is very different from being “in shape”. Yet each activity must be accepted — and even enjoyed — for what it is, rather than what we want it to be.Without doing the first, you will expend effort to no end, and without the second, you will be motivated by fear and guilt, which is much weaker than enjoyment, which is also much healthier and more sustainable. In other words, identify your goals clearly and learn to love the process.
In summary, intentionality in relationships is an irreplaceable catalyst for growth. Through this growth, and the subsequent self-examination, the areas you need to grow in will become clear as you measure yourself against clearly defined goals. In order to accomplish those goals sustainably, however, you must learn to enjoy the process of pursuing the goals, rather than just the high of attaining them.