Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I wish I'd known to...take a long range view of life change

Since I’ve been a Christian for almost 10 years I’ve been thinking back on what I wish I could tell my younger Christian self and therefore what might be useful for people who are younger Christians now to know. There is so much that I could say and I suspect given another 10 years I’d find a whole bunch of things to tell my current self!

One of the things that jumped out thinking this through was being really quick to assume that my life had changed due to a conference/event/service/book ect. I hear similar sentiments a lot from others in testimonies immediately after Christian events. I don’t want to ridicule the belief that God can change people, sometimes in quick or dramatic ways. He indeed can and sometimes does. Nor would I want to unnecessarily squelch enthusiasm for becoming more Godly. I would however suggest that sometimes it is very wise to wait awhile before making a pronouncement about what God has done.

 Discernment can be hard at close range 
Sometimes we’re not in a good position to evaluate potentially spiritually significant happenings really close to when they happened. Being emotionally moved or enthusiastic about something can impact how we think about it. If you’ve been at a conference or event tiredness, running on adrenaline to keep up with everything, intellectual overload and being out of normal routine can cloud your thinking. Waiting until these factors have subsided to evaluate the spiritual significance of what you just experienced is a valuable discipline. This is because it can be disappointing and spiritually unhealthy to realise that your life didn’t change as much as you thought it did or that you can’t keep up with the spiritual commitments you made while on a conference excitement induced high. I found that very frustrating as a young Christian.

Sometimes fruit can take a while to emerge 
Sometimes the opposite of the previous point is true. If we make our evaluations too quickly we may miss fruit that will emerge more subtly or a bit later. Some of the books I’ve read that have been quite spiritually significant didn’t rock my world when I originally read them. However, over time I found the ideas seeping through my thinking and changing for the better the way I lived and made decisions. Sometimes what I’ve learned from conference messages has become really relevant months or years later as I’ve faced situations I wasn’t dealing with when I originally heard the message.

Change often takes effort 
Perhaps most significant, being quick to declare that our lives have changed can distract our focus from the steps we need to take long term to walk in holiness. We can get to thinking that whatever change happened is more final and complete than it actually is. More often than not, God slowly changes our hearts, minds and actions alongside in tandem with our efforts towards Godliness. I think Eugene Peterson’s description of discipleship and sanctification being “a long obedience in the same direction” is apt. Even in situations where God does dramatically free people from addictions, bad habits or problems, there is still often steps that need to be taken to adopt new, right ways of living in the place of the rotten old ones.

Have you sometimes been a bit too quick to assess the spiritual impact of something? 
What do you wish you could tell your younger Christian self?