For College Students in Christian Community

My husband and I lead the college and young adults ministry at our church. We love the students we get to hang out with. The majority of them are students at a Christian university where they have required chapels and dorm devotions, a required number of Bible classes regardless of the degree they’re pursuing, and a plethora of Christian teachers, leaders, and mentors speaking into their lives. It blows our minds that they STILL wake up early on Sunday mornings and come to church an hour and a half before service to be at a small group they’re not required to come to! (No judgement if you’re a college student who comes to our church but doesn’t wake up early to come to small group. Seriously, if sleep is what you need, then we want you to sleep! No guilt! However, no coffee or donuts either. Just sayin’. Well, okay, you can still get coffee in the church lobby. But the donuts—you gotta come to small group for those.) This post is for all the students who find themselves in a strong Christian community—whether it’s in a Christian university, a Christian organization on campus, or even a local church you call home (or home away from home). 

There are some things I hope you learn from us and carry with you long into your future. This is one of them:

Following Godly instruction is not the same as spiritual transformation.

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles about a king named Joash.

2 Chronicles 24:2 says, “Throughout the time of the priest Jehoiada, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.”

When this story is told in 2 Kings, it says, “Throughout the time the priest Jehoiada instructed him, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.” (2 Kings 12:2)

Under Joash’s leadership (and Jehoida’s instruction), the people of Judah abundantly donated silver to pay for the temple of the Lord to be repaired.

“The workmen did their work, and through them the repairs progressed. They restored God’s temple to its specifications and reinforced it. When they finished, they presented the rest of the silver to the king and Jehoiada, who made articles for the Lord’s temple with it — articles for ministry and for making burnt offerings, and articles of gold and silver. They regularly offered burnt offerings in the Lord’s temple throughout Jehoiada’s life.” (2 Chronicles 24:13-14)

The people of Judah worshiped the Lord while Jehoiada the priest was alive and influencing the king. But after Jehoiada died, the story took a turn:

“However, after Jehoiada died, the rulers of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them, and they abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the Asherah poles and the idols. So there was wrath against Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18)

Something that strikes me when I read the books of Kings and Chronicles is how incredibly gracious God is. Even when people have turned their backs on Him, He still beckons them and provides a path of repentance and restoration. In this chapter in 2 Chronicles, as soon as we see the people turn from God, we see God’s graciousness in the very next verse: Nevertheless, he sent them prophets to bring them back to the Lord…” God isn’t quick to pour out His judgement; He’s quick to forgive and shower people with His grace…“but the people would not listen.” (2 Chronicles 24: 19)

In His graciousness, God reached out to them, but they wouldn’t listen. Ooph. And what happens next is heartbreaking:

“The Spirit of God enveloped Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood above the people and said to them, ‘This is what God says, “Why are you transgressing the Lord’s commands so that you do not prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you.”‘ But they conspired against him and stoned him at the king’s command in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. King Joash didn’t remember the kindness that Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son…” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)

Joash didn’t just turn away from the Lord and lead the people in idolatry. He forgot about the man who invested so much into his life, the man who was responsible for all his success. And he murdered his son. Wow.

Things didn’t turn out so well for Joash in the end. (You can read about his assassination and sub-par burial in 2 Chronicles 24:25-27.) His life was a tragedy. He had so many good things going for him before his mentor died. When he had someone in his life who gave him godly instruction, he did great things. But that’s not enough. Not for Joash. Not for us.

Seek knowledge, but don’t stop there.

Strive to follow godly instruction, but don’t stop there either.

It’s easy to follow God when you’re immersed in a spiritual community where you’re regularly receiving godly teaching.

But what’s going to happen after you graduate and you’re no longer part of this community in the same way? What’s going to happen to your relationship with God when you don’t have regular chapels, small groups, or Bible studies anymore? What’s going to happen to your faith when you no longer have people checking on you, pouring into your life, and encouraging you to engage in spiritual things on a daily or weekly basis?

The challenge right now is to make sure you’re going beyond just following godly instruction. Knowledge and godly instruction without spiritual transformation is unsustainable.

If there isn’t spiritual transformation that’s happening in your life in this season while you’re immersed in godly community, then your chances of continuing to follow God when you’re no longer part of that community aren’t very high. One day you will leave this community—the people and activities that come with it. You may find yourself in another strong, Christian community. But you may also find yourself in a place where you are standing for God alone, called to be a light in a dark place. The kind of relationship with God you foster while you’re in this community will go with you. And if you foster a relationship with God that is dependent on other people and a set of activities, don’t be so sure your faith will stay intact when those people and activities are gone.

Go deep—where the Spirit of God can transform your heart, soul, and mind. In these years while you’re under the covering of a strong Christian community, learn what it means to be with God. And after you graduate, when you branch out from this community that has spiritually nourished you for the past four (or however many) years, continue. Yes, continue to seek knowledge and continue to follow godly instruction. But more than that, continue to go deep with God. Seek Him. Cling to Him. When things are hard, wrestle with Him. And allow Him to daily transform you from the inside out.

This is my prayer for you:

May you continually experience the transformation of God and become like trees planted by streams of water. And may streams of living water flow from deep within you and into the world around you. Amen.

A Rule of Life

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Photo by Free Photos.cc on Pexels.com

For some time, I’ve been feeling a need for a shift. 2020 has an increase of activity in store for my husband and me and I’ve been stressing about how to make everything fit. I know God’s capacity will make up the difference for the capacity I lack, but I can sabotage myself by living in a default of unhealthy rhythms. So this year I’m cultivating a rule of life—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of spiritual disciplines.

Because I’m entering a new normal of increased activity, a lot of these rhythms are practices of being with God over doing for God.

This isn’t something I’m entering legalistically. None of this is set in stone and I’ll periodically adjust it as my life rhythms change and as my soul and spirit needs. But for this season, here’s my rule of life:

Daily

Morning hour of solitude and quiet:

  • A time to quiet my heart, soul, and mind so God’s voice can become clearer and louder.
  • No to anything that pulls my focus away from God.
  • Yes to getting ready for work, tuning my heart to God’s through prayer, Scripture, writing, driving to work, music, and planning for the day.
  • Inspired by Jess Connolly, I ask God this question: God, what have You ordered for me today?

Wash off the day:

  • When I get home and don’t plan on going out for the rest of the day, put on some relaxing music or a fun podcast, wash my face or take a long shower, and put on pajamas. This is a moment to transition from a mindset of activity to rest.

Evening 15 minutes of quiet:

  • No to devices.
  • Yes to free thinking, journaling, and prayer.

Weekly

Sabbath: (Thursday evening to Friday evening)

  • No to striving.
  • Yes to rest, play, and worship.

iPhone / social media break:

  • I’m ashamed of my addiction to my phone and social media. At the same time, these things are important tools for my work and ministry. So I need this weekly break to keep my phone and social media in their place.

Monthly

One fun thing: This is one of my goals for the year because taking time to have fun is hard for me.

  • No to anything that involves striving or productivity.
  • Yes to…well…something fun.
  • This is worship!

Yearly

Family vacation

  • “change of pace + change of PLACE = change of PERSPECTIVE” ~Mark Batterson

Monastery retreat

So how about you? What are some of the rhythms you’re cultivating this year? I’d love to hear them!

My Goals (and Un-Goals) for 2020

The approaching of a new year means new beginnings and new goals. I have the amazing ability of getting stuck in a rut and judging myself harshly for it, so January 1 is like my grace and hope filled reset button.

I didn’t complete every single goal I set out to accomplish in 2019. But I did complete a good number of them. And for the ones I didn’t complete, I’m definitely much farther along from a year ago. I’d rather set a goal and have progress than not set a goal and not move forward! To help me make progress this past year, I tried out Powersheets from Cultivate What Matters. It’s a tool that helps you articulate and track your goals. I loved it so much I’m using them again this year.

My Goals for 2020

1. Cultivate a prophetic ear + a rule of life.

This is what everything else in my life will flow from.

(If you’re wondering what a rule of life is, it’s simply a plan for spiritual disciplines within daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. If you want to know more about a rule of life, you can learn more about it in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero and Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton.)

2. Love my people and the people in my circle of influence well.

This means meals, coffee dates, hospitality, and life in the mundane.

3. Save, spend, and give money meaningfully.

Track my spending and create a budget!

Buy no more than 10 clothing/shoe/jewelry items…the whole year.

4. Send my book proposal to a literary agent (or 20).

This means I have to finish writing my book proposal!

5. One fun thing every month.

What is fun? Nothing that involves striving or productivity, and not something I do every/most weeks.

This is a goal I’m bringing back from last year because it was so life giving and I want to keep growing in this area. (And the fact that I have to make fun a goal in order to do it lets me know I still have a lot of growing to do!)

7. Project Dream Room: make our home library beautiful.

This is another goal I’m bringing back from last year. I made some baby steps, but our home library still looks like a disaster.

8. Love my body.

Take care of it. Nourish it. Make it strong. Be grateful for it.

*****

Un-Goals

It’s a great practice to have positive goals where we want to accomplish things or make changes in our lives, but we can’t do that if we’re just adding more and more things to our to-do lists. There comes a point where we can’t add anymore. We have to say “no” to things so we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

So here are a couple of my Un-Goals for 2020:

1. Read less books and read slower. (My Goodreads goal: 5 books) Don’t read out of obligation or self-imposed pressure. Don’t let books clutter my mind.

2. No buying any bags or pouches. I’m obsessed with bags and bags I can put in bags! I have enough. So unless someone breaks in our house and steals every bag and pouch I own, I’m not buying another one for at least a year.

*****

When I get to the end of 2020, I don’t want to be full of guilt and regret. I want to know I lived the abundant life God ordered for me.

So let’s do this! Let’s enter this new year (and decade!) with expectation, intention, and a whole lot of grace!

Advent

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Advent is a time of expectation and hope, but the beauty of this season gets overshadowed by busyness, rush, and consumerism. Art has a way of quieting the noise and helping us be attentive to the profound things of life.

May this piece of poetry open for you a small space when the noise of your life gets a little softer and the whisper of God gets a little louder.

 

Listen

 

I groan

—a prayer too deep for words—

as I fight to hope and believe

I will hear Your voice again.

 

The Lord hears

—the Word becomes flesh—

four hundred years of silence

broken by a Baby’s first cry.

 

What the World Sees

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

I think too often, we miss it. We miss what it means to be a Christian in a world desperate for light and hope. We miss opportunities to live out Jesus’ words. We miss chances to speak life.

A friend of mine said, “Remember that the world will know we are Christians by our love. Currently, it seems that the world knows us more and more by our dogmatic stances on social issues.” How tragic these words are. I wish I could say they’re a lie, but it only takes a few minutes on social media to see they’re true. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand for truth, but when the Church is known as a place where people will be met with judgement and condemnation, and when people feel that love can only be found outside of the Church, then something has gone horribly wrong.

What if we cared about people more than issues? What if we loved people with the audacious love Jesus showed in the Gospels? What if when the world saw us, they saw something remarkable, something beautiful, something they want to have and be a part of?

The world needs to see something different in us:

  • Less fear; more hope rooted in trust in a sovereign and good God.
  • Less anger; more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • Less self-righteousness; more humility.
  • Less of us using the Bible primarily as a tool for making a point or developing an argument; more of us being grounded in truth, reading the whole of scripture with the intention of getting to know our Savior and share His love.
  • More of us believing God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do.
  • Less of us focusing on the circumstances we can see right now; more of us fixing our eyes on the eternal Kingdom of God.
  • More of us seeing people the way God sees them, each person made in the image of God and a life for whom Jesus died and resurrected.
  • More of us living in the recognition of the extravagant grace that is daily given to us and, in turn, extending extravagant grace to others.
  • More of us seeking first the Kingdom of God and being motivated by the desire to please Him in all we do.
  • More of us making our voices heard in Heaven before making our voices heard on social media or in conversation with others.
  • More of us making room for the Holy Spirit to move in and through us and to interrupt our day with beautiful and wonderfully messy opportunities.

This is the kind of Church that will change the world, the kind of Kingdom God is wanting us to be a part of, the kind of culture He wants us to start living in the here and now. We can do this! Who’s on board?

In-Between Spaces

In March of this year, I went on a monastery retreat. I’m the kind of person who’s good at getting stuff done, but I struggle to be still. And there’s something about getting away from the daily grind, noise, and cellphone reception that revives my soul. I never leave the monastery the same as I arrive. And when I’m in the solitude and silence, I can hear God’s voice better.

The last time I had been to the monastery was October 2017. I left with a resolution to obey something God had been speaking to me for a while: write a book. I left excited, scared, and armed with a list of next steps that included finding a coach.

I didn’t know what I was doing. How do I write a book? How do I go about getting a book published? Who do I know who might possibly know someone who can kind of answer one of my gazillion questions? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

But I took a step of faith: I bought a notebook and started writing. Then I took another step of faith: I told a few friends and asked them to pray for me. And then when I felt like backing out, I took another step of faith: I bought a Giving Key personalized with the word, “Write,” so I could have a constant reminder of this thing I felt God calling me to do.

I took step after step after step.

And in the midst of all of these steps, there was a LOT of writer’s block and discouragement. I could write details about my book’s target audience, posts for my blog and social media that had nothing to do with my book, and other random stuff…but every time I sat down to work on my book proposal, nothing. It’s like the faucet of book proposal words had been shut off and the handles for me to turn it back on had disappeared.

Going into 2019, I took yet another step of faith: I joined a Go Team, an intensive coaching experience with Go + Tell Gals. I was hesitant to do it because I was nervous about the money and time it would require, but something inside me told me I needed to do it. I prayed and prayed, but the nagging feeling wouldn’t go away. But what if I spend all this money and time and it ends up being a waste? That’s the thing about taking steps of faith: you have to take the step before you can see what’s on the other side of it.

Each Go Team session felt like a transformative experience—scrubbing my soul, clarifying my vision, awakening inspiration. A few months into it, after an intense day of back-to-back coaching sessions, I felt something I hadn’t felt in almost a year: words bubbling up inside of me. I opened up Google Docs and my book proposal began to have less blank space and more substance. A couple days later, I went on my monastery retreat. And while I was there, I mapped out my chapter-by-chapter synopsis and wrote two whole chapters. Of course, everything I wrote was rough and in need of a lot of work, but it was huge breakthrough. And sometimes, that’s all we need. Not perfection, just breakthrough.

When we think of breakthrough, we tend to think of the flashy moments with all the big feelings. But breakthrough is made up of all the stuff that happens in the in-between spaces, the spaces where it seems like nothing is happening.

Praying even when God seems silent.

Daily choosing to obey God in the way He’s ordered for that day.

Consistently taking the next step even when it seems inconsequentially small or unfeasibly large.

Constantly surrendering our egos and desire for control and trusting the capacity of God.

Regularly doing the disciplines of writing and research (or whatever it is this calling requires) even when they bring out our insecurities and we feel like what we’re doing is trash.

This is the stuff, right here. The stuff people don’t see. The stuff that’s hard. You may not be able to see it now, but this in-between space, yeah, this is where the great stuff is being forged.

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October 2017 – when I decided to obey God’s call to write a book
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March 2019 – in the middle of obeying the call to write a book

More to See

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“I know how to tell the difference between a slur and a tie!” my young piano student declared, moments after learning what ties are for the first time.

Skeptically, I asked, “You do? How?”

“A slur is always higher than a tie,” pointing to his music. (For those who care, his piece had slurs in the treble clef and ties in the bass clef.)

“Well, it’s like that here,”—I tried to be gentle—”but sometimes a tie is higher.”

“Ok! Well,” he continued confidently, “a slur is always longer than a tie.”

I pulled out a music book sitting beside me, again showing him he had more to learn about slurs and ties.

He wanted so much to keep trying to prove he knew what he didn’t actually know. But if I had let him keep going, the time would’ve run out on his 30-minute lesson before he could learn the difference between a slur and a tie.

“I’ve seen a lot more slurs than you,” I said, “and I’ve seen a lot more ties than you. So let me show you how you can tell the difference between the two.”

How often do we think we’ve figured out faith and God after we’ve learned or experienced some things? Our minds naturally try to sort new information into categories and patterns, but when we reduce things to patterns or formulas, we miss out on the infinite more. We stop seeking, studying, experiencing, pushing forward, digging deeper. We get satisfied—proud even—with our small picture of God. We think we’re wise and mature when really we’re just stuck in an existence void of awe and wonder.

We often live out our faith on auto-pilot and neglect to leave space for the years to pour into us more learning and experience, for the wisdom of others to refine us, and for God Himself to reveal to us a bigger picture of who He is and what He can do.

Sometimes the way God works is like simple arithmetic. Sometimes the way He works is like the Fibonacci sequence, opening us up to a world of wonder. And sometimes His ways are too abstract or messy or wild for us to reduce to a formula any human can fully comprehend or imagine.

All the while, God is daily beckoning us to sit with Him and humbly listen. “I’ve seen more than you, and there’s still more for you to see. Let me show you.”

When the Dream Dies

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Me, circa 2005

To my bright-eyed, 21 year-old self:

People tell you that you’re talented and anointed. “You’re gonna change the world,” they say. (You’re never going to stop believing that!) Your life is overflowing with possibility.

But before your 25th birthday, you’ll pour your heart and energy into a beautiful, God-sized dream and that dream will fail.

And it will feel like death.

When the dream dies, you’ll question if you really did hear the voice of God calling you to this dream or if you just imagined it. You’ll wonder about the myriad of things you could have done differently. You’ll worry your life is over. You’ll fear you’re too broken to try anything worthwhile again.

But as your mind spins with a myriad of questions and emotions, please let yourself mourn. Grieve this death. Feel the pain—God can’t comfort the hurts you refuse to feel. Allow yourself to feel this, even if that means you find yourself kneeling on your cold, bathroom floor crying in agony. Your agony is not too big for God. It is safe in His presence. You are safe in His presence.

When the dream dies, you will learn that your tears don’t make you weak. You’ll learn that you are strong and God is stronger.

One dead dream does not mean the death of all dreams. There will be beautiful things waiting for you on the other side of this.

When the dream dies, your life won’t be ending. It will be a new beginning.

Over time, He will resurrect you from the ashes. You will hope again. You will be courageous again. And you will dream again.