Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ten Thousand Beside

            One of the greatest joys that the end of a semester brings is the opportunity to look back over the last four months and reflect on what I have learned and how I have grown. Although it is easy to fly through projects, papers, juries, and final exams without ever pausing to consider what the Lord has done in my life, it is absolutely essential to take the time to contemplate specific ways that I have seen his faithfulness as he has shaped and molded me throughout the semester. Consequently, before I race through finals, throw a pile of clothes in my suitcase, and catch a plane to Minneapolis, I would like to share the unique challenges, discoveries, and joys that have characterized the fall semester of my sophomore year.
           Near the beginning of the semester I had many upperclassmen girls inform me that sophomore year was their most challenging, emotionally speaking. While I would not necessarily say that this year has been more emotionally draining than last year, it has definitely brought its share of weariness, loneliness, and discouragement. Near the beginning of the semester, I was reminded that discouragement is not an excuse to lack joy. Life frequently brings seasons of discouragement, times when we are overwhelmed or just plain tired. But that does not mean that we cannot have joy. The joy that we have in Christ is absolutely independent of circumstances, and even in those times of weariness we can rejoice in the glorious truth of all that Christ has done on our behalf. In seasons of weariness we can also realize that maybe the people around us are just as discouraged or lonely as we are. And as we seek to encourage others who are weary, somewhere along the way we may discover that we are not quite so lonely or tired anymore.
            Another important theme this semester has been that God’s plan is so much better than my own. Near the beginning of the semester a certain professor reminded me over lunch that when you examine your life, if something isn’t happening the way you think it should be, it’s because what God has in store is better. He mentioned it in the context of relationships, but the concept applies to all aspects of our lives and has been important for me to recall throughout the semester. Although I know Romans 8:28 as well as the next person and have always been taught that God has a perfect plan for my life, there is frequently a disconnect between what I know to be true and the practical working out of my beliefs. This semester as I’ve wrestled with what I want to do with my life, questioned where I am headed, and wondered if I really am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing, this was such an important reminder for me. I can come up with endless ‘what-ifs’ and theoretical paths that I could have taken, but the truth is that God has me here and what he has for me is better. I have been challenged to consider that perhaps God’s plan for me is bigger than I am capable of dreaming and maybe he has so much more for me than I ever dared to hope.
            This leads to the next lesson, which was perhaps one of the more uncomfortable ones for me to wrestle with. I cannot recall what the circumstances were that laid this upon my heart, but a simple journal entry from a few months back has served to be a difficult but extremely important reminder: “die to the dream of a controlled life.” Somewhere in the mid-semester busyness, in the midst of homework woes and trying to figure out what it is I am actually doing here I always seem to reach a moment when I am overwhelmed by all of the things that I cannot control. This semester I was confronted with how ridiculous that is. The glorious truth is that my God is sovereign over each and every detail of my life and that leaves me with no reason to be anxious about anything, whether it be homework, friendships, church, juries, or my future. When I am willing to die to my dreams of being in control of my own life, I can find the perfect rest and peace of truly and deeply trusting God’s sovereign hand.
           Perhaps the most crucial things that I have learned over the course of this semester have been in regards to holiness. Certain events throughout the semester have reminded me that none of us are immune to temptation. It is na├»ve to think that I am not capable of falling into sin and disqualifying myself for ministry. It is absolutely crucial to take holiness seriously and to pursue Christ in every way. Every single decision I make, no matter how big or how small, is taking me towards holiness or away from it, and each decision in the wrong direction so easily leads to a series of wrong decisions until the problem has produced unbearable consequences. No sin can be taken lightly and I must live each and every day clinging to God’s grace and striving to become more like him.
           This lesson has also driven me to my knees for my brothers and sisters. When confronted with the reality of how ugly sin is, I realized that I must daily be on my knees praying for my fellow students, for my professors, and for my pastors. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who are doing amazing things for God’s kingdom and will continue to transform the world. However, we must all realize and understand how quickly our witness and ministry can be lost if we do not guard ourselves and pursue holiness in every way.
           Finally, throughout the semester I have become increasingly aware of how much I do not understand. It is often true that the more we learn the more we realize how much we still have to learn, and this has certainly been the case for me this fall. I have encountered countless things that I cannot yet grasp and endless questions that my brain has been unable to sort out. I have found great encouragement in the words of Anselm of Canterbury, “I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but rather to believe in order to understand.” I will forever encounter things in this world that I simply do not get and questions that I do not know the answer to. Sometimes I will not understand how the Lord is working or why he has placed me in a certain situation. In those times, it is okay to step back, to stop trying to understand everything, and simply praise God for his sovereignty, understanding, and faithfulness. The list of things that I do not understand is endless, but I believe that God is good, that he is faithful, and that his plan is so much better than I could possibly imagine.
           As this semester comes to an end my heart is full. Although there have been difficult moments and at times I was not entirely sure if I would make it, this semester has brought incredible blessings and countless joys. My mind has been blown by the faithfulness of my God and the promises he has given me. As I look ahead to the future and praise God for what I know he will do, the final verse of Great is Thy Faithfulness rings in my heart:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Amen. Great is his faithfulness, indeed!
[soli deo gloria]