Things I’ve Learned at 40

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A few things I have learned (mostly the hard way) by the age of 40:

  1. God is not an idea. He is not a commodity to be gathered up, nor is He some obliging deity to be leveraged by our good works. He is a Person (has been for 2000 years now), and as such He is to be encountered, acquainted with, fought with, submitted to, cried out to, worshiped, and – finally – to be loved.
  2. God’s Word is not a weapon to be used for our purposes, nor is it a shield we can hide our guilty betrayal behind. It is white-hot truth, searing through everything around it, uncovering sin in our hearts just as surely as it reveals the brokenness of the world around us. It is eternal life, and it always stands above us.
  3. The Church is not a platform you should stand on to promote yourself, or a brand you should try to build. She is a living, breathing Bride, who belongs body and soul to her jealous husband, our good Lord Jesus Christ. Real life is found pouring ourselves into her and watching her grow and flourish. She is not to be found just in one building or expression or group of people. She is in every tired hotel room where a businessman turns off the skanky movie and picks up the Gideon Bible from the pure desperation consuming his heart; she is on every lonely park bench where a new widow is sobbing her heart out to God; she is on every playground where a little boy helps a little girl pick her books up after the class bully knocked her down, when it is done in the Name of Jesus. She is the only thing in all this weary world that will fully translate into eternity, and for all her meekness and love, her aspect to the forces of evil is terrible as an army with banners.
  4. When you ask God for what you really need, He will always answer you.
  5. Sometimes that answer will be “Yes” and sometimes “No.” Sometimes it will be “Not yet.” But the answer will always be Himself. He is all the answer your heart needs, and the only one that can really satisfy you.
  6. You can’t do everything you think you can.
  7. Even if you can, it might not be worth it.
  8. The people you meet in life are way more important than whether you can do everything you thought you could.
  9. Life can be incredibly beautiful. Stay in those moments for awhile, and refuse to let them grow dim from the daily grind.
  10. Life can be incredibly brutal. Stay in those moments too, but refuse to lose hope in them.
  11. Difficulty in life for the Christian always has a purpose. You are going to think it doesn’t, but it does. And sometimes the purpose is simply to be able to come alongside someone else you see going through the very same thing, and to say, “It’s going to be okay. I know so.”
  12. Things happen in life that you can’t handle. There are always people to help you walk through them, if you keep your eyes and your options open for them.
  13. Things happen in life that are so grievous that the only thing you can do with them is to leave them at the cross of Christ. Do not try to bear those burdens, because you can’t do it (refer to #23).
  14. It’s okay to admit that you struggle with wanting something wrong. Far better to admit it than to cover it up, and far better to do so sooner rather than later. And as Christians we can only ever go one of those two routes: repent of it or hide it. Find someone you trust who loves you and to whom you can freely confess your sin, and find healing there.
  15. A friend is someone who cares more for you than she does for herself. That sounds trite and simple, but it is not. Many people never find real friendship in their life, or if they do, they do not recognize it. If you are fortunate enough to find a real friend, treasure them (not in the possessive sense, but in the appreciative sense).
  16. What people think of you is not anywhere near as big a deal as you think. You probably don’t even know what they really think. Accept that some will judge and despise you, rejoice that some will care for you and show love to you, and try to relate to all people the same no matter how they treat you.
  17. To their own master every person will stand or fall. You are not that master. Don’t judge them.
  18. Love is not just deep feelings. It can involve deep feelings for someone, but at its heart, love is caring so much for another person that you will do whatever is required of you to see them flourish.
  19. You are a human being. It is possible for you to truly love someone but then for that love to become something twisted, something selfish and wrong in your heart and headed for a bad place like a freight train. And when that happens, if you truly loved your friend, you will do whatever the Spirit shows you to help them be okay again – including leaving, if that is the Biblical and loving thing to do in the relationship. Meditate on the meaning of the words “offer yourselves as a living sacrifice.”
  20. When God asks you to give something or someone up in this life, He promises to restore it a hundredfold. Meditate on that too, because letting go can be the hardest thing you ever do in your life.
  21. Love is faithfulness. It is telling the truth, seeking good, respecting boundaries (ours and God’s), being there for someone. If you wanted to describe love in its essence, you would probably have to say that love is forgiveness from the heart, for we will all need that at some time in our lives. And love will always triumph over evil.
  22. Telling the truth is a big deal. We all know the ways we hide the truth: leaving out details, coloring situations with purposeful inaccuracies that make us look better or that do not reveal our hearts, or just flat-out lying. Life for the Christian begins when we start telling the whole truth and accepting the consequences of it, no matter what. That takes courage.
  23. You have limitations. Physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations. Pushing yourself to achieve is okay, but continually ignoring your limitations is a terrible idea! and it will end badly.
  24. People are put together differently. Extroverts are fun to be with and high-impact and the life of the party. God made them so the introverts don’t drag the world down into a void of silence and introspection… But He also made introverts to provide some wisdom and stability in the long term, so that extroverts don’t spin everybody off the Ferris wheel at their party! Learn to value both ends of the personality spectrum.
  25. To be able to do what you love is a great gift. Many people are caught up in the trap of needing to do what they think will make them happy, or what they think will make others love them. The simple enjoyment of running a backhoe to the glory of God, or reading a book, or watching a sunset, or putting together a financial deal, or preaching a sermon, or helping a child learn a new skill, or running a marathon, or counseling someone through their grief; all these are windows into God’s desire for what it looks like to live life to the fullest in Christ.
  26. Speaking of sunsets, always stop what you’re doing and watch them. They are the enduring faithfulness of Jesus to a dying world, writ large across the canvas of the sky, just for you in that moment.
  27. Speaking of the sun, always stop and watch sunrises too. They are the unique and changeless handprint of a Resurrection God, and they speak to His love for new life and His penchant for the shameless exhibition of the beauties of His glory, given to us freely in Christ.
  28. Life goes by quicker than you think. Take it in and savor it, and don’t waste it looking on to the next thing.
  29. To know that you don’t know is the next thing to wisdom. It opens your heart to be able to benefit from experience, and thus to eventually come to know.
  30. There is a reason the Scriptures tell us to learn the fear of God. He is in Heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few before Him. A holy fear sets the Christian apart from the world. Not a fear of abuse or of the unknown, but a fear that our deceitful hearts could separate us from His love with our sin. Meditate on this: Jesus drank of the cup of God’s wrath, that we might taste only of His kindness. Tremble and worship.
  31. Forgiveness is a great gift. It is also absolutely mandatory for the Christian, c.f. Luke 17:4. God teaches it to us with the training-wheels of a friend who loves us deeply enough to see when they have hurt us, and who apologizes with tears in their eyes. But it is just as necessary to forgive whether you think repentance has happened or not. Refer to #13 on this list, and leave the burden of it there.
  32. There are few things in this life so powerful as saying “I’m sorry” to someone you have hurt, not trying to explain things to make excuses to them, just expressing your real sorrow that they were wounded by you. All of us must learn to do this, because we all do wrong, and no sin occurs without impact on others. It is the horizontal dimension of the Cross, and the second greatest commandment, and Jesus captured it in these words: “Love one another.”
  33. Great sadness is as important as great joy. It teaches us a truth about the world that we will never learn in the classroom of success. Don’t be afraid to lean into the grief and feel it to its very depths, for you will come away with a wisdom and a tenderness that will minister to others around you with a compassion that will astonish you. It is the very heart of Jesus being formed in you.
  34. Similarly, great joy is okay to feel. Do not let guilt diminish it. Laugh and trace the arches of the rainbow’s perfect pastels after the storm, and know that God Himself rejoices with you.
  35. People do not change until their hearts do. They do not repent, forgive, tell truth, have compassion, come alongside to encourage, or lay down their lives for another, until there is heart change.
  36. Heart change takes time. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you want it to (whether it is your heart or someone else’s that must change). But as you wait, do not forget that the Lord’s patience brings salvation.
  37. People don’t live forever. When someone comes to your mind, especially if they are going through a time of suffering, go spend time with them. You might not get to again.
  38. People were never meant to die. Don’t be ashamed of your tears at the grave of someone you loved. They are precious in the sight of God.
  39. Beauty can only exist with love. A person who is loved will shine with a radiance that will amaze you, and it will life them up to do things they never thought they could. And a relationship built on anything else (greed, lust, envy, using each other, pride, etc.) will become poisonous and desperate, trying to suck life out of what is not eternal. Learn to always know which of the two you are pursuing.
  40. The last thing on your list is never really the last. Humility is the lost discipline of the followers of Jesus, and it only begins with the acknowledgement that we have not yet arrived, and that there will always be something more for us to learn, until He comes for us with healing in His wings. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

JV

 

Photo credit: jamievmax Instagram feed

 

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