One of the people who has influenced my life the most is Bill Badal. 14 years ago I spent 6 months living in his basement and interning in the youth ministry he was leading. Bill is one of the most gifted leaders of people I have ever met. People are drawn to him and he takes time to know them and invest in their lives.
When I moved to York and was working in my first ministry job Bill brought a team to our church to help me on my way. On that trip I heard him say something that I have held in my head ever since. It has been an important theme to my life.
“In the best of times and the worst of times grab what life brings and ask God how He is using it to disciple you. Never waste a moment.”
Discipleship for me had often focussed on scripture memorisation (a great thing) and behaviour modification. I had somehow forgotten that God working all the things in my life for my good (a la Romans 8:28) meant, all things, not just the things that I had predetermined as useful to my spiritual growth. That meant that moments of failure, moments of success, moments of acceptance and moments of rejection all worked into my life, character and relationships to bring the promised good to bear.
However, there is something of a choice in it. Discipleship is on the one hand a mystical experience, God The Holy Spirit transforming us through grace but on the other it is about the choices of our hearts and minds, it is the decision to partner with The Holy Spirit as He is turning all the things around you for your good.
How does this play out in the everyday – in the messy reality of life? How does loss turn to good? How does pain to turn to good? Here are five lessons that I have learned by trying to practice Bill’s advice through the hardest times in my life:
1. Live in the hard times as you did in the good.
If you build spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, service and devotion into your life when you are on the highs then fight to keep these in the lows. The enemy loves to distract us from the things that sustain us when we are in the lows, so we must fight to keep these things strong and regular.
2. Be thankful everyday.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 talks of ‘delighting in his suffering.” This is the kind of statement that when you dwell on it begins to either confuse or amaze. How can someone take joy in the fact that they are suffering? Perhaps Paul understood what Bill understands, that in spite of his suffering His Father is bringing good His way. That is hard to do. However, finding thankfulness in the lows is a good discipline to develop. Thankfulness is directly connected to joy. When we give thanks we experience joy, they are forever connected. Whether in good or bad take time everyday to be thankful.
3. Take responsibility for your part in your situation – but don’t hold a pity party for one.
Often when we are in the lows we look around for where to lay the blame for our situation. Other times we turn in and begin to choose to blame ourselves. Either of these actions serve to steal the reality from the situation we are in. Sometimes it is important to name the cause of what has happened to us but it is much more important to learn lessons from what is happening than place blame on ourselves or others. Yes, take responsibility for that has happened but never allow that blame to find a home in your identity.
4. Choose a soft heart.
Somethings that happen in our lives have a clear cause. When we play over what has happen we can see who caused us pain, what caused us hurt and why we are where we are. When we can name the causes of our pain we must make a choice between hardening or softening our hearts. If someone has directly caused us pain, we naturally respond with anger or grief, this is normal and healthy, but when the initial reactionary feelings begin to subside we need to choose soft hearts of forgiveness and release over hard hearts of vengeance and anger. By allowing our hearts to remain soft we allow ourselves to seek healing, we allow ourselves to allow restoration of ourselves and others. When we choose to harden our hearts we can often shut out the healing that we need from our pain. Choosing a soft heart allows others to come into our lives and help lead us to restoration.
5. Remember that this is not the end.
I have sat in feelings of misery and told myself that life was over. I have failed to look beyond where I was to what life could become. I have allowed self pity to cast a large shadow over an ever-shrinking sense of hope. These were choices that I made, I made conscious choices to lack hope and to choose negativity. Central to the Christian faith is a hope that no matter how bad life feels this is not the end. We believe that no matter what this life throws in our way, no matter how hard it throws us to the ground we will be raised to our feet again, if not in this life in the next. There is no greater hope than one that teaches us that this is not the end.
I am committed to follow Bill’s advice. I am choosing not to waste my life. I am choosing that no matter what happens today or tomorrow I will grab it close and ask God what He is doing. What can I learn from these highs and lows? How can I see good through this moment?
Life is short, I will not waste it.