Recently I preached a sermon on Nehemiah 7. In that chapter, we see Nehemiah taking an overall assessment of the situation after completing the wall in Jerusalem. In that sermon, I referenced a story about an assignment I completed in seminary that helped me see the value of theological reflection and personal life assessment. Someone asked me to share more what that process looked like and so this post is hopefully an encouragement to that person and anyone else who wants to learn about the value of assessment and reflection in their personal life.
So, the assignment was to make a timeline of all the major events in my life, both negative and positive. This includes key events in my childhood, my family, my faith, and life in general.
All the positive events were then written on orange sticky notes. All the negative events were written on pink sticky notes. Then I was supposed to organize those events in chronological order. Then I was supposed to categorize all those events by seasons (the various time periods in life - yellow sticky notes). Lastly, I was supposed to summarize what I thought God was trying to teach me during each of those seasons (blue sticky notes).
The whole process probably took 4 hours (below).
Another layer to this process was to utilize theological reflection, which is essentially the ability to find God in any situation in life and ask the following questions: What is God trying to teach me during this season? What did I learn from that season? Why was this season so hard? Why did this season effect my spiritual growth so significantly?
As I reflected on these questions, along with others, it quickly became apparent to me that God's hand was obvious throughout my life. Granted, I intellectually knew that fact, there was something powerful about seeing it physically represented on the whiteboard. I was able to zoom out to the 30,000 foot view and see the bigger picture. I noticed that I've actually had more positive events in my life than negative ones. This was a fascinating discovery for me because I had currently been perceiving my life story as generally negative. By stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, and reflecting on all those key events, I quickly saw that the perceived reality of my situation was skewed. I had given more prominence, in my own mind, to the negative events and therefore my perceived reality colored the way I saw myself and my current situation. Fascinating. This exercise helped me readjust my skewed perspective and gave me more confidence in what God has been doing in my life over the last 20 years or so.
So, what did I learn from all of this?
I learned that proper life assessment leads to proper life application. I learned that in order to rightly understand my present situation I must be able to righty assess where I've come from. This directly relates to where I'm headed as well. In order to rightly assess my life, I need a renewed mind to see things, as best as possible, with His perspective (Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8, Colossians 3:2)
I learned that I need to slow down. I learned that the discipline of theological reflection is only possible when I intentionally stop, assess the current or past situation, reflect, and pray about what God is trying to teach me. Be honest - when was the last time you took a few hours to reflect on what God is doing in your life?
I learned that God is sovereign. This wasn't a brand new revelation, but more of an incredible reminder of the fact. I learned that there were so many moments in my life that were providentially guided by Him. It was very obvious that He was guiding my steps the whole time even when I didn't realize it.
Proverbs 16:9 says it best: "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps".
What about you?
What season are you in?
What is God trying to teach you in this season?
What is God doing?
How are you responding to Him working in your life?