Lately I've come up to the New Year with a different kind of eagerness than I grew up with. Maybe it's another product of living overseas, but December 31 stopped being just a night to stay up late and watch fireworks. Maybe it's that I am getting older and wanted to reflect more? In either case, starting in 2013, I began to intentionally choose a word to create a theme over my year. As God brings me to new levels of intimacy with Him, I want to respond! If God is willing to teach me, I want to hear Him! Choosing a personal theme to focus on over the course of the year has helped. In 2013, I resolved to be a more obedient daughter of the King, so every time I heard or read the word "obey," my attention peaked. Ok, God, I'm listening, what would you have me learn here? I got some great lessons and my faith matured quite a bit as I sought after honest obedience.
This past year, 2014, my word was "set-apart." Last January, I asked myself what it meant to be set apart by Christ, in Christ, for the glory of God? What does that look like in practice? This year has brought so much breakthrough! I've learned about vulnerability, submission, identity, letting go of fear, friendship, the Holy Spirit, authority, community, patience, dreams, being time-oriented, and on and on. It was a powerful year! If you've been tracking with me here, you've heard some of what's been going on.
In the spirit of reflection, I've been spending a lot of time this week reading old journals and old blog posts. This is why I love the written word. Emotions come and go, especially when you are ADHD and change your mind more often than your clothes. Having a written record of what I was thinking, praying, dreaming about makes it easy for me to see how far I've come! I will be building on these lessons for yeeeeaaaaars. 2014 started with a fight and the fierce determination to be spiritually steadfast. Through the hard stuff, there was so much fruit. So much favor. I wouldn't trade a single struggle or embarrassing moment. The Zara who is on this side of 2014 is much stronger than the Zara who set out a year ago. I LOVE THAT about life. Every year I can hardly recognize myself, but I know I'm the same. Thank you, Father.
With my theme word in mind, each time I read about how God set Israel apart to be His people, I circled the words. He called them out, for a purpose, to be a powerful testimony of His power and grace. Even in Israel's repeated disobedience, the way he set them apart is a witness to His undeserved mercy! So for me, what does that mean? As a Christian, I am a daughter of the King! Everyone knows that princesses are set apart from the people. They're special. Reserved for greatness. I have been set apart my whole life, and I don't understand why, but I receive every bit of the grace that comes with it! I have a pretty boring testimony. By God's grace, I never walked away from church. I never backslid hard into drugs or promiscuity. I can't take much credit for my boring testimony. It wasn't necessarily that I didn't want to engage in really exciting sin... I mean, I wouldn't have gone out and been like yeah! let's go out and disobey God! this is gonna be super fun, but (real talk) people wouldn't sin if it wasn't fun... I was rarely tempted into the "really exciting sin" stuff because most of the time I just wasn't invited. It's lonely to be left out by people, especially your friends, even when they are off making poor decisions.
And yet! As I took the time this year to reflect on what it means to be set apart, I rejoice all the more that I have been called and chosen by the Most High God to serve Him. My testimony isn't flashy, but it's the story of one set apart. There's a better way to do life than to engage in really exciting sin. Over the years it might have been hard, but somehow, underneath it all, I have known that it's worth it. I'm glad now that I was left out so often. Sin leads to death. Because I was left out of a lot of opportunities to be tempted, I have suffered from less wreckage that comes with sin. Choices have consequences. I pray the same life of grace over my nieces and nephews, cousins, youth, and students, that they would each be set apart and suffer the least possible amount of wreckage from sin. I took it to heart when we received the benediction in my church every Sunday growing up, "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you..." The Lord God is able to keep you from sin. Open up your heart to that grace. Receive Him. You've been set apart.
2015... The word I've chosen for 2015 is "discipline."
I'll let that sink in. Who am I? What is this?? I'm willingly seeking discipline, knowing full well that discipline is rarely easy. I'm inviting all sorts of challenges with this word. And yet, at this point I know without a shadow of a doubt that discipline is worth it. I'm a little nervous, yes, but I also eagerly anticipate some huge, valuable lessons at the end of it all. Proverbs 3:11-12 confirms what we all know: good fathers discipline because of love. I'm asking my Father for discipline, confident that whatever He does will be good, pure, righteous, and that I'll be a better daughter because of it.
"My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in."
If I want God to use me for greatness, for His purposes, for His glory, I need to be ready for that. I need refining, I need challenges, I need iron sharpening iron, I need discipline (all wrapped in love) to accomplish great things. I am a set-apart, obedient daughter of the King. Royal daughters are leaders. Princesses must act with decorum. Princesses must have self-discipline.
Practically speaking, I'm starting this year off with a book on spiritual disciplines. I've started reading Intimate Faith: A Woman's Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines by Jan Winebrenner. It's already been rocking my world from the first few pages. From the Publishers Weekly review: "To the frequently taught disciplines of study, prayer, worship, fellowship and service, she adds a dozen others, including humility, chastity, secrecy, silence and celebration. All disciplines, she repeatedly emphasizes, have one goal: a passionate romance with God." I MEAN, RIGHT???? The book teaches about 17 different spiritual disciplines. I'M SO EXCITED!!!
I also know that I must (must) practice discipline in my finances. It is getting ridiculous. I am 28 years old and I haven't saved anything long-term because I haven't paid off my masters (and a bit of credit card debt) because I am more excited about traveling around this great wide world than I am about paying off debt. Up to now, if you'd asked me if I've been saving lately, I could only say "Yeah! I saved $20 bucks on this sweater at H&M! It was such a good deal that I bought 5." ...true story...and that's not responsible. Responsibility is important. Ugh. God's been using many different means to speak into this in the past month, and I finally admitted that ok, God, I hear you, fine! Also, and this might be trivial to you but it's not to me, if I want to get married someday (please Lord), it is not fair to let a man save up enough money to woo my heart only to saddle him with all my debt. That's not nice. That's not fair. I refuse to do that.
So with all that, I resolved to be responsible, start attacking my debt with all the feisty-ness that I can muster. I have even taken it to the extreme that I am cancelling all my plans for international vacations (not including missions) until I get it all paid. No holiday in South Africa. No backpacking Europe. No vacation on a beach in the Philippines. Sigh. But it's like Dave Ramsey says, sometimes you have to tell yourself no now so that later you can tell yourself yes. It is time to learn that ancient and powerful word: no. I started practicing this week. I went to UniQlo (do we have those in the States yet? It's a popular clothing chain in Korea) to find a pair of burgundy jeggings (because I wear my black ones every day THEY'RE SO COMFORTABLE), but they didn't have my size... I thought about getting them in grey, and then I found a pair of dark blue plaid trousers that were super cute and classy... and then I thought about my debt. I said to myself, "self, do you want to spend this money on pants that you want but don't need? Or do you want to be that much closer to paying off debt?" And then I put the pants down and walked out of the store. IT WAS SO HARD. It was good though. Responsibility is important. This discipline thing. Spiritually, financially, and however else God decides to teach me. I'm ready.
I'm interested to hear from all of y'all who track along with me! What words have you focused on lately? What challenges are you accepting for 2015? Let me know! Whatever they are, I hope you have a blessed year, that God speaks to you and through you to make His name great. Happy New Year!!