Sunday, January 7, 2018

Starting Over

One year for Christmas my parents got me a string art kit.  You pound dozens to tiny little nails onto a piece of wood and then wind the string around the nails to make the design.  I worked with my Dad on it to get all the nails in the right spot but then I was ready to wind the string around all the nails and make the picture.  I was ready to just do it, but my Dad wouldn’t let me because first we had to read all the directions.  I remember being so frustrated because I knew how to do this, it wasn’t complicated, you just wind the string around the nails and you have it.  I didn’t need to read any directions, I saw the picture on the box and wanted to just do it.  It was a frustrating experience for both of us. 

There are two types of people in the world, those who read the directions all the way through and those who don’t.  I am not one of those people who reads the directions all the way through.  I kind of look at them, see the finished project and start.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.  What I have learned is that reading the directions are for those people who want to get it right the first time.  Andy Stanley says directions are for those who don’t know the joy of “reassembling.” 

I have experienced the joy of reassembling.  I recently put together a small little TV and by put together I mean I attached the stand that came with it.  There were only a few screws and not much to it so I didn’t bother with the directions.  The first time I used the wrong screws so had to take it apart, the second time I put the stand on backwards so the TV sat wrong and so it took me three tries to get it right.  That’s the joy of reassembling.

Starting over and reassembly is fine for TVs and string art, but it’s not very good when it comes to relationships, parenting, jobs and finances.  In the major areas of life, starting over is disruptive and costly, we all have to do it at times but how can we make sure that this time when we start over it won’t be like the last time.  What does it look like for us to start over and do it better and get it right?  That’s what we are going to look at for the next few weeks. 

To start us off we need to dispel three myths or assumption we hold when it comes to starting over.  The first assumption is a phrase we all have heard and probably believe.  Experience makes us wiser.  I wish this were true, but it is not.  Experience makes us older, it makes us tired, it makes us poorer and madder and lonelier, but it doesn’t always make us wiser.  Experience on its own does not make us any wiser, it is evaluated experience that makes us wiser.  Going through something doesn’t mean anything, it is what we have learned through that experience that helps shape our decisions and actions in the future that makes a difference. 

Think about the people of Israel as they began their journey to the Promised Land.  God had just parted the Red Sea and led the people safely away from Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army.  God did a miracle with water to deliver his people but three days later the people are complaining because they had no water to drink.  The experience of seeing God provide for them and perform a miracle with water did not make the people wiser because here they are complaining that they have no water.  They had not evaluated their experience.  The people didn’t think about what they had just gone through.  They didn’t evaluate the power of God and think about how God might now provide them with water to drink. 

Just because we go through something doesn’t mean we will learn from it, we have to evaluate the experience so we can make better decisions the next time we are in a similar situation.  Where we really see this play out is in relationships.  We all have friends who get out of one bad relationship and before they can reflect on it, learn from it or even think about it they have jumped into another relationship that is just as bad.  We often see this pattern again and again and again in others (or maybe in ourselves) and so we know that experience doesn’t make us wiser, it is evaluated experience that helps us when we need to start over.  What experience do we need to evaluate before we start over? 

The second assumption is similar, we often tell ourselves, since I know better this time – I’ll do better.  This isn’t true either.  We know right from wrong, but still make wrong choices.  We know what is good for us to eat but still choose to eat the wrong foods.  We know how we should treat people in relationships but find ourselves falling back into bad behaviors that don’t lift others up.  The Apostle Paul knew good from evil and he knew that deep down he wanted to do good but in the end it was always the evil that he chose.  Romans 7:15 and 19 

Just knowing better doesn’t mean we will do better the next time, we have to learn what to do differently so that the next time truly is better.  People who find victory over addictions have learned this lesson.  Just knowing that drinking too much is bad doesn’t help someone battling alcoholism.  What helps is knowing what to do differently when the temptation to drink comes along.  This is where programs like AA find their success because what people learn to do differently is to get someone to help them.  On our own we can’t do better, but when others step in at just the right moment to offer help – we can.  Where do we need to learn new behaviors before we start over?

The third assumption that often keeps us from starting over well is thinking - time is against us.  When we starting thinking, I’m not getting any younger, we often act quickly, irrationally and unfaithfully.  When we start thinking time is against us we usually take matters into our own hands and do things our own way.  We see this happen in the life of Abraham and Sarah.  God had promised Abraham that he would we be the father of many nations, which means having many children, or at least a child, but for years no child ever arrive.  Abraham and Sarah kept saying to themselves, we aren’t getting any younger and so they decided that Abraham could have a child with Sarah’s servant and at least then he would have an offspring. 

Thinking that time was against them caused Abraham and Sarah to act unfaithfully and rush into a decision that in the end was disastrous.  Instead of seeing time as an enemy we need to see time as our friend.  Time gives us the opportunity to think and reflect, to evaluate and learn and time gives us the opportunity to come up with good and faithful plans for the future.  Time gives God the opportunity to speak to us and shape us.  Time often helps us hear things that we simply weren’t ready to hear earlier. 

Giving ourselves time to listen and learn and giving God time work in us and around us is difficult.  We live in a society where we convince ourselves that waiting is bad.  We get upset if we have to wait more than a few minutes to check out at the grocery store.  Forget about waiting two days for Amazon to deliver our package, people want it now which is why drone service is being explored in urban areas.  People don’t want to wait for packages or answers and we don’t want to wait for faith to develop, we want it now and yet God often calls us to wait and this time of waiting is important because it gives us the opportunity to grow and mature. 

Abraham was told he was going to be the father of a great nation and then it was 25 years before he had a child.  Moses first rose as a leader among the Jewish people while he was a young man in Pharaoh’s court but it wasn’t until he had spent 40 years as a shepherd that God finally used him to deliver his people.  Paul became a follower of Jesus but then spent 3 years in the wilderness of Arabia studying before he came back to be a leader in the Christian church.  Time helps us learn and grow.  It humbles us and helps us hear God’s divine plan for our lives. 

If we will give ourselves time before we make a decision or jump into something new we will have the ability to evaluate our experiences, learn how to do things differently and have a clearer understanding of what it is God wants for us.  Where do we need to give God more time before we start over? 

Let me close with one verse that we need to keep in mind as we face situations where we need to start over.  Whether we are starting over because we have made a mess of things or because life handed us a mess or a tragedy or because others have created a mess in our lives, there is a one thing we need to remember, in all things God works for the good.  Romans 8:28.  No matter what we are coming out of – God can work in that for good.  God’s greatest gift is taking our brokenness and making something positive out of it.  We can start over and have things be better but only if we will give God the ability to work in our lives. 

That full verse says, in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  God works for the good in those who love him and if we love God then we have to allow God to work in all things.  If we don’t open up areas of our life to God, then those will be the areas that constantly trip us up causing us to have to start over again and again and again.  The more we open ourselves up to God, the more God can work in us for good and move us along good paths so that this time might truly be better than last time and that this time might actually be the last time we need to start over.

As we start this New Year, we all have places where we need to start over and we need to do this with new assumptions, new attitudes and a new ways of living.  Evaluate the experiences you have gone through so you can make wise decisions.  Learn what you need to do differently to actually do better this time and give God and give yourself time:  time to heal, time to listen, time to learn and grow, time to trust and time to discover God’s true destiny for your life.  This time when we start over, let’s do it right so it can truly be the last time we need to start over. 

Next Steps
Starting Over

Where do you need to start over?  What mistakes do you need to avoid so this time can be better than last time? 

Three Wrong Assumptions about Starting Over
Experience makes us wiser.
o Read Exodus 15:19-27.  How do the Israelites show us that this assumption is wrong?
Since I know better – I’ll do better.
o Read Romans 7:15-24.  How does Paul’s reflection on his life mirror your own? 
Time is against us. 
o Read Genesis 16:1-6.  How did seeing time as an enemy effect Abraham and Sarah’s judgement?  How does it affect yours? 

Three Right Assumptions about Starting Over
Evaluated experience makes us wiser.
o What experience do you need to evaluate and reflect on before you start over?
o How can this new knowledge help you make better decisions?
What must I do differently so I’ll do better?
o What actions must be changed so the next time will be better?
Time is my friend. 
o Where do you need to give yourself and God more time before you start over?  Where do you need time to heal, learn, mature and listen?

Memorize Romans 8:28 - In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.