I’ve learned a lot this year. I may reflect on the notable points of personal growth in a later post, but for now, I want to focus on realizations I’ve had about life and faith in general. I hope you enjoy these.

1. Faith can shrink, and it will shrink without exercise. My faith in God’s ability to heal people through my prayers and touch used to be much stronger than it is today. Getting it back has nothing to do with trying harder or believing more fervently. Faith grows when we use it, period. You can’t choose the seeable, knowable, definable, understandable, bankable, and forseeable as a way of life and then wonder where the magic went.

2. I can produce many things that look like fruit, but in the end if the Holy Spirit hasn’t breathed his life into it, what I’ve done might as well be a bowl of wax grapes and pears in a decorative bowl on the dining room table. Growth (leaves) isn’t fruit (grapes). We can grow leaves without God, but not fruit.

3. Every hero is a villain to someone. Get used to it.

4. Gary Thomas on marriage: God has designed marriage to be a crucible in which two people feel the heat while becoming more like Jesus. This means a “harmonious marriage” may in fact be a sign of relational shallowness.

5. There are weaknesses that, when left to themselves, can undermine the cumulative effect of all our strengths put together. King Saul was a stellar human being with more going for him than most of us would ever aspire to. A few sinful streaks running through his character eventually turned him into one of the Bible’s most notable villains.

6. What you want can either destroy your life or send it grace-ward. The problem is, our real desires often lie hidden under layers of surface pursuits that mask our true motives. One good, true, godly desire flourishing in the soul does more for the spiritual life than a dozen good habits.

7. Email should never, ever, be used to communicate anything that could possibly be interpreted as critical. If you hope someone “takes it the right way,” they probably won’t. Pick up the phone and call. I have never once watched a “difficult” email exchange go well. If I can’t see myself saying something to someone face to face, it’s a good sign that:  a). I probably shouldn’t say it, or  b) I don’t have the courage to say it. Either way, using email to do our dirty work is of the devil. It’s yucky, cowardly, and lazy. I just sent an email a few weeks ago that wasn’t mean, wasn’t meant to be critical, but in hindsight I should have just called. I’ve decided to do that from now on. Emails are now reserved for, “Hey, you guys going to the lake on Friday?” (details) or, “Good job on the trumpet thing” (kudos). Anything more is probably stupid of me.

8. All of us are broken shells scattered along a beach. Some of us have been tumbled long enough that some of our rough edges have been worn off. But not all of them, or even most of them. If we give people that—simply allow them to be broken and damaged and human, just like we are—it’s amazing how easily grace can flow.

9. Re: favorites, traditions, and ideas: Every person should take it upon themselves to shoot their own prize ponies when necessary. If we don’t, they’ll outlive their usefulness and someone else will eventually murder them for us. That hurts a lot more, even if it was high time it happened.

10. What we do with the Sabbath, we do with our lives. That’s why it’s so important.

11. Everything matters. No, really. Don’t glaze over that. Think about it. 🙂

So that’s it for now. What have you learned this year?