Lessons Learned…Or Not


We talked about the lack of discernment in some parts of the Church earlier this week. Right now, I’d like to discuss the other side of that discernment issue.

One of the tendencies some people in the Church have is an overwhelming need to condense all of life into lessons. As if each day has some life-altering factoid ready to uncover if we just live the right way. Now that right way varies depending on whom you talk to, but it usually involves plenty of prayer and lots of musing on the issue.

Whenever someone says, “Sounds like God’s trying to teach you something,” you’re having one of those “better figure out what you’re bein’ taught there, son” conversations. A lot of times that conversation gets tied into Romans 8:28 (and we, of course, all know what THAT verse says), so the person who’s supposed to be learning a lesson gets the double whammy of not only having to scry the necessary lesson to be learned, but also that the lesson will have clearly positive outcomes that even an amoeba could see.

Now I recently turned 45, which, while not ancient, finds me on the back side of the  mountain. I’ve got enough life experience to be able to comment on this thing or that, and when it comes to this issue of lessons learned amid life’s experiences, I gotta say this:

I dunno.

I’ve seen people drive themselves nuts trying to figure out what the lesson is amid some trial. And many times that’s because they’ve got these spiritual advisors telling them they need to fast and pray and put on sackcloth and sit in ashes and take on the attitude of the oracle at Delphi in order to find out just what it is that’s supposed to be learned. And the tea leaves say...?Because spiritual advisors are sayin’ something’s supposed to be learned here, aren’t they? Funny that they never know what that lesson’s supposed to be (because each lesson seems only for the person supposed to be learning it, you know, and the advisors aren’t THAT wise to know someone else’s lesson).

Several years ago, my brand new bride and I departed the homeland and sojourned in California. Looked like God setup the whole thing, too. All the prayers for us came down on the side of “Go!” The timing was perfect, the job was perfect, and we were deliriously happy at the thought of it.

And yet six months later, it all fell apart. Never got better, either. In fact, in a lot of ways it got worse to the point that we still struggle with the situations that sojourn created for us.

Yes, at least one person we know came to Christ out of that time. I comfort myself with that thought, though I’m just as likely to wonder if that couldn’t have happened some other way. But you don’t know.

As for the lesson? You’ve got me.

Truthfully, “You’ve got me” is what comes out of most of the trials I’ve faced in life. If you had to rank my ability to discern lessons and their spiritual import, I’d have to say that Balaam’s ass ranks about a hundred times higher on that chart than yours truly.

It just may be that I’m a thicker brick than some folks, but I gotta say that whatever lessons I’m supposed to be learning, especially amid trials, they don’t vary much off the same old lesson I learned a long, long time ago: Repent and have faith in God.

So why do we make such a production out of that one, simple truth? Why do spiritual advisors hang huge millstones around people’s necks (especially when those people are suffering amid trials), warning them that they better discover the lesson or else?

Some people came to Jesus trying to scry lessons out of some difficult circumstances. They were probably self-righteous people, you know, “spiritual advisors” and such. They came to Jesus trying to get Him to tell them the lesson, but He he turned the tables on them:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

You and I may never know the reasoning behind a “lesson.” Sometimes life happens and there may not be any lesson to be learned than to repent and have faith in God.

So if you’re one of those people in a tough spot, especially if you’re plagued by a need to discover the lesson you should be learning, let me spare you the agony of scrying out an answer. Put down the tea leaves and goat entrails.

Because the lesson’s always the same, no matter the situation.

Repent and have faith in God.

27 thoughts on “Lessons Learned…Or Not

  1. eliyah

    You wrote,

    “Several years ago, my brand new bride and I departed the homeland and sojourned in California. Looked like God setup the whole thing, too. All the prayers for us came down on the side of “Go! The timing was perfect, the job was perfect, and we were deliriously happy at the thought of it.

    And yet six months later, it all fell apart. Never got better, either. In fact, in a lot of ways it got worse to the point that we still struggle with the situations that sojourn created for us.

    Yes, at least one person we know came to Christ out of that time. I comfort myself with that thought, though I’m just as likely to wonder if that couldn’t have happened some other way. But you don’t know.

    As for the lesson? You’ve got me.

    Are you God’s workmanship or not? This truth will bring much peace and comfort to you when you finally realize that He is in all, He uses all, He allows all, and He will be ALL IN ALL.

    Too many times people will site this verse of being His workmanship but yet they continue to feel that their salvation is up to them, it is their work. The only work we have is to YIELD to his work.

    I believe your time in California was as it was suppose to be. Just as Joseph was allowed to go through the pit, the prison, and finally the palace…and He himself admitted that ALL of it was of God so that provision would be had for his family.
    So too, the way is hard and the path narrow for all who go on to KNOW Him and choose to be conformed into His image.

    All of us will go through our own pits, our own prisons, but the good news is that there will be a day where you will enter into the REST, the authority realm and will be able to say as Joseph, “Without me–God doth answer Pharaoh with peace’.

    Basically Joseph came to the end of himself, was made naught, so that Yahweh would be Glorified. Nothing is ever wasted in God. Every experience that you have had has been used to further you in Him.


    • Eliyah,

      God may allow all, but He doesn’t have to explain all. Jesus said as much to those who came to him inquiring about Pilate’s little misdeed with the Galileans. Today, too many people are asking others out there to learn lessons that may not be there. I’m not saying that ALL situations are devoid of lessons, but we must be very careful about which situations call for that analysis and which don’t.

      Yes, Jesus healed the man born blind and said that he was blind so that God could prove in his healing His glory. But for the man who was born blind and stays blind, are we willing to say the same thing? If not, then we should be spending all our resources on healing that man or else the lesson will not get out.

      Again, when they cornered Jesus on the reasons why Pilate mixed the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices, Jesus decided not to answer that question directly. And so it may be with a lot of people. Was there a lesson for the families of those crushed when the tower fell? Jesus didn’t claim to give one. It rains on both the just and the unjust. Again, perhaps the only lesson is to repent and have faith in God.

  2. Diane Roberts

    You really don’t know why you came to California? I think I do. I am tired of hearing Bible Belt bloggers tell us how ALL churches are (they aren’t). Many times I will reply to these people and ask them if they have ever been out of their area. Usually they have only been in one or two churches in THEIR Bible Belt area. One BIG reason I see that you came to California is a different perspective about how others live and how other Christians are. We don’t have a lot of evangelical churches here on every corner like in Bible Belt areas. The folks here for the most part never heard the gospel unless they happened to live in a poorer area and happened to wander into a church there. It was very difficult to find a surburban church that preached the gospel although that is changing. There was only one Christian station when I was growing up and it was at the end of the dial where no one could find it. And that is why so many of us didn’t grow up in evangelical churches, but came to Christ later. Almost everyone I know over 45, who grew up in an evangelical church, came from elsewhere, not California.

    When I read your blog as compared to many others, I see your California (and also east coast) perspectives. And thank you for that..:)

    • Diane,

      The price we paid for that sojourn has been extraordinarily high. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about what might have been if we hadn’t gone.

      Did I see some things out there that changed my opinion on a few things in life? Sure. But in many ways, I just saw the bleeding edge of what would inevitably come. Then no one would believe me when I said I saw that bleeding edge. Now some of that has spread and all too few care about what it’s brought. So what has it profited? I dunno.

      When we lived in Silicon Valley, it was strange to assemble in the mostly glass school assembly area we met in at our Vineyard church out there. Why? Because we’d be having church on Sunday and dozens of people would go by outside, jogging, walking, rollerblading—anything but going to church. Someone once said that in the Valley only 4% of people attended any traditional religious service on the weekend. Now THAT’S a pathetic number.

      Still, in many ways I regret going out there. Like I said, I must be thick, but the lessons of that sojourn and everything since have been lost on me. That’s especially true when people tell me I need to learn the lesson of that time and now. I can only see one lesson and it’s the one I gave: Repent and have faith in God.

  3. Rural Lady

    Excellent, excellent thoughts and so eloquently stated. “Repent and have faith in God” and that’s it. But most of us want more. We want to know “what’s in it for me?” We want some benefit, some positive outcome for ourselves, in our lives, in the here and now that we can see and touch and hold on to. Faith in God must be enough, but so often, for most of us, it is not, especially when the will and guidance of God seems to be hidden. What a wonderful reminder you’ve given us that, oh, yes, we do see through a glass darkly…

    • Rural Lady,

      My washing machine just broke down and my truck is in the shop for an expensive repair. The lesson? It must be right before Christmas!

      No, we can’t think like that. People will, though, especially in this culture. As you said, faith in God MUST suffice or else we fall into those traps.

  4. David Riggins

    While we try to figure out what God is doing through us, life happens. Not everything needs to be a bible lesson. Just live life, accept the good with the bad, and above all, give God the glory. What else is there?

  5. connie

    Actually, the Bible tells us we’re gonna have trials because God is building in us the quality of endurance.

    Oh, joy.

    But the truth is, I bet if you look back over your life you’ll see that the tough places forced you to depend on Him more and more. It really isn’t more complicated than that.

    You can be in the will of God even when things fall apart. Sometimes, especially when things fall apart. Because He wants us to know that He is the Rock, and there is no other.

    I used to think whenever stuff hit the fan that I had messed up somewhere and God was sitting up there on a cloud waiting for me to figure it out all by myself. Not a very godly belief, really.

    Anyway, I don’t know for sure but I suspect that California was smack dab in the middle of God’s will for you. We get refined in places like that. Our faith is more precious than gold to him, but just like that gold, we have to be in that fire, and it’s no fun. Been there, done that, got a wardrobe the size of Texas.

    But yeah, we don’t really have to figure it out. All we have to do is look to Him.

    • Connie,

      I’m speaking only of myself here, and I may be revealing too much online, but this is how it is with me.

      As far as relying on God, I think that nothing draws me closer to the Lord than receiving stark persecution for actually standing up and espousing or acting out the Gospel. That’s a strong encouragement for me and my times with the Lord are especially sweet. And, sad to say, the pinnacle of that is when supposed Christians are the ones doing the persecuting.

      Next would be those times when things are good. When the sun is shining, the land is green, and peace reigns. When I can relax and put down the shield for a second. Some of my deepest times with the Lord are when everything is mellow. The Scriptures list those as the times that people forget the Lord, but that’s not the way it is with me.

      But in stark contrast to what most people say is normal are when trials come that I can’t associate with being persecuted directly for a stand I’ve taken for Christ. It’s the annoying things of everyday life that wrench me away from God. This morning I was praying to see how I could cover the expense of taking a trip that I must take. I laid out the cost of what I need to cover that expense and just left it with God. Then our washing machine broke and the cost to fix it is the exact cost for that trip I sketched on on my prayer list this morning. I then heard from the car shop that it’s going to cost more to fix my truck than I initially was told. The cost? About the same cost as the trip and the washing machine. So instead of being level and looking for the increase, I’m three times farther from my goal. So I’m disheartened. My experience has been, too, that I may indeed get the money I need for the trip, but I’m now even deeper in a hole because of those other two expenses. It leaves me wondering what is going on. It’s a little like getting the opposite of what you just prayed for. And I stand back and say, “God, what’s the deal?”

      So for me, it’s yes for persecution for the sake of the Faith, yes for the peaceful and easy times, but those irritating things really get to me and I’ve not found a way around that.

      So it goes back to the same thing I just said: Repent and have faith in God. I’m not good at handling the annoying little things and that’s where I need to improve in my repentance and my faith.

      • connie

        Which is my point exactly.

        I have gone thru tons of exactly what you describe. Tons.

        What you and I are in the process of learning is how NOT to let those things tear us away from Him.

        Job was commended for his endurance, NOT his patience, btw.

        May the Lord bring you thru all these circumstances, and may He teach you when to fight and when to stand, and when to simply endure.

        (One other thing. You might want to consider that sometimes some of this stuff IS persecution for righteousness. But straight from the one that comes just to steal, kill and destroy. You might want to bring your circumstances before the Lord and ask Him if this is occuring, and if so, how to pray about it. I’ve seen a minister friend of mine go thru lots of times of this sort of thing, and then we rally the troops in prayer-and then watch in amazement as the problems dry up. Just sayin’.)

  6. Cheryl

    I suspect part of what you are trying to say since you are charismatic (as am I) is the teaching about beng ‘spirit lead’.
    I agree with the majority of your conclusions.

    I have relaxed alot more than I use to be. Stuff happens. Generally doing the best you can as we obey is sufficient. If poop happens I just pray for more grace to endure. I remember that I have gotten through it before and I will get through it again. If its truly a test and I’ve been this way before I pray for grace to obey and press on. It gets much easier next time. If you think it is satanic opposition of some sort get help in prayer and see if anything changes.

    You sound like you live pretty modestly Dan. Even those who live monastic lifestyles have their struggles.
    The Lord is very pleased with you !!! You and your family are a masterpiece!!

    • Cheryl,

      The demonic opposition thing has always perplexed me when it comes to the annoyances of life. I know people who fly to that reasoning at the merest little thing. I’m not that kind of person. God is sovereign, and for the Christian that answer is even more compelling than saying that something is demonically inspired. I look at it this way: even if something is an “attack,” if we believe God is ultimately sovereign then He’s still the one in control.

      That’s actually not a popular stance to take in some charismatic circles. In fact, some people act as if God’s lost control and the devil is running rampant in a situation. I think that’s a crazy response and a low view of God.

      If you’ve read what I’ve written on the demonic, you know that I take it very seriously. But I’m not about to say that the dead pump on my washing machine was because of demons.

      As for living modestly, I think that 95% of Americans live immodestly when compared with the rest of the world. That includes me. What percentage of people in the world actually own a washing machine or a truck? Probably in the low single digits. Even lower if you think about owning both of those items. Yet here in the States, we hardly even think about how much we have.

      People who have much worry about the much they have. I marvel at how much time and money it costs me to simply keep the things I have from breaking or decaying. Then I buy insurance to protect them damage or theft. I think those issues are at the heart of a llot of American angst. We’re in love with our stuff and we let it own our hearts no matter how strongly we protest to the contrary.

      I used to be able to stick everything I owned in the world into my Honda Civic hatchback. I would love to be able to fit all my family owns now into a decent-sized station wagon, but that will not be the case unless some apocalypse comes, I suspect.

      Do we spend a lot on new things? No. We do try to live as modestly as we can. The last time I bought dress or casual shoes was more than seven years ago. My wife and I have purchased no furniture save for four oak kitchen chairs (which broke and were not repairable, unfortunately). My Mac is ten years old and my PC six. I bought no CDs this year or last and only two DVDs. My wife’s car is seven years old and my truck is fourteen. So yes, we’re not shining examples of consumption. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re still in the top three percent of the world’s richest people, as are the vast, vast majority of Americans.

      Something to think about.

  7. I find that, for me, it’s not so much a matter of lessons learned as it is a matter of growth, of becoming more like Jesus. I can look back on things that I still don’t understand and at least see how God was with me and strengthened me.

    What you said is so true – “Repent, and have faith in God”. Sometimes we may not need to repent, but we still must have faith.

    • Oengus,

      It’s difficult to be the sole writer of a blog. I’ve been very busy the last two months and it’s made it hard for me to focus on writing something compelling every single day. I look back on the corpus of writing I’ve done here at Cerulean Sanctum and I think most people would be hard pressed to match it.

      Most of the time I write what I think God is leading me to understand. If that’s formulaic, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes you have to revisit the pile of stones to remember what happened a long time ago.

      I have some very difficult decisions to make right now. Those decisions are occupying most of my thoughts. In any five minute span, I seem to go from one side to the other concerning them.

      Decompressing in the shower Thursday morning, the idea for this post just popped up and I thought and prayed about it for so long that I had no idea how long I was in the shower. If it’s stale, I don’t know what to say. I don’t think it’s stale for me right now. God is doing a “casting off” process in me and this post reflects some of that. Gone with the trappings. Gone with all the things that hinder. Gone with some of “accepted” Christianese and its culture.

      That’s what’s going on. Sorry if it’s formulaic. I must be in a formulaic place right now. Not every experience will be the third heaven.

      • quote: t’s made it hard for me to focus on writing something compelling every single day.

        It seems that the answer is staring you in the face: Stop trying so hard. There is no need for you to write anything “compelling” every single day of your life. Where’d you get the crazy idea you have to be so dang serious all the time?

        For Heaven’s sake, take a blog vacation. If that obscure blogger over at Lunar Skeletons feels the need to take the whole month of December off, a blog vacation as it were— and he doesn’t even write anyting serious to begin with—then how more should you get a much needed rest from this blog-monkey-on-your-back?

        Now if a lightweight like him can feel the need for an escape from the blogging moil and toil, then beyond all estimate it’s surely the case that you need a blog vacation too.

    • Dave Block

      Dan and Oengus,

      Maybe I seem like a cheerleader because I agree with the vast majority of things Dan has written. (Well, I did — and still do — take issue with one of the points in the blog entry about 100 things he has learned as a Christian, but I won’t distract from my point too much by mentioning it here.) Still, I don’t think this post is formulaic or part of a formulaic trend in Cerulean Sanctum. In this post Dan is saying the “lesson’s always the same, no matter the situation.” But that lesson in itself is NOT the same as the points he’s made in his other blog entries.

      Oengus, I think you’ve jumped to a conclusion here that’s actually not founded on past blog entries. Take a look — what posts are very similar to this one? Dan has creatively revisited certain themes in the blog, but in the time I’ve been reading, I haven’t seen him repeat himself.

      I’ve taken notes sometimes on Cerulean Sanctum columns and incorporated points with some of my own in material I’m prayerfully considering presenting to my pastor and/or elder board. I don’t think you’ve grown stale, Dan. On the contrary, you’re doing a great job!

      The one point where I have some agreement with Oengus is that if your life circumstances mean that taking a break would help, by all means, do so. I would not worry about losing readers who will forget about your blog if you don’t post at least twice a week. Some of us subscribe to the blog via RSS and others will check back for more good stuff even if you take some time off. If some don’t, know that your family and your God are well worth that loss if spending more time with them is needed. Or just relaxing in the stress of a difficult time in life. Yeah, that could justify taking a break too.

      But maybe this is a good outlet for you in trying times and time off isn’t needed. Only God — and probably you, too — know for sure.

      Thanks for all of the good challenges and truths you present!

      • Dave: “I think you’ve jumped to a conclusion”

        By formulaic, I am refering to the content of the statement “Because the lesson’s always the same, no matter the situation.”, because it reduces things to a neat and tidy little formula. I didn’t have in mind that something was getting repeated or reused from elsewhere.

        Indeed, it’s a tidy little aphorism, it and sounds nice literarywise. But it bothers me a lot because, in effect, it forces God into a nice and tidy little logical box, and it suggests that God really doesn’t deal with people individually, as a Father deals with his children as individuals in their particular circumstances, but instead it sounds more like a Newtonian Mechanism that always acts according to some spick-and-span little formula like Force=Mass x Acceleration.

        I guess what I am saying is “No, the lessons are not always the same.” For example, go back and read the Gospels, and watch what happens in those recorded instances where Jesus encounters particular individuals. He comes to them where they are, according to what they needed at that point in their lives. There was nothing formulaic about how He treated people.Or for another example, read 1 Corth. 12:4-11. Even the charismatic gifts can’t be as neatly categorized.

        The other thing was trying to convey to His Direness was simply this: When you find yourself thinking you must always be profound, serious, deep, and “compelling” all the time, then something has gotten out of whack. And so I was suggesting that His Direness should perhaps take a vacation, especially if he is busy with other worries and weighed down with difficult circumstances. What is so important about blogging anyhow? Is it that important? Is the most important thing in life keeping your blog fandom always hanging around on your every word?

        All this bloggery has to be taking time away from family and things that are more important. There are gazillions of blogs out there, a flood of verbiage the likes of which the world has never seen before. That’s why I once called it the Blogific Ocean, vast and stormy, filled with flotsam and jetsam.

        • Oengus,

          Cerulean Sanctum is a ministry for me. In many ways, it is my way of sharing what God is teaching me. At times, I must speak or I fear the very rocks may cry out. At others, it’s just friends chatting.

          Though I’m not sure that blogging adequately replaces human contact, part of this blog fills up the lack I feel in that area of my life. I’m a raging extrovert. For me, a house is a place where you sleep when you’re not out doing other things with people. Most people my age don’t share that sentiment. Heck, most of our society as a whole has gone into a cocoon. Blogging benefits me in that I can talk about issues that are important with others, even if the face-to-face is not there. Truthfully, I wish this medium didn’t exist and that we could all hang out in each other’s homes, but I fear those days are gone. People are too busy for that, sadly enough.

          • Quote: “I must speak or I fear the very rocks may cry out.”

            You’re taking yourself way too seriously here.

            Quote: “At others, it’s just friends chatting.”

            You need more of this “friends chatting”. Lately, it’s getting to be all direness all the time.

            Quote: “…my way of sharing what God is teaching me.

            Has it never occured to that, possibly, some things may be intendedjust for you and not to shared with everybody in the entire world? To think it necessary to tell everything to everybody all the time, sounds a teeny bit egotistical.

            Quote: “…this blog fills up the lack I feel in that area of my life.”

            Ask yourself, “what is exactly is this ‘lack’ that I feel?”

            Is blogging really the best way to fill that lack? Perhaps, the answer is elsewhere.

            Dan, as an example, when you write about TBN, for example, it might feel good to go all rage-monkey. But it’s a complete waste of time for readers, such as myself, to bother reading such stuff. (This is why I don’t read a lot of “God bloggers” anymore, especially the pompous “Truely Reformed” ones—whom the KJV translators could just as well as described as “giving liking unto nothing but what is framed by themselves and hammered on their anvil“. Please don’t become like that.) Nevertheless, the Crouches are the sort of territory that’s been burned-over a gazillion times before. It’s now just a very tiresome and boring topic. Sure, people who already hate the Crouches or hate Benny Hinn will fill up your comment boxes with “Thatta Boy Dan! Give ’em the old flamethrower! Jan Crouch looks like a hypertrophic Barbie Doll! Just look at her hair and makeup. And Paul Crouch is a stupid head!” But in that case, what have you actually accomplished other than stroking your own ego with having a bunch of people agreeing with you? In my opinion, this is blogging at its worst—the sort of stuff that happens at BeliefNet.

            Although Ms. Moonbones watches the Gaither’s music on TBN, I haven’t watched TBN for years and years and years in fact. Recently it occured to me that perhaps I should no longer go on merely what “I thought I knew”, or on what other people have said about TBN. Instead, I’ve decided to start watching TBN and PTL for myself, and thus to reach my own conclusions based on my own observations. For starters, I am not sure I can agree entirely with your hyperbolic assertion that TBN studio sets look like something in a French whorehouse during the reign of Louis XIV—at least not the ones I’ve seen so far.

  8. I’m plainly jealous of the folks with 20-20 spiritual hindsight.

    I look in my review and only see “Objects in mirror are larger than they appear.” What it needs to say is what Gallagher recommends: “This dang mirror don’t work. Don’t trust it.”

  9. connie

    Mr Moonbones, I am always rather nonplussed at people who go to someone else’s blog and tell them what they should or should not write. That would be analogous to your coming into MY kitchen and telling me what to cook and how to cook it.

    Let the man prepare his own repast. If you aren’t hungry for it, there are other places to eat, my dear.

    • Connie: “I am always rather nonplussed at people who go to someone else’s blog”…

      I suspect that you might be new to blogging. Blogging is entirely a very public form of publication, somewhat analoguous to the old time and very rough-and-tumble pamphleteering that happened in days of yore. Once a person publishes a blog, he opens himself up for public scrutinity and criticism, just as if he had published a book or magazine article. People are free to praise or diss what the author writes. Your analogy, likening things to invading Mr. Edelen’s kitchen, is really not apt at all. When someone publishes something he is open to all sorts of literary criticism about his writing style and what he writes about. That’s the nature of the blogging beast.

      What criticisms I might have made are meek and mild compared to some of the radioactive flame wars that occur in the comment boxes in other venues I know about. In fact, I don’t often criticize Mr. Edelen for what he writes, and I have him on my blogroll.

      • Errata:

        “scrutinity” should be “scrutiny
        “analoguous” should be “analogous

        It’s too bad that comment boxes don’t have spelling checkers. But I’ll be the first to criticize my own spelling errors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *