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On the Importance of Reflection

Last updated on December 30, 2023

“There comes a time in the spiritual life when one of the major things God is up to is to lovingly help us see ourselves more clearly.” 1

Many years ago now, I was given a set of questions to think about at the end of each year that would help me set goals for the new year. This was my first introduction to long-term planning and big-picture dreaming. I obtained these questions while sitting in a little room off the side of the sanctuary with a pastor who bubbled over with joy at his opportunity to teach young congregants how to be intentional and order their lives around what God says is good.

He walked us through how to do yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily planning. He explained all the things we needed to think about when it comes to filling in our calendar for each of these time periods. He gave us a list of things that we should think about like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, church calendars, and school calendars. He encouraged us to plot out our date nights if we were married along with couple getaways and family vacations. He showed us how this all worked together throughout the year as we moved from a 20,000-foot view to a 2-inch view of our daily lives. He painted a picture of how being able to see the landscape of your life from above gave you a better opportunity to walk the path God has for you in the everyday. Truly it was a Saturday morning well spent for me.

However, as I implemented this intentional planning time into my days, months, and years I felt restless like maybe there was something missing.

As I studied Scripture and grew more familiar with the narrative within its pages, I was drawn time and again to the Creation Story.2 Reading the birth story of Genesis 1 over and over again, I discovered a pattern I hadn’t seen before: God formed before He filled. He separated the waters from the sky. He set the stars in their place, and He formed the dry land. He caused vegetation to grow and everything else needed to sustain life. Then, He filled the earth with birds and animals, and in the end, humans. He formed before He filled.

For the first few years after my class at church, I thought setting aside time to create a template of my life for which I could fill in with all the necessary Christian components: church attendance, marriage priorities, children’s education, and proper amounts of Bible time and prayer was the forming and filling work I had noticed in Scripture. It was, in my mind, my way of ordering my steps according to God’s design. While this has been a good and helpful practice, I’ve since discovered that this can be just a form of control, an illusion really of a well-ordered life, if this process is divorced from the inward forming of my life, which leads me to a question.

Did you know that there are actually two creation accounts in the Bible?

I didn’t until someone pointed it out to me earlier this year! Genesis 1:1-2:3 (the one you’re likely most familiar with) gives us a cosmic and linear account of creation. When you read this one you experience God as majestic, transcendent, and sovereign. We also learn that we, as humans, are made in the image of God. You can see the pattern and His very intentional way in which He formed and filled the earth with His perfect plan.

In Genesis 2:4-2:25, there is a completely different order of creation, and it gives us a much more earthy and non-linear approach to how God created the world. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, these two accounts are included in the Bible, and though it can get a little confusing as to why the two accounts differ, here’s what I gather from the second account.

The second account does not show God as high and lifted up, but it shows God with us, dwelling among us. In this account, we learn that God created humans to dwell with Him and to work and care for His creation. We also see in a much more intimate way God forming us and then breathing His spirit into us. He formed before He filled, and He did this in a hands-on, mouth-to-mouth kind of way, which brings me to my opening quote and what this has to do with intentional living.

“There comes a time in the spiritual life when one of the major things God is up to is to lovingly help us see ourselves more clearly.”

Later in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had sinned, the Scriptures tell us that God took a stroll in the garden and when Adam and Eve heard Him, they hid from His presence. Then God called out to them and asked them what they had done.3

Here’s the thing, God wasn’t beaming down from on high to make a guest appearance. It was His garden. It was His dwelling place where He dwelled with Adam and Eve, but He was also the God of the first account of creation, holy and good. He asked Adam and Eve what they had done, not because He didn’t know, but because He wanted them to reflect and name aloud what had transpired with the serpent. He didn’t ask so He could punish them, but so He could love them. Even though He knew what they had done, He came to them and He lovingly helped them to see themselves more clearly.

I’ve noticed that this ability to see oneself rightly doesn’t come about immediately in the Christian life, and it doesn’t come unless we take time to reflect and name what’s happened. It’s in the naming of what has passed that we uncover lies we’ve been believing and see where maybe we didn’t choose God’s best for us. Our tendency, as we saw from Adam and Eve is to hide from God’s presence. Sometimes we do this knowingly, but I wonder how many of us aren’t receiving His best simply because we don’t take time to be with Him. For it is when we are with Him that we can see ourselves more clearly, and it’s here where grace collides with pride and shame and turns us from the potter of our own lives to the clay in Master Potter’s hands.

The renewing of our minds and the transformation of our lives is a process, a process we must submit to. We must be willing to see ourselves more clearly because until we’re ready, until we’re willing to submit ourselves to the process of being revealed, we cannot reclaim the life we were created for. It’s the layering of the Christian life that forms us and fits us for the work the Potter has created us for. He forms us before He fills us with His purpose.

Creating a rhythm of reflection in my life has been one of the most fruitful practices I’ve implemented in recent years.

For it’s in this set apart time that I can name the things that hurt, that do not bring about good things in my life. I can also name the things that are gifts, that bring about the abundance of Jesus in my life. To see myself the way Jesus sees me takes intentional effort and time set aside to look carefully at how I’m walking, so that I can, not only make the best use of it, but also glorify my God in Heaven.4

It’s also the space where I can simply dwell with Him, walk with Him so to speak in the cool of the garden and tell Him of all the cares of the day, week, month, or season. I can ask Him what He wants me to do or change, and I can hear His voice because He has my undivided attention. For it is His desire to be with me, forming me into His likeness so He can fill me with His presence in order that others may see my good works and glorify my God in Heaven.

“There comes a time in the spiritual life when one of the major things God is up to is to lovingly help us see ourselves more clearly.”

Do you think God is wanting to help you see yourself more clearly?

This weekend after your church gathering, why not take some time alone to simply reflect on where you are? Pull out your journal and a pen and answer these questions:

  • How is my heart right now? (If it helps, name three words to describe your heart.)
  • What’s been going well for me?
  • What’s not been going so well for me?
  • Are my needs being met?
  • What do I need to let go of right now?
  • What do I need to hold onto?
  • What have I sensed God speaking to me?
  • Are there any changes I need to make?

This is a good place to start, I think. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear!

  1. Barton, Ruth Haley ↩︎
  2. Genesis 1:1-2:3 ↩︎
  3. Genesis 3:8-13 ↩︎
  4. Ref. Ephesians 5:15-16 ↩︎
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