Is the year gone already? That’s a joke, I think. It’s been a long year, a hard year in many ways, and an extremely blessed year in others.

I like things organized, concise, and structured. So as I’ve continuously reflected over “major themes” of the lessons God’s taught me this year, I try to make them as orderly in my mind as I can, as if maybe I can grasp them better if they’re grouped into a pretty little mind map. I like to think God’s got a book of charts on me, time lines and flow charts and bullet points and color-coded themes of life.

I’m willing to bet he doesn’t, but it’d be really cool if he did. Also if he let me peek at them now so I can understand what on earth (or heaven!) he’s doing and why he’s put me in certain situations and etc., ad nauseum.

So then if I had to have a thesis statement for the multitudes of lessons God’s taught me this year, for better or worse, I’d have to say I learned the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Er, maybe not “learned,” as in past tense. Maybe more like, “gradually understanding a minute aspect of God’s character, as outlined by the Lord’s Prayer.”

You with me? Basically it looks a little like this:

Our Father, who art in heaven – Here’s the realization he’s driven home several times that almost reduced me to a weeping mess in the middle of multiple church services. God is our Father, we know that, we say that, we overuse that perhaps without realizing the magnitude of it. If we are believers in Christ, God looks at us and sees Jesus. The fancy church terms would say something like righteousness imbued to us. What that means is when he says, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased,” that’s us too. He is “well pleased” with us, not because of anything we’ve done but because of the grace and faith he’s given us to follow him.

(God’s Fatherly characteristics are dramatically more in-depth than that, but this is specifically the lessons he’s revealed to me this year.)

Hallowed be thy name – My NLT Bible translates this as, “may your name be kept holy.” The word “holy” is a constant lesson God’s been teaching me for years, and he continues to show me more. Was it Cheez-its that had the commercial about how they get all the cheese flavor into one little cracker? That’s what the word “holy” means to me. Not a Cheez-it or other delicious snack cracker, but so full of meaning you have to stop and think, “Wow, how did God get so much meaning into that one little word?”

The name of God, and Jesus as well, is relatively meaningless to most of our current society. At best it’s a slogan on a bumper sticker or a clever SNL skit and at its worst it’s a casual expletive or a well-publicized mockery for personal gain. Several events of the past few months have really got my attention about the way we all view the very names of God and Jesus. I’m tempted to go on a rant here about people’s Christmas soapboxes, but I’ll refrain.

Earlier this year I was plagued with a question for which I still have no answer: “What can I do to help restore the name of God and Jesus in our nation?” I repented for any time I’ve taken his name or his character for granted or exploited my faith for personal gain.

This too includes a wariness to ever publicly announce, “God told me to do such-and-such.” I mean, he does, and I wouldn’t be where I am right now if he didn’t. At the same time, that’s a bold statement and, upon making it, we must be sure God truly is telling us this thing. Furthermore, we must be prepared that whatever the such-and-such is, it may not result the way we expect it to result. Jonah, for example. He got pretty pissed off when God didn’t destroy Ninevah as he’d said, ignoring the bigger, more beautiful picture of the over 120,000 people who repented and returned to God as a result of his prophecy.

Thy Kingdom come – This one was a double-edged sword I regularly used on myself, and not in a good way. I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve heard several others express similar feelings. As believers, we gradually understand more about the temporal aspect of this world and the eternity of the coming world. The idea of a place with no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more separation from God is so appealing we tend to obsess over it.

I literally began praying for God to just come soon, just come soon and end all this suffering. One year, two years ago, I was begging God not to come soon so all my beloved, unbeliever friends would have time to follow him. And this year I was so overcome with despair and discouragement, I just wanted to be done with this world. I’m weary of it. And instead of finding my strength in God everyday, I prayed for him to just come soon. Yes, this is a bad perspective. When we’re told to pray for God’s Kingdom to come soon, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus meant.

Then God hit me over and over again with this one vital lesson: be a good steward. Of everything.

That day, the day we all get to celebrate with God in heaven and a new earth, that day will come soon enough. Where we are now is a unique opportunity to bring more people to Jesus, to show Christlike love, and to minister in a way we can’t do in heaven. We shouldn’t spend our lives biding our time until we get to heaven, but learning to be the most obedient, most Christlike people we can. We must be good stewards of every moment, every relationship, and every opportunity while we can.

We must find the balance between looking forward with excitement to our eternal life without neglecting the stewardship of the opportunities we have in this life.

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[So I wrote a lot more than I expected, of course. Part 2 will be up tomorrow.]