4 Keys to Effective Reflection

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakecaptive/

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” (Margaret J. Wheatley)

When we live unreflective lives, we sentence ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past and forego any growth into the future.  I have been rediscovering the value of reflection in recent weeks, and I want to share some things I have learned that can help anyone spend more effective time in reflection.

  1. Defined time and space: With our hectic lives, if something is not scheduled, it will not happen.  It is helpful to decide on a place and time to reflect in, and put it in your calendar with a reminder/alert.  My most frequent locations are my home office, a cafe, my car, or walking outside, but anywhere that is comfortable, quiet, or inspiring to you will work well.
  2. Specific questions: Sitting down with the goal of “reflecting” is an aimless pursuit.  What do you need to reflect about?  Deciding on 1-2 questions to focus on will produce much more effective results from your reflection.  For example: How can I invest in stronger relationships?  What are my highest priorities right now, and how are they going?  What are the next steps forward in my life/career/education?  Who has made a big impact on my life recently?
  3. Tangible decisions: The benefit of reflecting is not in the refection itself, but in the results that come afterward.  Effective reflection will produce greater awareness of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas of needed growth.  Translating that awareness into tangible actions and commitments is what will bring real growth and change in a person’s life.  For example: My friends are valuable to me, but they are getting crowded out of my life, so I will schedule regular hangouts to catch up with them.
  4. Journaling: Unless you have a perfect memory, the reflections and decisions produced during this time will be quickly forgotten.  Valuable time, energy, and inspiration have been lost!  The remedy to this is to develop a habit of journaling during or immediately after you reflect.  Personally, I use Evernote for this, since it is easily accessible on all of my devices and can be searched for tags and keywords later, but pen-and-paper still work as well as anything.

When we put even minimal time into effective reflection, we will reap enormous benefits in personal growth and productivity.  What are some ways that you have benefited from personal reflection?

Where is the third Person?

I’ve realized recently that there is a big shortage of good teaching on the Holy Spirit.  It’s quite strange that the third Person of the Trinity, one of the main characters throughout Scripture, is either ignored by many cessationists (those who believe that the work of the Spirit was confined to the time of the apostles, based on a poor interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13), or sensationalized through unbiblical teaching by some pentecostals (not all pentecostal teaching is bad, but I’ve read some that has no basis in the Bible).  This is a generalization, but the more that I read from various traditions, I believe that the source of both the neglect and the sensationalism of the Holy Spirit are rooted in a lack of strong biblical teaching through the course of church history.

I took a theology course recently which was structured around the Nicene Creed.  This is a very important creed in Christian history, and it speaks significantly about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  But when speaking of the Holy Spirit, the creed is limited to:

“And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”

All we know of the Holy Spirit here is that He gives life (thus being involved in the work of creation), He is worshiped as a Person of the Trinity, and He spoke (in the past) through the prophets.  When reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, this seems like a ridiculously small scope of the Holy Spirit’s work.  I’m in no position to write a theology textbook, but here are a few obvious roles of the Holy Spirit taught in the Bible:

  1. Creator (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4) – The Holy Spirit is involved in the work of creation.
  2. Prophetic Voice (1 Samuel 10:10, Acts 13:2, 2 Peter 1:21) – He speaks through people with prophetic words (even today!).
  3. Visions (Ezekiel 11:24, Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, Acts 10:9-23) – The Holy Spirit gives people supernatural visions (even today!).
  4. Seal of Salvation (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19) – He dwells within believers and marks them as belonging to Christ.
  5. Incarnation (Matthew 1:18) – He caused the virgin conception of Jesus Christ in Mary.
  6. Baptism (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5, Acts 10:47) – He completes the internal spiritual work of baptism.
  7. Counselor & Teacher (John 14:26) – The Holy Spirit counsels and teaches us as we follow Christ.
  8. Empowering (Acts 1:8, Acts 4:31) – He gives us spiritual power, enabling us to boldly live for God.
  9. Guide (Acts 16:6) – The Holy Spirit gives us practical guidance and direction.
  10. Unity (Ephesians 4:13) – He unites us in fellowship with one another.
  11. Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14, Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 4:11-13) – The Holy Spirit gifts us for ministry.
  12. Sanctifies (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2) – The Holy Spirit purifies us and empowers us to live holy lives.

This isn’t even an exhaustive list.  The point is, I rarely see good writing or teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit in the everyday lives of Christians.  It’s as if we should be content to simply know that He exists, that He made some people prophecy in the past, and that’s it.  It’s not surprising the He is often referred to as “the forgotten third Person of the Trinity”.  I think this not only dishonors God and grieves the Holy Spirit, but also hinders believers from fully living out their faith.  We can do nothing without God, and it is our communion with, reliance upon, and connection to the Holy Spirit that enables us to be obedient to God’s will and build His kingdom.