It was 1996. I was gasping my way into unexplained respiratory failure during my first pregnancy — sinking down into six long days on life support.

Play the old hymns, I told my mom, though I have no memory of doing so. Play them loud. 

The words sang out day and night through my darkness:

Rock of Ages, cleft for Me;
Let me hide Myself in Thee.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God My Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

These were the stones I’d laid down in my youth; I clung to them in those weeks and months, as walls of strength and pride crumbled around me. The long year of sudden illness and slow recovery and very new, very tiny, very early infant nearly scraped my soul raw.

God started building 20 years of growth and change on that naked ground. I invited Him in to fix my feelings, but the door He walked in through was truth.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

God always starts with your head on the way to your heart. 

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool
(Isaiah 1:18, emphasis mine).

Let’s reason together, God says. Let’s talk this out, let’s think it through. Your ways aren’t working — they’ve soaked your life in stains and pain. You keep walking the same old paths, ending up in the same old places. You keep plugging your world into worn out formulas, and nothing adds up in the end.

Come now, let us think new thoughts, and you’ll be on the path to new life. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).

Our growth as disciples of Christ runs through three phases on a continuous circle:

Teaching: Seeking His truth, learning His gospel, renewing our minds. We have 66 books in scripture — almost 800,000 words — to let us know that God is serious about teaching us who He is, what He says, and how He works (Isaiah 26:3, Romans 8:5-6, Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:2).

Training: Putting truth into practice, tasting its fruit, soaking our hearts in it. Depending on our willingness to obey, we can do this ourselves, or God will do it for us — training can happen through His grace or through His discipline (Titus 2:11-12, Hebrews 12:11, Philippians 4:9).

Testing: Proving our faith with the help of His Spirit; refining our souls through trials and suffering that come our way; learning through pain to long for Him to return and for His kingdom to be established (James 1:3, I Peter 1:7, I Peter 4:13, Psalm 26:2, Jeremiah 17:10).

Teaching, training, testing. We need all three to fulfill Christ’s greatest longing for us: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine).

But it’s the mind where God wants to transform and renew us first — learning who He is, loving who He is, trusting who He is. If we find ourselves struggling with the training and the testing — filled with fear, losing ground and losing heart — we must crawl back to the teaching, feasting on the truth that will sustain us.

Come, let us reason together.

“I’m all on my own” becomes Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life (Psalm 54:4).

“I don’t think I can make it” becomes For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).

“I’m afraid of losing this” becomes Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God (Isaiah 41:10).

“I’m worthless and failing” becomes Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

Back in that hospital bed — and on many days since, like today  — I leaned on every bit of my thinking to face my feelings.

To make it through, we hold fast to what’s true.

Three phases of Christian growth: where are you? Isaiah 1