Though education prepares us for life in a general sense and specific courses get us ready for certain careers, God can easily override experience with His plans.
Bruce L. Hartman, author of the book “Spend a Year with Jesus: Finding Jesus and a New Life,” is a prime example of that.
Though now a published author, Hartman flunked English in college and had to take a summer course to earn his credit.
When he decided to leave the corporate world and pursue a master of divinity degree, which is almost all writing, he was terrified.
Hartman did pass the remedial writing class, but it still took him six hours to write his first two-page paper.
“The person who taught me how to do this was the theological school’s librarian. It was like having a Marine drill instructor teaching you,” Hartman said. “I never got good at writing. My professors said that the content was wonderful, but ‘You have to learn how to write.’”
Hartman got a little better as he finished a doctoral degree.
“One of the things I discovered were editors,” Hartman said. “You have to find the right editor. … [Some] editors wanted to tell me what to say and [my current editors] are more interested in telling me how to say it.”
Going into ministry wasn’t an easy decision for Hartman, who worked as a CFO for Fortune 500 companies such as Foot Locker and Yankee Candle. His decision to quit that world and return to school was huge.
“I don’t think anyone goes into ministry willingly,” Hartman said. “You’re caught up in a life. I was caught up in a life with kids, a wife, a house, two dogs. … You’re in that life.”
The previous 10 years though, Hartman had noticed a shift — he started feeling and noticing different things about life.
At 1:15 a.m. on May 5, 2019, he was unable to sleep and took a walk, ending up under a streetlamp.
“It’s so vivid. I remember the crack in it. [In front] of the crack was light from the streetlight and behind was darkness,” he said.
“After I walked through that, I realized I had to change, and I realized I couldn’t pray any more. I don’t think there was a more devastating moment in my life than knowing that.”
But Hartman did pray, and that prayer was answered. He worked another four months and then, with his wife’s blessing, entered divinity school the next January.
“Spend a Year with Jesus” came out of Hartman’s personal experience with the changes a year of thoughtful reflection can bring.
He decided to read the Bible instead of watching news or reading the newspaper for a year. He discovered at that year’s end, he was very different.
Ten years later, Hartman was writing a weekly blog, which led to the idea of writing a book that would help people grow by pondering their relationships with Jesus over the course of a year.
The devotional has a unique focus: It’s based on thinking about a biblical concept for a week and recording changes in thoughts and beliefs over that time.
Each weekly entry features one page with an inspirational photo, the topic and a Bible reference. The facing page includes the text of the verse, one paragraph pertaining to it, and three related questions.
Weekly devotional exercise
The idea is to read the devotion at the beginning of the week and record the answers to the questions in a journal. Then, after pondering the concept for six days, write the answers to those same questions again. Another recommendation is to periodically (once a month or once a quarter) write down personal feelings and thoughts about Jesus.
“The goal is to take a person from Point A to being stronger in his or her relationship with Jesus through these images, by the verses, by the reflection and by answering the questions,” Hartman said.
“I don’t want to be the person that dictates what God is saying. I want to be that person who facilitates what God is saying. As I was writing it, I was always thinking about snowflakes, and that no two are the same. Why would we expect each person to be the same? It’s about encouraging each person to have his or her own personal encounter with Jesus.”
The 2021 edition is available now. Though the pandemic has been a major concern during the past year, Hartman said the new edition does not deal with COVID-19 concerns directly.
“There will be huge problems in front of you all the time,” Hartman said. “Being Christian doesn’t mean that life got easy. Being Christian means that God will help you with difficult times in life. Jesus is permanent; life is temporary. … I tend to focus on what counts — this relationship with Jesus.”
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