In many ways, a key challenge for Christians is finding opportunities to bring into focus the God who is already deeply involved in our lives. But we don’t just want to just leave it at that. We don’t want simply to be reminded that he is there, doing stuff. We want as well to be able to focus in on the part of the picture that shows us what it is that he is doing and how he is doing it. This is because we know that, for reasons that confuse and sometimes confound us, he has asked us to partner with him.
We are variously called his ‘priests’, his ‘ambassadors’ and his ‘co-workers’. In Old Testament jargon we are ‘made in his image’. We are ministers of the new covenant, salt and light in the communities that he has placed us, agents of reconciliation. It all seems extremely unlikely. We wonder, “Shouldn’t it be different? Isn’t there a more effective way to reconcile the world to God and to bring all things under Christ?” And then we remember that in the only story of salvation that we can depend on, the one that begins in Genesis and whose ending is explored in Revelation, things are messy. Things do take longer than they ‘should’:
- They did spend forty years instead of less than fourteen days in the wilderness.
- They did have to be provided with a series of judges before the first king was enthroned.
- They did end up being transported into Babylon.
They were sent out into the world to make disciples, but at every turn and in every episode, the thing to take notice of, is that people of faith are living for God and making him known in the world. For reasons best known to him, God seems to choose to work through us.
From the beginning, the Lord has chosen to work with us and through us in the context of families. There is something about families, it seems, that suits his purposes. I’m beginning to realise that this something is the same thing that brings me frustration, provokes my anger, challenges my patience, fuels my resentment, arouses my sympathy, stretches my imagination, questions my contribution, undermines my willingness. I’m beginning to appreciate that it is living on top of one another that, by grace, develops my commitment to love and my capacity to serve, by exposing my need to find myself in Christ.
If we are to try to give ourselves fully to this work, then we might think of establishing a discipline to help us commit to the way God seems to have arranged things, and to the sustained effort that it demands from us.
- We might periodically choose to do something simply to remind ourselves that our individual stories are interwoven with those of others, especially of other family members.
- We will need to remember that the Lord expects us to be finding ways to contribute to those lives as channels of his grace and blessing.
- We must not forget to give family members the opportunity to be thankful to the Lord for his grace to them and to encourage them to grow in faith, hope and love.
One way we can be reminded of these things is at birthdays. Every time a birthday is celebrated, why not get every member of the family to do something as part of making the birthday cake: to weigh an ingredient, stir a mixture, add a decoration, light a candle, or make some other contribution. As you do so, use the time as a reminder of the part each family member has been called to play in the character development and faith formation of the person whose birthday they are celebrating.
The same action could also serve as an expression of a renewed commitment to keep doing what they can to encourage and to support their brother, sister, mother, father, daughter, nephew ... to grow in godliness.
Andy Stirrup teaches children’s ministry and family ministry at Youthworks College.
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