Sage Advice from Seasoned Parents

My friends, recently we hosted a parenting panel forum at our church.  We invited our elders and their wives to share advice on several aspects of parenting.

Each of them has raised their children to know and follow Christ and were eager to share their experiences.

Listen in on the conversation:

Relationships are not efficient

I recently returned from a missions trip to Hamburg, Germany.  What a marvelous trip; it is remarkable (though not surprising) to witness first hand and participate in what God is doing through the hamburgprojekt, a young church there.  With a brother from my church we were able to mentor, train and visit with courageous brothers and sisters.  We hope to write more on that later, but there was one element that deserves mention ahead of those details: relational inefficiency.

Recently a pastor friend of mine remarked in my presence that as much as we would like to believe otherwise, relationships are just not efficient.  If you think about a favorite American past time, the “to do list,” versus relationships, we can see just how they differ.  To do list’s:

  • Are strictly controlled
  • Don’t surprise us
  • Don’t act in ways that are destructive
  • Don’t need to grow in holiness
  • Go away when we want them to
  • Don’t say stupid things
  • Can be delayed
  • Can be shortened
  • Take only as long as we want
  • Aren’t shy or guarded
  • Don’t yell at us…

You get the idea.  I guess it is no surprise why they are so popular to us.  All of this is probably clear, huh?  Relationships aren’t like to-do lists at all.  “Of course,” you say, “that stuff’s obvious.”

I think I underestimated how much I often put people in the same category as a to do list.  I wouldn’t really know that I had done so until I…well, left the country for another culture.  Now, no one that I know would suggest that Germans are inefficient!  Yet, one thing that became clear to us what that in their culture (perhaps it is just with Americans) they take a long time to “be known.”  They are cautious and guarded (yet polite and fun).  When it comes to intimacy, they take their time, or, are “inefficient.”

I think we get that real rich relationships take time to build.  But I wonder in our culture if we have mostly lost the ability and desire to make the investments.  Facebook demands nothing, Twitter demands less.  Email reveals little, text messages less.  I was listening to Christian radio the other day and the host was encouraging folks that if they wanted prayer to text, Tweet or Facebook ’em!  At what point did we think calling into a radio station asking for prayer was even a good idea?!  Do we do that because we knew that if we called a good friend he’d make us actually communicate in ways that would put us off our calendars?

It has taken four years for me to build meaningful trust and communication with my Christian siblings in Germany.  At times it was tiring (surprise).  But, what struck me on our most recent trip (last week) was the remarkable fruit and joy that came as a result of our investments in each other.  I never imagined that I’d be able to share such profound and impacting life and ministry with men and women from a totally different culture!  I believe it was due to the commitment to relational inefficiency that is present in the German culture.  There is a sweetness to the slowness.  There is a profound pay-out for the systematic investments in relationships over a long period of time.  Talk about delayed gratification!

In our culture, most often, we are serial-relaters.  We have efficient relationships, that is, ones that don’t cramp our style and that get us where we want to go.  I am glad that not every culture is as inane as ours.  I don’t intend this to be a German-grass-is-greener post as if one culture rises above all others.  But, clearly, ours is not a culture that places tremendous value on systematic and long-term relationships for their own sake.  How many Facebook friends do you have?

Why can we not endure our lives?

The longer I live and serve God’s people, the more I witness how we have come to love formulas and quick fixes for life’s issues.  We probably aren’t any different from people of other ages.  Yet, for us, the good life or good quality of life is often defined in terms of things fixed or avoided, like pain alleviated or problems solved.  The quicker the pace of life, the more intense the experience or the busier the calendar, the more we demand to be relieved from it all.  We elevate comfort and ease to god-like status and order our lives around attaining them.  This is a sad state.

We have become a culture – even a Christian culture – of traders and bargain-hunters.  This is most clearly seen in relationships.  Here’s what I mean:

  • We have traded in plenty for paucity.

Now, we are satisfied with hundreds of Facebook friends and hours of wasted time keeping up with them rather than a couple of close and personal friendships.

  • We have traded in intimacy for efficiency.

Now, drive-by relational investments, “doing the minimum,” has replaced the time consuming and rigorous interactions necessary for meaningful relationships.

  • We have traded in personal letters for status updates.

Forget the fact that we may have no more time than the 140 characters of a tweet; I wonder how many of our hands could hold a pen for more than 5 minutes.

We think we are making improvements.  Perhaps we are simply improving our ability to be shallow and short-tempered.  One casualty in all of this, perhaps the greatest one, is our ability to live the long haul.  Mostly gone is the ethic of standing firm in the mundane or day-to-day.  Now, the “mundane” (which is not a by-word) is considered monotonous (which is).

Perhaps our culture lacks no greater virtue than the ability and vision to endure.  This is as true inside the church as it is outside.  We have grown in our expectation that life should be manageable, workable, or controllable.  But at the same time, we have put down the very thing that would allow us to see those things: endurance.  The real gravity involved in considering this topic isn’t primarily pragmatic: if we don’t endure then we’ll all be like middle-aged children. No, the Bible tells us that endurance is yoked to hope and our inheritance in Christ.  We cannot have the latter without the former. That’s what makes this so urgent.

Jesus says, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13).  He has a different view of life than we have adopted by and large; a different view than we are teaching our children at home, at church and at school.  Jesus was certainly not alone in speaking of the present in long-haul terms.  I mentioned our penchant for “formula” living.  Paul presents a formula that speaks to the topic we’ll be focusing on.  His formula is as shocking as it is short:

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4)

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4)

Jesus and Paul (and others) viewed life in terms of scope – a lifetime.  They saw it as a race that has no end but heaven itself.

Like the other general letters of the New Testament (like, for example, James, 1 Peter and Revelation), Hebrews speaks to long haul living.  There, like in Romans, the author says long haul living is a life of endurance.  Most prominently in Hebrews 10:36.  There it reads:

“For you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised”

Most believers work hard to endure life’s circumstances.  Most only endure because they happen to rather than purpose to.  Perhaps it would help to consider endurance, however, as a result rather than a goal.  We will see from Hebrews that endurance has two primary elements to it: faith and patience.  The author of Hebrews argues in his book that to focus on faith and patience is the means to endure.

First, faith (see Hebrews 4:2, 11:6).  Faith is of course a prominent feature of Hebrews, especially in chapter 11.  But, perhaps a more significant occurrence is far earlier in the book: 3:16-19, 4:2

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled?  Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was he provoked for forty years?  Was it not those whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

For good news came to us just as to them but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who believed enter that rest…

The Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land had they simply believed God and followed Moses.  God had pledged Himself to the nation to care for them – He proved His power in the plagues and the exodus.  They were unfaithful and they did not believe God.  And, as a result, they did not endure the process of inheriting what had been promised to them.

  • They were, after all, going to be required to do the walking, fighting and settling of the land.

We have seen the effects of unbelief, what, then, is faith?  We look to Hebrews 11:1,6:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…Believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him

Faith recognizes that something has been done for us but we haven’t seen it yet.  It assumes the truthfulness of the promises God has made.  It looks at the finished work of Jesus Christ that is ours who are in Him.  Faith is thoughtfully considering the gospel of God and its effectsHebrews exalts Christ and His work as our priest, prophet and king.  Our task is to drink all of that in:

  • It is saying “Yes” to what God promises without actually seeing what He promises.
  • It is saying “Yes” to God’s control of all things even though the interpretation of those things might escape us.

The effect of faith is to anchor our endurance outside of our circumstances.  Faith reels in the anchor and pulls us closer to heaven.

Secondly, patience (see Hebrews 6:12).  We know of patience from prominent places in the Bible.  Perhaps most notably as a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in Galatians 5:22.  Or as love’s first character trait in 1 Corinthians 13:4.   Patience is only considered in light of testing.  It only makes sense in that light.  So, whereas someone might think faith ignores circumstances in favor of other things, patience doesn’t.  Patience looks at the burdens of life but considers the temporary nature of those burdens.  When it is united to faith, patience thinks on this life relative to eternity and says, with Paul:

This slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Patience is internal fortitude in the face life’s real challenges knowing they will end.  While faith reels in the anchor drawing us nearer to heaven, patience bears the work of the reeling knowing that one day the anchor will be in hand and heaven will be our experience.

We know this to be true from life experience.  Let me illustrate.  Child-bearing.  Now, I’ve been through that – as a spectator – several times.  As a junior participant (my wife thought that was an apt description), there was always a point in the process where I needed to endure.  If for no other reason (but importantly), she needed me to stay engaged with her so she could endure.  At that moment, I was confronted with the need to be faithful and patient.

  • Faith in God that my wife’s body could actually do what He designed it to do: deliver this baby and safeguarding her life.
  • Patience that though it sometimes took hours to happen, it would eventually be complete.

The combination of these two made me joyfully endure the process to see the wonderful results.  What would the opposite have looked like?

  • Without faith in God in the ways I mentioned, the whole process would be horrific for me: always wondering at what point the baby’s heart was going to stop beating or something awful was going to happen to my wife.
  • Without patience, I would have been no help to her.  I could potentially have been mean to her or the physicians or put out because I “had” to be with her when I’d rather be doing something else (like she wouldn’t also!).

I illustrate in this way so you can see what failures in either faith or patience can do to endurance.  Does the Bible really discuss endurance in these terms?  Are faith and patience united to create endurance as I have suggested?  Hebrews 6:12, prays:

“…you may not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”

We see here that faith + patience = inheritance.  Or, are we saw from Hebrews 10:36:

“For you have need of endurance so that when you done the will of God you may receive what is promised”

In that case, faith + patience = endurance.  Endurance leads to inheritance.  Perhaps our lives lack no greater virtue than the ability and vision to endure.  And, as we fail to endure, we fail to have the hope won for us in Jesus Christ.  But, endurance is a result not a goal.  We may pray to endure, but we should back our prayers up a bit.

First, we must pray that God will grow our faith in His character and promises and the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ.  We must ask Him to remind us of the ways that He has acted for our good and blessing.  We must have our view of who God is and what He has done for us deepened and strengthened.  The more we see Him, the more we trust Him.  The more we trust in Him, the more patience will yield the result of endurance.

Secondly, we must ask God for an increase in patience.  This is simply asking Him for more of what He has already given us in His Spirit.  Believers in Christ aren’t at zero balance in patience.  They simply need refilling.  But, I know what you’ll say since it’s what I say, “I’m afraid to pray for patience!”

  • To pray for patience is to ask God to help us to grow in seeing our experience as transient and temporary though we may be grieved by it at times.

Endurance will be ours as faith and patience are ours.  God is not stingy about giving us these gifts.  We must simply be diligent to ask Him for them and trust that we will receive them when we need them.