Don’t you love it when you go into something as the “Teacher” and you come out realizing you are the one who has been “schooled”? That was my experience teaching a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds a couple of months ago…and boy am I thankful for it!
It was a fairly straight-forward Sunday School lesson: Being Part of God’s Family. I discussed with the little gaffers about how we become part of God’s family (we admit that we do and think and say wrong things and that we can’t fix ourselves; we say sorry to God and we thank Jesus for dying on the cross for those wrong things) and what it means to be part of God’s family (we are a son or daughter of God, God loves us and forgives us and delights in us, and one day we will live with Him forever.)
We started a little craft to drive home the point. I had brought branches and clay and lots of green leaf cut-outs. I told the kids we were going to make God’s Family Tree…..we would cover the branch with leaves, and then, if they believed that Jesus died for their sins, they could write their name on a leaf and attach it, and then, as they met others who were Christians, they could add their names to leaves on the tree too.
The kids were enthusiastically discussing people they knew that they could put on their trees and were busy writing their own names and sticking them on. All but one little one who stodgingly refused to do anything but stick his branch in the mud. Which would have been totally fine and understandable. Except that kid was my kid. And that made me a little…I don’t know…anxious.
“Evan, don’t you want to put your name on a leaf and put it on your tree?”
Adamant shake of the head.
“Well, do you understand we’re doing God’s Family Tree? Do you want to put your name on there?”
“OK, well, how about we just glue a few leaves on, and you can decide later, if you want to put your name on?” Clueless and overbearing Mom begins gluing leaves on his tree.
Evan begins to systematically pull leaves off the tree. Then, so that I don’t miss the point, he pulls every little twig off his branch until this is what’s left:
I get that he’s four. I get that he’s probably exerting his (strong) will more than he is trying to make any definitive statements about the state of his spiritual life. But, in the moment, it made me, his mommy, nervous. What had I missed telling him? How had he not picked the gospel up in our (often beautiful, but sometimes almost laughable) family devotions over dinner? He must have sensed the (daily) hypocrisy in his parents and that had turned him off Jesus! (You laugh, but mommy guilt know no bounds if left unchecked….)
Anyway, when my husband and I see that look in little Evan’s eyes, we have learned to pick our battles very, very carefully. So, I left him alone to finish his “tree.” But that didn’t help me shake the feeling of sadness, of anxiety, or desperation that I felt for my son to know the One who has saved his mommy and changed her life and given her purpose, meaning, and significance. My heart was heavy.
Later, when we were moving all the creations to another table, Kira, my daughter, who was helping me in the class that day, looked at Evan’s tree and wisely noted, “Well Mom, I guess Evan’s tree still has some growing to do.”
What a timely, desperately needed prompting toward the gospel! I was immediately reminded of who does the work of growing our hearts towards Jesus–Jesus himself! And I realized where my feelings of anxiety were originating: the faulty notion that it was up to me to convert Evan and to grow his “tree.” How quickly and how easily I had turned something that is only the work of God into a work of me…and I felt like I was failing miserably.
I have pondered Kira’s statement a lot over the last few months, and God has used it to remind me of the following:
1. Never give up hope that the gospel can work. For the first 23 years of my life, my tree was a twig that looked like Evan’s. I too, was a total “stick in the mud!” (Sorry…who can resist a good pun?!) And, then, one day, God fertilized it and it began to grow and bear fruit. It can be so discouraging to walk beside people for years and feel like all the seeds you are planting are falling on infertile soil. It is easy to despair and think you must be the problem. Remember that it is God’s job to open people’s eyes and bring the gospel to life in their hearts. Remain faithful to your part: pray and express your faith through word and deed as God presents opportunities.
2. The gospel only grows in us as we remain attached to the vine (John 15:5). Make sure you are “remaining in” Jesus, the source of all life and growth in our faith journeys. Read the Bible. Keep talking to God. Be with others whose lives are being touched and transformed by the gospel too.
3. Don’t be discouraged by “dry seasons.” We all have them–times when it feels like our “tree” hasn’t been watered in months and that the leaves are drying up and falling off one by one. In times like this, it is easy to get down, to start doubting yourself and to start doubting God. Remember that God is faithful, and he will not stop the good work that He has started in you (Phil. 1:6). Again, keep up your part: Read. Pray. Commune.
4. Be patient with other believers. God grows us in the gospel at different rates, no matter how long we have been Christians. He is constantly growing us, changing us and giving us deeper roots. But the what and the when and the how and how fast is different for everyone. Just because you’ve recently learned something or have been deeply convicted of something, don’t assume God has grown that in everyone else at the same time. Exhort one another and share with one another, but be gentle and patient with one another (Col. 3:12-14). No one enjoys a brow beating…even if it includes the gospel! Be gracious and loving toward your Christian brothers and sisters and ask God for the grace and the truth of the gospel to grow in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit just as you ask for that for yourself.
5. Encourage each other as we are used by God to plant seeds and to water “trees” so that people may grow in the gospel. Conversion and growth is God’s responsibility, but He has also given us as believers the incredible privilege of walking alongside others and sharing the hope we have because of Christ. Some of us are called to a season of sharing primarily with our children, some of us preach it from the pulpit every Sunday, some of us are preaching it to friends and coworkers. As my husband often says, wherever God has called believers, he has put at least one or two people with them who need to witness the gospel. Pray for your Christian brothers and sisters…that they would have hearts that are burdened to share the hope they have, that they would have open doors and opportunities to plant the seeds of the gospel, and that they would be bold and courageous to walk through the doors God opens to speak of the astonishing grace God provided at the cross through Jesus.
Evan’s twig has long since hit the green bin, but the lessons of that day continue to grow and bear fruit. How shocking, since that’s exactly what God promises in His Word to do:
Col. 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints — 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.