Back in Dec. of 2014, I decided to invade social media with a devotional project I’ve been working on for the last four or five years. This project originated as our older kids began to filter out of our home; my wife and I wanted to maintain regular contact and demonstrate consistent love…but at the same time sought to maintain a respectful distance, allowing our nest-leavers to learn how to do life as best they could with minimal interference.
To maintain that contact, I decided to focus every day on how the Christian faith they soaked in “while they were among us at the dinner table” is not only demonstrably true but also readily applicable to every area of adult life – health, finance, relationships, commitments, sexuality, etc. Since this was probably going to need to be more of a persistent water-dripping-on-rock kind of thing, I committed to sending all of them a simple text message every day throughout the year.
Initially, my text messages were brief. Before long, though, these daily interactions got longer, morphing from “a little Scripture” to something highlighting what theologians call “The Communion of the Saints,” those faithful Christians who have gone ahead of us (Hebrews 12:1). As time has gone by and social media has become the lingua franca of anyone under the age of 30, it seemed the time was ripe for moving these daily devotions further outward. “Surely if I send them the same message via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they’ll read it somewhere…right?”
Neither my wife nor I are much interested in a faith that confines itself to Sunday mornings, nor do I desire that any of our kids embrace God on a part-time basis (Matthew 15:8). Jesus Himself tells us that it would be better for us to be “hot” or “cold” rather than lukewarm (Revelation 3:15) and gives us the memorable word picture of spitting us out of His mouth to make the point. Jesus really is Who He says He Is (John 6:35; 8:12; 8:58; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1) or He is not. Whatever you do, kids, please don’t throw down your palm branches on Sunday (John 12:13) only to shout “Crucify!” when His work in your life becomes unsettling (Luke 23:21). Choose this day Whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Your daily life is a demonstration of your professed faith (Philippians 1:27) or a refutation of it (1 John 2:19), with lots of messy gray in the middle (Leviticus 18:5; Isaiah 48:9). Go for clarity with how you live your life.
The truth is, many of the hot-button questions that dog our culture these days have, in fact, already been answered, and not only by Scripture but by the faithful and fearless testimony of countless others who have been marginalized, enriched, elevated, despised, honored, rejected, lauded and even killed by their fellow image-bearers. We typically need only to be reminded of what others have already worked out on our behalf.
As of now, I’ve been doing this “for my kids” for years. What I have begun to realize, though, is that in the process of reaching out to my kids in this way, hoping to continue to have some small influence in their lives, I was probably the one who was reaping the most reward. Spending just a small amount of time every day meditating on the common grace and visible manifestations of God’s presence across time, world events and in the lives of very specific, very real people was yielding all kinds of unplanned changes in my own heart. Here are just a few:
- I was drawing closer to God. At first, I imagined that I was “doing for others,” but over time it moved into a duality of personal devotion and desire to give daily glory to God. I became less concerned with “what the kids might like to read” – though I still care about that, of course – and more focused on episodes and events across time that displayed God’s eternal attributes and glory.
- My own problems were put in perspective – and stayed there. As an overfed, pampered American suburbanite, my “suffering” tends to fall into the categories of someone getting my order wrong at the drive-through, or my neighbor putting his trash out on the curb ahead of the official “4:00 p.m. the day before” as mandated by the City of Columbia. Like most people, I have in fact gone through pain-filled episodes of genuine suffering, but once the waves of pain subside, I tend to grouse about the mundane, the superficial and the trivial. A daily reminder of what it really looks like to suffer and work for the glory of God helps me put the One-Too-Few-Chicken McNuggets Ordeal in its proper category.
- I was growing in my desire to serve others. God can perform crazy miracles all by Himself if He wants to, but far more often he tends to use His people – the church – to effect His purposes. When I consider what amazing things God has done throughout history with some very unimpressive and often deeply-conflicted sinners, it gives me strength to believe that His multiplying work continues into the present day, and that it might continue through me. And I want that.
- Online friendships began moving over into the real world. It’s kind of cool to have people ask me about something they saw on Facebook or Twitter that has nothing to do with vacations, desserts, consumerism run amok or funny kitten photos. Several conversations have been struck up as a result of going public with my devotional/timeline project, and my life has been greatly enriched by the perspectives that other people bring to events that catch my eye.
- I was spending more time each week studying Scripture; “What on Earth inspired this guy or that woman to do that?!” When someone like Isaac Jogues (see Aug. 2 post) tells his Roman Catholic superiors that he can’t wait to go back to minister to the very same people who deprived him of several fingertips on both hands, this quite naturally piques my interest. Invariably, some of the most amazing things ever accomplished were undertaken because A) a person (or persons) had been reading a certain passage in the Bible, and B) they believed it (Hebrews 11).
- My understanding of the critical importance of “small, insignificant” Kingdom workers increased. Nothing escapes God’s attention; I can bring glory to Him by picking up trash when no one else is around to witness “my selfless act.” Furthermore, God can use the smallest, most insignificant portions of my life to bless someone else. My own conversion, for example, was borne partially out of a random, throwaway remark someone else had made decades earlier. There are no “small” lives for those who have fully surrendered to Christ.
- The peace of Christ found far more purchase in my heart. I long ago memorized the verse, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6) but years of dwelling on what God has done and is doing yet today has forever cemented the deeper meaning of this verse into my daily activity. Just like everyone else, I have my own impressive collection of fears, doubts and failings, but I no longer regularly engage with them at the level of intensity as I did before. Confidence in Christ – not self – is exactly what I needed to free myself from the tyranny of my desires.
I don’t spend much time wondering if this multi-year campaign has been “successful” or not; I have the unwavering confidence that the Word of God never returns void; when we quote Scripture to one another and tie it to living a daily life of faithfulness and commitment to flourishing, God tells us that He is definitely doing something with our efforts. Salvation? (Romans 10:17) Judgment? (Romans 2:16) Softening or hardening of the heart? (Exodus 4:21; Jeremiah 18:12; Jonah 3:6-10) Who knows but God? (Romans 11:33) Who is equal to such tasks? (2 Corinthians 2:16)
The church, the body of Christ, has two basic purposes for its existence: worship and witness. All other functions point to and should aid in fulfilling these two purposes. A church that is not worshipping or is not working at worshipping with greater humility and joy has lost the empowering purpose of its existence. Worship increases our power, for in worship we rightly place ourselves before God, and so we empty ourselves more and more in unbroken praise. Empowerment is not the purpose but the by-product of praise. We become who we are meant to be, and who we are meant to be is a glorious community of glorious individuals reflecting the image of God to the world.
Scott W. Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory
Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”