Pastoral Perspectives

Christian Growth in God’s Children

When our eldest son was much younger, his days were filled with adventure and exploration. Taking him to the zoo or the bird park was such a delight as you could see how captivated he was by all the sights and sounds around him. There would be times when he would run ahead bravely, and we would have to caution him to be careful. Other times he would hide shyly behind our legs, and we would have to encourage him to come out. We really delighted in every little thing he did!

However, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Between the ages of 2-4 years, he suffered from severe asthmatic attacks almost constantly and so we would have to take turns watching him through the night. When he got older, we caught him lying or arguing and fighting with his siblings and we would have to quickly intervene.

Later, when it came to deciding on serious matters such as enrolling him to which kindergarten, primary school, enrichment classes etc even though we tried to involve him in the decision process, ultimately we knew it would be the parents making the final decision. Naturally, he would have to rely on the wisdom and experience of his parents to guide him in his burgeoning young life. As his parents, we are after all, uniquely gifted by God with the authority and responsibly to look after him. On his part he would have to trust and follow us, as we try to choose what is best for him.

Now as a teenager, while his ability to recognize more situations, to evaluate and take the initiative to decide things on his own has greatly increased, he still needs support from time to time. So while our roles have diminished slightly, we still keep a watchful eye over him. My job as a guardian and decision maker has gradually become more of that of a mentor and guide, helping him to evaluate how he feels and listening to him as he asserts his independence more and more.

Still, there are many times when I wanted to (and still often do so unconsciously!) intervene and take things into my hands. But time and again I have had to remind myself to leave him to figure things out by himself. It is a growing process for both of us. Even now as a 13-year-old, I see how much he has matured and yet often the child-like nature still resurfaces! Still, it’s hard to imagine that the little boy who once relied on me to do everything for him, who held his arms out to me to carry him whenever he was tired, is now almost my height and learning to find his own way in life.

Then again, my job as parent is far from over as I still have 2 more younger children who require my attention too!

Christian Growth

Recently it dawned on me that a child’s growth process is like that of a Christian’s. To young Christians, their lives may have changed completely and it might feel like they reverted back to being a young child once more. They would be learning a new Christian language (all those theological terms that seem so alien!), learning how to pray or learning how to behave in similar situations but now as a servant of Christ. It has also been described that values, priorities, and sense of self may have changed so much that it is as if you are a completely new person again. It is no wonder that we also refer to the conversion process as ‘being born again!’  

Like a child going to the bird park for the first time, all these new experiences can be exciting and perhaps a bit overwhelming to the young Christian, sometimes wanting to hide, other times running ahead boldly. Perhaps God the Father delights in all His children as much as young parents delight in their children!

Paul also mentioned his growth as a Christian in his letter to the Corinthians in chapter 13, verses11-12:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

He knew that he would one day see clearer and clearer who he really would be in Christ, the ultimate goal of a Christian’s growth.

Just as the verse describes, when I was a child, I could make out who I was in Christ, but only dimly. I remember reading the Bible, through the Spirit’s eyes, feeling so excited because I was just learning new things all the time. While I could sort of understand the words, I couldn’t quite make out the actual meaning.

Thus, bible study with mature believers was a boon to me in my youthful Christians days. I could quiz them to no end about the text and they would as a group discuss what it meant. Like elder siblings, they shared the knowledge they had learnt from others. More importantly, through the sharing of their lives, I learnt what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in my daily life. Though I could not quite see or understand everything yet, I learnt to trust their explanations and heed their advice. 

Yet more powerful than all these were the unspoken modeling of God-glorifying behaviour. The church member, who despite their busyness, faithfully attends prayer meetings so that they can pray for others, distributing food packets to the poor in the neighbourhood for years, the sister who, despite her cancer was still joyfully sharing the gospel to all she encountered daily. These wordless testimonies have been powerful demonstrations of the incarnate nature of God’s faithfulness shown through His children.

However, like growing children, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.

In the best of cases, Christians are simply learning how to navigate this new life. For some new believers, they encounter hard ships right from their conversion. There are those who have been kicked out of their homes by unbelieving family members and have had to navigate this new life without their former community. After all, the Christian’s life is not exempt from hardship. The Lord Jesus said so Himself as He taught His disciples to take up their cross to follow Him.

My first encounter of strife within the church was also not a pleasant one. While it is natural like brothers and sisters in real life, we would disagree and fight occasionally, the fact that this still happens within the church was initially very discouraging to me. The helplessness one feels when a member or friend leaves the church is also deeply frustrating. In times like this I am grateful that the experience is not unique to us modern day Christians.

Paul himself encountered such strife within the church and wrote about it to the Corinthian church.

1 Corinthians 3:2-4

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, I follow Paul,” and another, I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

A wise Christian once told me that a church is ‘after all, but a gathering of sinners. It is fair that the Christian life has its own share of growing pains. But it is through the gifts of fellowship and prayer that we can receive some comfort through such difficult periods.

It is often said that you can choose your friends but not your family. Yet in the Christian setting, it often feels like as though God has pre-determined our spiritual family too.

Each a Family of God

Just as the church is a gathering handpicked by God, I also believe that all families are a gathering that God has prepared even before the members were born. However, more so within a Christian household, fathers and mothers are also leaders and teachers of God’s word. In addition to our roles of feeding, clothing, and bringing the children up in the world, parents teach them the ways of God so that they too may choose to follow Him one day. Like a mini church, we need to make prayer and worship a normal part of our daily lives.

We raise our children through different stages, and we can do the same for their spiritual growth too. We hold our children’s hands as they first encounter God through stories and parables. Then we gently teach them to pray to the Father and lead them to their first encounter with His Son. We caution them to be mindful of God’s truths as they run ahead. We introduce them to other members of God’s family, encourage them in service and pray with them when they struggle and fall. We are there to offer grace too. Lastly, we try our best to demonstrate silently through our own faithful acts how important and valuable this living relationship with Jesus is. Through these we hope that the Spirit will also open their hearts to salvation in Christ.

The reality is that children are not ours alone. Though parents may birth them, they are truly a gift from God, for a time. And raising them properly and in a godly manner is an intentional act. It does not happen by accident or just merely through church attendance!

Unsurprisingly, the Bible is not silent on this topic.

Proverbs 22:6 says

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Deut 6:4-7,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

So important is this task that we are called to do this all throughout the day to our children, impressing upon them the importance that they would live in a righteous manner.

Reflecting on my own parenting, I am far from perfect. Out of anger and on many occasions, I have gone beyond intervening and punished my son unfairly without the intention to correct but to break him. Because of this, there have been many times when my heart was filled with doubt if I could ever be a model of Christ. Yet God has never failed me.

It has taken me a long time to recognize this behaviour in my life, correcting my attitude and modelling Christ-like behaviour. I am still quick to lose my temper from time to time, but I also make it a point to be quick to apologize for what I have done. I am also learning to be open about my shortcomings with him and invite his thoughts and listen to his feelings. By the grace of God, he has not thrown up bitter towards me and we enjoy a much closer relationship now.

Before we left for Japan as I was talking to him, I somewhat apprehensively asked whether he would like to follow Jesus. To my delight he answered firmly, ‘Yes’. I then prayed with him and welcomed him into his new life as a follower of Jesus. 5 years later, it was my privilege to have a role in his baptism ceremony in July this year. As he stood before the church and gave his testimony of how he firmly believed in and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, I felt such immense pride. I now eagerly anticipate the day when all my children are saved!

Whether we are parents or children, we are all members of God’s family. We are all really children of our Heavenly Father and our growth process doesn’t come to an end though our roles change with time as we lead the next generation in faith.

Similar to the long process of discipleship and Christian growth, there are no shortcuts when it comes to intentionally laying a foundation within our households where the truth of Christ is key to how we raise our children.

It takes effort, a lot of focus and involves making a lot of mistakes. It is a lot of hard work and can be overwhelming. Sometimes it involves a lot of sacrifices as well. However, it is often through these struggles, shared as a family, that Christ’s grace and power is manifested and our faith and dependence on God most clearly demonstrated.

Children do not need perfect parents who cater to their every need. What they really need are imperfect parents who make mistakes, who hurt and struggle too. These are parents who can then point them to their perfect Heavenly Father.

Like Paul, we look forward to the day when we and our children both look into the mirror and see clearly Christ’s image reflecting back at us!

Greetings to True Way

As it is the end of the year and I have once again been gifted to write the final Perspective of the year, I greet all of you richly in the name of Jesus Christ!

We thank True Way for all of your gifts, prayers and blessings to us here in Japan. We pray that our combined efforts will reap a rich reward for Christians both in Singapore, Japan and all over the world!

Let me end with the words of Philippians 4 as a blessing for the New Year.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen!