But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
This is the crowning privilege that God gives to his faithful: though their lives are short and appear almost insignificant, they may still contribute to the future well-being of the people of God by their godly and prayerful parenting and grandparenting. (ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 103:18)
I thought about writing this post a few weeks ago as I put my older daughter to sleep. As I prayed by her bed, I thought about how privileged she is to be growing up within a a Christian home. Every night before she sleeps, her daddy reads to her from her book of choice (more often than not Dr. Seuss) and then the Bible. Sometimes she “reads” on her own and we hear things like “God’s people”, “Jesus went back to the home” (from, we think, the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection?), and “Abraham and Sarah” as she flips through the pages of her children’s Bible. Our daughters are growing up with the community of believers at GCC and will not ever remember a time in life before going to church. I thought about my own life as a second-generation Christian on my dad’s side and the legacy I have on my mom’s side of a missionary great-grandfather. Christianity in Jeff’s family goes back even farther than mine. I was filled with gratitude for this blessing and then thought of my friends who have not been given this same grace as us, but instead have the grace of being called to God as the first Christians in their families.
In some ways, we are all first-generation Christians. None of us are children of God by virtue of being born into a Christian family, and all of us need to be given new life by the Spirit and grasp hold of his promises by faith. My daughters are not guaranteed standing before God because of us, and we pray often for them to come to know God and for him to grant them new life. Those of us who grew up going to church have a unique set of struggles as church kids, and even those struggles aren’t the same across the board as many who grew up in church-going families weren’t really growing up in joyful, thriving, Christian homes. The family I grew up in is far from perfect and I often share that one reason I am so sure that God is real is that I have seen the gospel work and transform our relationships. All this to say, we all need the gospel and we all need Jesus and to be walking with him as individuals. Still, enough of my friends have been, by God’s grace, called into his family from non-Christian backgrounds for me to know that they face a unique set of trials, discouragements, and burdens.
So…to these dear friends,
I have been thinking of and wanted to encourage those of you who may be discouraged or burdened standing in the place that God has called you in as the first, and maybe as of now, only Christians in your family. In many ways, I do not feel I am in the position to encourage you– I have not been in your place, bearing the same burdens you bear. But at the same time, I feel I am in a unique place to say something, because in faith I believe that there will be future generations in your family to come who are not unlike myself– receiving blessing because of the work of God in generations past. And since it doesn’t really make sense to say that I’m thanking you in advance on their behalf, I would rather say that it isn’t too far off to think that the thankfulness that I am expressing now for you will be of a similar kind as the gratitude they will have in future years for God’s work in your life.
I thank God for your testimony of courage in your life as he gave you strength to walk away from what you knew, sometimes in the face of great opposition, to take hold of the promise that those who come to him will find that what they have left behind pales in comparison to the greatness of knowing him. (Mark 10:29-31) Thank you for sharing your testimonies with me. Thank you for being real about how it’s hard, about how you may fail in your family, but how you continue to hope for him to work in your life and in theirs. I praise God for your faith and perseverance by which I am reminded that he indeed is mighty to save and strong to keep us walking with him.
I know that sometimes, it’s tough or you feel a sense of loss and sadness when you hang out with loving Christian families. It makes sense that you would feel like that, because we live in a broken world and families were created by God in order to display his love and worth. But please know that God didn’t just think of you and your family after everyone else’s. And please, please don’t think it’s because you were less worthy of the gospel– as all of us are equally unworthy and needy. He has had plans for your life since before you were born and had you in mind, in love, choosing you before the foundations of the world to be his own. (Eph. 1:3-6) Don’t forget the way he has shown grace to you and modeled his love to you even through those who did not know him and even before you heard the gospel (Acts 14:17) and know that you were not out of his sight in the years before you knew him. Though those times may have been dark, and he is able to redeem all things– he will not waste even the worst of times.
I am so thankful for your examples of humility in learning to walk in obedience to God and sharing with me how you are continually being shaped and challenged to be conformed to his image. We all need to be continually renewed and changed in our thinking to be more and more like Christ, even those of us who grew up in church. But I understand from your sharing that there is a unique difficulty in having been explicitly taught at home to value and do things that are in direct opposition to the things you now have come to love and value. Don’t lose heart as you work to break certain patterns of thinking that you grew up with before knowing Christ regarding education, family, marriage, children, life, etc. It is a testimony of his Spirit at work in you. You are not only growing in maturity and Christlikeness in a way that pleases the Lord, but will be a blessing for the generations to come. I remember in China, a girl telling me that she believed in God as a child, but once she spoke about it with her mom, was immediately told there was no God. She came to know Jesus in college but shared with me the struggle she has because even though she now believes that God created the world, she has to continually work to fight against the patterns of thought that were drilled into her for the first 18 or so years of her life. I thank God that though there were times of great doubt in my life, believing and knowing God’s presence never felt unnatural to me because of how my parents talked about him to me since I was a child. By his grace, your children will be testing the things you teach and model for them against the word of God as they mature in the faith. They will find things in your parenting inconsistent with the way that God is toward them since he is the only perfect Father and things in your life that require learning and repentance. But they will, because of your obedience to the Lord, find it less difficult than you may be finding it right now to unlearn and relearn and by his grace, as you continue to walk with him, you will be able to say with Paul, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things.” (Phil 4:9a ESV)
Also, don’t lose hope in what he is able to do in your family even now. I have had the privilege not only to see God’s saving work evident moving down the generations, but up one as I clearly remember hearing when my grandmother, and later, grandfather, started going to church. Even within my own family, I have seen God work his redemption in all our relationships and he is still in the process of doing that now. Remember that your task isn’t to be perfect or to be Jesus, but to live out your faith in a way that all may see your progress in the faith. (1 Tim. 4:15-16) He is the one who is perfect and he is the one who does the saving work. Please do not feel like you are being repetitive or burdensome when asking again for prayers for your family members. It is our privilege as your brothers and sisters to pray with you and bear your burdens as our own. Let us pray with you for your family as often as they are on your heart and let us pray for you as you live out the testimony of Christ before them.
A few years ago, when sharing the gospel in Asia, I often was asked whether or not my parents were Christians. When I said yes, the person would often say that it is much easier then for me to believe. At this point, I’d often tell them that my dad was in fact the first believer in his family and that every Christian family has had a first at some point. Someone had to be the first in their family to make that decision to step away from what they knew and take hold of the promises of eternal life and a relationship with God through Christ. Don’t lose heart, dear ones. God has called you to be that “first,” and what he has called you to, there will be grace for. God sees and knows, he has planned this, he has brought you to himself, and he will be with you until the end.
Privileged and thankful to be walking with you,
P.S. This is printed out and framed in our bedroom; it may be an encouragement to you: 9 Reasons You Can Face Anything.