This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.
Genesis 22:1-2 – Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
Situation #1 – Bob recently agreed to be an elder in his Church. The elders meet monthly for a 60-90 minute meeting. But 4 times a year, they meet for half a day on Saturday. The next Saturday meeting falls on the same day as one of his daughter’s softball games. Bob is one of 3 volunteer coaches. There is no Church “crisis” to be dealt with, but the Church is facing tremendous opportunity on several fronts. Typically in these half-day Saturday meetings, as the elders prayerfully discuss the course of the Church, God moves, bringing fresh insight and discernment that impacts the life of the Church. Should Bob go to the elders meeting or the softball game?
Situation #2 – When he was a teenager, God put it in Tony’s heart that he should become a missionary doctor as a way to help reach unreached people groups in Southeast Asia. In college, he met Alicia. They fell in love and married after college. While Tony was in med school they had their first child and became pregnant with a second. After med-school, Tony was offered a fellowship in a prestigious infectious disease program. One thing led to another, and Tony’s plans to become a missionary doctor were delayed time and time again. The children were now 7 and 9. One night at Church, Tony’s heart was again stirred by a visiting speaker; a missionary from Southeast Asia. As Tony and Alicia discussed this, the main hurdle was the children. They were both exceptionally bright and were flourishing in one of the best private schools in the city. Tony and Alicia were concerned that the children could not reach their full potential on the mission field. What should Tony and Alicia do?
Who wouldn’t want the best for their children, right? But many Christians in America today are obsessed with positioning their children for success (as the culture around them defines it) to the point that it is actually detrimental. Their motives may be good, but these parents may actually be buffering their children from the very life experience, and perhaps the adversity, that God would use to shape their soul and character, preparing them for their calling in life.
Consider Abraham, when God told him to take his son and offer him as a sacrifice to God. Can you imagine what Abraham was thinking and feeling? How could this be a good thing?
Harry Conn, in the book, Four Trojan Horses (pp. 17-18), makes reference to a study of the people listed in Marquis’ Who’s Who of America*. According to Conn, the study of those listed in “Who’s Who” showed that, “it took 25,000 laboring families to produce one child that would be listed in Who’s Who.” That number dropped to 10,000 families of skilled craftsmen to produce one Who’s Who. Among Baptist ministers the ratio was 6,000 in 1; Presbyterian ministers, 5,000 to 1; lawyers, 5,000 to 1; dentists, 2,500 to 1. Episcopal priests had the best ratio; 1,200 to 1.
Oh. Except there was one more category. “For every seven Christian missionary families that sailed from the shores of the United States ….one of their children would be listed in Who’s Who!”
Harry Conn’s reference makes perfect sense on two levels. First, children who are raised in a missionary family often have the opportunity to see a very direct relationship between their need and God’s provision, in ways that are often not seen in affluent first-world cultures. Daily dependence on God is vital, and learning to be resourceful is essential. That will shape the soul of a child.
Second, it makes sense on a spiritual level. As Harry Conn comments, “Surely this is a good example of Hebrews 6:10, ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love.’ The person with a right motive of the heart can depend upon the literal fulfillment of Matthew 10:29 and Hebrews 6:10.”
You want successful children? Perhaps the best you can do for them is take them to the mission field! While I have not lived my life on the mission field in a third world country, I have lived my life as a missionary in a first-world culture. Though very different in some ways, it was very similar in others. And in some ways perhaps even more difficult because of the affluence that surrounded us. There were many times my children would ask, “Dad can I do (fill in the blank, this or that?)” And many times my response was, “Well, let’s see if God provides.”
I am here to say that sometimes God did not provide, and sometimes in hindsight, we understood why. But at other times, God provided in amazing ways, and we frequently saw the visible evidence of the invisible hand of God. And that makes an indelible impression on children!
1) The best way for children to learn that nothing is more important than following God is to see it modeled in your life. If Bob is faithful to his role as a volunteer coach, his daughter might well interpret that to mean that her father really loves and values her by being interested in what interests her. And if the only time Bob missed a game was to keep his appointment with God and the other elders, then his daughter might well think, I am really important to dad, but this is even more important. And isn’t that how we want our children to view the world? Children who view themselves as the center of everything will have a very rough time in a world that does not view them the same way.
2) When you are obedient to God, He will take care of your children. Abraham’s obedience was vital to God’s great redemptive story. It confirmed that Isaac was God’s son, even more than he was Abraham’s son, and that he was the son of the promise. His obedience also gave us one the greatest illustrations in all of the Bible regarding God’s provision and the substitutionary death of Christ. If Tony and Alicia say no to God’s calling in their life, they are also saying they know better than God what is best for their children.
* Founded in 1899 by Albert Nelson Marquis as an American counterpoint to the UK-oriented publication of the same name. Albert Marquis wrote that the book’s objective was to “chronicle the lives of individuals whose achievements and contributions to society make them subjects of widespread reference, interest, and inquiry”.