Family is a gift. This is where we most deeply share our joy, sorrows, hopes, and dreams. It’s the environment in which we are nurtured and grown – by God’s grace, family is where you can always come back to no matter what else happens. But family is more than a gift – it’s a responsibility.
It’s in our families that our understanding of safety, security, and priority are shaped. Either implicitly or explicitly the family environment we grow up in and then subsequently create will have generational effects on everything from the way we handle money down to the very way we see God. The psalmist gets at this idea in Psalm 127:3-4: “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, children, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. They are arrows. The straightness of the arrow is determined by the skill of the warrior.”
He begins with stating the gift principle – that our children are not intrusions on freedom or tax deductions, but instead a reward. A gift. But then he moves onto the responsibility portion. If the children are the arrows, then the parents are the warriors. This is a fearsome responsibility for parents, for an arrow might be straight, true, and sharp, but without a skilled warrior, it will not fly to the target. It’s the parents, as the warriors, who have the job of making sure they are skilled enough in order to project the arrow to their appointed destination. This is not only a great responsibility, it’s also incredibly difficult.
One of the reasons it’s so hard is because any time you have a group of people who love each other deeply, our natural inclination is to turn inward. To adopt a posture of self-protection. To isolate. And yet if these children are truly arrows, and if these parents are truly warriors, then we must create an environment in which our families are joining with the mission of God to be shot into the world for the sake of the kingdom. So how do we do that? How do we move our families to be on mission? Like so many things in life, this kind of family culture isn’t shaped by the big and grand gesture as much as it is through the small, every day opportunities in front of us. Here, then, are three simple, everyday ways to move our families toward taking hold of the mission of God:
1. Pray through the news.
We live in a time of unparalleled access to information. Social media and round the clock news gives us near immediate updates to everything that’s happening everywhere, so much so that at least for me, I sometimes feel paralyzed by the sheer volume of what’s happening at a given moment. But instead of being paralyzed by it, we can look at the news of the day as an opportunity for mission. All of the events happening around the world are an opportunity for us, and our families, to be deeply involved through prayer.
An election happening in Great Britain? It’s an opportunity for a parent to know a bit about what’s happening and then to explain it to their children and pray for God’s will to be done. A boat of refugees landing on a beach? Another opportunity for education and prayer. If we create the regular rhythm in our homes of looking outside ourselves not merely for the sake of entertainment or information, but instead to pray for the gospel to go out, we will find that our kids will start to care more and more about the rest of the world. We will also find them seeing that they have a place not only in our family, but in what God is doing around the globe in order to bring about the redemption He has long planned.
2. Practice hospitality.
Sometimes we think of hospitality in more grandiose terms than we need to. True hospitality is not, I think, having a 5 course meal and every piece of laundry folded and put away. Instead, true hospitality is inviting someone into your life. That doesn’t mean you don’t make a meal or pick up the clothes, because both of those things are very courteous things to do, but it does mean that opening your life up to someone else is not necessarily doing so in a perfect way. That’s not to say hospitality is not without personal cost.
This is difficult for me, not because I don’t like people, but because I tend to think of time as the most precious of commodities. And in practicing hospitality, we freely give that which is precious for the sake of others. Through hospitality, our families learn that all the resources we have, including our time, are not merely possessions but instead are objects of stewardship. Our families begin to learn that we are not indeed isolated but instead are part of the church, and the church is meant to push outward and grow. That outward growth requires simple everyday sacrifices… like time.
3. Be ready.
Opportunities for mission are all around us. Problem is most of our families are so over-burdened with our schedules that we scarcely have time to recognize them, much less take hold of them. So one of the simplest things we can do is to be ready. What does that look like?
It means refusing to “always run late” so you leave enough margin time for the impromptu conversation. It may mean having some cash on hand in the car in case you see someone who needs a meal, or better yet, doing what my sister-in-law does and has led others to do, which is to have “snack packs” of non-perishable food in the back of the car at all times to distribute to those in need. It means looking forward enough to live not just in the present moment, but in faith, believing that each day will hold a chance for the gospel to do its work and for your family to participate in it, and being ready.
Warriors. Arrows. Family. Mission. We have a limited amount of time to shape the priorities of our homes, and if we aren’t active in doing so, someone or something else will be. Let’s not neglect the everyday chances we have that can accumulate into something much larger.