Last week, we discussed our initial purpose in life: being planned for and living for God’s pleasure. Recognizing this first purpose, we understand ourselves as being made out of His love to then love Him in return. We realize that we find ultimate fulfillment and a joy of our own when we live for Him, and when we do anything and everything unconditionally… just to see Him smile (you can hear the song, can’t you? 🙂 ).
Its amazing to me that God did not stop there, that He was not selfish in this love cycle He created. Instead, He knew that we would want others like us to be around in our lives just like He has others like Him around (the rest of the Trinity) and thus, He created more than one human (it is not good for man to be alone). Enter the first FAMILY, or grouping of connected humans, and our second major purpose in life: being formed for God’s family.
Apparently I am on a song kick, because this past week as I was reflecting on this concept of God’s family, all I could think of was that lovely pop 80’s style song : “WE ARE FAMILY… I got all my sisters with me!” 🙂 I even sang it so much that my 3 year old started singing it too and now it is one of his favorites (sarcastic yay). But seriously, the point of this song (other than to be catchy and make money) was to express the positivity of having family, being a part of a family, and knowing that you have all of your family members with you for fun and support. This is what God wanted for us when He initially created the family. However, as we can see from the original family, blood relatives are not always the best (I am pretty sure Abel felt that way), and along with our souls being damaged and in need of restoration with the entrance of sin, even the family is in need of redemption and thus, God responded with HIS family… or the creation of our spiritual family through the church.
We Are Family
What do you think of when you hear the word family? There are so many meanings in today’s world, and depending on your own experience with family, your thoughts and feelings could be positive or negative or typically, a nice mixture of both. And while there are definite negatives associated with the concept of family, as noted above, those are a result of our sinful, selfish, fallen condition and not what God originally intended. Instead, He meant for the family experience to be positive, and that is why He has given us a second family, our spiritual family comprised of other Christians, in which we can choose to live out the positive aspects of family life through His redemptive guidance and power. When we join God’s spiritual family, these are the benefits we can expect:
- Living Life Together: One of the greatest things about family, both biological and spiritual, is that it is comprised of more than one person, which means you do not have to go through life alone. You have other people to live life together with, which involves people to share in the ups and downs and provide support, encouragement, and entertainment. With our biological families though, we do not get to choose who we are related to, and so we may still experience loneliness or isolation due to unhealthy dynamics, death, geographical distance, and/or trauma. This is why I love having a spiritual family available to live life with as well. While we technically do not get to choose our “relatives” here either, there are some options as to finding Christian brothers and sisters that we connect with and a church family that we enjoy being a part of. It has been awesome to experience that no matter where I live or where I travel, I can always find extended family members (other Christians) to be “together with” and journey through life. Especially since we currently live hours away from our biological family, it is our spiritual church family that we spend the majority of our time with, share many holidays with, and endure life’s challenges and joys together. If you are feeling lonely and your biological family is either far away or unavailable, I highly encourage you to look for support from your spiritual family: is there a local bible study forming where you could get to know people? What about a local service organization where you could serve with others? If there is a church or missions organization nearby, there is never a time where you would have to be alone. Growing up as an only child, this is music to my ears (LOL)!
- Cultivating Character Building Community: In addition to having an extended family to share life with, our spiritual family exists with a definitive purpose that many of our biological families lack (although some biological families have this as well): they exist to cultivate our character to become more like Christ. Family from this perspective is not just about keeping a name going or extending a bloodline, but it is about building each other up, holding each other accountable, encouraging each other to find freedom from our sinful past and move towards the freeing future Christ has for us, and helping each other achieve the things God has set before us. When we live life together, we get the chance to do all of the above as well as confess to each other the things we are struggling with, proclaim the things we are excited about, observe each other as we walk in Christ, and share our convictions and constructive criticisms to encourage growth and insight. It is not always comfortable, but being in a spiritual family that cultivates your character is always beneficial.
- Experiencing Opportunities for Growth through Challenges: While we can have fun living life together and cultivating our characters, being in a spiritual family, just like in our biological family, is not always roses and butterflies. People will still say and do hurtful things, and we will have to determine how we will respond. Fortunately, because with our spiritual family (and sometimes in our biological family as well) we have Christ at the center, we can look at any challenges and conflicts we face as opportunities to live out His love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with each other. Using Matthew 18 and the steps outlined for resolving conflicts within the church and our spiritual family, this means we can lovingly consider, confess, confront, and continue to live life together.
While God does want us to be able to experience all of these benefits of being a part of His spiritual family, I am not naive to think that every church experience is like this. I have been involved with church families that are not beneficial, could be described as toxic, and have lost sight of Christ in the midst of everything else. Because our spiritual family is still comprised of sinful humans, we still have negative experiences amidst the positive. However, if each of us intentionally seeks to live out the benefits noted above; If I seek to live life with you, cultivate our characters to become more like Christ, and utilize the challenges we may face as opportunities for growth, then we can move towards the positive, redemptive experience Christ has in store for us as spiritual brothers and sisters. If your current spiritual family is not doing these things and you are not experiencing the benefits as listed above, then it may be time to prayerfully consider another church family that has similar goals and intents to live out the purpose and plan God has for His family.
How does this apply to me?
This whole concept of family, both biological and spiritual, is under attack. With a variety of enemies (selfishness, pride, infidelity, revenge, manipulation, etc.), our fallen human condition is often on autopilot to destroy and divide instead of build up and unify. We can see it in our biological families as divorce and death and drama divide us, and these same divisive forces exist in our churches. I personally come from a biological family rampant with division and drama, even to the point of many of my family members no longer talking to each other and being cut off. I am fortunate to have grown up in a strong spiritual family and have always been a part of my local church, but even here I have experienced some of my deepest hurts and faced some of my most significant challenges.
And this is why I am so glad that Rick ends this section’s reading with a focus on the importance of protecting our family. I have been so convicted about this lately in my own heart and life. I know how to love God and be in relationship with Him on my own (being an only child really helped me with that), but living out this love with a family (both biological and spiritual) is totally different. Honestly, it is often a huge struggle for me. While I truly love loving others (it is one of my main passions), there are times when staying home sounds so much better, especially since any event outside of the home (or even in my home for that matter) has morphed since having kids. Not only is it difficult to make it to things, but then expending energy and effort while attending seems even more of a stretch.
However, as I have pondered and prayed, God has really laid it on my heart that there are specific things I can do to purposefully protect and prosper my spiritual family, which I believe starts with my marriage and then extends to my church family. These things include, but are not limited to, what I am going to refer to as the 5 Ps (to help my memory):
- Praying: I need to be purposefully and actively praying for the family in my life (both biological and spiritual). For me, this means my husband, my children, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership at my church (elders and lead ministers and families). And while any type of prayer is helpful, I have recently felt lead to pray for each of them by name… to truly battle on their behalf through the power of prayer. While there are many others things I pray for on a regular basis, including loved ones and missions and circumstances, etc., I want to make sure that my family is included, even when they are not currently requesting or seemingly “in-need” of prayer.
- Prioritizing: In addition to praying for my family, I know I need to put first things first. In this case, it means making time for my home life first (and ensuring this is in order), then my church family second, and then the other miscellaneous things (like pre-school, art class, work, etc.). When I set aside time in my day or week to attend to these people first, it really makes all the difference for them and for me because they have no doubts of how important to me they are and I do not have to be “stressed” because I know that I have already taken care of what is most important. For me, this means getting up earlier or staying up later than everyone else to get my things completed (quiet time, exercise, shower etc) so that I can make others my priority when they are around.
- Participating: When I do prioritize and set aside the time for my family, I want to go beyond just checking that box and actually make sure there is quality time, not just a quantity of time. I love that Rick describes this with the term “focused attention” (p.127) or ensuring that you are present in the moment and attending to the person/people that are with you. For me, this means intentionally putting away my phone or computer and interacting with my children or husband during our times together so that I can focus my attention on them without the distractions of text messages or email or Facebook. It also means not worrying so much about taking pictures of every moment, but actually living those moments (as my 3 year old so often reminds me).
- Promoting: This is a big one for me as it means being intentional about focusing on and pointing out the positives of my family. This does not imply that negatives do not exist or that they should not be dealt with, but I find so often that if I choose to dwell on these negative reminders of reality, I miss out on all of the great things taking place as well. For me, I have to be intentional about focusing on and promoting the positives, both to myself as well as when I am speaking to others. A great example of this can be found when considering my church family: do I seek to promote the positives of what they are doing well? Or do I have a tendency to be super critical and only focus on the negatives and things they could do better? To be honest, I have been more on the critical side lately, and it has all been small, insignificant things that I have been judging. When I really step back and think about my church family, there are so many positives that I would much rather promote (the way we love, the way we reach out to the community, the way we invite in and love the broken).
- Persevering: I am a firm believer that once you are a part of a family (whether biological or spiritual), you are always a part of that family (although this does not mean that you never change churches; it just means that you are always a child of God at each church you attend). And this means you may at times feel stuck with certain people or in certain places, but I encourage you (and me) to persevere; to remain steadfast in our endeavors to pray, prioritize, participate, and promote with our families. For me, this means applying the 5 Ps in my marriage even when times get rough, staying and seeking to love my children even when they are disobedient and frustrating, and sticking with my church family through the great times and the difficult times (church crisis, current construction, etc.). As promised (Romans 5:3-5), I have found that this persevering results in good things… both for me and for my family!
Our Weekly Challenge:
So when it comes to our family, the challenge for this week is actually two-fold (I know… the posting was late and now there are 2 challenges, but bear with me, they are worth it!!):
- Examine how you are currently living out Purpose #2: Being Formed for God’s Family in regards to your spiritual family.
How would you describe your current understanding of family? Is it only biological, only spiritual, or a mixture of both? How does this description match up with God’s family as described above? Do you currently belong to a church family and why or why not? If the answer is no, this is where I encourage you to start. While it is easy to find a listing of local churches on the internet, I have found that word-of-mouth is really the best way to find a church. The past two church families we have been a part of were recommended by friends, so this may be a good place for you to start as well. Or maybe you just noticed the sign or live within walking distance, and both of those can work too. No matter how it happens, to start reaping the benefits noted above, the first step is to find and get involved with your local spiritual family.
- Once you are actively involved in your spiritual family, examine the quality of your interactions.
Are you proactively, purposefully protecting the family that you have? Are you present and participating? Take a look back over the 5 Ps noted above and determine if there is something(s) that resonates with you that you could start doing today. It may be for your husband, for your pastor and his wife, for the people in your small group, or even the lady that always sits in the second seat in the second row at second service on Sunday 🙂 Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will purposefully act to protect and promote the family God has given us… that we may be able to sing (at the top of our lungs if you would like) that… “We are FAMILY… I got all my brothers and sisters with me! ” ♥