How to develop faithfulness in others
Where are the faithful ones? Do you ever ask that question as a leader? It has been a cry in my heart at different stages in my life. I am currently so blessed to be surrounded by friends and co-workers who are faithful to God and to us but at times people who we spend lots of time investing in did not respond with faithfulness and it has been painful!
Tonight I was teaching the second year students in our School of Ministry about Family on Mission. To finish with I asked them a question that I have been wondering about:
How can we encourage the development of faithfulness in our children or those we are leading?
As parents we long for our children to develop a relationship with God and to be faithful to Him, but we also desire them to remain in relationship with us - to be faithful to us - to obey our requests and to honour our boundaries and preferences as a demonstration of their love for us.
When those we are leading are being unfaithful to God, to their responsibilities and to our relationship with them, it hurts! When a student consistently refuses to turn up on time, to complete the lesson preparation, to keep the rule about not hanging out alone in private with a member of the opposite sex, it can be frustrating and at times worrying. When a member of the worship group comes to practice when they feel like it and turns up equally as often for their turn on the washing-up rota, it can be an exasperating demonstration of their lack of commitment. When a child is found to have been lying about his actions we can feel let down, disappointed and fearful about their future. Why aren’t they keeping the rules? Why can’t they commit? Is it pure selfishness? Are the roots deeper? Will they ever learn?
At the core we are selfish people and we are unfaithful people. From the garden of Eden mankind has demonstrated its ability to think first about self and secondly about others. Faithfulness has always been a rare, prized treasure.
Whenever I don’t know what I should do, I try to think, ‘what does God do?’. As I think about how I can encourage faithfulness in my children and those I lead, the question becomes: how does God develop faithfulness in us?
Following my discussion with the students in the School of Ministry, here are four ways that God develops faithfulness in us and what we can learn from His example as we lead and parent:
1. He tests our faithfulness in order to grow it.
Of course, faithfulness is connected to faith. We are faithful to God when we have faith in Him. In other words, when we trust Him and have full confidence in Him, we are faithful to Him.
As leaders and parents we can encourage faithfulness in our children and disciples by encouraging them in their trials and not trying to rescue them out of them. When one of my children or junior leaders is suffering, I have to sometimes sit on my hands but use my feet. What do I mean by that? I need to go and be with them and walk alongside them but resist the temptation to release them from their responsibility and ownership when they need to sort things out. I need to push them towards God and His Word to encourage their faith rather than telling them all the answers. (Questions can be a great tool!) It can be much more helpful to hand them a Bible verse to look up, which if they do, they will take ownership for themselves, than to quote the verse at them for example.
God sometimes tests our faith by giving us greater responsibilities. Will I trust Him to provide the strength I need to get through today on limited sleep? Do I believe He will still provide financially now that the needs cover not just our household but a growing ministry?
As leaders and parents we can ‘test the faithfulness’ of our children and disciples by giving them small tasks and seeing how they respond. Will we walk them through it and help them complete the task? Are they willing to humble themselves to do something they see of little current value to themselves like washing up or helping to babysit? Would you trust someone to lead out a ministry who you couldn’t trust to turn up on time to get a room ready or who you wouldn't trust with your kids? Then why would God?
Giving children and those we are leading responsibilities they wouldn’t personally choose quickly tests and challenges their faithfulness and reveals their hearts and character. It quickly reveals the level of humility a person has and how easy they will be to work with and invest in. Even when they find it difficult, small increasing responsibilities are a great way to encourage others to be faithful and embrace humility. As they struggle against their own pride and perceptions about what really counts in life, they will hopefully increasingly choose to embrace those difficulties and see things from God’s point of view, whilst growing in faithfulness.
2. He remains faithful through the fire.
One of the most powerful ways that God has developed faithfulness in my life has been through trials and afflictions, for there His faithfulness has been so clearly demonstrated. When I think of the times that God felt closest, it was in those moments of despair as a teenager, of grief at losing a child, during difficult health trials and relationship breakdowns. When I was at the end, He was only at the beginning of pouring out over and over again His truth, love and faithfulness. Not once did He wander off and leave me. Not once did He stop being faithful.
When our children and those we are leading are suffering we have a great opportunity to sow faithfulness into their lives. When they know that we are faithful to them and they can trust us, they will also grow in faithfulness and trust to us and God. (Note that like a seed, it may take time to germinate, sprout and grow!) As I look at the leaders we lead who are the most faithful towards us and who trust us most to speak into their lives, they are all people we have spent time with in some of their hardest moments. Those we have sat with in suffering and struggle. When I look at the people I choose to follow and who I am faithful to, they are people who have stood alongside me in my hard times and demonstrated faithfulness to me when I haven’t had much to give back to the relationship.
3. He reaches out in vulnerable love towards us despite being constantly pushed away to one side by us.
How do we respond to our children and those we lead when they are in sin? Do we become frustrated and judgmental and withdraw from them or do we lean in and demonstrate our commitment to love them no matter what?
When one of our students found themselves in a big mess because of bad past choices, and continued to make bad choices for a while, we had a choice whether or not to keep leaning in to her and being faithful in loving her or asking her to move on. Whilst she still wanted that love, we chose to be faithful and lean in. (When she moved away from our clear boundaries for a while, we did have to take action and ask her to move on.) When she came back and repented and wanted another chance, we tested her faithfulness whilst remaining faithful to her. We leaned in despite knowing we might be rejected, taken advantage of or used. We loved vulnerably and continued to declare our love and faithfulness to her. Although it hurt we didn’t rescue her out of the difficult consequences of her decisions, but we did stand by her in them and push her towards God’s help. Slowly, after many months and much intercession and tears we have begun to see her own faithfulness to God and us begin to flourish again.
4. He lovingly 'staff and rods' us.
God never stops loving us. Never. Because of His love for us He corrects us when we move away from His path of truth. But He is so gentle, kind, patient, joyful and loving in His correction of us. He stands with us in that correction and desires to walk out that discipline with us. His Holy Spirit is always reminding us of the right way to go and quietly prompting us to keep moving forward and leaning into Him.
When we understand that the Holy Spirit is not a bully, but a kind, patient Encourager and Advocate, we can trust God to help us in our trials and in making the sacrifices we need to make to grow in faithfulness. But we will only develop faithfulness to Him if we can trust His correction and discipline and embrace it. Or rather, embrace Him in the midst of it.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks in our conscience and tells us the right way to go or challenges our selfishness. Other times we are to endure hardship as discipline. (Hebrews 12:7) Hebrews 12:11 tells us that discipline will create in us a harvest of righteousness (that is, right relationship with Him) and peace. In other words, we will learn to be faithful to Him and have the peace that accompanies.
Amazingly, even Jesus learned and demonstrated obedience from the things He suffered. He demonstrated His faithfulness through believing God in the midst of trials.
Just as Hebrews 12 tells us that God’s discipline proves that we are God’s children, bringing loving correction and discipline or ‘challenge’ as we often call it, will help our children to grow in faithfulness, even as they struggle with the challenges we have brought to them. One of the things I am learning is that children and others I am leading need time to respond to the challenges I bring them. Initial defensiveness does not necessarily mean that they aren’t listening - it more often than not means that they listened and didn’t like what they heard (perhaps even because I didn't come across as lovingly as I should have)! We then often need to pray that they will be able to humble themselves enough to be able to accept the challenge, but also pray that we will have the grace, patience and love to humbly and graciously help them as they struggle forward with the challenge.
I love it when those we are leading who have been struggling finally begin to overcome! I love to hear them say ‘I hated it when you said that to me, but now I understand why and am walking the right way!’ I get so excited to hear those words not because they give me personal satisfaction but because they are growing and overcoming! Just recognizing that they have struggled and overcome, and that that discipline was hard but worth it, means that they will be much more open to listening to correction and embracing discipline the next time! It means they are growing in faithfulness!
In summary then, four ways we can develop faithfulness in others are:
1. Test their faithfulness by giving them increasing responsibilities, starting with small, seemingly unimportant tasks.
2. Stand with them in afflictions
3. Be faithful to them even when they are being unfaithful.
4. Correct them faithfully and lovingly to encourage them to grow in faith.
Lord, You are so, so faithful and we are so unfaithful! Thank you for the amazing example you show us of faithfulness. Teach us to be faithful to You so that we may guide others into faithfulness to You too. May your beautiful bride be a faithful bride! Amen.
Loving reading 'From Eternity to Here' by Frank Viola this week. Wow, all that God designed for His bride and how much He loves her. Some great revelations in this one!
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