In this second article on the senior members of church we are going to focus in on this issue from the perspective of grandparents (and surrogate grandparents) in the church.
There is no greater privilege than seeing the next generation rise up around you. Having a sense of the legacy that God has given to you brings its own reward. As the famous saying goes, ‘No one ever said on their death bed I wish I’d spent more time at work.’ While the value of family is seen more clearly that does not mean that it comes without significant challenges for many.
The obstacles of time and location may be one thing, but harder still can be the obstacles of past issues and changing values. The former can be overcome with technology and will power, the latter require much more effort.
So here are few thoughts:
1. Don’t live in guilt and regret. Live in faith and effective prayer.
You cannot change the past. You may look back and see things that you wish you’d done differently. To be honest, it would be surprising if there was nothing that you would want to change if you could, but such things if not only futile but can become self-destructive.
Jesus makes it clear that we should not worry about tomorrow, saying, who of you by worrying can add one single day to your life or one cubit to his stature, Matthew 6:35. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ and while you cannot change the past, wallowing in it will not help to change the future. There may be things you need to say sorry for and discuss openly with your adult children to move towards the path of healing, but for many the things we hold as guilt will either be things that your children did not notice or that they do not care about today.
For example, feeling guilt because you did not effectively pass on your faith to the next generation is not going to be resolved by speaking to them about that guilt or by stagnating in it. It will be resolved by effective prayer. It is never too late to lean into God and to pray for his divine intervention in your generations. As a leader of your tribe, to use Biblical imagery, you have a spiritual authority to pray and see things change.
There is no condemnation for what is past, thought there may be consequences that have to be faced. Yet prayer is key to seeing past damage undone. God is even able to use damage from the past for his glory in the future. This is the testimony of many who had challenging childhoods. There testimony is also often that there was someone who clung on in prayer and refused to let go, in spite of the challenges that they faced in that time.
Effective prayer comes from a righteous person, one who is standing right before God. James tells us that such a prayer is powerful. When we line up our prayers with God’s desire for the next generation and line up our lives with God’s desire for our lives they are effective.
So stand on the promises that God has given you and seek to live in obedience to God’s word and the leading of his Holy Spirit. These may be general promises that are given to all in scripture such as I have never seen the righteous starve or their children beg for bread. Or they may be specific promises that God has spoken to you for your children. When speaking with parents of teenagers we encourage them that a season is not a life sentence and I give you that same encouragement now. The life sentence is the call of God on the life of your children and grandchildren.
2. Serve the next generation
It can be difficult to see the next generation making mistakes and moving far away from God’s best for their lives. Harder still when you see them making the same mistakes that you now regret, however many have found that speaking up leads to estrangement or increases stress on already strained relationships. One thing you can do is to serve the next generation.
At first this may seem counterculture to the culture of honour found in the Bible. Indeed the older members should be honoured by all. But it is an act of sacrificial service, one that Jesus demonstrated
Sadly, successive generations have become increasingly individualistic and with that has come and arrogance that is willing to turn its back on centuries of wisdom and tradition to pursue meaningless frivolity. In times past, being an older member would give you the right to speak into the lives of those younger than you. Now the younger can decide to only honour those who they think deserve it. As such the right to speak into their lives is not automatic but must be earned.
It might be that your relationships are so fractured that you hardly know where to begin. While there are deep treasures of wisdom stored up in you the arrogance of youth requires you to earn the right to share it. By silently and humbly serving the needs of their family you will get to have influence at significant moments in their journey that may otherwise be denied to you if you constantly try to speak into their lives. This can be painful and can require more sacrifice than will ever be noticed or acknowledged, but the fruit of it can be a repairing of broken relationships and a tearing down of barriers that have been built up.
3. Spotlight God
Where you have the freedom to speak and influence keep the spotlight on God. In the business of day to day family life it is easy for parents to lose perspective on the things of God’s kingdom. You can help keep the focus on God.
When your grandchildren tell you how they have passed an exam, let them hear you praise them for their hard work and God for his grace on their life. When teenagers share the challenges they are facing, asking if they have prayed about it can help them to find their way forward. Sharing a story of how God helped you through similar circumstances can help bolster their faith.
Choosing gifts for your grandchildren that will build their faith can be a great way to sow into their lives. There are loads of resources out there, but let me give a shameless plug for our series of biographies: God’s Generals for Kids that tell the stories of men and women of God who have sacrificed much to live fully for God.
If you have the ability to speak into their lives and share your wisdom, make sure your conversation is always seasonsed with salt, bringing God into the very centre of it all. Our confidence in is the Lord, our hope is found in Christ and eternal life is knowing Him. We know that he is coming back soon. Why would we keep our heavenly father out of any earthly conversations, unless it will cause division (hence why my previous point was to serve and earn the right to speak).
4. Be an encourager
Your unique perspective on life allows you to be an encourager. You have seen God’s faithfulness in many different circumstances of life. You have seen God’s hand on the decisions you have made and his grace on your mess. Use this experience to encourage and cheer on the next generation in all that they are doing.
Let them hear you speak well of them in their presence and let them hear rumours of how you speak of them in their absence.
If you see people are pushed to one side or squashed, make it your mission to build them up and encourage them into their full calling with God. You may even bring some of them alongside you to help them grow in character and calling.
While there is much more that can be said on this subject, I hope these brief principles will be of help to you as you take your important place in the lives of the next generation. We cannot do it without you. We need you and though you may not always feel like it, we are cheering you on in the role that God has given you in this season of your life.