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Your Family Story

How has growing up in your family of origin affected your interactions and relationship with God? If we delve into our family experiences, we will see that God has been with us every step of the way. Even bad things can play a good part. Knowing this helps us understand God’s design for us and see his interventions in our life.

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Today we’re continuing our series on Spiritual Renewal. We’re on part five, which is called Your Family Story. We’ve talked about, already, in this series the roles we play in our family and the themes that develop because of our early experience in the family. And today we’re going to talk about positive things that God did in our family to influence toward Him. We’re going to go looking for those things. And again, why are we doing this? To reconnect with God’s purpose for our lives and be renewed in our love for God.

Let’s start out in Colossians 1:16 and 17 – it says:

Colossians 1:16-17 – For by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth – visible and invisible – whether thrones or dominions, governments, or rulers, or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.

So all the things that God created would include you! God created you for Himself. He has plans for you. He has a purpose for you. And, if He’s called you, He has reached into your life and He’s molding you – drawing you to Himself – and preparing you for the purpose that He’s established.

Let’s read in chapter 1, verse 21:

V-21 – And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. All the things that we’ve in the past that were wrong – gone! Once we come to God, it’s a clean slate.

V-23 – If, indeed, you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast – not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. The problem is, that we do shift from the hope. Over time, God can become just another thing in our lives. This series is about shifting back to the hope – being spiritually renewed – regaining our love and zeal for God.

We might say, “I still love God.” Yes, but are you as excited about Him as you were at first? If not, this series will show you how to get it back. However, if you don’t do the things we’re talking about – that come right out of the Bible – you won’t get it back. It only works if you work it. The up side of that, of course, is, if you work it, it works really well.

Let’s look at somebody in the Bible – an example of their life as a child. There was couple who lived in ancient Israel – early in the nation’s history before there was a king. There were just judges and the priesthood. This couple’s names were Elkanah and Hannah. She was not able to have children, which, back then, was a huge insult. People were very concerned about that. And they would go to Shiloh. Now Shiloh was where the ark of the covenant was before there was a temple within Jerusalem. So they’d go to Shiloh to pray and make offerings. And Hannah told God, while she was there, that, if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to God. And God gave her a son and she name him Samuel. When Samuel was no longer an infant – perhaps four or five years old – she took him to Shiloh and presented him to Eli, the high priest. And it’s through Samuel that the lives Hannah and Eli are connected. Before that, to Eli, she was just another woman who came to pray and make offerings, and to Hannah, Eli was the high priest of God – otherwise unknown to her. Neither of them knew that this new relationship that they would have with each other was a portent for things to happen in the future.

Eli was an old man. He had two sons – Phinehas and Hophni. They were corrupt. They would steal from the offerings people gave and extort from them. Sometime after Samuel went to live with the priest, he was asleep one night and was awakened by a quiet voice calling his name. He thought it was Eli calling him in the night, so he went and woke Eli up and asked him what he wanted. And Eli told him that he didn’t speak to him. Go back to sleep. So he went back. Then he heard the voice again. He again went to Eli and said, “Did you call?” And Eli sent him, again, back to sleep. And it happened a third time. And this time Eli told him it was God, so go back and listen to what He had to say. And that night God talked to Samuel, as a child, and told him what was about to happen to Phinehas, Hophni and Eli. And, from then on, there was no doubt in his mind that he was God’s. From then on, Samuel knew that God was working with him. He became one of the greatest prophets of the Bible. He served God faithfully in a terrible, tumultuous time for Israel and was called on by God to do dangerous and fearsome things in His name.

What was the family story like for Samuel? Well, he learned that he was dedicated to God and he did his best to perform, but then, when he was older, God talked to him directly. You can read the whole amazing story in 1 Samuel, chapters 1 through 3.

How has God communicated with you? Well, I don’t know anybody that God has actually woke them up in the night talking to them, but I have met people whom God has put in the minds things to do and to understand. These days, He mostly talks to us through other people however. People are His conduits of choice in our generation.

I had two clients come into my office about the same time years ago – both teenagers. One – the older one – the girl – was lost. Her father left her when she was young. There was a lot of strife in the family, especially between her and her sibling. She didn’t have a sense of belonging or of being loved. There was a sense of emptiness, but no understanding of how to fill it. She didn’t know where to go or what to do. She wasn’t excited about school. She wasn’t excited about friends. She wasn’t excited about anything, really. She had no purpose and no concrete goals. She didn’t know that God loved her and that He had plans for her. It seemed obvious that God had not introduced Himself to this young girl yet. Can she come to God? Well, yes, of course, she can, but her time was not yet.

The younger teenager – a boy – when I told him his job in therapy was to help me get to know him, he launched immediately into an explanation of his long-range and immediate goals. He had a sense that these defined him. He wanted me to know who he was. He wanted to be useful to God and help others learn about God the way he had. He saw that a college education would be of immense value in this effort. And this boy, I believe, is a sixth grader. So he’s talking way ahead of his time. He knew that he had a mind for technology and wanted to get into a charter school that would prepare him for a college education. There was one thing holding him back – his grades and what he called his laziness. He was an anxious child. He worried about a lot of things. But he had a reason to get over being anxious and to improve his grades. And that was the hope he brought with him when he came to see me. He was willing to do anything to get back on track, like he had been when he was in elementary school. He also knew that his parents loved him very much and would do anything to help him. He wanted to make them proud, but was confused about why he was not able to rise to the occasion, like he had in the past. So, in this boy’s case, it seems that God has already introduced Himself to him – not that God’s intervention was going to solve all his problems immediately, but that God had already made a move toward this boy and he was responding. He felt the sense of connection.

What events had God caused in the life of this boy to make Himself known? Well, he was born to parents that had a relationship with God and who were good at modeling it for him. He saw how they acted and lived – not that they were perfect. You know, any example we give is going to be filled with imperfections. Both of them had problems with drugs early on in this child’s life and he saw some violence between them when he was very young. And that can explain the anxiety alone. In spite of the rough start, or perhaps because of it, what happened to him to this point in his life, caused him to be open to God. I asked him how it was that he became so interested in God, and church and evangelizing, and he told me that it just seemed right to him. He wasn’t sure why. I imagine that, as he matures, he’ll look back and understand more about the forces at work in his life.

But what about you? What forces did God exert in your young life to prepare you for the time when He would introduce Himself to you? What’s your story? How did your family of childhood help you grow closer to God or keep you away from Him? Were you parents in relationship with God? Can you remember your first thoughts or questions about God and religion? Did they take you to a church? What did you learn about God and about church from your early experiences? Did you move a lot? Did that help or hinder you? Which members of your family were more connected to God? What influence did they have? Who else had an influence on your understanding of God and His closeness or distance? What issues caused you to wonder and think about God and religion?

As a child, I moved a lot during young school age. I experienced that as difficult, as a disturbance, and it produced a measure of anxiety. By way of contrast, as an adult, I was talking to a very outgoing man once, who said his outgoing personality helped him talk to people about God. I asked him if there were factors in his past that contributed to his outgoing way. And he said that he moved around a lot as a child and learned how to get to know people. Go figure…we all react differently. But God knows just what to do to prepare us for His work. He knows just what to do to make an impression, too.

Once we leave home and our parents, most people get married and form their own family. Then we have a mate. How does your mate affect your relationship with God? I’ve talked to people whose mates dragged them along into relationship with God, or introduced them to God. Sometimes they’re dependent upon their mate for their spiritual support. If their mate wasn’t around they might not be in connection with God. In other cases, their mate can be a weight dragging them down in their relationship with God. And, in other cases yet, there is cross-pollination, stimulation, challenge. Also, we all have a unique way of connecting with God. And, if we live with someone else, we begin to understand what their way is and what’s different from ours – better or worse – strengths and weaknesses. In what way is your mate’s way of connecting with God different from yours, and what have you learned in examining the differences? What’s the story of your meeting? Can you see God’s hand in it? How about your children? As they grow older what influence do they have on you?

I was talking to a friend of mine once about need-based evangelism. He made the comment that his adult daughter was like him about evangelism, but like him on steroids for it. Her example of enthusiasm and dedication motivated him. What’s the story there for you?

I had a unique experience in college. I went to a very small college – about five hundred fifty in the student body. The campus was very nice, but it was near a rough neighborhood. Sometimes rather rough-looking people would wander onto the campus. It was unnerving for some of the girls, who had to find their way around the campus at night. We never had any incidents that I can recall. In fact, most people, I’ve learned, who look rough don’t have evil intent. In any event, the faculty was always talking to the guys to invite girls to go to Bible study or other campus activities, which we did – not for any other reason than consideration, in most cases. We were kind of like brothers and sisters, actually, when I think back about it. Besides the fact that the student body was so small, the family factor caused me to get to know upwards of five to seven hundred girls my own age while I was there. Not many people in this day and age have that opportunity. As the years passed, it’s been instructive to see what has happened to all those young people that I knew so well. Some of them, you could just see, were going to have a rough time staying married. And, in some cases, what I surmised might happen, has. I tried to choose one – because of my vast exposure to so many different kinds of girls – I tried to choose one that was going to be a keeper and who would keep me. We have a story about how that happened, too. God clearly figures into it.

If you’re married, what’s your story? Does your mate help or hinder you in your life with God? It’s not always just one way or the other. It can be a very complicated dance.

I was talking to a thirty-some-year-old woman some time back, who had had a terribly abusive childhood. She still had a lot of work to do to get past her past at that point, but she was doing it. She had a husband and a son. She had a business. I was telling her about a teen who came to see me once, who felt lost and alone. And she started to cry. She said, “I know how that feels. I would know what to say to her.” She had empathy for others, even though none was modeled for her. That’s the definition of the resilient child.

With God, even bad things that happen to us can shape us for His purpose. The young boy, whose parents had drug issues early on, was left with some baggage to deal with, but his desire to be connected with God motivated him to overcome his anxiety. Both these people – though they had a rough start – will realize that God was with them every step of the way, guiding and mold them for His plans.

Let’s look in Jeremiah 29:11 and see something that God tells us.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD – “plans for welfare and not for evil – to give you future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.

Let’s review a little bit. When we go back to our beginnings and rehearse our history with God, when we flesh out the context of our life with our past, we see God’s presence and His loving care for us all along. It puts our life in perspective so we can know why we do what we do today and that God loves us and delights in us. And when we know we’re the apple of His eye, as He says we are, then the natural response is love God back. And that would be a restored sense of our love for God, so that it becomes ever new and exciting. That’s how we spiritually renew.

Well, that’s it for today. Check back in two weeks for the sixth installment of this series on Spiritual Renewal, when we will examine our mission that God has for us and how that can renew us as well.