Let Them See!
Psalm 78 voices the strangest declaration. The people of Israel are rehearsing the wonders the Lord accomplished in the Red Sea parting, and in their sojourn through the wilderness. Yet they begin with such an unlikely resolve: "We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78:4, NLT).
One wonders immediately why anyone who wanted the next generation to embrace the God of Israel would hide His works from them. In verse 7 they long for the next generation to "set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands." Isn't this our own heart's desire, the first calling of any parent or mentor? We want the next generation to set their hope on God! In verse 8 the penny begins to drop. The dreaded alternative: "Then they will not be like their ancestors - stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God."
Uh-oh. It begins to look like passing on the faith to the next generation, and having it take root, requires some disclosure of the lessons learned, or not learned so well, in the previous generation. Think about it. How could Israel's generation of wilderness wanderers tell of the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole - the serpent which just to look at brought healing from the bites of actual serpents - without disclosing that their own faithless complaining had necessitated God's serpent-discipline in the first place? (See the story in Numbers 21.) They could hardly tell the wondrous stories of the wilderness without revealing their own panicky grumbling and idolatry. That's more than half the story - the patience, discipline, and teaching of God in the midst of their weakness and failure.
Jesus later compares himself to that serpent, sin embodied, whom just to look to meant the removal of sin and guilt. This whole scene, and Jesus' reference to it in John 3:14, would make no sense if the generation that experienced it hid from the next generation their own sorry part of the story.
To hide our failures can carve the heart out of the wonders God does in our midst.
This revelation rolled out first in the inner workings of our family, and then in all our relationships.
Most parents have faced that dreaded moment when they echo with their children some wound from their own childhood years. Some toxic words they were sure they'd never repeat . . . but then there they are. This experience locked me in a struggle between believing that God really does heal generational sin, and knowing that I would not be the first person on earth not to pass on shreds of my own characteristic weaknesses to my poor children.
Let them see!
This is the heart of God's answer to me. If I could somehow open to them both my own struggles, andalso how He was correcting and teaching me, I would be handing them tools, tools of discipleship, that would be useful in their own future battles . . . especially battles with inherited flaws.
Transparency was the word. First transparency with God, expressed in real repentance. Then transparency with the kids, expressed in genuine apology and openness about weakness. See-through struggles . . . in age appropriate terms, of course.
This God-breathed goal of transparency inspired a culture of conversation that proved rich and nourishing. We were five children together under God's Lordship, sharing what He was teaching each of us. It's what the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 is calling for: Share the words and works of God with each other - all day long!
When they left home as college students this principle of transparency became a powerful tool for our kids. The ability to apologize and admit weakness set them and other Christians apart on campus– and so did the vulnerability of talking to everyone in the same way, Christians and non-Christians alike. Looking back, one of them wrote, "When someone asked me about my summer plans I might mention that I was still praying about what God wanted me to do. Or when someone asked how my week was going I might tell them about some cool answer to prayer. The Lord helped me get less squeamish about mentioning Him in conversation with unbelievers. Often this led to them asking lots of questions about my faith."
Is what God is doing in our lives available to others?
Such vulnerable self-disclosure is a hallmark of the apostles' disciple-making. To the Thessalonians Paul says, "We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God's Good News but our own lives too" (1 Thes. 2:8). Paul admitted to "fear on the inside" (2 Cor. 7:5), as well as confusion, despair, and an internal, humbling battle over a besetting sin or ailment (2 Cor. 12:7). To the Thessalonians he passes on the comfort he himself has received from the Lord (1 Thes. 2:8). This is the principle of disciple-making, tool-sharing transparency. Paul doesn't believe his superstar qualities will make lasting followers. Rather he marvels, and displays, that God's treasures can be held and poured forth from "earthen vessels," lowly containers (2 Cor. 4:7). Ordinary people committed to transparency.
In contrast, of what does Jesus accuse the religious leaders of His day? Being "whitewashed tombs"(Mt. 23:27), aiming for exactly the opposite.
The best we have to offer others is what God is doing to us and teaching us in the real stuff of our lives. When God called Israel to obey him and walk with him in the wilderness, He said that through them He would put his power on display before the watching world. It was as evident in his discipline when they strayed as in his blessing when they obeyed. The same is true for us. We don't need to hide our weaknesses to validate the Gospel. It's not about us, it's about God's mercy in our midst.
What is God doing in your life right now? What is He teaching you? In your parenting, neighbor-ing, teaching and preaching, is your life an open book?