There comes a golden moment when you as a parent can step back and bask in the joy of having birthed and raised a helpful human being. When was that moment was for us? When Alexis began, on her own accord, without any prompting on our part, to voluntarily take care of her little brother Austin.
When Austin cried and didn’t stop, I would mutter to myself, as many fathers do, “Why is Austin crying?” I, of course, didn’t expect any rational answer back from this self-imposed quiz. Babies can’t tell us why they are crying. Some mothers have the ability to discern between the cries of hunger from the cries of poo from the cries of wee. I don’t possess that gift. So it came as a genuine surprise when once I muttered out loud, “Why is Austin crying?” and a clear, sharp voice of a three year old girl responded, “Austin’s crying because he’s poo-pooed in his nappy. We have to change him.” Uh…May be I should check his nappy. Thanks, 3 year old mum! And before I could get to the nappy drawer, Alexis’ little feet were scurrying across the carpet in our bedroom, they arrived at the chest of drawers where we keep nappies, and she pulled out all the right equipement: a cloth for him to lay on, wet baby wipes, and a fresh new nappy – the right one, too, not her size, but his size. What a delight to watch her grow up, and by that I mean, what a delight to see she volunteered to help.
The next golden moment in parenting came when we were on our way to church one day. Two babies strapped in their individual baby seats, Mama driving, and Papa going over his notes to preach on a weekend service. Inevitably there would be some noise from the back seats which would demand my attention. “Papa, can I have a drink?” is the usual one from Alexis. High-pitched squeaks of hunger from Austin meant he could no longer tolerate the 40 minute drive to church without milk. Well, one day there was silence…no noise. This gave me great peace for a while until I perturbed myself with the question, “Why is it unusually quiet back there?” Expecting to find a need I’d have to meet, I turned around to view the back seats, only to find baby Alexis feeding baby Austin with a milk bottle. I turned around to ask my wife, “Can she do that?” Now I think, “Is that even legal?” I mean, she was perfectly strapped in and all, but she was only 3 years old. But what I meant at the time was, “Can a 3 year old be so helpful?” She patiently held the baby milk bottle over Austin until he nearly finished the content. “Can a 3 year old be so responsible without being asked?” When your child proves that she can, it is an unforgettable moment. You thank God He made you a parent!
What are the landmarks in human maturity? The first is when a person makes the quantum leap from unhelpful to helpful, from needy to meeting their own needs. I mentioned children can be helpful by feeding themselves, then helping around the house with anything that we ask. The second landmark comes when a person makes the leap from helping as they are told to helping without being told, from waiting to be given a job to anticipating a need and meeting it without any monitoring. This is a skill set that employers, bosses, and pastors all over the world are ready to pay for! It is the attitude of a mature and helpful person. This is basically the goal of parenting, of educating, of making disciples, of raising leaders. Do this right, and you as a leader have done your job.
Family is the model for church. The lessons of family parallel those of church. When a person becomes Christian, they have not arrived; rather they are snatched out of darkness into marvelous light, and like a tender plant begin a process of growth (that’s why it’s called a ‘new birth’). The only way we can tell a Christian is truly growing is to watch how helpful they become.
The first step to maturity is they begin to feed themselves. Given that 80% of Christians do not regularly read their Bibles, and many leaders admit to not having read their entire Bible even once, the state of the church at large is quite needy and infantile. Too many come to church wishing to be fed spiritually once a week, and when they become disgruntled they leave church with the ubiquitous parting remark, “I don’t feel I’m being fed any more.” If they were to go somewhere else and maintain the same unhelpful attitude, they would not grow much there either. In many ways pastors have to deal with perennial babies in the family. Without question, the first step towards natural and spiritual maturity is to start feeding yourself without supervision.
The second step is to help when you’re told. We should only ask a mature person at this level once. A member of the family should want to help with family chores out of love and relationship. Being told more than once shows we don’t love other people. If they don’t think your instruction is important, they don’t think you’re important. Immediate attention to an instruction will determine future success and will be required later in life, so they should learn it now.
The third and most exciting step is to be helpful without having to be told. They see or hear a need, and they volunteer. The Bible offers a couple of illustrations of this step to greatness. The first one is found in Proverbs.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
In other words, the ant knows what to do without having to be guided by a leader. The moral of the story is not that the ant has no leader, because leadership is a theme throughout the God’s Word. The moral is that despite the fact that the ant swarms around in masses without a leader, it still knows how to prepare for winter and how to work hard at harvest time, as if it had a leader to organize it into teams. We are more blessed to have leaders who organize us, so why do we not do what is right? Why do we not prepare for the future? Why do we not work together as a team? Proverbs’ answer to us is very simple: because we are sluggards. We are lazy. It’s always easier at first to not work as a team. People bring their problems. But teamwork is God’s design for effective ministry. It’s always easier to think about now and not about the future. But God wants us to think ahead without having to badgered. The ant’s ability to think ahead, anticipate a coming need, and prepare for that need in teams, is lifted up by God as a great example to follow!
The other illustration of greatness comes from the story of David’s three mighty men. Did you ever stop to ask what made them so great? It wasn’t merely that they were good in battle, lots of people were in those days. God tells us something special about them in the story where David is running away from Saul and he and his men are in hiding in the Cave of Adullam. Across the plains they could see David’s hometown of Bethlehem, but it was under the control of Israel’s enemy the Philistines. We pick up the story from there.
2 Samuel 23:15-17 (ESV)
15 And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”
16 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD
17 and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.
Did you ever think that getting a cup of water could make you “great”? Not just great temporarily. This was Bible great. So great we’re still reading about it 3000 years later, and we will still be reading about it in eternity. What made these might men so mighty?
It was the fact that the musing of the king prompted them to action. They didn’t sit around and debate whether it was really a wise military move to break through enemy lines just for David to quench his thirst. They could have seriously died. I’m sure there were alternatives, the equivalent of our vending machines in some other town. But David longed for a drink from the well of Bethlehem, and that was sufficient to make the might men move!
When we awaken out of the tendency to be lazy, to wait for somebody else to do a job we know should be done, we have caught the attention of God Himself. I bet you this will make you think twice next time your pastor or boss asks for a glass of water or cup of coffee! It should, but that’s not the only application. When you see a problem in church, it ought to prompt you to be more helpful. Problems are opportunities for you to show your greatness. The problems you see are a clue to what you are assigned to solve. You will only be known for two things in life: the problems you solve and the problems you create. Don’t whine, cry or gossip about your family’s internal problems! Learn to be part of the solution. If you offer to help before you have to be told, that marks a great day in your maturity!
The job of the leader is to protect, provide and lead. The job of the pastor is to pray, teach and raise leaders. The job of the child is to help. The job of Christians is to become increasingly helpful. If everyone does their job, the organization (church or business) grows healthy and strong. If you don’t know my job as the pastor of a church, you might expect me to do something I’m not supposed to do. If you don’t know your job own description, you might be busy but end up doing the wrong assignment. When people don’t know their job or have the wrong expectation of other people’s jobs, the organization is crippled, momentum is stifled, and growth is hindered.
Let’s end these thoughts on the family. Many parents wonder why their teenagers are not more helpful, lounge around in bed, are glued to their computer games, or don’t seem motivated to contribute to the family. Most of the time, the parents must look in the mirror to discover the cause. Parents pampered their children all their life and did everything for them. I know several teenagers who have never touched a washing machine or don’t know how to use an iron. Sometimes, this unhelpful behavior was fostered naturally because when they tried to help as children, they made a mess, so you reprimanded them for trying to helpful, or you stepped in to take charge, take control, take responsibility. You must resist this natural urge to reprimand them when their mistake is not rebellious, and you must resist this natural urge to clean up after your children. If they make a mess, they should be told to clean it up under your supervision. If they do a poor job of cleaning up, do not reprimand them. Compliment them for how helpful they are to you. It seems that at least once a day I say to my wife, “Alexis is such a helpful girl!” (You can later clean things up properly when they are gone for a nap or bedtime.) Since children have an innate desire to please their parents and be helpful, we should not quench that instinct. We should give them every opportunity to help. Then they will grow up to be helpful toddlers, then helpful children, helpful teenagers and helpful Christians.