Wednesday, April 19, 2017

memorials turned into ministry: sharing your story



In my previous post, I discussed the memorial stones God directed Joshua to have the Israelites arrange (Joshua 4) after He pushed back the waters of the Jordan River so that they could cross over into the Promised Land on dry land. My first reading of the story made me think about the importance of reminding ourselves of what God has done in order to encourage us as we move forward into new territory.

As I was reading over it again today, I was struck by all the other people who benefit from our memorials of God's intervention in our lives and realized that memorials are not for ourselves, alone. When we see how God has been at work in our lives, we have a responsibility to share our story with others. When God performed a miracle that allowed the Israelites to cross over the Jordan River, His purpose was not only to get them across the river; it was to reveal Himself to several different groups of people.

When we begin to consider who we can share our story with, we can first think about who is already in our circles of influence. In Joshua 4:2-3, God commands Joshua to "take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe" to set up the memorial stones. Each tribe would have one representative for the tribe, or extended family, to help remember what God had done. One of the most obvious, but sometimes most difficult, places to start with sharing our testimony is our own immediate and extended family.

Among the twelve delegates were men from the two and a half tribes that had already been given their inheritance and were coming to help the remaining tribes as they prepared for battle. A second group of people we can share our story with includes our spiritual mentors who are walking our journey with us, encouraging us, teaching us, praying with us, and fighting our battles alongside us. These are the people who were there to witness the struggles you faced and who were praying and cheering you on as you fought to take the inheritance the Lord promised to you. Though their encouragement is an important part of what spurs us on in difficulty, we can bless them in turn by sharing what the Lord has done in our lives and invite them to celebrate with us. I often find that when God does something exciting and obvious in my life, I almost immediately want to call my parents to tell them. They know me well and know my struggles, so they can appreciate the significance of the specific things God does in my life. I recently called to my dad to share with him something specific that I had prayed about and God had answered quickly and clearly. He asked me to keep him updated on what God is doing and said that it is an encouragement to him to see God working in my life. I hadn't thought about how this would be a blessing to him, not just a joy for me.

Probably the most explicitly stated group of people who were to be the beneficiaries of the memorial stones were future generations of Israelites. In Joshua 4:5-7, Joshua says that when their children ask about significance of the memorial stones, the Israelites who took part in crossing over the Jordan River were to tell them about the miracle God performed. We can share our stories with our literal children but also with future generations in general, as well as our spiritual sons and daughters. In our culture and often in our churches, different generations are very segregated. This chapter in the Bible speaks to the importance of taking the time to tell believers who are spiritually younger than we are about God's goodness in our lives. I believe in the importance of intentionally building relationships with people who belong to other generations in our churches and communities. Our testimony can be more effective if we are already in relationship with the people with whom we are sharing because they will care more in general and will better appreciate the magnitude of what God has done when they know us, our past, and our struggles.

When we share our testimony with both previous and future generations and then listen to their stories of God's goodness in their own lives, we can find points of connection and better appreciate the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Joshua 4:23 says that the Israelites are to tell future generations that, "the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over..." In understanding the similarities between what God has done recently and what he has done in the past, we begin to see patterns of behavior based on His unchanging character. This allows us to know Him better and increases our faith as we begin to expect His help and deliverance after seeing it happen over and over again in our lives and in the lives of others.

Verse 24 stood out to me the most in my rereading of Joshua 4 today:
that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

While remembering what God has done for us is an important encouragement to ourselves, God also reveals Himself to others ("all peoples of the earth") through what He does in us. We have the privilege and responsibility of telling others about the one true God, and I believe that sometimes the most effective way to do this is simply to share how we have experienced the truth of who God is. The Bible tells us in many ways, explicitly and implicitly, who God is, and this must be our starting point and our checkpoint, but often the way we come to a deeper understanding of those characteristics is through personal experience. I grew up hearing, reading, and knowing that God is faithful (Lamentations 3:22-23) and compassionate (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), but this took on a much deeper meaning for me when I experienced Him grieving alongside me and witnessed His faithfulness firsthand. If I tell others that God is faithful and compassionate, they may or may not believe me or agree, but other women who have had struggles similar to mine might be more likely to connect with those specific times in my life as I share how God was faithful through my times of suffering.

The "all the peoples of the earth" category can sound overwhelming, but when God gives you a story of deliverance, He means for you to share it and will provide the audience, whether it is an audience of 1 or 1,000. We need wisdom and discernment in how much to share with whom, as it is not always appropriate or beneficial to share every part of our story with every person. We can pray for wisdom and guidance in this and need to be sensitive to social cues from others as we try to gage how interested and comfortable they are with our story. Context is also important; sometimes we need to save sensitive topics and our vulnerability for one-on-one or small group discussions.

Some practical applications that have helped me recently on my own journey to find how and with whom to share my story:

1. Consider those who are already in your circles of influence and who may have had similar struggles and experiences. Then think about the broader scope of people you don't already know who may be experiencing similar struggles. What groups of people would identify with your specific journey? You don't have to be limited by this, but it may be a good starting point.

2. Put yourself in situations where you will interact and build relationships with people from different generations, cultures, beliefs, etc. We can minister to and disciple believers and non-believers, alike, as we share what the Lord has done for us.

3. Pray for God to increase your love for the people He wants you to serve. I can't think of a prayer God would desire to answer more than a prayer for Him to increase your love for someone! When our love for people increases, our boldness and courage in sharing something difficult increases as a result. Also, people will generally be more comfortable with and receptive to someone who has a genuine love for them.

4. Pray for God to start putting faces to the people with whom He wants you to share your story. I recently prayed this prayer and the previous one and am amazed at how quickly He began to put me in various groups of women to connect with, both for their benefit and mine. This is one of the many important reasons to find and join communities that share safe spaces.

Once we begin to come out of a difficult wilderness season and have had time to experience our own healing, we can begin to think about how and with whom to share our story. One of the most beautiful things about sharing what God has done is that often the completion of our healing seems to come when God uses what we have learned in the wilderness seasons to help others. Thus, our messes that became miracles can become memorials that God uses for ministry. God does not desire that we suffer, but he does cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). I'm so thankful for the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

3 comments:

Hillary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillary said...

This post reminds me afresh what God can do and reminds me He is very much still at work. I love when you say, "messes into miracles." He has truly done that within my own life.

Heather said...

What a well thought out application for this passage! I love sharing what God has done in my life, so this is right up my ally.

Heather Bock
www.glimpsesofjesus.com