Being prepared in the Lord

It’s the start of the new term, and as we say goodbye to year 11’s as they move off on their next adventure, we say hello to new reception and year seven students. New journeys are starting all across Stockport this coming week, and at Christians in Schools Trust we get to be a witness to the beginning of so many of these journeys. We might meet young people we will journey with for many years, children we may mentor towards a real relationship with Christ. This is a responsibility that many of you who spend time supporting and helping children and young people will recognise; the relationship that begins in a lunch club, a youth group, or a Sunday school lesson and becomes a unique vantage point from which to watch a young person grow in the Lord. It’s something we all take very seriously. So it’s important for us to be prepared, not just in our materials and planning, but also in ourselves.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have.” Sometimes it can be all to easy to slip into the familiarity of the things that we “do” to serve young people and children. We concentrate on planning fun activities, on resourcing exciting material, on getting connected to them in the most up to date way. These are obviously very important things, but they will all turn to dust before our eyes if we are not prepared for that precious moment when a child asks: “So why do you believe in Jesus?”

Sometimes the question is not so directly framed. Sometimes the question might be asked as a joke by a member of our youth group. “You always have an answer for everything,” they might joke, “how are you so sure about the future? These questions are easy to rush past and let slip through our fingers. They are easy to miss, as we so often brush them off with jokes and light hearted responses. That’s what we are trained to do in the adult world, after all. If someone in your place of work asked you “Why do you seem so calm?” We are more likely to respond with a deflective joke about swans paddling than we are to respond with the real answer: “Because Jesus is my Lord and saviour. My hope is in him.”

But this is what it means to be prepared for the coming term. We need to be vigilant in ensuring that the young people and the children God has entrusted under our care always know that we are prepared to answer with the word “Jesus” when the question arises. They need to see that our works are not simply something we do, but they are reflection of what we believe in our hearts. We know that the most common way in which individuals come to know Christ is through relationships with Christians. Authenticity is incredibly important if we are going to reach people. Part of that authenticity is breaking down those barriers of conversation, those defenses of politeness that society puts in place. For instance, when someone asks how we are, what is our usual response?

“I’m fine.”

Even if it’s not true. When our young people ask us how we are, what is our usual response, and is it the honest one? If we confront ourselves and see that actually, it is not honest, then we may have to ask what kind of life in Christ are we modelling to them? Are we using all of our opportunities to show them what living in Christ really means? I often must challenge myself to be as real as I can with the young people I interact with, whilst maintaining that appropriate relationship that is at the core of all our safeguarding. It is a difficult road to walk, but with God’s guidance, authentic doesn’t have to mean unprofessional. I hope that it is possible for me to maybe say “I’m fine,” less, and maybe say; “It’s been a bit of an up and down week, actually, but God’s getting me through it,” more.

I say this because it is my experience that those golden moments when a young person or a child opens the door of their heart to Christ is never as you expect it to be. Much like how Christ shall come like a thief in the night, the moment a child opens up to God comes like a swift kick to the knees. Completely unexpected, and powerful enough to knock you down. Those moments are nearly always born out of an authentic conversation, and sometimes the smallest window of truth in a conversation is enough for a child’s mind to climb through. Let me share an example. I was delivering a regular club in a secondary school in Sheffield, doing the usual games tied into a short presentation about faith that all fit into a frantic twenty minutes before the bell rang. The children were their usual buoyant, loud selves; un-cooperative, but great fun. We weren’t seeing a lot of fruit yet, and we weren’t surprised when they yawned or got distracted when we talked of Jesus. Yet God was moving in ways we couldn’t yet see. As we packed up the session and did the normal end-of-session chat, one of our regular girls asked if I had ever been baptised. I responded that I had, when I was a child. She asked why. At that moment, God’s spirit must have been guiding me, for rather than answering with the usual glib response, I told her honestly about my place in the family of God and what it meant for me to be a Christian. Shen then said she wished she had been baptised as a baby. I asked why. She said it was because she wanted to be a Christian. Five minutes later we were leading her through a commitment prayer in the girls toilets. The whole episode took less than ten minutes and then she ran off to her afternoon lessons, whilst we were left reeling and praising God! That’s kids for you – they recover much quicker from an encounter with the glory of the Lord!

I wish I could say I was more prepared and ready for it the other times, but I never have been. I have witnessed young people and children praying that Jesus will come into their lives in the strangest places – outside a portaloo at a festival, in a kitchen at a church, in a Morrison’s café. Even in those times when one might expect it, during an altar call at a youth service for example, it has still been an astonishing delight that has surprised me. Yet the fact that they happen reminds me again and again how God uses my conversation, my normal life, my routine, to bring people into the family of God. So as I start a new term, I remind myself once again, that being prepared for these moments is an important part of our work as servants of God. As Peter says, we need to ready to answer the question, but it’s not just because we need to give an account of our hope. It’s because those moments of honesty can start a conversation where a young person may commit themselves to Christ.

Let us all pray that we can be prepared for those times, and pray that our new term will be full of moments where Jesus breaks through our habits of normal responses. Let us pray that he opens doors in thousands of hearts in this school term, and that the voice of his spirit is made known to countless children. Let us pray that we can all be prepared to give a reason for our hope, when asked. Let us pray that we are ready for the question.

Blessings to you all,