I realised this week that many of my Christian friends and acquaintances come from wonderful, stable, devotedly Christian families. Some of these are truly dynastic – generation after generation in full time Christian ministry at home or overseas, in Christian publishing or other Christian companies, in extensive part-time service to the church. Mothers, fathers, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins...The sense of security my friends have from this is almost palpable. It’s lovely, but it makes those of us who don’t have this background feel, at times, quite inadequate.
Yet, though undoubtedly helpful in encouraging a journey towards faith, our birth circumstances do not dictate our commitment. God has no grandchildren. All of these people have had to find their own way to faith. Their families have been of enormous help to them, yet there are also many devoted Christian families whose children have found their own way in life without God, and are treading paths which seem to take them further and further away from a life with Jesus.
So it does not do to be envious of those whose life circumstances seem ideal. Life is a daily decision to follow Jesus, of love in action, not resting in the family nest. Many years ago I was a volunteer missionary in Africa, working in a poor village school. Trying to live out my life as best I could for Jesus. At the end of our time there, the girl I worked with announced her intention of joining the rat race in London and, she hoped, making a lot of money. “I’ve done my bit,” she announced proudly, “I don’t need to do any more.”
I was saddened for her. The rat race is not the race we are running when we follow after Jesus. We’ve never ‘done our bit’. As Paul says near the end of his life, in 2 Timothy 4: 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The race of life cannot be abandoned mid-way. We might – indeed, we must - take rest and refreshment along the way, but we have to keep our goal in sight. It’s as if we are running for the prize of eternal life at the same time as we are running with a leader – Jesus. In training.
I want to keep that vision fresh. And I can only do that by keeping my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus: not by looking back at my own history or around at my friends’ privileged backgrounds. I hope that when my friends look at me, they see me gazing forward – at the only One who is worth looking at.