6 Helpful questions for our Christian Lives - question 3
In this series of blog posts I am looking at six questions about our Christian lives that are good for us to think about regularly. Reflecting on them can help provide shape and direction to the three dimensions of our Christian lives: Our life with God, Our life with God's people; and our life with the world around us. Unlike a checklist, these questions are designed to be open ended. Each of us is unique and we will each answer these questions in different ways. In fact at different times we will have different answers ourselves!
It is IMPORTANT to note that
These questions aren't a test.
You aren't going to be graded on the quality of your answers.
It is not about comparing yourself to some 'super Christian'
You will get the most benefit out of these questions if you can identify one or two simple things you can work on in the next few days. This is much better than spending hours creating a long list and then doing nothing!
Question Three - Who are my Spiritual Extended Family?
I think we sometimes unconsciously change the phrase 'PERSONAL relationship with God' to INDIVIDUAL relationship with God'.
We live in a culture that prizes individuality and autonomy and so 'personal' often unconsciously translates to 'private' and 'individual'. In some ways autonomy is a mirage because we depend on the anonymous people who run our power stations, gas supplies, and water treatment plants to cite just one example. However, the bible reveals God to us as a relational God who relates to us like family and not as an anonymous utility provider.
Christianity is profoundly relational. The most profound insight is that God is Love which is relational. In the person of Jesus, God became a human to, amongst other things, establish a new covenant with us - this is also relational. The two great commands are to Love God and to Love your Neighbour. Both of these are relational and interlinked. And, the great commission to make disciples is an apprenticeship process that requires relational closeness.
So while there might be the occasional exceptions, like being in solitary confinement, the norm for Christian life is to be in relationship with other Christians. In fact, the New Testament teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 and other places that Christians together are like a body and God has so arranged it that we need each other. God doesn't give to one person everything they need for Christian life and ministry, making them a super individual. Rather God gives each of us unique gifts and talents for the benefit of each other.
A second way our culture can unconsciously influence us is the way it elevates the NUCLEAR family at the cost of EXTENDED family. A large variety of factors has meant that lots of nuclear families no longer have close geographic or regular contact with networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They have lost the experience of extended family.
Yet when we look at the life of Jesus, he had a Spiritual Nuclear family of his closest disciples (Peter, James and John), and then a wider Spiritual Extended family of 9 other close disciples along with women who followed and supported his ministry. And beyond that a wider circle of 72 others (Luke 10).
When we look at the early church, it seems they followed the pattern of Jesus. Local 'churches' often revolved around households which were extended families (Romans 16 lists numbers of them).
God calls us to be the family of God, not just individuals or nuclear families that attend a church to consume the religious goods and services it provides.
And so this is the important question - Who are my Spiritual Extended family? In other words, who are the handful of other Christians I am close to and in regular, open relationship with - my Spiritual Nuclear Family? And who are the larger circle of Christians I share life with - my Spiritual Extended Family? (Note: Being on the church role doesn't count. Being able to list people's names doesn't count.)
Who am I sharing life with in a spiritual sense? Who do I regularly eat with, pray with, have fun with, cooperate in mission with, and share my possessions with? Who is close enough to me to support me in my seeking of God and responding to God (questions 1 & 2)? Who is close enough to me so that I can learn from them and they can learn from me how to follow Jesus better (Question 4)? When I am reaching out to the world around me in mission and service, who do I do it with (question 6)?
Now a frequent response to these questions can be - I don't relate with other Christians in this way, or if I do I realise my extended family isn't really that extended.
So how can we grow our Spiritual Extended Family?
We need to think about PEOPLE, TIME, SPACE, & SPIRITUALITY
Look around at other PEOPLE in your church, pray and think about who you more naturally connect with both from a personality point of view but also a geography and rhythm of life point of view;
Think, talk and plan about how you can start to spend more TIME in the same PLACE as them;
Hint: think about how you can do together things you are already doing separately. That way you are not adding things to your life you are multitasking. Most of us eat 21 meals a week. Maybe you could aim to eat once a week/fortnight with your Spiritual Extended Family - cooking and washing up is more fun together. Do you go to the park or sport or movies? Develop a habit of inviting your Spiritual Family to join in. Not everyone will make it every time, but you will spend more time together without adding an activity.
Then think, talk and plan how you can intentionally add SPIRITUAL dimensions to some of your times together. You don't have to turn every gathering into a church service. Start with simple things:
extend grace at meals to give thanks for other things as well;
when someone shares a burden, pray about it in the group straight away
occasionally ask someone to speak for 2-3 minutes about a bible passage they have been reading recently.
Two final thoughts:
You don't have to go from zero to hero in one step. Focus on taking one more small achievable step on the journey to living in a Spiritual Extended Family.
Just like most other changes, the changes you make in the direction of living in a Spiritual Extended Family may feel strange and even a bit forced at first. But over time it will become familar, delightful and organic.