In 1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the worlds very first photograph with the hope of capturing a representation of what the eye saw. In the roughly two hundred years since that day, photography has proven to be far more than just a representation of the what the eye sees, it has proven to be the storyteller of the soul capable of soliciting emotion, memory, and motivation. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think it could also be said that a picture is worth a thousand emotions, or a thousand memories or that it teaches a thousand lessons. I was recently presented with this revelation when during a church leadership meeting, I snapped an image of one of the lead pastors with her young son in her arms worshipping. In the image she is seen with one arm raised in worship and her son with arms raised in reflection of his mom. I originally captured the moment for the family as I recognized what it could mean to them to have it documented but as I looked at the image on my phone, I found myself struck by the story that image told.
In the story this single image tells I am reminded of three very important truths, the first coming from John 5:19 in which Jesus states that he only does what he sees his Father do. As a follower of Jesus, he sets the example that we follow, but that example is not one that just happened, it is an example that was gleaned from his Father and passed onto us and it is that example that we pass on to our children ourselves. The power of example is regularly overlooked but cannot be overstated as the adage is true about actions speaking louder than words, especially with those who look to us for their example. In this photo we see the precious mimicry of a young child, but it is the example of his mother that prompts this adorable display as he raises his hands like his Mom. Just as Jesus looked to Father for his example this child looks to his father and mother for his example and takes his cues through observation of their actions. Whether you are a physical parent like in this photo, a spiritual parent through discipleship or other means or just simply an auntie or uncle, you have influence. Your example will influence others, just like you have been and continue to be influenced by your examples, through your example you demonstrate how to live, how to serve and how to overcome. It is your example that will greatly influence the success or failure, health, or illness of future generations. The child in this picture, is a portrait of the innocence with which we enter the world, he is a blank slate, ready to be filled with the wisdom of life but the manner in which he gains that wisdom and the quality of its content largely depends on the example that is demonstrated as it is the example that he observes that will not only fill that slate but answer the pressing questions that cross every child’s heart eventually, who am I? What am I here for? And how do I live while here? Whether as a parent, a pastor or teacher this image reminds me of the fact that my example is one of the greatest assets I have in leading others, but it also serves as a reminder to make sure my actions match my words, as others are watching.
The Second truth that I was reminded of while observing this image comes from Romans 12:1 in which Paul states that we should offer our lives as a living sacrifice unto the Lord. While he is talking about carnal and sexually immoral aspects of culture and urging believers not to partake so that they may be pure in presentation before the Lord, I am reminded of the sacrifices that are made both as a parent as well as in ministry to the Lord. As a parent you sacrifice time, sleep and even food because heaven forbid your child eats their own food, for the sake of seeing your child become the most they can be. It is a sacrifice that you cannot fully understand until you go through it yourself, but it is a sacrifice that you continue to make graciously regardless of difficulty because you are motivated out of love for your children. The same is true of pastors and ministry leaders as they make sacrifices daily to serve those that they lead. Constantly sacrificing time and effort to pray for their flock and prepare places and ways that their congregations can be successful in their pursuit of Christlikeness. In this photo I see the collision of these two worlds, parenthood and pastorship and the sacrifices that are made daily to make the melding of these two worlds possible. I see the sacrifice of time at home with one’s own kids for the purpose of helping others grow their kids. I see sacrifice of set 9-5 schedules to be available for others in their time of need and I see loss of sleep for the sake of creating a future for others. More specifically to this image I see an example to others of how to balance parental sacrifice and pastoral sacrifice without sacrificing either for the sake of the other. This is a lesson that was specific to my heart and I believe can be true for many others trying to balance family and ministry. What I saw when I went back and looked at this image was a parent who is holding her child close out of love and concern for the child’s well-being, but I also saw a pastor with hand raised in worship and surrender to God. The duality of the image is what God used to catch my attention as an arm and energy are being sacrificed to hold the child preventing the use of both arms in worship, while at the same time one arm is being raised in worship preventing both arms from being used to hold and soothe the child. At first blush you may be thinking so what? What is the big deal? The big deal, the importance of this truth is that being a sacrifice unto the Lord is not an all or nothing proposition, and it is not a compartmentalized approach to life when it comes to parenthood and ministry. Let me clarify what I mean by this and share my hang-up. It is very easy, at least in my mind to view things in terms of a schedule in which I schedule sacrifice. For example, from 9-12 I will sacrifice time from my family to focus on ministry, while from 3-7 I will sacrifice ministry for the sake of family. While there is certainly wisdom in this approach, there is a time a place for it, making this approach the default approach however will end up weakening both ministry and family. God did not intend for family and ministry to be separate or sacrificed one for the other. Instead, it is God’s intent that family and ministry be sacrificed together, so that they may grow together, and the example seen in each become a beacon of influence to not just the family or church but all who come in contact.
The third lesson that I was reminded of comes from Jesus words in Matthew 18:3-4, in which he says, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven”. Over the past few months, I have been blessed to have the ability to interact with the child in this photo as Abigail and myself have joined with his parents to plant a church here in the Auburn, WA. area. Frequently during church meetings or casual times at one another’s homes we have been able to watch and hear about his mischievous ways, hear his infectious little laugh and marvel at his inquisitiveness. It has been a welcome reminder of the awesome innocence of little kids as mine are not so little anymore. Beyond just a reminder however is the fact that there is a lesson to be gained from this little one that we adults need to be reminded of. With all the wisdom, and all the knowledge that we gain over the years, all the Bible studies, prayers, and sermons delivered the fact remains if we do not remain like this child, we will never experience all God has for us and we will never get to heaven. The innocence of a young child is something to be cherished and admired but it is also something to be aspired to especially in today’s day and age, where a premium is put on knowledge and self- sustainability. Contrary to popular belief and contrary to the pursuit of knowledge the key to fulfillment and self-realization is found in the innocence of a child more than the books of a sage. In watching this little guy, I see a glimpse of how God intended life to be for all of us. I see the ability to explore the world around, learn from new experiences and discover new tastes, textures and sounds all while being surrounded with the love, guidance, and protection of his parents. He does not have a care in the world. This is how God intended life to be for us, he wants us to explore, have new experiences discover new aspects of creation, but he wants us to do so in freedom. Freedom from the anxiety of what ifs, freedom from the fear of failure and freedom from the pain of betrayal. To many this might sound like ignorance, they might say this little child is just ignorant to the world and while that may be true, it is not the lack of knowledge that makes him innocent, it is the total faith in his parents and by extension Father God that creates that innocence. Following the example of this little child as an adult does not mean putting your head in the ground and becoming ignorant to the world around, rather it means to become innocent by putting total faith in our Heavenly Father regardless of circumstances. It means that no matter what the world around looks like, what the media tells you, what your bank account says and regardless of your relationship status God loves like this mother loves her child and he wants you to trust him in everything like this child trusts his parents.
God loves you. He loves you enough to let you toddle around and make mistakes, explore, and learn. He loves you enough to let you fall and he loves you enough to not let you stay down. He does not waste a moment and he does not miss an opportunity. He uses all things for your good as evidenced by Romans 8:28, God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. As I set out to take this picture I did so with the intent of capturing a moment for a dear family that I have come to care deeply for, what I did not count on was God meeting me and reminding me of how much he loves me and desires for me to return to my innocence and the same is true for you.
At the beginning of this article, I repeated the widely spoken statement that a picture is worth a thousand words, I have proven that to be incorrect as this picture is worth over two thousand words. I do however stand by my statement that a picture can be worth a thousand emotions and lessons. As I conclude this writing, I have found myself overwhelmed with emotion, specifically, thankfulness that I snapped a picture for the sake of others because it has reminded me that my example is found in Christ, but he has given me others to solidify that example. It has also reassured me that the road through life as a parent and pastor is paved with sacrifice, but it is absolutely worth it at the end of the day. Finally, through the observation of my little buddy God has shown me that he desires a return for all of us to childlike innocence. Over the last few months God has opened doors and brought influences, relationships and opportunities into our lives that are beyond anything we were expecting and for that we are incredibly grateful, and it is out of that gratefulness that we encourage you to live your example, embrace your sacrifice and find your innocence.