Most non-profits will tell you one of their biggest battles is convincing people to no longer be apathetic about the social problem their group is trying to address. Many spend countless hours and dollars developing ways to help people understand the urgency of the problem. Groups like charity: water and Toms have actually done a great job of informing and engaging people about their mission with creativity and style.
We know our world is filled with more problems than we can count. We know God commands us to serve others and teach them about God. The pure enormity of the problem is overwhelming. So overwhelming, most people become apathetic. It is easier to block out all of the problems and opportunities and focus on our little world, where we feel like we have more control. The problem is, not only are we not in control of anything, the problems of the greater world can become so large they begin to invade our personal worlds. I think everyone learned that lesson in very real and horrible ways during World War II.
Even those who become involved in serving others and sharing their faith can become apathetic over time. They become hardened to the people they are supposed to serve. Suddenly, instead of providing service and love and sharing God’s Words, their ministries become full of criticism, control and judgement. The original mission given by God is forgotten in the swirl of activity, burnout and emotions.
How can we train our children to avoid apathy? How can we teach them to view people with the eyes of Jesus? How can we encourage them to become actively involved in the lives of others in the ways God would want? How can we model service, rest and a relationship with God so they grow up to become healthy, godly servants to others?
I think there are three main components, which have lots of smaller aspects to them.
1. Teach your children to focus on how they can show everyone they interact with God’s love in some way. It may be with service, a kind word, a note, a hug or just listening. It will definitely include sharing something about God with them. Although “What would Jesus do?”, was a great idea, I think it was a little too broad for most people to think through quickly. I think two questions we can teach our children to ask themselves whenever they are interacting with someone else are:
- How can I show this person love?
- What is one thing I can tell them about God that will help them?
The answers may not come naturally at first. Practice talking through situations as they arise. Model them for your children. Talk to your children about the times you don’t do them well and what you could have done instead. Discuss the times when people interacted with you in those ways and how it helped you. Point out to your children when you see other people treating them in these ways and ask them how it made them feel. Most importantly, practice, practice, practice.
2. Teach your child to spend time each day with God in prayer, Bible reading and quietly listening for God’s response and refreshment. I used to think this was an optional part of my day. If I had too much to do, this was usually what got cut out. After all, I still prayed and I basically “knew what’s in there” as far as the Bible is concerned. I apologize to all of those proponents of quiet time, too. I never actually criticized them out loud, but as a person who enjoys high energy, music and action; the idea of sitting still and quietly for any period of time seemed more like torture than spiritually necessary. What I have learned is that the time with God is essential, the quietness is a little more flexible! (Although I have to admit when I am deeply troubled a quiet, dark house at 2 am with just God and me is often the most helpful.) I know now that to be effective in my ministry, God and I have to stay connected as closely and as often as possible. The rest, serving and teaching others requires is similar to the times Jesus went off by himself to pray. Even extroverts need some time to decompress from the constant demands being around people can put on your mind, body and soul. If Jesus needed those breaks, surely we and our children do too.
3. I am not a huge fan of allowing children to watch the evening news. Too many personal childhood scars from seeing way too many dead bodies. (Yes, I am old enough to remember various assassinations and attempts and the end of the Vietnam War.) I do think we need to keep our children informed about world events, social problems and local or personal issues which effect those around us in age appropriate ways. Explain how the issues go beyond what is often shared in the press. Not only is there the visible problem, but there are often heart and spiritual problems that go even deeper. Discuss how Christians should be involved in the problems of the world serving others and sharing their faith. Then go out as a family and do just that as often as you can. The more you make serving others and sharing their faith a part of your children’s identities, the more likely they are to continue to live their lives that way as adults.
Three steps! Not too bad, but even those three steps can be overwhelming if you let them be. You can turn an apathetic heart to the problems of other people or you can teach your children to help other people. Not only here on earth, but in ways that will also help them get to Heaven. I would love for you to share in a comment some of the ways your family has shaken off worldly apathy and shared your faith as you serve others. It may give other families some great ideas.