16 – The Awakening
“he came to himself”
Thankfully, this story does not end in a pigpen for this young man. As he sat by the pigpen, “he came to himself.” e came to his ensesHHe came to his senses. It is as though he had been in a daze. While the pleasure lasted he had participated in a wild cavorting dance of delirium. The rapid flux of fast paced events had kept him anaesthetized from the reality of his impending financial bankruptcy. He was so hypnotized by the whirl of activities that he did not see his friends for what they were. He was a sleep-walker perhaps for months and years, as he meanders from wealth towards want. It was as though he had been given a laughing gas, that distorted reality. He was not himself. He wasn’t in his right mind.
Even after disaster hits him, he is still asleep at the wheel. He doesn’t know what hit him. Events were coming and going so fast he was sent spinning and landed among the hogs. There he sits by the pig trough with his head between his hands wondering how on earth he got there. The dream has turned into a nightmare. How long he held that job and held his aching head we do not know. He may have gone from job to job losing each one in succession until he hit the bottom. But one day there is a turning in the tale.
“He came to himself.” e came toHHHe came to. He woke up. He shakes his head in wonder like a Rip Van Winkle waking up after missing 20 years. He is stunned by the facts. But in the very moments of coming out of his trance his mind suddenly leaps from hogs to home.
The country song is right. “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” And upon waking up, the memories of home come flooding back to the forefront of his mind. He had left home months and perhaps years ago, but home never left him. He deserted his father , but the memories of father never left him.
It is in such a moment that a person becomes vulnerable to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. The theologians call it “spiritual awakening”. It is waking up out of forgetfulness. It is coming to our senses. It is the intuitive knowledge that I do not have to stay here. It is the work of God though not yet recognizable as such.
A short time ago I mentioned that churches that grow do so in the following pattern:
70% of our growth will be due to transfers of Christians from other churches.
20% of our growth will be internal growth as we give birth to children, adopt them, or marry someone who becomes part of the church.
10% of our growth comes from winning people from the community who are not churched.
But that 10% is intriguing in the light of the story of the runaway son. When we talk with those who become new convert to our churches, more often than not they attended a church in childhood or their teen years. In fact they participated at some earlier time in a church quite similar to the one they tend to return to. They may have strayed away for years or decades, but in all of us there seems to be a homing instinct. At a time when life is caving in and help is needed, memories of that safe place come flooding in. It is in such moments that petitions are offered to a God neglected, and often vows are made in a quid pro quo prayer of desperation, which God uses to draw the lost and confused to Himself. At the moment of marriage, or the birth of a child, or the funeral of a loved one, there is often a reconnection with the church of their childhood, to have the necessary rite of passage performed. But other things are happening in such events. The multi-generational family gathers together from its wide scatteredness for such important events, and memories of other times and better days come stealing in too. It is at those very same moments in the human journey that there awakens a desire to have God bless their marriage, or bless their newborn, that results in a return to a faith that once was theirs. It is in such circumstances that ancient memories resurrect themselves, and if we are not careful, they can be the turning point in our lives.
It was in a time of personal and national disaster that the wandering son is arrested by a memory. And that memory is used by the Spirit of God to remind him of his broken relationship with his father and His God. It is not long before the awakening turns to a resolution to get up and go home.
In ministering to children, much of our work seems to pay off with very small dividends. The seeds we sow in a child’s life may appear to have had little effect at the moment, and when as young people they abandon the church and its life, we feel that our labour was in vain. But we need to take another look. Much of our work among children may actually be planting seed that may not germinate until years after we have sown it. Then one day, in some strategic moment, that which was planted may come to fruition.
The well know passage from the Book of Proverbs (22:6) reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he will not depart from it.” The words “he will not” were often seen as a guarantee that if we raised our children well, they would turn out well. If they turned out well, we took the credit. If our children did not turn out well, this passage then became a cause of all sorts of guilt feelings. “What did we do wrong? What could we have done differently?”
Let me read the passage in another way. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he will not be able to get away from it.” Children will not forget those moments when truth was planted deeply into their young lives. With such memories locked away, a child turned adult may be more open to the Spirit of God.
Some of us may have children or grandchildren who are like the wandering son. Away from home, away from God, living a very damaged life. We are to be reminded that “life is written in chapters.” The story is not yet ended. We are still in the middle of the narrative. Memories can come to mind that God can use to bring those we have loved and lost awhile, back to their senses and back to himself.
The other good news is that God is always actively at work calling wanderers back. Some times, as C. S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures… but shouts in our pains.”[i] In the middle of our hurts and disappointments, when life has turned into one overwhelming disaster, memories may be used by God to speak of hope and home. Let us, by all the creative means we can, take the education of children with uttermost seriousness!
But these thoughts also remind me of the importance of rites of passage. When the secular community comes to the church asking us to marry their couples, baptize or dedicate or Christen their children, or to bury their dead, we should pause long before we say “no” to them.
It may be the only opportunity they will give the church to access their lives. It is perhaps true that they are hit and run drivers, who want to hit us up for one of the community services we provide, and they can then run off having accomplished their goal. It may well be that they want to use our beautiful sanctuaries as the ideal backdrop to a photographer’s dream. It may be a defective theology that motivates them to want to have their “babies done.” It could be that they carry a presumption that a Christian funeral will guarantee a safer delivery of the dearly departed to heaven.
But what an opportunity to sit down with a young couple in love, and provide them with a Christian understanding of marriage. In the weeks and months before the wedding we have a chance to sow some truth that can divorce-proof their relationship with each other. We can also give them an invitation to include God and church in their new life together. They may not be Christians when we marry them, but who can tell the benefits they will reap down the years because we participated in their lives at such a pivotal moment. Who can tell what memories they will carry with them into their future.
It may well be upon the birth of a child, that they may visit us again for the next rite of passage. What a chance in the days and weeks preceding such an event to give them an understanding of the resource that God and his church can be to this child and to them. Parents do want the best for their children, and here is an opportunity to sow good seed into their lives. We may choose to take this opportunity to improve their theology of baptism, but better yet, it is a moment for the church to show its best face as it allows the little children to come to Jesus.
And at the funeral of a loved one, what an opportunity to minister to the family and friends and the wider community in gracious ways! If we do our work well they will sense that the church provides not only a burial service, but a community of care for the wounds they have just suffered.
All these moments are perfect for sowing seed in the lives of some, and reaping a harvest in the lives of others. I have always appreciated the counsel given years ago by Campus Crusade for Christ when it taught us that evangelism is “sharing the good news about Jesus in the power of the Spirit and leaving the results with God.”
[i] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (London: Geoffrey Bless, 1940) P.81.