By Stanley Mukolwe
In these days when the winds of influence blow contrary to the principles of the Bible, how do believers keep sailing in the right direction? How do we influence others to sail towards godliness? American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), put it this way: “One ship sails east and another west with the self-same winds that blow. Tis the set of sail and not the gale which determines the way they go. As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate as we voyage along through life, tis the act of the soul that determines the goal, and not the calm of the strife.” Ella was right. The secret to remaining true to our course lies in how we set our sails. Well, how do we set our sails in the midst of contrary winds? I stumbled upon part of the solution recently as I was reflecting on 2 Timothy 3:14-15: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” This advice is given in the context of how to live in difficult times.
The phrase “…from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…” refers to Timothy’s exposure to the Word of God from an early age. The word “infancy” is often used for a child below one year of age. Is Paul suggesting that Timothy started learning the scriptures from that stage of life? Can infants learn scripture? Did you know that in some religions, specific prayers are uttered into the ear of a new born within hours of birth?
At the last Navigator Family Conference, we examined how different faiths have grown over time. The fastest growing faiths have done so primarily through birth and raising children in their faith. But when it comes to the evangelical Christian, the rate of growth is much slower even though we had a head-start of many centuries. What happened? Do evangelical Christians not give birth? Do they not have the additional advantage of evangelism? It seems clear that the biggest factor in passing on our faith to the next generation lies in raising our children in the faith – from infancy.
While large scale evangelism adds numbers to the church, a quick survey shows that more than 70% of believers come to faith through a family member or someone in their network of relationships. So what must we do? Without de-emphasizing the existing efforts, we must add to our strategy by intentionally reaching out to our families and network of relationships. Here is an example:
I spoke to Winnie of Together For God (TFG) ministries early this year. She shared how five years ago she and her husband Onesimus were discipling their children but could not fit them in an environment that supported the values they were imparting to them. In their quest for an answer, they spent an evening in the home of a Navigator staff couple, to observe how they discipled their children in the context of their peers. They decided to try out this approach. Winnie asked her nine-year-old son to recruit his friends to a bi-monthly bible study. To her surprise, the boy was excited about the idea! Two weeks later, a study with 10 boys was launched at Winnie’s house.
Twice a month the boys met in Winnie’s home on Fridays after school. They played together and after dinner they were led in bible study by Winnie and Onesimus. They would be up early on Saturdays to have a quiet time before being picked by their parents. The boys were taught how to systematically read the bible, memorize scripture, journal what they were learning from their quiet times, and how to pray scripture back to God while applying the truths learned. “Their lives began to align themselves with the word of God and with the character of Christ. It was amazing!” said Winnie.
The school soon noticed the difference. The teachers kept talking about this bunch of boys who stood out and commanded the respect of their peers. The TFG boys worked together as a team. They were gentle, truthful, respectable and respectful. Their grades were good and they steered peers away from deviant behaviour. The social support structure that Winnie and Onesimus had been longing for had effectively been created. Winnie noticed that as they influenced the children, the scriptures deeply influenced the parents of the boys as well. So, how does one set sail to keep moving in the right direction despite the winds? Get rooted in God’s word and practice what you learn! The best time to start is when the children are young. But even if you miss the infancy stage, the next best time is now.