When I was in high school, I was given an in-class assignment to list three people who were instrumental in my spiritual growth. Along with acknowledging who these individuals were, I was to provide the reason why they impacted me – what I learned from them, in what area(s) they had mentored me, or how my spiritual life had changed as a result of our interaction. It was a quick, yet meaningful exercise. Taking a few moments to think about those that have invested in our lives – sometimes in ways that even they are unaware of – helps us realize that God is not just working in us to accomplish HIs purposes, He often uses others to bring them about. We did not get to this place in our spiritual development on our own; He graciously caused our lives to intersect with others who would teach us things about Him, and ourselves, that would result in a closer walk with God.
Yet often, we fail to really think through who these individuals are. While we may express gratitude in a specific moment of time for wise words of advice, or a thoughtful act, we rarely stop to think about how God has used these small gestures to bring us into closer communion with Him. We recognize the momentary impact, but not the eternal one. Yet regularly pausing to think through who God is using in our lives, and to what aim, is important for at least three reasons:
1) It reminds us that our Christian life is not meant to be lived out in isolation.
Contemplating who God is using in our lives brings one thing clearly into focus – the Christian life is not meant to be lived out in isolation. If it was, God wouldn’t choose to use others in order to accomplish HIs purposes in our lives. In fact, He doesn’t need to – this is a conscious act of grace on His part to allow others the opportunity to participate in the spiritual development of His children. He could have just as easily chosen to work through an individual without the participation of a godly community; but more frequently than we acknowledge, He instead uses others. Acknowledging this should remind us that God does not intend for His children to be islands; He commands and expects that they are involved in each other’s lives (Heb. 10:25; Eph. 4:16) .
2) It prompts us to express gratitude to those who – whether aware or not – have been used by God to accomplish a work in our lives.
Sometimes people are very intentional in mentoring others in the faith. Paul had this type of relationship with Timothy. Paul was consistent and purposeful in the instructions he gave Timothy and he regularly invested in Timothy’s life. It is appropriate for Timothy, or others like him, to gratefully acknowledge the sacrifice of those who are mentoring them. A mentoring relationship is not without its costs to the one who mentors, and expressing appreciation for their willingness to do so will likely be an encouragement to them and may be used by God in their own lives to help motivate their ongoing obedience.
However, there are often times that God uses someone in our lives and they are not even aware of the impact that they had. Perhaps we witnessed how someone responded graciously to a difficult situation or we have grown as a result of the biblical teaching of another. These individuals may not know that their biblical obedience is being used by God to motivate our own obedience to Christ. Tell them so. Not in order to flatter them (Prov. 29:5; 26:28) but to give praise for the work God is doing in their lives and to encourage them to keep on fighting the good fight of faith (I Tim. 6:12).
3) To seek to be the type of person that God can use to bring about spiritual development in the lives of others.
When we acknowledge how God has used others in our lives, it should motivate us to be the type of person that God is using in the lives of others. Scripture is replete with exhortations that demonstrate this is God’s design for the Church (Titus 2; 2 Tim. 2:2, I Cor. 12:12-31; Rom. 12:5) and we should desire to participate in the work that God is doing. Sometimes this may be in formal, mentoring relationships, but other times it may be through our humble and consistent obedience to God and His Word. We should strive to live lives that say “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (See I Cor. 11:1) and be grateful that God may use our obedience to draw others to Him.
In secular circles it is often popular to acknowledge, when a particular feat is accomplished, that it was done by “standing on the shoulders of giants” In other words, very little is achieved simply by one person’s act alone. In our spiritual walk, we too are often standing on the shoulders of giants – people who humbly and graciously persevered in the faith even when they may not be aware that anyone was watching. Let us express our gratitude to God, and to them, for the way that they were used in our lives. And let us seek to live lives that can be described in the same way.