Sometimes younger Christians give the impression that we have things figured out. We’re the future. We’ve found the old methods wanting, so we’ve developed new ones. We’re the generation that will strike the right balance where our forebears fell over to one side or the other. We’ve learned from your mistakes. And we don’t mind telling you.
Older believers recognize this youthful arrogance for what it is. You’ve been there, done that, grown out of it. You wait patiently for us to do likewise. But I want to encourage you not to let us younger believers off the hook so easily. Don’t berate us, for we excel at tuning out what we don’t want to hear. Don’t patronize us, as our pride will kick in and make us defensive. Still, there is one thing you can do: Tell us your stories.
Your stories give us the perspective we haven’t yet gained with experience. We don’t yet understand how much we don’t know. Our youthful bluster masks insecurity. We stand tall against withering attacks from our peers, but we’ve hardly been tested. We fear that when harder times come our faith will prove ephemeral. But your stories gird us against these doubts. So look underneath our confident exterior. You’ll find that younger Christians actually want to hear from older believers about how God demonstrated His faithfulness in their generation.
I’m worried, however, that these stories will be lost. Evangelicals suffer from self-inflicted amnesia. Our churches segregate age groups in order to foster relationships between peers. If you’re not deliberate about developing intergenerational friendships, they will not happen. Worse, our relentless effort to contextualize the gospel by chasing new cultural trends leads us to disparage the past. After all, what can the past teach us about spreading the gospel in the age of social media? Innovation is indeed necessary as we take the gospel into all the nations. And those committed to semper reformanda will always re-evaluate their practices by the standard of Scripture. But the line between innovation and fashion appears dangerously faint these days.
Exceptions give me hope that this unfortunate trend may be reversed. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed by the Nazi regime, continues to inspire young Christians to forsake cheap grace and follow the path of costly discipleship. The Ecuador martyrs’ courage has prodded many young believers to reach the unreached with the gospel. Their story gives remarkable power to Jim Elliot’s famous quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” And I won’t soon forget sitting in Park Community Church on Chicago’s North Side in April 2009 as hundreds of trendy young evangelicals listened to D.A. Carson and John Piper for nearly four hours. Carson and Piper did little more than share their stories of God’s providence displayed over decades of faithful ministry.
There is consistently strong biblical warrant for encouraging one another by telling these stories of God’s grace. In his charge to Israel, Moses told God’s people: “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you” (Deut. 32:7). And oh, what a story the elders could tell of the God who heard the cries of His people, delivered them from Egypt, destroyed their pursuing enemies in the Red Sea, and sustained them in the wilderness. Yet Psalm 106 details the sad saga of how quickly and often the Israelites forgot what God had done. When still in Egypt, “they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love” (Ps. 106:7). Even after the Red Sea miracle, “they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (v. 13). Then, when Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, they worshiped a golden calf. “They forgot their God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (v. 21).
We Christians live according to the new and better covenant ratified in the blood of Jesus Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. But we are similarly sinful. We need constant reminders that God is good no matter our circumstances. Scripture is the ultimate deposit of these faith-forming stories. So we mine the Scriptures, which were “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
But our own testimonies to God’s persevering grace build up the body as well. I can attest to this effect while researching the history of revivals. As I read about the heaven-sent awakenings that broke out during president Timothy Dwight’s tenure at Yale University during the early 1800s, I was inspired to pray boldly that God would set college campuses aflame with revival today. I mourned over the darkness that has since enveloped North Korea but gave thanks for the Pyongyang revival that spread into China and eventually transformed South Korea.
Maybe God hasn’t used you to lead a revival. But he has revealed his sovereign goodness to you in countless ways both big and small. So tell us your stories. We’re listening.