“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:17-18 ESV)
Among my earliest memories is a member of a church asking me if I was going to be a preacher when I grew up. I was, at most, four years old then. Nevertheless, although I taught in a public high school for a short time and counseled at a Bureau of Prisons facility, I have preached the gospel of Christ for most of my adult life, either to local churches, or to military personnel as an Army chaplain. Unlike some, I did not discover the message of Jesus by picking up a Bible and reading it alone. Several generations of my family before me confessed the name of Jesus and were baptized into his body, the church. A great-grandfather and grandfather preached; my other grandfather was an elder who had helped start a church after moving to another state. Each of them was taught about Christ by their parents. Like Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:5-6), I remember that faith dwelt first in my parents and grandparents. A great-grandmother inspired me as a teenager with her daily Bible reading after she moved into our home. My father’s mother, through her example and her watchful eyes, taught me to pray with reverence and to listen quietly to others pray in the assembly of church. My mother listened carefully and coached me as I practiced my first sermons. My father advised me about which books from his religious library would benefit me most, inspired me with his sermons, and reasoned with me about what God considers important for his people. So, although my faith has been tempered, shaken, and strengthened by my experiences and my reading, I owe an incredible debt to my family members who, to paraphrase the verses above, proclaimed God’s might to another generation, mine. As a father and grandfather, this debt weighs heavily on me as I ponder my responsibility to my children and their peers. I pray for health, for mental acuity, and for loving relationships with my children. I also pray for courage to speak truth even when it challenges what they want to do, and for humility to recognize when I may be wrong. I pray that my faith in Christ will lead others, especially my children and grandchildren, to fan into flame even more the faith to which Christ calls them also through his gospel. And I wonder if anyone will ask my grandson, “Are you going to be a preacher like your grandfather?”
O God who shows steadfast love to those who love you and keep your commands, I pray for my children and my grandchildren. They live in a culture that celebrates “alternative facts” and promotes morality that conflicts with your will. That frightens me. Circumstances in my own life have challenged my hope. I thank you for people whose patience and love revived my dreams. Help me to listen, but also to teach from what I have learned in a way that will illuminate the path of another generation. I am humbled by having the opportunity to preach and to teach your message. Help me to advocate your cause accurately with compassion. I pray as the psalmist prayed before me, “Do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation.” In Jesus’ name, amen.