One of the reoccurring things I have students do when I meet with them is to pinpoint a couple of things that have influenced their spiritual growth up to that point in their lives. It is an open-ended question that I don’t expect certain answers for but seem to always get a re-occurring theme over and over again. Rather than it being deep theological lessons from a sermon or lesson. More than it being an experience in a foreign country serving others. More than it being the tools and tasks given to them to do on their own. The thing that comes up over and over again are the relationships they have had with others.
In everyone’s life, there are people who have shown up and become a catalyst for their spiritual growth. Whether for better or worse. It isn’t just one person but it is multiple persons. It isn’t just a single incident, but relationships over time.
Another thing about it is that this isn’t a new thing. This is something that has been going on for thousands of years. God displaying himself in others’ lives shapes people the most in their spiritual growth.
You see this in scripture as well. Constantly throughout the Old Testament, we follow a group of people called the Israelites who are journeying with God trying to live out their calling to bless the world. Over and over again, people come along in the lives of the Israelites and talk about their history and how God has acted and called them. Almost every time we read about these conversations we see them start off with the phrases…
“The God of Abraham…”
“The God of Isaac…”
“The God of Moses…”
What we see is that the Israelites are supposed to remember their sense of God because how Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and others let God work through their lives to bless the people. God uses these people. That is the point. He always has. Sometimes we forget the God of the Bible is the God of the people of the Bible, and that the main way God demonstrates His story of redemption is through people.
The relationships we have in this life are showing an image of God. The way we carry grace into a difficult situation shows God to others. The way we entrust situations to God in the midst of suffering shows God to others. The way we love the outcast and care for the poor shows God to others. All of this happens whether we realize it or not.
So throughout my life, God has shown up in the relationships I have had with people to the extent that when I think of God I think of people in my life that have shaped me:
The God of Brett
The God of David
The God of Art
This God that uses people to show me a little more of who He is and shape me into who I am today. It is how God decides to act and why the incarnation is so inline with how He has always worked.
So at the end of every conversation I have with those students asking them about these people that have influenced their spiritual growth, I always challenge them to be that to someone else. Let God work through you to be the influence in someone’s life that shapes them in their faith. That involves vulnerability and honesty and sacrifice of time that you could be doing something else.
But what is continually true throughout time is that the best change someone may have to personally see God is to get a close-up look at the people who follow God.