‘Dear Christian who works with young people’ will feature 3 Christians that work with young people in different ways. This week we hear from Dr Mark Scanlan, Lead Tutor and Lecturer in Theology and Youth Ministry at St Mellitus College.
Dear Christian who works with young people,
Well, 2022 is here and we are a few weeks in. I wonder how it has started for you? How you feel? Whether Christmas provided any break and respite, any joy? Or whether it was disrupted and exhausting, overshadowed by illness and disappointment? Whether it now seems a distant memory?
I write this with my daughter two days into a week of isolation having tested positive for Covid less than a week into the new school term and only three months after she had previously isolated following a positive test.
Whatever these early weeks of the year have brought and however you are feeling I hope the thoughts below bring some encouragement and sustenance as you pursue your work with young people into 2022.
In the first week of the January I read Psalm 48 and was drawn to these final three verses:
12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts, view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.
Given the exhaustion many of us feel and the ongoing uncertainty there are three things within these verses that help me calibrate at the start of this year.
In verse 12 and the beginning of verse 13 the Psalmist describes walking around Jerusalem, the city of God, and being reminded of the strength that is found in that place. Strength that for the Israelites was evidence of God’s faithfulness and work among them. In the early weeks of a new year it can be tempting to want to look ahead and press on with our vison for the year, or the next strategic goals that we have set.
This might be all the more tempting at the start of this year – we might feel that we have to make up for time lost to the pandemic, that we are playing catch up, that there is so much to do and so many people and tasks that need our attention.
I want to suggest though that we deliberately start 2022 from a different perspective. That, as the Psalmist describes, we take some time to look around and take note not of what needs to be done or we might be pressing on with, but at what God has done and has been doing among us. Let us move into this year aware and alert to God’s presence and action among us. And this might take some time, because for many of us the ground might seem quite barren. The Kingdom of God however is often apparent in small, hidden and unseen ways, akin to yeast in the dough or seeds in the soil.
In the first week of January I was able to take a retreat day and for part of the day took a walk out around footpaths and fields near my house. The sun was surprisingly bright and I stopped to enjoy the luminous beauty of the light across the barren soil of the ploughed fields. But as I stopped and took this in I noticed there among the brown, barren soil tiny green shoots of new life – this year’s crop beginning to show.
May you not rush into this year and all there is to do without pausing to notice, among the barrenness and challenges, the places where God is at work and where the new life of his Kingdom is breaking through, however small and insignificant these things might appear at first glance.
The second half of verse 13 then brings me to the second reminder, helping me align myself at the start of this year. That in amongst all the complexities of living out our calling and vocation as Christians working with young people in these times I need to keep coming back to the core of what God has put in my heart – to be part of His work in bringing the good news to younger generations.
There are no caveats – no numbers of young people that will determine how well we are doing, no response from them that is required to be successful – our calling and vocation is simply to be faithful in living and sharing the gospel.
What I find helpful in this as well is that the Psalmist links this directly to what has just been written. We tell the gospel story to the generations to come by talking about where we see God at work and the realities as we observe them – we do not need to sugar coat or talk about some experience that is not ours. Our gospel telling flows from our experience of faith in these times.
The good, the bad and the ugly!
And finally, as we do look ahead into all 2022 has in store, and all the uncertainty as to what that might look like, may you know as the Psalmist declares in verse 14 that this God is our God for ever and ever, even to the very end.
This might sound simplistic or even risk being trite but it is a profound truth – God, by his Spirit, is walking every step of every day with us and for us.
Our main task, above and beyond everything else, is to let him be our guide, to aim for faithfulness as our primary goal and task.
Draw near to him and let his presence envelope you – if you feel you are at the end of yourself know that he is your guide to that end; if you look into the year and the challenges seem almost overwhelming know that he will be with you even to the end.
Where does our strength come from to trust in this promise? Well, it is by returning to the pattern of verse 12, taking time to acknowledge the signs of life, however small and fragile, that show us God is at work and the new life of his Kingdom is breaking through.
Go well and may God guide you into and throughout 2022.