While out on a walk, I began reflecting on strategic planning for our ministry with LeaderSource in West and Central Africa. As I considered the sheer magnitude of the need, I felt an anxious thought rising. I thought, “We are only just chipping away towards progress in a large field. The vision is big and so much needs to be accomplished in the remaining years of my life.” Then I quipped aloud, “Lord! I can hardly even just continue to chip away at what You show me regarding growth for my own life, let alone the great deal of work towards growth in the life of so many others.” As the last word left my mouth, a peace instantly enveloped me. My anxious thought was crushed by another thought. It was not a new thought, but it came with force as revelation: God says He’s faithful from generation to generation.1
In the next two or three strides, my mind was flooded with eternal perspective. God’s work is meant to span generations. Even the return of Jesus, while the end of an age, is not the end of His eternal plan. By design it is not possible to accomplish all of God’s purposes in one generation. It is only possible to fulfill His purpose for our own lives and generation. Each person in their own generation is responsible to be faithful in their own life and time. God is the God of the living, not the dead.2 He is the God who works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.3 Surely then, the God who exists outside of time and space is masterfully weaving together the faithful obedient pursuits of our days with things already accomplished by those generations before us, and with the efforts of those generations that will follow us. While each generation has purpose, we must also consider that the Lord has overlapped the generations. Just as we cannot accomplish the full purposes of God in one generation, no generation is intended to start over from the beginning on those purposes or work in isolation. It came close to a complete reboot with the Great Flood, but while the animals came two-by-two, the Lord saw fit that two generations of mankind entered the Ark.
We are exhorted through Scriptures to reap from and sow into the overlap of generations. Examples abound, such as Joel 1:3: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation,” or the counsel of Paul to Titus in directing the elderly and the younger in relation to their interactions.4 Then there is also the often quoted Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” When the spiritually hungry population of Sychar was making its way toward Jesus and His disciples after hearing the testimony of the woman, He spoke of this principle of purposes fulfilled over the span of generations. In advance of the Samaritans’ arrival, Jesus proactively gives a disclaimer to His disciples: “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”5 The words of the prophets had built the Samaritans’ expectation of the coming of the Christ. Their experience as a people rejected by the Jews created hunger for acceptance and validation, especially by God. The sign that pointed the way was the testimony of one who was likely rejected among them: “He told me everything I ever did.” 6 Now all that remained was for the people to hear Jesus for themselves and know that this Man really was the Savior of the world. The Twelve could celebrate this breakthrough with Jesus, but they could take little credit for the harvest. It was the fruit of the labor of previous generations. Later, those same apostles would also be given an assignment that could only be accomplished over many generations – the Great Commission. Most of them were martyred without having seen what they hoped accomplished.
So it is with the work that remains with us. It is not misguided to yearn to see breakthroughs in reaching the lost, or to set goals that are beyond our reach so that without the Lord’s intervention they will fail. These inclinations and strategies are part of the way God designed us, and they give us focus and urgency on the course. We are blessed to have a big vision. It is a joy to be faithfully, obediently chipping away towards the vision set before us. We simply need to do this while keeping in mind a generational view in the fulfillment of those visions. We are easily enticed to focus on accomplishing the “big goal,” the “one thing” that will bring that huge kingdom breakthrough, that will “tie up all the efforts of history.” This view leads to either disillusionment or pride. A generational view builds humility, admitting that Kingdom business is not just about us doing something great in our generation, but about the pre-existing and ongoing business of our King. The “sudden” breakthroughs we celebrate are most likely going to be the fruit of every manner of labor done before us from intercession, to prophecy, to past encounters and experiences. An independent spirit is broken when we choose to adapt our favorite strategies in light of what we learn from our elders, and equally that which we may learn from those younger. It breaks us further as we choose taking different ministry roles, and handing over ministry tasks we have grown comfortable with to those in younger generations, even things we really enjoy, all for the sake of propelling their generation’s purpose forward. This act of propulsion, however, is the often neglected part. The long view, a generational view, is the kind of view that provokes patience and compels us to initiate collaboration with the generations before and after us in accomplishing Kingdom work. God has included in the assignment of each generation, the intentional sowing into those who are coming up after us. We will do well to relax from anxiety and do things His way! I started my walk with a tense moment of feeling overwhelmed, but I finished relieved of the need to accomplish it all in my generation. I was gently reminded, even as I teach others, that I must be always looking for those in the generations after me that I am called to sow into.
Suggested Activities and Reflection:
- Take some dedicated time asking God to speak to you about:
- The purposes He has in your life and generation.
- Ask for His evaluation of how you are doing drawing from and sowing into the overlapping generations.
- Ask God to show you who you are to be drawing from and sowing into.
- Sit with a Mentor and discuss this article. Ask them to reflect back to you about their observations concerning how you are doing in intentionally sowing into others.
- Plan a ministry activity, intentionally drawing your plan from the counsel of someone in a generation before you and one after you. The execution of the plan should at the very least incorporate the younger generation along with participants from your own generation.
- As an experiment, draw up a plan for a ministry activity in advance by yourself and tuck it away (close the file, hardcopy in envelope) then create a fresh plan with the input of the other generations and execute the plan. Then pull out your first plan and observe what was different between the two plans, and given the results of the activity, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the first plan in comparison to the jointly planned one that you used.
- Study the nature of the relationships between generations from both the Old and New Testaments. Note where the outcomes of those interactions had positive impact and those which had negative impact. Some examples: Elijah/Elisha, Barnabas/Paul/Timothy, Eli the Priest and his sons.
Psalm 145:4, Joel 1:3, Luke 1:50,
Matthew 22:32, Matthew 26:63, Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38
John 4: 38
John 4: 39