Identifying Spiritual Mentors

given on May 30, 2010

How many of you can admit that you watch Oprah or maybe Dr. Phil or is your viewing less focused on life management skills?  The radio airwaves and the television listings have a wide range of talk show hosts who provide all types of advice about living a healthy life.  The pop psychologists talk about needing “life coaches” in order to assist people in making changes in their lives.

In fact, watching a show like Hoarders we find the life coaches dealing with the events in their lives that led them to this unhealthy behavior and then tackle the mammoth task of cleaning up the living quarters while cleaning up their emotional lives.

The pop culture may be focusing on helping individuals manage their lives, but God has been doing the same thing for eons.  God is the first life coach, and he ended up seeing the mess humans were getting into so decided an earthly life coach was needed:  therefore Jesus arrived to personally mentor us into a more loving lifestyle.

After working at Wentworth and with the at-risk youth in our county for nearly 25 years, I assure you that the need for life coaches is critical.  Where can we find a ready supply of life coaches in our community?  Hopefully right here, sitting in these pews, walking these sidewalks, eating at the local joints, and chatting on the phones.

This weekend is a traditional American holiday.  Memorial Day was created for Americans to honor the service men and women who have died in the line of duty.  The traditions of decorating soldiers’ graves and holding public events to immortalize the sacrifices expanded to honor all our family and friends.

The emphasis, though, has changed.  Memorial Day Weekend signals the beginning of summer—a time filled with recreation, warm sunshine, tans, picnics, grilling, vacations, and more.  Stopping at the cemetery to remember those family and friends who we have lost is just a small piece, if any at all, of the three-day weekend.

Today I asked that we bring photos or items that keep us connected to the special people in our lives who are no longer with us.  Who we are today is the result of the impact in our lives.  The family and friends we honor today are our role models or, in today’s culture, life coaches.  They have molded us to be the individuals we are today.

Strong role models have always been needed and was even identified in Proverbs 27:17:

As iron sharpens iron,

So one man sharpens another.

Such a simple statement, but consider the implications.  In the Spiritual Gifts study ,which has just ended, the book includes an essay entitled, “Meeting God in Community.”  The essay encourages us to actively stay a part of the Christian community:

As other people’s lives touch ours, they help to form our faith and make us who we are.  As we touch others, we reflect God’s love to them.  Relationships with other believers have extraordinary power in our lives because Christ is present in them.

Sometimes we feel as though we are so alone and yet we are not; we are never alone—we always have God.  The problem is that sometimes we need concrete help.  We need a life coach, a role model, an advisor, a spiritual mentor.

Again, here we are in the middle of another Memorial Day Weekend.  Look around.  Who is missing?  Who needs to be sitting here next to you?  Where are today’s spiritual mentors?  Are you a spiritual mentor for someone else?  Do you know someone who could benefit from a spiritual mentor?

Many individuals remain alone in the world struggling to put the pieces of their lives together.  They are on the roads and on the lakes rather than sitting with fellow Christians working to strengthen the relationship with God and their own skills.  What would happen if all those at the lakes were actually in worship?  How would their lives be different?

Looking at our personal list of life coaches, we can see where we learned how to manage our lives.  We can identify the special gifts these individuals had and used as they followed Christ.  Consider the different ways spiritual mentors nurtured you:  Did they provide spiritual guidance?  Did they steer you in a spiritual direction?  Did they provide you with a valued spiritual friendship?

These three categories were outlined in the essay about meeting God in our communities.  We were fortunate that our spiritual mentors, whether parents, extended family members, neighbors, friends, business associates, service providers, or a once-in-a-lifetime acquaintance, took the time to coach us in our own spiritual development.

I can look back at some of my spiritual mentors and place them in one of the three categories:

  • Spiritual guidance:  Sunday School teachers, especially my high school teacher Mrs. Jean Jones.  Teenagers facing the transition into adulthood, Mrs. Jones guided us through the weekly lessons letting us ask questions, listening to her experiences, and allowing us to make our own decisions.
  • Spiritual direction:  Mission trips or chores within the church’s structure all lead me to grow in faith.  My mission trip was a summer job through the Office of Creative Ministries.  I would also include the first Mission School I was asked to attend—and did.  Each step may not have seemed significant; but in retrospect, I see how God used each new direction to teach me more.
  • Spiritual friendship:  I count not possibly count each friendship I have made through my churches and my ministry (even if it has been in the framework of teaching school).  These friends enrich my life:  they carry my burdens and celebrate my accomplishments; they laugh with me and cry with me; but maybe most importantly, they are honest with me.  They are the “iron that sharpens iron” as the Proverb says.

As we share with each other the stories of the spiritual mentors, consider the qualities and gifts these individuals shared with you.  How did God make a difference in their lives?  How did their Christian behaviors draw people to them?  Now, ask yourself if others would consider you a spiritual mentor.

In the epistles of the New Testament, we have testimony from the writers about living the Christian lives in non-Christian societies.  The lifestyle of the young Christians proved to be trustworthy, ethical, and loving.  As the early church struggled, new Christians modeled their lives after Jesus.  Others observed and followed.  The verses from Hebrew, Philippians, I and II Thessalonians, and Ephesians direct us to continue seeking Christian fellowship and explains why it is so important.

The essay points out that “…God still uses the company of believers to grace our lives and transform the world.”  We must continue to worship together, study together, and work together if we are to maintain our faith. We may not know to whom we witness.  Those watching us may realize what a difference God makes in our lives and begin to believe.

The idea that we can be spiritual mentors may seem like an awesome responsibility,  still the essay identifies the importance of serving as spiritual mentors saying:

It is a privilege to nurture another person, to be trusted to hear another’s dreams and concerns, to pray for someone.  In so doing we may discover myriad ways to use the gifts that God has given us, to benefit our family in Christ as well as for our own growth and enjoyment.  As we help others, we too will be helped.  As we comfort and teach and encourage, we will be comforted, taught, and encouraged in turn.  As we experience community, we find our lives enriched, in turn providing us with ore to give to others.

We may be celebrating Memorial Day tomorrow, but stop and consider all those spiritual mentors who have guided us in our own spiritual development.  Hear the stories from each other of how these people changed our lives.  Reflect on your own life and consider your gifts, your skills, and your role as a spiritual mentor.  You are privileged to serve so thank God for all who have mentored us, and then work to be positive spiritual mentors for others, too.

Help Wanted:  Spiritual Mentors Take your list of spiritual mentors.  Pick one and share the story of their role in your life.  … (members volunteer to share their personal stories)

Dear God,

Thank you for all those who have gone before us.  We know they are in your company, but we do miss them.  We know Jesus walked this earth to guide us into the New Covenant, to love one another; but while we walk these paths, we seek Christian fellowship in order to continue improving our faith.  Help us identify the spiritual mentors in our lives, and help us to serve as spiritual mentors for others.                  –Amen

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