Spiritual Memorials: Communicating God’s Greatness and Faithfulness
The picture of a group of sophomore girls painting a house on a mission trip, the collage of your last winter retreat, or the picture of the worship band at the summer conference: students' pictures adorning the walls of most youth rooms might carry with them a deeper significance than just fun decoration.
All of these images can be used to powerfully communicate God's faithfulness. Our kids live in turbulent days, questioning God's role in the midst of terror, wars, and famine. In times like these, it's more important than ever to communicate God's goodness, love, and faithfulness to our students. One great mechanism is the use of spiritual memorials.
A spiritual memorial is simply any object, picture, or memory that can direct one's spirit towards the realization that God is good and faithful. In fact, you might already have many spiritual memorials around your home, office, and youth rooms without even realizing it. Spiritual memorials can be those youth group pictures, journals, prayer diaries, or even the high-energy music video you made with photos of your students at summer camp.
Many of us take snapshots of our students during various retreats and activities. When we get home, we turn these pictures into large posters, videos, and PowerPoint shows; typically we do this primarily for the enjoyment of our students and their parents. Now, creating fun and exciting videos and posters is great, but they might serve your students' spiritual lives in an even greater capacity.
It may seem that a picture of a student swallowing a goldfish has little to do with communicating God's faithfulness, but the main issue in creating a spiritual memorial is simply redirecting one's focus. I'd encourage you to see these pictures differently—to see the possibility of greater meaning within them. I'd encourage you to teach your students to see the pictures around your youth rooms not only as fun memories, but as testimonies to God's protection, love, and faithfulness.
I'd encourage you to view the gifts you received from the people you served on your last mission trip through new eyes, to let them serve as encouraging reminders to the power of sacrificing for the kingdom of God. I'd encourage you to continue to journal your thoughts and prayers, but to know that your words can be used by God in the future. One day, they might serve as a source of hope for you and your students as you travel through the dry seasons of life.
We all have these spiritual memorials around us. The question is, are we taking full advantage of them? And are we teaching our students to take full advantage of them? When we start seeing the spiritual memorials around us and we begin to train our students to see them, our view of God's greatness and faithfulness will expand in ways that we might never have imagined. When this begins to happen, our passion for God and our students' passion for God will grow like a wild fire. Whenever people have focused on the greatness and faithfulness of God, their lives have been transformed, and they've been inspired to do amazing things on behalf of God's kingdom.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land in Joshua 4, Joshua called each of the tribes to gather a stone from the river and, using these 12 stones, they built a memorial to the faithfulness of God. Joshua declared, “…When your children ask in time to come, 'What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.'” (Joshua 4: 6-7)
The first thing Joshua did when he entered the Promised Land was build a spiritual memorial to the faithfulness of God. He understood the transformative power of spiritual memorials. He understood that what some people might see as just a pile of rocks, others could be taught to see as a powerful testimony to God.
Another example of the transformative power of spiritual memorials comes out of the life of David in 1 Samuel 17. The young shepherd boy is thrust into a battle against a tremendous obstacle, the giant Goliath. As David considered the possibility of facing this giant in battle, he looked for hope in spiritual memorials of God's faithfulness to him in the past. When everyone around him, defeated and demoralized, trembled in fear of the giant, David chose to place his trust in God. David recalled occasions when God helped him defeat a lion and a bear while guarding his father's sheep.
These memories of God's faithfulness in the past provided David with the hope that God would be faithful in delivering him from the giant that he faced in this situation. So, armed with these spiritual memorials and a simple sling, David stepped into the valley and defeated the giant. David's act of faith infused hope and courage into the army of Israel. Suddenly, these men who'd been cowering in fear charged bravely across the battlefield to conquer the Philistines. Spiritual memorials not only serve as personal reminders to God's faithfulness, but at times they even bolster or ignite the faith of entire communities.
The Lord's Supper
Possibly the most well-known spiritual memorial is the act of communion, instituted by Christ himself. For the past 2,000 years, Christians from all over the globe and from all walks of life have participated in this greatest of spiritual memorials. Christ told his disciples that the act of communion was an act of remembrance. For whenever we partake of the bread and the cup, we're retelling the story of Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection, of our salvation, of our liberation from the chains of this fallen world, and of the defeat of sin and death.
There's no greater spiritual memorial to God's faithfulness than the act of communion; and this is a spiritual memorial that's already built into our church lives and practices. The practice of communion can be a great way to begin to explore the power of spiritual memorials within the life of your church or youth group.
A Direct Approach
Spiritual memorials are all around us, but sometimes we just need to get people to see them with new eyes—to have a new experience with them. Teaching students a series on spiritual memorials in the Bible is great. You could begin with those examples highlighted above, but keep going, too—the Bible is packed full of examples of spiritual memorials and their transformative power. As you walk your students through these biblical stories, pointing out their transformative effect on the lives of the various biblical characters, you can ask your students to examine their own lives and to think of any examples of spiritual memorials they possess.
To prime their thinking, incorporate real examples from the life of your group into your messages. As you point out the spiritual memorials throughout Scripture, refer to pictures of your service projects, show the video from your last retreat, or bring out the painting given to your group by the people you served on your mission trip. When we begin to equate the common images and objects from the lives of our youth groups with the spiritual memorials throughout Scripture, our students will make the connection. They'll realize what biblical characters like Joshua and David realized—that simple reminders of God's goodness and faithfulness in the past can be used as powerful, life-transforming testimonies to God's goodness and faithfulness in the future.
An Indirect Approach
While a teaching series on any topic can be immediate and wide-reaching for your students, you might want to consider other ways to bring spiritual memorials to life, as well. Begin to look for opportunities to share their power as you listen to the stories that students share from their lives.
Recently, a student in my youth ministry shared with me her struggles with faith and God in the midst of her parents' divorce. She didn't understand how God could allow this to happen to her family. Quite frankly, I didn't understand how God could allow it, either. So, I was honest.
I said, “I don't know why this is happening to your family right now, and I'm not sure how this will turn out. But I do know this: God is good and faithful. Do you remember last summer when we were on our mission trip? Do you remember how hot it was? Do you remember how we were all so tired, hungry, sick, and didn't think we had the strength to serve any more? But then we felt God's presence with us; it gave us the strength and energy we needed to make it through. I know that the God who gave us the strength we needed to serve the Kingdom last summer is the same God who will be faithful to you and your family during these hard times.”
As we talked, I showed her pictures from our mission trip; while it didn't make her pain go away, it did serve to remind her that God had been and would be faithful.
Our students are growing up in treacherous times. We live in a confusing and chaotic world, and many of our students live equally confusing and chaotic personal lives. Whatever we can do to communicate God's love, goodness, and faithfulness will be a positive step towards helping our students make sense of their lives and their world. Spiritual memorials can have an amazingly transformative effect in the lives of our students, as we teach them to see the greatness of a God who's already been at work in their lives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.