Shalom – God’s heart for children

Shalom – God’s heart for children

Shahid was physically broken – he was born paralysed and unable to use his legs. He lived in a broken environment – a poor urban area in South Asia where his family couldn’t even afford a wheelchair for him. He had a broken relationship with God – he had never even heard of God’s love. He had no hope for the future.

Into this situation came some Christians who were impelled by the love of God to bring change. Shahid was brought along to KidsHubs where he began to learn the basics of computing. He had never touched a laptop before but as he discovered the possibilities of this new skill his life was changed. “Suddenly he saw a future for himself working in IT – he had hope!” enthused his leader. A bit of Shahid’s brokenness was healed. While at KidsHubs, Shahid was also introduced to the God who loves him. His KidsHubs leader became his friend and continues to help him develop his computing skills and his relationship with God. Where once there was much brokenness, now there is hope and healing – Shahid is on the path to shalom.

(Read on for an explanation of the graphic above)

The Biblical vision of shalom

The Hebrew word shalom (often translated as peace) has a depth of meaning which includes peace, health, wholeness and completeness. It describes an environment where children can grow to fulfil their potential and become contributing members of their community as they are experience the presence of God and are surrounded by a loving and supportive community. This is what God desires for all of us. David proclaims: “Great is the Lord, who delights in blessing his servant with shalom” (Ps 35:27)

However, as we look at children around us today we see them suffering in the brokenness of their world – broken lives affected by sickness and sin; broken communities torn apart by war and injustice; a broken environment unbalanced and unhealthy. Because of children’s innate vulnerability, they are the first to suffer from this brokenness. When Jeremiah is describing the depth of the brokenness of Jerusalem, he laments: “Lift up your hands to God in prayer, pleading for your children, for in every street they are faint with hunger … see them lying in the streets – young and old, boys and girls, killed by the sword of the enemy.” (Lam 2:19, 21) In many parts of the world, our children are also dying from hunger and are cut down. Some hunger for food and others for love. Some are cut down by physical aggression and others by the loss of hope and meaning.

Jeremiah voices his despair when he cries “Shalom has been stripped away and I have forgotten what goodness is.” (Lam 3:17) But this is not the end! Just a few verses later he affirms, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: the faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness.” (Lam 3:21-23) God has not walked away and left us in this brokenness. He still desires us to experience shalom and promises to restore it to us. We don’t have to give up because God has not given up. In contrast to Jeremiah, Zechariah rejoices in his vision of the return of God’s presence and shalom. “Once again … the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.” (Zechariah 8:5) The children will be secure, carefree and healthy, bubbling over with creativity and laughter. Isn’t this what we desire for our children?

This healing and shalom comes at a high price. The glory of the Gospel is that God loves us so much that He has chosen to give Himself to bring us back into the enjoyment of His shalom. This was the goal of the incarnation. When Jesus was born the angels proclaimed that he came bringing peace (shalom). During his ministry, Jesus brought healing and wholeness to those he encountered. He proclaimed that he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). He told his disciples that he was leaving them with his peace (shalom). The incarnation reached it goal in the cross. Isaiah explains: “He was beaten so that we would know shalom. He was whipped so that we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) He took our brokenness upon himself so that we could be healed, made whole again and enjoy God’s shalom-bringing presence. Oh, how He loves us!

The path from brokenness to shalom

The journey from brokenness to shalom can take many paths because children are broken in different ways. Some children suffer from a broken environment, living with poverty or war or disease. Some are broken by twisted relationships that bring abuse and neglect and lovelessness. Some have never heard of a God who loves them and are cut off from that life-giving relationship. Others seem to have everything but lack meaning and hope. Our children need to be rescued from this brokenness and encounter shalom through the compassionate actions of the Body of Christ in action.

But rescue alone does not bring children into the full experience of shalom. God does not just desire to see them free from harm, He desires to see them flourishing as active, participating members of their community and the Body of Christ. Shalom involves developing as a person, gaining skills for life, growing in relationship with God and discovering His calling, contributing to the community and using Holy Spirit-given gifts in ministry to others.

This diagram shows the path from Brokenness to the wholeness of Shalom. The two axes represent the two spheres of brokenness:

·       Horizontal: Physical, personal, social brokenness which is evidenced by poverty, war, abuse, sickness, etc. Aid and development programs can help bring these children into a safe and healthy environment where they are enabled to develop personally and contribute to society.

·       Vertical: Spiritual separation from God through sin and ignorance is healed as the church reaches out, shares the Gospel and guides them into a relationship with God. As part of the community of His Body, their relationship with God is strengthened and they are enabled to become active participants in His work.

All children are currently somewhere on this matrix – experiencing different levels of brokenness and wholeness in different areas of their lives. Our goal is to move them closer to the complete wholeness of Shalom, found in the upper right quadrant.

Children’s openness and vulnerability means that they often reflect the brokenness of this world. However, they can flourish in shalom and pass it on to others. We see this in the lives of several children in the Bible. Out of his relationship to God, David brought shalom to King Saul as he played his harp and sang his songs of praise. A little servant girl pointed Naaman, a mighty warrior, in the right direction to find physical healing and spiritual wholeness because of her trust in God. Josiah was rescued from threat and paganism, protected in the temple, introduced to the true worship of God and emerged to lead the nation back to God’s shalom.

How can we be agents of God’s shalom?

God calls us to be agents of His shalom in the lives of children. We can seek shalom for children by speaking up on their behalf in the face of danger, neglect and limited opportunities. This means that we are not timid about advocating for children in our communities and churches. Home4Good is a UK partnership which advocates within the church concerning its responsibility to be spreading shalom by fostering and adopting children from broken situations. One foster family says, “A very traumatised four-year-old English girl stayed with us for 20 months during which we saw God bring healing and restoration. She is now happily adopted and doing well. We meet up once or twice a year for a fun day together.” In response to the current refugee crisis, Home4Good is also seeking to serve unaccompanied minors and influence the government’s attitude towards them.

We can bring shalom to children by loving and nurturing them. A church in Australia runs a Homework Club once a week. Children whose parents are too busy or not interested enough to help with homework are given one-on-one attention to help them in their studies. Others in the church provide snacks and fun games and lead the Bible Time. Many of these children are relatively well provided for with material possessions and development opportunities but they are short on love – most importantly God’s love. At the church they find this missing ingredient and are helped on their way to shalom.

We can experience shalom with children by opening up opportunities for them to join with us in growing in Christ and contributing to the community and church. In Tanzania, a group of 10 leaders and 10 children filmed material for a KidsHubsTV DVD to be handed out in their community. The segments included a short drama on sharing, a soccer skills session, a children’s choir, a preschool activity and interviews with parents and children about health and hygiene and child abuse. The children experienced shalom themselves as they learned new skills and they shared shalom with others as they served alongside the adults.

You don’t need to be a part of a large program or have special skills to spread shalom. Everyone can do something to help children experience more of the shalom God desires for them. A smile can help them feel valued. A prayer can bring God’s intervention into their lives. A donation can provide clean water or healthy food. A kind deed can give them an experience of God’s love.  A story can introduce them to a relationship with God. A helping hand can strengthen their family. A vote can ensure child-friendly policies. A new skill can equip them for the future. An opportunity can free them to follow God’s call on their lives.

We must become more aware of the children around us, get to know them and ask God to show us what we can do. Dr Wes Stafford (Compassion) said, “Every child who crosses my path … I consider a divine appointment, an opportunity to lift that child up … if only for a brief moment. It may just be that will launch a life or restore one that needs kindness today.”

What can you do today to help a child along the path to shalom?