I sit in the same chair each morning, a cup of coffee on the table next to me, the Book of Common Prayer on the chair arm, and a Bible in my lap. I spend a considerable time reading, thinking, and praying.
Whenever I look up, I see a plaque opposite me on the wall. It is an odd decoration. Affixed to the plaque, which cost a couple of dollars, is a tin can bounded on either end by hose clamps. Right below the can are the words, “My God shall supply all your needs,” taken from the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
I placed it there, where I will see it every day, as a helpful reminder of how God has taken care of my family in the past and an encouragement to trust God in the future. But I had another reason for putting it there: I wanted to use it to help our grandchildren learn what God is like.
Our grandchildren are still young. But I expect that one of these days our oldest, now six years old, will say: “Grandpa, why is there a can on the wall in your study?” And I will say, “I don’t think you’re ready for that story yet. I’ll tell you when you are older.” And each time they see the tin can mounted on the wall, it will arouse their curiosity about the story behind it.
Someday I will tell them the story. The can reminds me of a time when I was pastoring in a mission-like church in a rustbelt city. When I was sent there, the average Sunday attendance was 19. Three months after we arrived, the biggest giver in the church died. Then began years of financial struggle. There were times when we had no money and no groceries.
One day, the pipe between the catalytic converter and the muffler on my old Buick rusted through, and I had no money to pay for repairs. So, I rescued a tin can from the trash, cut it lengthwise into a metal sleeve, then clamped the sleeve around both ends of the broken pipe. To my surprise, it worked.
I was driving downtown a week or two later and stopped at the post office. When I went to get out of the car, the driver’s side door would not open. I slid over and tried the passenger door. It would not open either. It was like a scene in a comedy as I climbed over the bench seat – in jacket and tie – to escape out the back door.
Later, on my way back to the church, my makeshift repair burned through, the pipe dropped to the pavement, and the car roared so loudly it could be heard for blocks. In frustration I cried to God: “I need a new car!”
That evening, five people came to our home in two cars. They left in one, after they had given us the other. The interesting thing is that we never told anyone about any of our financial needs—except God, who had already taken care of our needs in many remarkable ways.
I want to tell that story to my grandchildren. More than that, I want to impart to them a knowledge of God’s goodness and a confidence in his care. In the words of the ancient psalm, I desire to “declare [God’s] power to the next generation, [his] might to all who are to come.”
It is incumbent upon us to relate what we know about God to the next generation. One of the best ways to do this is through stories. Years of pastoral work have taught me that people have stories that are important for them to share. Teaching children doctrine is necessary, but without stories, they will have no hooks on which to hang their doctrines.
It is good to find creative ways to share the stories that display, as the psalmist put it, “the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done … so the next generation would know them.” Such stories are among the richest treasures we can give the next generation.
(First published by Gannett.)