One of my biggest struggles/frustrations/issues as a parent is learning how to pass on a living Christian faith to my four children. It’s an area where I have often wished there was one thing I could do, or even “Three Things To Do That Will Turn Your Kids From Sinners to Saints in Seven Days”, a principle to apply, 10 easy steps to follow that would turn them all into strong Christians, so I could stop worrying about them, stop having to deal with their sinful choices and move into the blessed realm of enjoying sweet fellowship with them day after day.Unfortunately, I haven’t found the secret remedy for such a sudden and dramatic change yet.
Thankfully, God didn’t leave us clueless and helpless in this parenting business and He has provided a framework which, though not a hundred percent successful because we live in a fallen world, allows us parents to give our children the best possible chance for developing a healthy spirituality. But it doesn’t involve a few easy steps. It involves our complete commitment -all of us.
“For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Psalm 78:5-8
I know I am not the only Christian parent who is sometimes troubled with the problem of how to pass on a living and dynamic Christian faith to their children. It is an issue that is often if not always on my mind, especially when I read verses like the ones above seen in the context of Psalm 78 and when I see the consequences of disobedience to God’s Word and His ways being played out every day in a myriad of ways in the world around me. I have experienced the devastating consequences of sin in my own life and have observed it enough times in the lives of others to know that I don’t want my children to wander away from God’s way. Yet I know I am not responsible to convert them. Only God’s Spirit can do that. It is His grace and it is His prerogative. I can only ask and accept God’s final word on that. But I do have a responsibility to my children, a very important job which He has given each parent, one which is vital for the development of a healthy and informed faith in our children and I need to understand how to do this. Even if at the end of the day my children decide to reject my faith, they need to so in an informed way. They need to know what they are rejecting and what God’s Word says about those who do. Ignorance is not bliss. If our children are ignorant about these important issues we bear a heavy responsibility as Christian parents. So how do I pass on a reasonable knowledge of God’s Word and a hunger and a reverence for it, and a desire to walk in its ways? How do I teach it to them in such a way that my children “put their confidence in God and (do) not forget His works”?
This is what Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
The first thing I need to realise as a Christian parent is that I cannot be passive about passing on God’s Word to my children. How do I pass on God’s Word actively to my children?
- For starters, much as these things are really good things to do, having children who are passionate about God and his Word isn’t going to happen through a weekly attendance at Sunday School and a short devotional time each evening, even if I am completely consistent about it all the time. It’s not even enough to read devotional books with our children, even if we do it morning, noon and night. The passage in Deuteronomy gives us the right emphasis: “you shall teach..and talk of them when you sit…when you walk… and when you lie down.. and when you rise up.” The point is not that we keep quoting little bits of Scripture wherever we are and wherever we go, and whatever we are doing. The point is that Scripture has so soaked into us that it spills out in our attitudes, actions, priorities and choices all the time. You might have heard the phrase “You can’t lead others to places you haven’t been”. You can only take others as far as you have gone yourself. That totally applies to our love for the Word. Are my children a bit lukewarm about God’s Word? We can’t hope to pass on a passion for God’s Word if we haven’t developed one in ourselves. We can’t talk about faith and leaning on God’s promises if our pragmatic Christianity preaches a different story. So at the very outset, if I want to pass on a passion for God’s word and His ways, I need to develop that in myself. That is my starting point. I need to make God’s Word, His commands top priority in my own life. I need to let it start shaping my own mind, my heart and my will. I need to learn to love it, hunger for it and live it.
- ALL of my conversation, – that’s where Deuteronomy comes in with its teaching and talking wherever and whenever – needs to be reflective of my deep faith in God’s Word. It can’t be faked. Children are experts at spotting hypocrisy and they will learn far more from our example than our words. Even if I read and quote God’s Word to them constantly, if the rest of my conversation betrays a different emphasis, different priorities, double standards and a basic lack of trust and obedience to God’s ways, they will know it and they will follow suit. I pass on God’s Word best of all when my children see it backed up by my life and my words the rest of the time. They need to see my faith in God’s Word take on flesh and bones in real life situations, in the nitty-gritty of daily living and in the arena of parenting them. They need to see our honest appraisal of our own failure to live up to godly standards and our acceptance of grace and forgiveness – to know that IT WORKS. The key word in all of this is CONSISTENCY.
- I need to start an ongoing conversation with my children about EVERYTHING in relation to God’s Word. I need to teach myself and then them to examine what God’s Word says about everything in life MORE than what I say. I need to learn to teach them to say not “what would Mum say?” but “What does God say?”. At the end of the day I want to raise my children to be God’s children MORE than my children. After all, at heart and apart from the grace of God in my life, I am as stubborn and rebellious as the generation portrayed in Psalm 78. I don’t want them to “like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation…that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” I have discovered that there is little more painful than seeing my children repeat my mistakes and develop in themselves my character flaws, setting up a mirror for me to see my own faults. That is not what I want for them. I want my children to grow up more and more in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ and not in my image. I want them to have the wisdom from above and not just my wisdom.
- Children have a zillion questions. Instead of being so ready to air my opinions so quickly and so constantly I need to learn to lead them to God’s Word for the answers. It is true (and flattering) that my children might hold my opinions for a while but only God’s Word can change them for good. It is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness: so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I don’t have all the answers to all their questions but I can lead them to the One who does. This after all is the whole and holy purpose of Christian parenting.
Could it be that we are not passing on our love for God and His Word because it is on a back burner in our own lives? Could it be that the reality of our lives betrays an innate lack of trust in what God says and a blindness to the wonders of God’s word, to its intrinsic worth. If we believed it, we would read it with more urgency THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
The best thing we can do for the next generation is to fall in love with Jesus and His Word all over again. It is the very best thing I can do for my children. Therefore, I am praying daily that God would “open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from (His) law.” (Psalm 119:18). Why don’t you pray it too?