By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
When I was around 10 years old, my dad gave me a set of golf clubs. He enjoyed playing the game, and he viewed it as a great time to introduce me to it.
We had an empty field close to our house and I’d go out and practice. He gave me pointers, and I’d get a little better. But, if I ever went very long without playing, I’d get worse again.
As a teenager, my emotions would get the best of me on the golf course. I got so upset that I wasn’t able to do what looked so easy for my father. It just hadn’t caught on, yet.
Golf was my dad’s love, but over time, I came to eventually enjoy it as well. Today, I don’t get to play often, but I enjoy when I have the opportunity to get out there. The majority of the times I play as an adult, it’s with my dad. The game of golf connects me to him, and that’s one of the reasons I love it today.
Parents have been given a gift--the gift of influence. Whether it is top of mind for us or not, our children are soaking up everything we say and do, like little sponges.
We are going to influence our children, one way or another. So…
Is being a Christian enough to ensure our children grow up to be healthy Christian adults?
Of course, the answer is no.
Christianity isn’t something that you inherit, like height or eye color. Some people look to Proverbs 22:6 as a statement on the importance of raising your kids in the faith: “Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
People often use this verse as a makeshift guarantee that if you do your part to raise your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they’ll always stay on the right path. That interpretation can be problematic, particularly for the “good parents” I know who have seen their older children stray from the faith.
We all know that we can try our best, and sometimes the results are different than we would have hoped. God has given us all free will to make our own choices, after all.
Our job is to provide the scaffolding or the ladder for our children. They still have to climb it for themselves. We can’t guarantee our children will grow up to be healthy Christians--or Christians at all--no more than my dad could force me into being a great golfer.
At some point, our kids have to hear God’s call for themselves and begin a life of walking with him.
But, there are things we can do as parents while are kids are under our care that will help them in their journey.
1. Remember Our Main Responsibility: Introducing our Kids to the Gospel
In his book Raising Kingdom Kids, author and pastor Tony Evans writes, “God created the first family. He told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And the idea was not just to fill the earth with people, but fill the earth with His image in which man and woman were made.”
Our chief responsibility as parents is to represent the Gospel to our kids. We are to teach our children about Jesus and help them to see and understand God’s plan for their lives.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
Here, God lays out a clear goal for our family--to spread the good news from one generation to the next. This isn’t about force-feeding our children. This is about introducing them to God’s love and making sure faith is a central component of the home.
2. Set a Healthy Christian Example
Technology has made some things so much easier. The amount of information you can consume in minutes boggles the mind.
You can learn just about anything by watching videos online. For most of my life, I’ve wanted to play the guitar. Last year I started taking lessons, and it was tremendous. There’s just something about having someone show you exactly what you should do.
Now, I enjoy watching YouTube videos and learning how to play some of my favorite songs. Perhaps I could get some sheet music with the guitar tabs on it and try to figure it out, but it’s just so much easier seeing someone play the song and show you how.
Examples are a great way to learn for yourself. As it pertains to the Christian life, our kids need to see what a healthy Christian life is all about. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
How do we handle ourselves during the storms? What things do they see us do, or what do they hear us say? Where do we go? How do we spend our time? How do we spend our money?
Just like kids learn about relationships by what they experience in the home, they are learning about the Christian life by observing Christians.
Is our lifestyle one of a “healthy” Christian?
3. Prepare Them for the Real World
When I first stepped foot on a college campus, I was naïve and ill-prepared for what I encountered. I was bombarded with professors antagonizing my faith, doubts I had never experienced and atheist friends asking questions I couldn’t answer.
Growing up, I never had hard conversations with my parents, youth leaders or Sunday School teachers about things like this. I wasn’t ready to be in that environment.
There are countless bits of knowledge we pass on to our children: how to properly cut the lawn, check the car’s oil or change a tire; how to prepare Grandma’s favorite recipe; how to manage money. Why do we give so little attention to matters of the faith?
We should be training our children in how to defend the faith, how to live it out boldly in a world that doesn’t understand it and how to share the Gospel naturally. We should be talking to our kids about what it means to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).
This idea first became real in my own life as a parent when my young daughter, who was about 7 at the time, came to us and expressed doubt about her belief in God. While it didn’t show on the outside, I was panicking on the inside, wondering where I had gone wrong.
She had no trouble believing in Santa Clause, but he was real. She had seen him with her own eyes at the mall and received his gifts. Yet, she hadn’t ever seen Jesus or heard his voice when she prayed.
In the moment, I just reminded her of the story found in Mark 9 about the father and the boy with the unclean spirit. Jesus says that his healing is possible if you believe: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Doubts are normal, I told my daughter. Whenever you experience doubts, talk to God about them. He wants you to bring it all to Him. He wants you to love Him with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Sometimes it is easy to love Him with our heart and soul and we have to try harder with our mind. There are things we just don’t understand.
I don’t know if this conversation was exactly what she needed, but it certainly helped me. The real world is a cold place. A place that is eager to strip you of your hope and faith. But, if you encourage difficult conversations today, they’ll be prepared for the real world and will know they can ask God to help them with their unbelief.
4. Trust God to Do His Part
It’s important to remember that we can’t save our children. We can’t save them any more than we can save ourselves. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
All we can do is create an environment conducive for our kids to hear God speaking to them, and then pray for them daily. We need to pray that their child-like faith would grow into a lifetime of service to the Lord.
The family was God’s perfect creation in the beginning, designed with specific goals in mind. But, then Genesis 3 happened, and the family was forever marred by sin. We took something perfect, and we messed it up.
The Bible is chock full of messed up people with messed up families. Brothers killing brothers. Sons deceiving fathers. Husbands cheating on wives. Some of the biblical “heroes” carry with them a substantial load of family baggage and bad decisions.
Fortunately, God is the redeemer. He can take something that sin has disfigured--even one of His ultimate creations like the family--and still use it to accomplish His purposes. If we are earnestly fulfilling our role as parents, we can trust that God will be faithful in fulfilling His.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Choreograph
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart