Embarking on parenthood can be an intimidating task because children are young, malleable souls who are ready to absorb everything that comes into their lives, whether good or bad, whether you intend them to pick up on things or not. And like a sponge that absorbs something and then oozes it out, whatever your child absorbs into their minds and hearts will eventually come out.
A hard truth to accept is that you as a parent do not have the power to control all of the choices your child will make and who your child will become. However, and very importantly, you do have control over what will influence their choices and ultimately their lives. Surrounding them with God’s Word and creating an atmosphere in your home where truth and love abound can be instrumental in their developing a personal relationship with Jesus, the only Source of purposeful living, peace, and joy. .
When my children were young, I intentionally wove faith in Christ into the fabric of their everyday lives, relating everything we did to Him and His view of life. We prioritized going to church, having nightly family devotions, putting them where they would receive Christian education, and overseeing entertainment choices that aligned with God’s Word. When we needed to discipline them we did so based upon His Word and made it a priority for them to know that ‘we meant what we said and said what we meant’ so they would learn to trust our word, and even more importantly, for them to learn that God– Who placed us as His authority over them on earth– is trustworthy. They also knew that there would be greater discipline measures meted out if they lied to us instead of confessing their disobedience to us.
No child is too young for you to talk to them about the Lord. Speaking words about God and His love and the truth of His Word are critical to their growing in knowledge of Him and love for Him, but It’s also essential to keep in mind that most of what children learn is ‘caught, not taught’. Children of all ages not only hear your words, but they are tuned into the tone in which you speak those words. For example, when your children need to be disciplined, does your tone express your ‘fleshly anger’? Or does it convey your ‘righteous anger’ rooted in your love for them as well as your love for the Lord and the commands He has given for our good?
Children also are very well aware of whether you ‘practice what you preach’; they can spot hypocrisy a mile away. If you instruct them to tell the truth since that is a chief attribute of God and pleasing to Him, do they hear you telling the truth in your relationships? For instance, do you tell ‘little white lies’ to phone solicitors or ‘make up’ excuses that aren’t true when you decline an invitation? Or do you tell your children to speak kindly about others and then they overhear you gossiping about someone? So often our children forsake the faith we preach because they do not see us living it out before them. As important as it is to surround our children with Godly content, it is also critically important that our lives reflect Godly living. There’s an adage that says, “you can’t give away what you don’t have” – and I strongly believe and can testify that If you want to raise Godly children who seek after Him, you need to pursue God yourself. My children knew every morning I made it a priority to have my quiet time where I read God’s Word and prayed to Him. They knew, saw, and witnessed that example. I know that had I not made that time with God a priority, I would not have been able to pour into my children the truth that God poured into me as I met with Him each day.
When I was raising my children, I realized that if I wanted them to follow Jesus, they would need to learn to become comfortable with being made fun of and even rejected by others for their beliefs. Jesus was persecuted, and He warned us in John 15:18-21 that if they persecuted Him, they will also persecute those who follow Him. That led me to a self-examination of whether I was willing to be rejected for my faith, and whether I was going to live for the praises of people which are fleeting and meaningless or for the praise of God Whose opinion is the only one that matters.
Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6 ESV) He has shown us the one and only way to have meaningful life on earth and eternal life in Heaven. Jesus told us that if the “world”–those outside of the faith–hated Him, that we too will be hated for our beliefs if we follow Him and His will and ways. Even if you’re not hated, at the minimum, you will likely feel “left out, uninvited, or alone at times.” And so will your children if they too follow Jesus. It’s important to teach our children that following Him and His ways– especially in our post, anti-Christian culture– will likely lead to suffering, but that going any and every other way will always and only lead to dissatisfaction, discontentment, and ultimately to death.
So we raised our kids with the understanding that they need to be prepared to suffer, and that Jesus who gave His life for us is worth our momentary, temporal suffering on earth. And we strove to assure them that living for Him is the only life worth living, and that there is joy in the midst of suffering since it is the suffering that leads to our growing in faith, in grace, and in our love for Jesus Who willingly suffered a horrible death on the cross on our behalf and for our sake. I believe it is a critical role of parents to prepare their children to stand firm in their faith regardless of the opposition they face.
Further, my husband and I strove to ‘feed their spirit’ and to ‘starve their flesh’, meaning helping them to learn the importance of not giving into their selfish desires and self-focused ways but instead living to please God by obeying Him and loving others. We loved our children dearly, but let them know in no uncertain terms that the world and our lives did not revolve around pleasing them; they were not the center of the universe. The world and our lives are meant to revolve around pleasing God, and we knew and wanted them to know that the life lived with a focus on Him will be the life well-lived. Children need to be taught to strive for sanctification through repenting of their sinful human nature, not indulging it. We need to show them why life is worth living, and that’s not to accumulate earthly blessings, but Heavenly ones.
When I think of “religion,” I think of following man-made rules. I wanted to make sure that my children were not “religious,” following rules for the sake of rules, but that they had a personal relationship with Jesus and loved Him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey me.” (John 14:15-17 ESV) I wanted my children to love Jesus so much that they would choose to obey His will, trusting that His will is always for their good. I remember a mentor of mine sharing this wise counsel: “The law without love leads to rebellion; love without the law leads to licentiousness.” I believe it’s so important that we teach our children that God as our Creator designed us and knows what is best for us so He gave us commands to protect us and to ensure we will not become ‘slaves to sin’ that leads to death, but instead become ‘slaves to righteousness’ that leads to abundant and eternal life. (Romans 6:15-23)
Knowing how important it is for our children’s good that they love the Lord and follow His will and ways, and simultaneously knowing that we can’t control our children’s minds and choices, can lead to anxiety. We can be bombarded by questions like, “Am I doing enough? Have my sins and failure as a parent kept my child from knowing and following Jesus? Do my kids have true faith in the Lord or is it merely head knowledge that hasn’t transcended to their hearts? Will my children choose to follow Jesus even after they leave the house?”
3 Tips for Raising Godly Children:
- When difficult things happen to your children and they come to you for help, be vulnerable and share how you have needed Jesus to help you get through tough times. Share your favorite “go-to” Bible verses that you read to gain strength and help you. Remember, you are not their savior, Jesus is! Let them know that you will help them in ways that you can, but they need to realize that only God is perfect and only He is always with them, will never leave or forsake them, and only He can give them perfect counsel and guidance.
- Admit when you’re wrong, and ask for forgiveness from your child, as well as from God while in the presence of your child. There are no perfect people, and the Bible stresses this with an extra note: “Not even one” (Romans 3:12 ESV).You cannot model perfection because you are not and never will be perfect, however, you can model what it looks like to recognize your sin, confess it, seek forgiveness and the joy of being set free from sin you commit against others and God and how you fully forgive your children when they disobey you.
- Jesus modeled what it looks like to love and serve God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; He put doing the will of His Heavenly Father at the center of everything He did, and we should do the same in our lives. Include your children in starting each day with turning to God, praising Him for His faithfulness and goodness, and invite them to pray about their relationships, for others, and about everything that concerns them. Praying for your children is the way for you to be reminded that they are His and in HIs loving care, and praying with your children is the way to teach them to be in daily and continual communication with the One Who is always with them and Who can never fail them..
It would have produced anxiety in my life had I thought I was responsible for “making” my children follow Jesus. Instead, God helped me learn that my job was to love Him and live for Him, to teach, instruct, and model before my children to do the same. It is up to God to draw them to Himself (John 6:44) There is such a relief in knowing that only God can bring them to the saving knowledge of Himself, and that I cannot make my children love, serve, or follow Jesus; only God can turn their hearts.
When God clarified my thoughts regarding my job as a parent and his job as their Heavenly Father, it removed so much anxiety from my life. I am not in control, but I can follow God’s will and His ways and thereby provide an example for my children to follow, and trust their lives to the One Who is Sovereign over them and everything!
Isaiah 41:10 (ESV): “Fear not, for I am with you.”
While you have control over what you surround your children with and the example you set, God has ultimate control over the lives of your children. How comforting to know that He loves them far more than you do, and He is all powerful and able to do for them and you ‘exceedingly and abundantly above what you could hope or imagine’! (Ephesians 3:20) HIs Word states: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and that includes your desire for your children to love God and to live for Him.