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When our children were young, God deposited a hope and vision in us for having children who would love God as much as their parents did. There has never been a time in raising our children that we thought they might fall away from the Lord. Throughout their teens and now in their young adult years, all three of them love the Lord and have strong convictions in many areas that affect their walk in Christ.
Our desire and vision is to see parents build the godly character in their children that will enable them to choose the narrow path and reject the path that leads to the snares of the world. I want our own children, as well as all of yours, to have the godly character to choose that narrow path, to choose to lose their lives for Christ, to be hundredfold Christians, not thirty or sixtyfold (Matthew 13:8). Will our young people decide to pay that price?
The job we have as parents is to build convictions in the lives of our children from the inside out. What an opportunity and a challenge that presents for us! Some years ago another pastors wife asked me what kinds of things my husband and I did that caused our children to serve God. These are eight of the practical aspects of raising godly children I listed at that time.
1. Set the Example
In order to have children who have convictions you must be a person who has convictions yourself. Your children will not have any more convictions than you do. What I actually do myself has more effect on my children than all of my words.
Set the example by having a submitted heart. How can we deal with rebellion in our childrens lives if we are rebellious toward our husbands and toward other authority in our own lives?
Set the example by having the right attitude toward the things of the world. Are they really dim to us? Or is our time, energy, and our money spent on pursuing the things of the world rather than the purposes of God? Set the example by dressing appropriately. Ask, "Am I overly concerned with fashion? Am I modest?" If we dont have a good balance in our own lives, we wont be able to bring balance to our children.
It is a challenge to keep our daughters looking their age when the fashion of the day is for 12-year-olds to look and act like 15-year-olds. Its a challenge to keep the hemlines down when the style of the day is creeping up again. Without convictions in these areas we will be influenced by ever-changing fads.
Set the example by being a faithful servant. If our children hear us grumbling and mumbling about going to church, cleaning the house, fixing the meals, they will also exhibit poor attitudes. When we are self-centered and selfish, our children will follow in our footsteps.
Set the example by praying, reading the Word, worshiping, being faithful to the prayer room. Be a person who is obedient to the Lord, and who lives with the fruit of the Spirit exhibited at home as well as at church.
It is also important for us to have convictions and set the example in the area of what kind of music we listen to, what kinds of things we view on television, and what kinds of movies we watch. We actually limited the TV viewing to a couple hours a month. All of our children helped make that choice. The deterioration of movies and television disgusted them as much as it did us. As a family we made the choice to eliminate those sources of input in our lives.
2. Be a Team
Working together made my husband and me more effective in dealing with our children. We talked about our children a lot. Since I was the one who was home the most and had the most contact with them, I was more in tune with their ongoing daily trials. But I was faithful to discuss things with him, get his input and have him deal with areas that I was concerned about.
It is important for you and your husband to have the same convictions and vision for your children. If one parents goals and convictions are totally different from the others, your children will wind up trying to serve two masters. This causes frustration and will actually cause the child to love one parent and hate the other.
We tried always to be united in our counsel. I found out what my husband thought and what he had already said before I answered a matter. If there was a conflict of opinion we settled those things privately.
We found that we balanced each other. There were times when my input changed his opinion toward how we might deal with our children, and there were times when the reverse was true.
Being a team is not always possible. If you are a single parent, you are doing the job alone, but that does not mean you cannot enlist the help and counsel of a godly person. Find someone to discuss difficult situations with you. Get encouragement and help when you need it.
3. Spend Time with Them.
Our relationship with our children has been a motivating factor in their desire to love God and obey him. If you were to ask our children what weve done that has impacted them the most, I think they would say it is the time we spent with them, and our heart-to-heart relationship with them. That relationship has changed, grown, and deepened as the years have gone by. I believe our relationship with them has been the vehicle that God has used to impart our convictions.
With each of our children we noticed a need to increase the level and depth of our relationship when they reached the age of 11 or 12. When Matt was that age my husband started taking him out to lunch two or three times a month. By the time Matt was 14, he had all of our convictions. I believe that was a direct result of the time spent sharing hearts and sharing biblical principles. They talked about music and what effect it has on people. They talked about how to relate in a godly way in boy-girl relationships. The principles my husband imparted during those years guided Matt through all his teen-age years. They enabled him to keep his heart toward the things of God and make choices that kept him on the narrow path. Knowing your childs heart should be another goal in the relationship you develop. When you spend time talking with your children you learn to spot the areas that frustrate them. Words of direction and encouragement can be imparted. You also learn to spot their sinful attitudes and responses. Teaching them to respond biblically allows you to deal with wrong attitudes before they become lifelong habit patterns.
Many teen-agers in the world have grown apart from their parents. We shouldnt let that happen in our families. When we develop and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with them, we eliminate their need to depend on peers for approval. As parents we need to be the ones to encourage them. We must know how they are doing spiritually. We must know the condition of their hearts. We must know their strengths and their weaknesses. This is only achieved by spending time with them, building your relationship with them, and keeping in touch with their hearts.
4. Be Diligent to Train Them
The major emphasis on training and discipline is in the early years. Weve noticed that some parents are successful in their discipline. The fruit of that is a child who possesses a sweet spirit and an obedient and repentant heart. Weve also known parents who have disciplined their children, yet their children were still stubborn, self-willed, and had hearts that were not repentant. Ive watched children be disciplined who remained angry with the parents afterward. Their tears were tears of anger, not of repentance. If this is occurring, perhaps you need to evaluate your methods of discipline--your methods of parenting.
My pastor husband taught a lesson several years ago on Smiting versus Grinding. The Bible says though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him (Prov. 27:22). Grinding is ineffective discipline. Its a little tap-tap-tap, "No-no-no, Susie, lets play nicely." This kind of discipline might sting enough to make a child mad, but generally does not precipitate repentance. We can also grind our children verbally. Constant nagging or whining at our kids--even giving them a slight verbal rebuke without real emphasis or sincerity--is ineffective. Smiting, whether verbal or with the rod, produces repentant hearts.
Proverbs 23:13-14 says, "Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat [smite] him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from hell." To me, smiting means taking the time to discipline correctly. Make it an event, not just a "happening." When our children needed correction we took them into a bedroom and we disciplined strongly. We didnt use the rod very often, but when we did we made it count and tried to make sure the outcome was a truly repentant heart. When our children have repentant hearts, they are teachable. This is a prerequisite in order to build godly convictions into their lives.
Most of the things we disciplined for involved rebellion. Saying "no" to us was never acceptable. Nor was lying, being sassy or disobedient.
It is important to remember not to insist upon perfection from your children. God has given them to us for approximately 20 years and it might take all of that time to do the job. If we become exasperated, we will have a tendency to discipline from the point of view of being personally offended. The problem is not what is offensive to us, but rather the actual sin present in the childs life. We must be faithful to deal effectively with that sin.
5. Give Them Love, Affection And Encouragement
Some of the aspects defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4 give us direction in how to love our children. It says that love is patient and kind. It is not rude or self-seeking. It is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. When we are faithful to operate in this manner it provides the right environment in our home to be successful when we discipline and when we teach biblical principles. My husband has said that love is the bridge over which truth travels. If we want our children to walk in the truth of Gods word, we must be faithful to provide love in our homes and in the lives of our children.
Gods love for us is unconditional. He loved us while we were still sinners. We need to love our children because God has given them to us, not because they perform well. We need to faithfully deal with sin, but never withhold our love. Encouragement and affection flow naturally from godly love. Teen-age children need as much love, encouragement and affection as they did in younger years.
6. Develop Their Talents And Interests
God is concerned with what we do with the gifts and talents He gives us. He devotes one of the parables to that subject, and the warning is that we not bury our talents.
As a parent we have a responsibility to discover and develop the talents, graces and interests of our children. In deciding which things to let them pursue we thought about several factors. Could we afford it? Would it eventually be of use in the kingdom of God? Did we have the time it would take to develop it? Were our children motivated enough to spend their time developing the skill?
After weighing these things over we encouraged Matt to pursue his music ability rather than his athletic ability. We eventually allowed Kristen to buy a horse, but that decision came because of her diligence in other areas. She was faithful in music lessons and school and actually earned the money for her horse. We started David in piano lessons when he was 10, but decided the next year to hold off on further lessons because of his lack of interest. Later he began taking again and his interest was reflected in the amount of time he practiced. Our desire is that they will all use their talents in the work of the Lord.
7. Build a Heart for Ministry
Involve your children in hospitality in your home. Teach them to have a servants heart. Have them participate when you have guests in your home. Even as teen-agers our children would visit with guests for awhile before they went on to their own activities.
Encourage them to participate in things at church, to go to work parties, and to always have a heart that is ready to serve. As our children grew older we encouraged them to minister to people, knit new people into the body and have people over to our home even if we happened to be out of town. Training them to be servants and to be others-oriented will always bring joy in their lives.
8. The Job Is Never Finished!
As they entered the later teens, the challenge wasnt whether or not they had convictions. They did! But at that time the decisions and the discussions had to do with life directing issues such as, do they go to college? Should they go to Bible school? Do they need to have a career or just a tent-making skill? What about the possibility of marriage in a few years?
We continued to work on attitudes and character and to develop strengths and deal with weaknesses. There was lots of imparting, encouraging, adjusting and talking about concerns they had about the future.
I once thought that if we could just get them to the teen-age years and have them serving God, we would have it "made." The reality will probably be that we will always carry the burden for our children. Ultimately we need to pray for Gods wisdom in dealing with them. We need to trust God for His faithfulness of love toward them, and we need to be faithful and obedient to the Word of God entrusted to us.