My family was blessed this morning to have the opportunity of sharing God’s story in our lives. We were sharing in a Sunday School class of young married couples, and they have just begun a study about how to raise their children in the faith. After we shared our story about doing missions as a family, we were asked specifically this question:
“What if you aren’t called to do ministry and missions full-time? What then? How can those of us who are here in Northwest Arkansas raise our kids not only to have faith now, but to keep their faith once they are adults?”
Isn’t that one of the burning questions every Christian parent has? We have all seen kids who have walked away from the faith. In fact, a recent study was released about how a large majority of kids raised in church walk away from the faith in college and as young adults. It is something that raises serious doubts and fears for many parents.
As I reflected on our time of teaching this afternoon, I didn’t feel like I answered the question very well, so, as I was driving four hours back to my home tonight I prayed about it and pondered it. Here is the result of that exercise.
I don’t have any great wisdom with which to answer the question. I can share about what we are doing as a family – even all the practical things we do each day – but my wisdom and experience doesn’t truly answer the question with certainty. My kids are still growing up, and I can’t predict the future. I can’t give any formulas or predict anyone else’s future with certainty either. Does this mean I have to say I do not know or that no one can no for sure?
Instead of looking to myself, I have to look to God. What does he say about living? What does he say about being a husband or a wife? What does he say about being a parent? Who is God to me – and how does He parent me? He is my Father; what has He shown me? And, most importantly, how can I help someone else ask these questions for him- or herself and make changes in his or her life based on the answers God gives?
Some of God’s first directions to parents in the Scripture include multiple occasions in Deuteronomy where he tells parents this:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Thus, God tells us, as parents, to teach our children His ways, not once or twice, or simply through reciting scripture to them, but through our lives every day, in word and actions, with integrity through and through. He repeats this instruction to parents at least four times in Deuteronomy alone, and God does not waste time repeating Himself unless the words are critical.
So, the first question must be, what are God’s ways?
The first thing that comes to mind is “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. His way is the way of love. And, he says in 1 John that we will be known to be true to Him by our love – by whether our words and deeds reflect the love of God.
How do we know what God’s love is? Through the life of Jesus. Jesus was the human who lived out everything God commanded.
So, if we are to raise our children in the faith, we must ask ourselves whether, when our children look at our lives (and they are always watching and see our lives way more clearly than any one else other than perhaps our spouse), do they see lives that are being lived in love and lived as Jesus lived? If not, then we can teach them until we are blue in the face that they need to ask Jesus into their hearts, but they will always have reason to doubt what we say because our lives do not reflect Jesus living and loving in and through our hearts.
Next, I think it is important to think about what Jesus did and taught. What were his words, and do our lives reflect an absolute trust that Jesus’ words were true?
For example, Jesus said to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. When the guy next to us in traffic determines that our driving is not to his liking, and he honks, yells, or flips us off, what reaction do our kids see from the back seat? Do our words and actions reflect a life of love and a blessing of those who curse us?
When we have a falling out with our brother or sister, or still struggle with the way we were treated by a friend, a co-worker, or a parent, do our words at home reflect Jesus’ command to forgive others, just as God forgave us? Do we demonstrate a consistent attitude of forgiveness in front of our kids?
When Jesus said not to worry about what we wear or what we eat because the flowers neither toil nor spin and are well-dressed and the birds are well fed, do our closets and cupboards reflect these words well? Do we store up treasures on earth? Do we maintain a closet full of clothes while seeing a homeless person on the street in winter? Do we have two, three or more pairs of shoes all the while knowing that there are huge percentages of people around the earth who walk barefooted every day? When Jesus said to give to anyone who asks of us, because we have a giving Heavenly Father who will provide all we need, do our kids see us turn away? Have our kids heard us say, I can’t give him money because he will just go buy alcohol with it, whether we know such a statement to be true or not?
Does our pursuit of security, safety, and comfort in the form of bank and retirement accounts require so much time at work that we rarely have time to teach our kids anything other than to work hard and make sure you can buy a big house and multiple cars? Do our lives reflect that some of our first call as children of God is to be godly husbands and wives and godly parents, moreso than successful Americans? Are we teaching our kids to follow Jesus and his life or are we teaching our kids to be good and successful Americans?
I think we must ask ourselves if we are truly raising our kids in the faith if we cannot say that we are living by faith and not by sight. I think we must ask ourselves if we are truly raising our kids in the faith if we cannot say that we are living our lives by the very words of the one we say we are following. I think we must ask ourselves is some of our children are walking away from the faith because they aren’t seeing faith at all or because they are seeing a life that reflects “in my wallet I trust” rather than “in God I trust.”
Do our lives reflect lives that are consistent with trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding? Do we truly acknowledge God in ALL our ways? Do we truly acknowledge God in our work lives, in our home lives, in our driving lives, in our vacation lives, in our getting ready for church lives, in our golfing lives, in our work travel lives, in all of our ways??
So, it would seem the answer to the question is this – allow God to search our hearts, just as David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
We should ask God if our way of living reflects His ways to our kids. And, if it doesn’t, in any of our ways, we then need to pray that God will give us the wisdom to make the necessary changes so that we can raise our kids to live by faith. It isn’t being a missionary or a pastor or a doctor or any other “occupation” that will best teach our kids to walk by faith. The only way to raise our children to have faith is to be a parent who has faith and who lives by faith every day, no matter our calling or occupation. And, if we begin to awaken to the fact that we are not truly following all of God’s words to us – that we truly are not believing Him at all of His words – then we must pray for grace to begin to do so, taking that first step toward “living a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1.