There is a God-given uniqueness to every individual, including ourselves and each of our children. Every one is different. A specific role in life is progressively revealed to each one us. Wise is the parent who does not try to impose a role on any child, but who rather encourages and fosters what God makes obvious in their personality and make-up. As parents, God wants us to be ourselves and not try to be somebody else. We can learn to feel free and comfortable with the particular path God wants us to walk. There is a need to balance our desire to see lovely Christian standards develop in our children, with an equal desire to recognise and encourage the unique role in life that God purposes for them.
The ways of the Lord are better caught than taught, was something I heard repeatedly in my youth. No doubt we all want our love for Jesus and our trust in Him to be so contagious that the life style we share is not only grasped by young minds, but also becomes rooted deeply in their tender hearts. Because of this I want firstly to share some practical suggestions on parenting, and then follow that with one or two key factors in vital Christian living.
A BETTER WAY
Every parent faces occasions when a child wants to be involved in some kind of activity that we believe is unwise or wrong. Rather than just forbidding it, would it not be more helpful to suggest a better alternative, something else to do, even if it involves more of our own involvement and time? Could we say something like, ‘That is not as nice as others may think, so why don’t WE do this or that?’ It is well worth the effort to discover and share something that is both more appealing and yet more in keeping with the standards we want to uphold. Preferably we need to have a better alternative at the ready – otherwise we could say to the youngster something like, ‘Let’s chat about this after tea’ giving ourselves an hour or two to come up with a better plan.
Here’s a good kind of seed to sow repeatedly. ‘Some people don’t know how much fun there is in Jesus and so they try to find fun in ways that hurt either themselves or others. We are so blessed to have Jesus with us. We can have so much fun with Him. He can make us feel so good inside.?
With these kinds of thought our children will not feel deprived by not being involved in everything others are, but may come to see that those who love and follow the Lord Jesus are really favoured and blessed.
JESUS IS A MEMBER OF OUR FAMILY
When a child comes home with special excitement, or with a hurt of some kind, they need our time, interest, and perhaps involvement. In addition to that, it would be ever so wise, wouldn’t it, to add, ‘Let’s tell the Lord Jesus. He’ll be glad to hear you talk about it.’ Or, alternatively, ‘Let’s tell Jesus. He is so good at healing our hurts. He always understands.’ Developing a habit of chatting with the Lord Jesus can have life-long benefits.
We will want to pray for our children frequently. I like the thought of a mother praying for a child as she cooks a meal or makes their bed until they’re old enough to make it themselves, of course! Both parents can doubtlessly use similar occasions to pray for their little ones. They will want to emphasise praising God for them and also expressing their confidence in the Lord showing His love and grace towards them. Regardless of any and every situation, have faith in God.
MY BEST FRIEND
‘I love Jesus. He’s my special friend, and He is with me every day, all the time. Jesus talks to me and I often chat with Him. He’s very wonderful.’
I am confident that any child from a Christian family can echo words like that. Doubtlessly many do. Young adults and middle-aged folks can relate to it too. So do I! I could say it when I was seven . . . and when I was seventeen. Now I am well over seventy, and it is as true as ever. It is timeless.
Statements like these are worth repeating in the hearing of our children, over and over again. They will be helped and blessed, and so will we!
THE POWER OF ENCOURAGEMENT
There is no way that we can pressure a child to come to trust in Jesus as personal Lord and Saviour, and neither is there a way that we can force our youngsters to have right, healthy and positive motives and attitudes. Never under-estimate the power of encouragement. We need to show emotion. This includes our pleasure at what is healthy and right, and our disappointment when that is called for. Let us not be afraid to show our good and bad feelings – not as a weapon to attack a child, but rather to show our loving concern for them. To be healthily emotional themselves, children need to see our tears of joy, hear our laughter of delight, and even observe our expressions of pride. You know this is not referring to carnal, selfish pride.
Rewarding academic and athletic achievements should never over-shadow the need for appropriate rewards for progress and achievement in attitudes, values and spiritual development. Do too many parents teach by what they emphasise that reaching earthly [that is, intellectual, physical, etc] goals is more important that learning such things as patience, thoughtfulness and caring for others? Showing joy, giving credit and speaking praise for what is right, good and godly can be a tremendous force for good in a child’s life.
ENCOURAGING RIGHT ATTITUDES
Kindness and thoughtfulnessdeveloped in a child can become a lifetime habit. A key to this may be in actually involving our children in acts of kindness with us. Have you baked a cake for a neighbour? Are you going to weed the garden of someone ill? Are you going to visit a shut-in?’ Please, please, involve your child/children. We’ve often asked our children, and others too, ‘Isn’t it fun to be a helper?’ We have often linked that with, ‘Don’t you feel so good inside when you help someone?’ and, ‘We know it pleases the Lord Jesus when we are thoughtful and kind, don’t we?’
Respect for others rights and properties is ever so important a lesson to learn, especially in this day of rampant selfishness, greed and indifference to the well being and interests of other people. We can share this, not as a law, but as this is the way we do it, just as we appreciate other folk who show respect to us and ours. Making a habit of commenting favourably whenever we see positive behaviour in our children, or in other folk, will have beneficial results for our children, as well as for ourselves, and possibly for others as well.
Sharing. It is important to learn to share responsibilities, chores, possessions, and even doing without. In all probability we have all heard even very young children exclaim, ‘Mine!’ I wouldn’t laugh at that, as some do. At least we can encourage the child to understand that the toy is not mine but mine to share or ours. Far more importantly, we should be alert to teach stewardship. All we have and are comes from and belongs to our Lord, and is entrusted to us for His glory as well as for our use and pleasure.
The Lord reserves to Himself the right to use or not use, leave or take away, diminish or multiply everything we have. We are stewards of each and everything we have and are. This, incidentally, is why I have very real difficulty at tithing being taught as though 10% of what I earn or receive belongs to God, and I can do whatever I want with the rest of it, perhaps using it all solely for my own pleasure. I am only a steward of the manifold grace of God and of all that I possess, from the first dollar to the last. Even my time, minutes-days-hours, is not really my own. Can you see that this also applies to toys, sports equipment and everything else a child has?
Selfishness is a challenge, and not confined only to children, of course! Have we learned the need, at least at times, to give up our rights? Have we lived out with our own possessions what we should be saying to our children, ‘This is yours to look after, and perhaps you may need to share it, or to give it away, or to leave it unused for a time.’
Again, let me repeat that such things shouldn’t really be taught as a law to obey, so much as leading to contentment and inner pleasure and a vital sense of well-being. Have we told our children that such attitudes and behaviour please the Lord, which needs to be the dominant factor in our lives? My family need to see this lived out in their parents, and the blessing we experience and enjoy as we thus walk in the steps of the Master.
Giving. Look at this verse from Acts 20:35: ‘In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.?’ What a challenge! Can my child see my joy in giving, even when it is hard work, as Paul says, Has my child ever seen my pleasure in giving ‘the last one?’ and not just the one left over? Have I complimented them when they have done something like that?
One thing more. Be quick to apologise to your child when you see that you were mistaken on some point or other. What may seem small and insignificant to us may be very important to our child. I don’t particularly like parents telling children, ‘Say you are sorry.’ But we should exemplify true apology in such a way that our child can express similarly, and mean it – just as we do.
THE DILEMMA OF INEQUALITY
God ordains inequality as well as equality in life. There is uniqueness in this. When God withholds something from us that others have, or requires something from us and not from others, it is always for our ultimate good and His eternal glory. Let us be role models of being content with such things as we have, and that godliness with contentment is great gain. Rather than dwelling on what we do not have, let’s make our children very aware that we are extremely grateful to God for all the privileges and blessings He bountifully showers upon us.
WATCHING OUR WORDS
What we say, and how we say it, is very important. If our child hears us being critical of our spouse, work mates, Christian leaders and so on, they will probably feel that it is quite alright to be negative and critical too. In all probability this will become a way of loss and pain for them – and therefore for us as well.
Am I a person of my word? Let me be punctual even if that becomes inconvenient. Children need to know that they can rely on what we say. Our word should be absolutely reliable and dependable, even as Jesus’ word is. I strongly advise that parents, indeed all of us, be slow to make a promise or to foreswear ourselves, because as people of integrity we are stuck with what we say. It is far better not to promise than to promise and not deliver. If it ever becomes impossible to keep our word we should explain the reason clearly, ask forgiveness and agree on an alternative.
It is far better to ask a question than to judge hastily. For example, we can ask: ‘Would you mind telling me why you did this or that? Please help me to understand your thinking on it.?’ This is also a good way to operate in the adult family of God, or in fact with neighbours, work associates and so on, so that we do not judge others erroneously.
When a child asks for something with a whining tone of voice, why not make a habit of telling them: ‘You have to ask with a happy face.’ We are all examples of that, aren’t we, since we are exhorted to rejoice always, even in trouble [tribulation], besides which the fruit of the Spirit in us is love, joy, peace, and so on?
In every generation children face peer pressure, so from personal experience as well as observation we can say that peer pressure either:
1. Makes us stronger, or leaves us weaker. Our choices make the difference.
2. By its very nature, can cause even a youngster to reach out to God, but it may well require our encouragement and involvement.
3. Can knit the family more closely together, or else cause a child to yield to temptation, becoming the poorer for it.
Parental input and concerned caring is vital in a child’s healthy growth and development. Our supportive involvement is vital. We will never regret the extra hours it may take to be vitally involved in the interests and activities that make up our youngster’s life. At times the best way to help is simply to keep them busy.
Our children will need repeated fellowship with other Christian children. We can encourage this in many ways, especially by inviting other youngsters in for a meal, or an evening of some kind or other. Arranging combined outings and having both our children?s friends and their parents joining us for some interesting and enjoyable event or activity.
I am ever so glad for several different folk who challenged me as a child to memorise Scripture – not just a verse here or there, but a chapter at the time. I recall being involved in a young people’s quiz competition on the book of Colossians. I memorised the whole book, and enjoyed doing it!
At any stage of their lives it is wise to involve our children in discussion as equals in the family. Talking about the Lord Jesus is not reserved for adults and nor should be combined Christian activity, such as singing our love to the Lord. In the evening, perhaps on mealtime discussion, why not ask, ‘Is there anything nice Jesus has done for you today?’ and/or ‘Has the Lord Jesus said anything especially lovely to you today?’
Having enjoyable things to look forward to is very helpful to take our child’s eyes and mind away from today’s problems and difficulties. Think about a special weekend away together, or a visit somewhere or other. The decision of what to plan for could well be a joint one, though at the same time we well may look to the Lord to direct us towards what is very best for the family.
It seems to me that simultaneously being involved in both short term and long term anticipation and planning can be invaluable.
SO WHO’S PERFECT?
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. With God’s help we do the best we can, but let’s not berate ourselves when things aren’t going well in our family, blaming ourselves for it. Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect child, either! Please remember to look to the Lord and to rely on His amazing, matchless grace.
I love the plea made to Jesus after His transfiguration. A man brought his son to Him beseeching: ‘Lord, have mercy on my son!?’The disciples couldn’t help the lad, but surely Jesus could. And He did. The story is found in Matthew chapter seventeen. A verse that brings reassurance is James 5:11 ‘The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.’
I often pray, ‘Lord have mercy on my son,’ and also on me. I also declare before Him that ‘Jesus, you are the Lord of my family.’ I truly believe that we have a right to declare that and to stand firmly upon it. The way our child is at the present time may not completely please us, but the end is not yet. Good seed has been, and is being sown. It will produce good fruit even if it seems to take an interminable time to germinate and grow. Don’t forget that we cannot see what is going on inside a person.
Some may need to be reminded to leave the past in the past. It is ever so easy to burden ourselves with, ‘What did we do wrong?’ and ‘If only . . .’ We cannot bring back the past. We did the best we knew how at the time and we can safely leave it all in a loving, forgiving, understanding Father’s hands. Our lives are in His hands, and we find peace in that. So too, we should recognise that our children are in His hands. Let’s trust Him to do all that is necessary to achieve His purpose in each child’s life.
When our younger son eventually came back to us and to the Lord, he told me an astounding thing. There hadn’t been one day during that time that the Holy Spirit hadn’t tugged at his heart strings, drawing him back. One would never have guessed it unless one was totally trusting in the Lord. So take heart, my dear brother and sister, keep your eyes on the Lord and rely on the God of all grace.
I suppose that even with compliant and easy to handle children, there are times when parents know that discipline and correction are necessary. We must take care that our child is very aware of our deep and unchanging love, especially when we feel that punishment is required. At times I have used the statement, ‘I love you too much to allow . . .’ Correction should be to bring about good behaviour and to develop godly character. Perhaps we do well to remember how patient and merciful God has been to us over the years!
Most families set their own particular boundary lines for their children. Be sure to be consistent! Boundary lines will alter as children grow, so we need to keep them relevant. Let every parent seek God for wise understanding of the best ways to correct bad behaviour. Surely we can control without threats or anger. If we use the ‘Do it by time I count three’ method, then we should not prolong the count, nor fail to carry out what is stated.
When our boys were young we bought our first television set. Noticing that they became absorbed in programmes to the extent of ignoring their mother’s wishes I established a standard. The first time I saw them ignore what Mary wanted the TV would be switched off for a week; the second time a month; the third time it would go. Is that tough? Maybe, but they knew I meant it, and it solved the problem.
Never argue with your spouse within sight or sound of your children. Please make that a ‘Non-negotiable’ of your marriage. Place it in a high position in your memory, along with others such as:
v Jesus is now and always will be Lord of our lives, marriage and family.
v We are committed to each other for our entire lives, come what may.
v Even in times of difference or misunderstanding, we are on the same side.
Before our marriage Mary and I set Matthew 6.33 as the text and determined purpose for our married life – to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. You could too!
VITAL CHRISTIAN LIVING
The Christian life is meant to be a joyful adventure. We are en route to heaven, and we should enjoy the journey, marvelling at God’s grace day by day. We are ever so privileged and blessed. We have been cleansed, forgiven, set free and accepted into the family of God. We have the privilege of living Spirit filled lives. How favoured we are! The more we are aware of the presence of our precious Lord Jesus, and alert to the spiritual dimension of life, the more appealing our life and faith will be to our children and to others. Many a time I revel in repeating within myself, ‘He loves me. He loves me. He loves me!’ Every believer can delight in that.
Not only should we manifest the joyful blessing of knowing the Lord Jesus intimately and personally, but we also need to exemplify the fragrance of a self-crucified life. In our youth one of the Scriptures we and our friends saw as foundational to meaningful Christian living was Luke 9:23 ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ A little later Jesus said that that is essential if we are going to be His disciple.
Because of Christ’s constraining and compelling love we can no longer live for ourselves. Absolute priority is for us to live for him who died for us and rose again triumphantly. Triumphant resurrection living is experienced by those who deny self and take up their cross daily. What a joy it is to be sold out to God like this! How wise and true is the old adage, ‘If Christ is not Lord of all He is not Lord at all.’
I love Paul’s statement, ‘Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial.’ In our Christian life we don’t need to be bogged down by petty rules and regulations, but we do need to sensitively respond to every prompting and direction of the Holy Spirit.
When we entrusted our lives to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, we repented of our sins. In saving grace He cleansed and forgave us. Through His shed blood we were redeemed. We knew His admonition ‘Go, and sin no more.’ Let’s not have the idea however, [and pass it on to our children] that our sin was simply the wrong, nasty, dirty and evil things that mark the life of the unbeliever. Yes, that is part of it, but the root of sin is rebellion and self will. It is making our own decisions, running our own lives, wanting to have our own way, and like the prodigal son saying, ‘Give me.’
WHO CONTROLS MY LIFE?
Please understand that I am still writing about our children, as well as about ourselves, of course. Can we lead [not drive] our children to choose God-controlled living? I am confident that you will agree with me on the importance of this.
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul wrote: ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.’ Kenneth Wuest translates that last statement as ‘Be constantly controlled by the Spirit.’ It is easy to see that we are controlled by what we are filled with, whether it is a new toy, a new car, a boat, garden, our work, or anything else.
The statements ‘Obey the Lord’ and ‘Respond to the Holy Spirit’ are probably just different ways of saying the same thing. Billy Graham once said that there are about 3,000 occasions in the Old Testament where ‘The word of the Lord came to . . .’ or something similar, is found. In the Gospels we find ‘Jesus said . . .’ over and over again. In the book of Acts the repeated statement is ‘The Holy Spirit said . . .’ It is all referring to God communicating with mankind.
In my book Church of My Dreams there is a chapter entitled Impulse. It is not about impulsive behaviour, but the kind of impulse found in the old ‘Consecration Hymn’:
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of your love.
To complete this paper I will quote at length from that chapter. Responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit should be normal in Christian living. This is God communicating with us today. I beseech you to read it carefully, ponder on it, walk it, and then teach it to your children. I have no doubt whatsoever that this contains keys to aid godly living, provide quality marriage and wonderfully enhance family life.
In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us that when we first turn from sin and place our faith in the Lord Jesus, becoming children of God, His Spirit witnesses with our Spirit that we are children of God. That witness is an impulse of the Holy Spirit within us.
IMPULSION OF THE SPIRIT
Impulsion means “the act of impelling or state of being impelled; motion produced by an impulse; propulsion; a driving force; compulsion.” So when Frances Ridley Havergal wrote of the impulse of God’s love, she was thinking of being impelled into action by that wonderful love. There is a sense of thrusting forth in and by the love of Christ; it should have no trace of reluctance in it, but rather an eager and instant responding to the Holy Spirit of love.
FIRST THE NATURAL THEN THE SPIRITUAL
To catch a fuller picture of what is involved in responding to the impulse of divine love, we need to see the beautiful parallel God has placed in the human body.
Almost every part of our body is not only connected by a labyrinth of blood vessels but also by nerve fibres. These may be described as “any of the cordlike bundles of fibres that conduct impulses between the brain and spinal cord and every part of the body.”
A nerve impulseis the electrical wave transmitted along a nerve fibre, following stimulation of the nerve-cell body. Can you picture this? Communication lines run throughout the human body so that messages can be sent and responded to in whatever action is called for. This is controlled from the brain – the head.
God has provided that as a picture to us of His communication to us by the Holy Spirit. Inner impulse comes from the Head, requiring response from us, not in a jerking, spastic way, nor with some kind of delayed reaction, but as a natural response to the propulsion of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within our human spirit.
When one reads the account of Jesus’ earthly life, one is impressed by the use of the word immediately. The word is used four times in the story of Jesus walking across the water. Jesus always did the things His Father asked of Him, clearly acting on heavenly impulse.
Have you ever pondered this statement of Jesus to Nicodemus: ?The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.? The clear implication, surely, is that we should be wholly responsive to the Holy Spirit, until, like a yacht with sails fully spread, the blowing of the wind And the movement of the vessel are as one.
IMPULSION IN MARRIAGE AND THE CHURCH
There is often need in a delicate area of private life that we shall carefully consider. It is an area where not only can we discover greater health and fulfilment in our marriages, but through which we can find a new way forward in God.
Paul wrote: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord . . . The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” He continues to say that our bodies not only belong to us, but also to our spouse. Both have the glad privilege of responding to their partner’s impulse of desire, but neither have the right to reject the impulse of their partner. Wives are to acknowledge that their husband is lord of the bedroom, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Many a wife would be thrilled and proud of her husband becoming both the man and the man of God that she wants him to be if she paid closer attention to this.
A recent survey in England showed that a woman’s top preference is for romance. They love, and need, a gentle touch, tender words and a sweet embrace. No wonder Scripture enjoins, “Husbands, love your wives.” Men need to know their wife is proud of them. Their self worth always needs building up. Acceptance and willing responsiveness will do that. A wife’s rejection and negative response, hurt deeply. Failure in gladly giving to minister to the above mentioned preferences and needs has caused many a partner to turn off and the marriage become a mere empty shell of what it could and should be, or even worse. That would be a terrible caricature of Christ and the church which Paul links into this subject.
We believers are called to be the bride of Christ, pure, chaste, wholly and exclusively His! Let us become beautiful in our responses to the impulse of His Spirit, so that He is able to be to the church all that is in His heart to be. There are blessed days ahead for each one of us who whispers in irrevocable commitment, ‘I will.’
My heart cry is that each parent who has persevered in reading through this paper, and each of their children, indeed every family involved, will have found encouragement and practical help and begin to discover a new depth in quality family life. May they explore and enter new depths in their spiritual life until they can echo Paul’s words, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” being constantly controlled by the Holy Spirit.