Former president George H. W. Bush was asked, “What is your greatest accomplishment?” This accomplished man could have mentioned the successful military campaign of Operation Desert Storm, his two terms as vice president under Ronald Reagan, his years as U.S. ambassador to China, or his leadership of the CIA. Instead, he answered, “My greatest accomplishment is that my children still come to see me.”
He obviously had his priorities in order. When the dust settles in your life, and all is said and done, there will be your family. For that reason, it is important for us to realize just what a precious privilege it is to have children.
Children Are a Gift
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3–5)
The word heritage in this verse could be translated “a gift.” Our children are not ours to mold into our own image. Instead, we are to do everything we can to mold them into God’s image. They are not ours to keep, but to nurture. We are not to teach them to be dependent upon us for the rest of their lives, but rather to be independent and, more importantly, dependent upon God.
Harvard University sociologists Seldom and Eleanor Glueek developed a test (which proved to be 90% accurate) to determine whether five- and six-year-olds would become delinquent. They discovered that four primary factors are necessary to prevent delinquency:
- The father’s firm, fair, and consistent discipline.
- The mother’s supervision and companionship during the day.
- The parent’s demonstrated affection for each other and for their children.
- The family’s spending time together in activities where all participated.
In today’s self-centered, anything-goes culture, these family dynamics are sorely missing. Instead of being seen as a gift, children are seen more as an inconvenience. Parenting is often perceived as a burden instead of a blessing. Now more of the secular press is beginning to pick up on the failure of the great social experiment of the ’60s to the present day, where society sought to do away with the family as we know it—even questioning the wisdom of both parents working and leaving the children in daycare.
This culture is beginning to see what the Bible has said all along: children need their parents. They need their constant input, encouragement, discipline, and leadership. They may resist it at the time, but they will thank you for it later.
The Training of Your Children Begins in Your Heart
“These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)
Moses gives us some important insight into the training of our children in this passage.
First and foremost, we must have a right relationship with God. Moses tells us that these commandments and teachings of the Lord should first be in our hearts. We cannot lead a child any further than we have come ourselves. Nothing can really happen through us until it has happened to us. Once that happens, we can teach the Word naturally and spontaneously to our children. As Andrew Murray once said, “The secret of homemade rule is self-rule, first being ourselves what we want our children to be.”
We must teach our children diligently. The word diligent in Deuteronomy 6:6 could be translated, “to whet or sharpen.” It conveys the idea of an object piercing through another object, or something that makes a penetrating stab into something else. In other words, your training is to penetrate and pierce deeply into your child to make him keen, sharpened, and discerning. It is not just giving your child a set of do’s and don’ts, but developing a set of convictions in your child that will carry with him or her through life. You should not teach through rigid, unbending dogmatism, but through explanation and example.
Each Child Is Uniquely Formed by God
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NIV)
Though a child will pick up certain family traits, it is important to know that they have been uniquely formed by God in the womb. The word you, speaking of God in this verse, could be translated, “Lord, You and no other.” Mother Nature did not make your child. Your child is not a product of evolution. God inwardly and outwardly made and formed your child!
Each child has an individual bent.
“Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Literally translated, the words train up in this verse speak of the actions of a midwife, who, after delivering a child, would dip her finger in crushed dates and place it in the infant’s mouth, thus developing a thirst for milk in the baby. In other words, the training spoken of here is designed to internally motivate our children instead of externally compelling them.
In various passages of Scripture, the word child has been used to refer to an infant, a young boy, a pre-teen, a teenager, and even a young man ready for marriage. The word child, therefore, refers to children from infancy to young adulthood in the things of the Lord, setting an example (creating a thirst) with our own lives. While we must establish external boundaries for their protection, we must also seek to develop an internal motivation to know and love the Lord.
The phrase, in the way he should go literally means “in the child’s bent.” The Amplified Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go (and in keeping with individual gift or bent), and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Consider the first couple, Adam and Eve. Their first two boys were as different as day and night. Abel deeply loved God and had a tender heart; Cain was stubborn and determined to go his own way.
Some children are born leaders; others are born followers. Some are creative and artistic; others are more practical and logical. The wise parent will note those differences and raise the child accordingly.
Each Child Is Born with a Sinful Nature
“Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
The words brought forth mean “born.” The word iniquity simply means “with a sinful nature.” This verse is saying, “Behold, I was born with a sinful set of bents in my nature, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Simply put, this sinful nature is passed on to every child.
As a result, we must not only encourage our children to do the right thing, but we must also discipline them when they do the wrong thing. If a parent does not punish his or her children, that parent’s children will be sure to punish him or her. “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25).
Reasons to Discipline Our Children
To remove foolishness.
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
To rescue from judgment.
“Don’t fail to correct your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death” (Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT).
To receive wisdom.
“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
To relieve your anxiety.
“Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:17).
To reflect God’s character.
“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us, because it means we will share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening; it is painful! But afterward, there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:10–11 NLT).
Susannah Wesley, mother of 17 children, including John and Charles Wesley, said this, “The parent that studies to subdue [self-will] in his child works together with God in renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the Devil’s work, makes salvation unattainable; and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body forever.”
It is easier to build a child than to repair an adult. May God help us to take up that God-given mantle of spiritual leadership in the home and be the parents we were meant to be. What if your child grew up to be the same kind of Christian you are today? Would you be pleased? If not, some changes must be made.
May we emulate the example of our Father in Heaven and follow Paul’s advice: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12 NLT).