There are two disciplines that I feel are foundational to parenting our children in the truths and ways of Scripture: 1) Keep the Gospel central, and 2) Work hard at creating space.
Our job as Christian parents is NOT primarily to ensure that we have good, well-behaved kids who grow up to get good, well-paying jobs so that they can have good, well-stocked homes and enjoy a happy life. That is NOT our primary job (nor is it even our secondary job). Rather, our primary job as Christian parents is to proclaim and live out the Gospel to our children, and to help them connect every area of life to God’s sovereign work of grace seen in the Gospel. That is not only our biggest task, but in that we also have the greatest hope for the well-being of our children.
In order to keep the Gospel central in the lives of our children, though, we must be allowing the Gospel to become more and more central in our own hearts and lives. Which means that we must know and believe the Gospel, not just as a set of propositions that we intellectually acknowledged at some point in the past when we became a Christian, but as the foundational source of change in our lives which brings us deeper into joyful relationship with God.
When we begin to see our total inability to know God or please God on our own, because of our rebellious sinful hearts that naturally turn away from God, then we begin to realize what a tremendously gracious thing God has done in sending Jesus to die in our place and bear the wrath of God that we deserved! Likewise, when we begin to see that our children’s basic problem is notlow self-esteem or attention-deficit or peer pressure, but rather is rooted in their sinful heart that tries to make life work apart from God, then we realize that what they primarily need is a Savior who can change that sinful self-absorbed heart into a righteous God-focused heart.
We cannot cause our children to believe or receive the Gospel, but what we can do is faithfully teach them the Gospel and constantly pray for God’s mercy to transform their hearts. So how do we do that? What does that look like? Here’s a few concrete examples of what that might look like in parenting…and of course these are all “hypothetical”—it just so happens that I have a toddler and a teen and a pre-teen in my home right now. =)
You call your toddler to come to the dinner table. He says OK but continues playing with his toys. You feel angry that he isn’t obeying right away. You could just shame him or punish him in a way that ensures that next time his behavior will be different. OR, if you want to make the Gospel central in his heart, you take the time to explain to him that his disobedience is sin and that because of his sin Jesus had to die. Then you help him confess his sin, you remind him of God’s forgiveness, and you instruct him in the importance—and joy—of obedience. This is not a long, angry lecture aimed at conforming his behavior to your will; it is a short, gracious reminder aimed at conforming his heart to God’s will.
Another example: It’s Sunday morning—your teenage daughter is still in the bathroom and you should have been in the car leaving for church 5 minutes ago. You can feel your temperature rising as you pace back and forth with clenched teeth and begin composing in your mind a guilt-inducing lecture on the importance of timeliness. If the Gospel is going to be central in this situation, then first you have to allow the Gospel to penetrate your own heart and remind you that there is something larger here than just being late to church. Then let the desperation that you feel turn into a prayer for God’s grace to hold your tongue and wait for a time that is more conducive to a heart-to-heart talk. Make space to talk with her that afternoon, then, listening first, then gently helping her to see the implications of her actions on others around her. Point to Jesus as her example—and her strength—to sacrifice self-interest for the sake of others (whether that means getting up earlier so that she can be ready to go on time, or choosing to spend less time on her outward appearance so that her heart can worship God more deeply).
One more example: Your pre-teen son is typically very compliant and well-behaved, and as a middle child is very good at “flying under the radar” and avoiding trouble. There may not be an obvious situation that needs to be addressed, but if the Gospel is going to be central in your parenting of him, then you need to pray that his heart isn’t led astray into a self-righteous independence from God. And you need to watch for opportunities to draw out his heart, so that he can see that even well-behaved boys have to fight against the sin in their hearts, and even “good little boys” have to trust God to change their hearts. Help him to see that it’s not his obedience that makes him a child of God, but it is Jesus’ obedience to His Father that made him a child of God.
So the Gospel must be central in all our parenting, because our primary task as Christian parents is to help our children see Christ in all of life, so that they would love Him and trust Him and follow Him all the days of their lives.
(The 2nd part of this entry will be posted later. In Him, Pastor Dan)