The living, the living—they praise you, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about your faithfulness. Isaiah 38:19
I have a confession to make. I wasn’t an intentional Christian parent. Church was often relegated to the backseat during softball season (which pretty much lasts 9 months). I didn’t make sure my kids were involved in Christian youth groups. When we did pray at dinner we prayed the same prayer each time until it became almost meaningless. We didn’t talk about the Bible, we didn’t talk about our faith. I don’t think I’m alone in this confession. And I’m sure I’m not alone in saying there was a price paid for our “Christian-lite” stance.
I am thankful that, when my younger daughter went off to college, she was drawn to a Christian athlete organization and then a local church. Through that program she learned what we had failed to teach – the truth about our Savior and how much God loves us. My older daughter? She’s probably like a lot of our twenty-somethings. She believes in God but beyond that it gets murky.
“The single most important factor of shaping children’s religious lives is their parents – not society, not youth leaders, but their parents.”Christian Smith, Handing Down the Faith
In other words, if you model faithfulness, if you live out what you say you believe on Sunday, the chances of your child being a devoted follower of Christ is increased exponentially. And if, like I did, you lead a lukewarm faith life you’ll most likely create the same fruit. Even worse, if you act or speak hypocritically you may get no fruit at all.
A few weeks ago, our pastor taught on Genesis 18:16-19:29. An overarching theme in these verses is the concept of being or having an advocate. Someone who will hold us up and speak for us to God. Abraham wrangled with God to save just a few people from the sin-filled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, his pleas saved his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s daughters. It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of the ultimate Advocate – Jesus. As you can see in these two verses.
Then he (Abraham) said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He (God) answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” Genesis 18:32
Jesus: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. John 17:15
How many of us, as parents or grandparents or even aunts and uncles, see ourselves as “advocates” for our children? See being in that role as possibly one of the most important ones we will ever have? How many of us have prioritized our faith over the sparkling lights of “after school activities?” Their very souls are what we are talking about here. I’ve heard so many parents grieve their adult children’s faith. And so we pray as their advocate. How about we also live as one too?
Abraham was able to plead directly with God. A back and forth conversation. How? From the beginning of his relationship with God, Abraham obeyed and worked to be a faithful servant – with a few hiccups along the way. What does that look like as modern parents today? How can we be resolute in not compromising our children’s eternity?
In my next post I’ll talk about opening our eyes as parents to our everyday decisions. Are they of the world of the flesh or of God’s will? I recently listened to author Christian Smith about the research he has done in the area of youth and faith. His current book is titled, Handing Down the Faith. Here’s few great nuggets from the book.
- Teens are actually paying attention to you. That might come as a shock to many. He found that even into their 20s our kids are actively noticing how we live and what we “preach.”
- Just saying you are a Christian (Buddhist, Jew, etc) isn’t enough. Kids are learning both positive and negative faith examples.
- We aren’t just counteracting world views but some church ones as well. Many Christian youth programs teach what he termed, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – act morally, be a nice person, and don’t judge. That’s great when life is easy. But as our kids age and the world comes crashing down it causes them to fall away.
- Be authoritative – demand expectations, standards, with an abundance of warmth and support. Note: not “authoritarian.”
- Talk routinely about religion. While your faith doesn’t need to be the subject of each discussion your faith should be woven in and used for handling conflict and decision making.
- Walk the talk. If you live a life of service, humility, forgiveness and worship your kids will have the best example they will ever need.
- Channel “internalization.” Or in other words place your child in situations where they will be influenced positively in your faith by others such as youth groups, religious schools, etc.
- Know the Word. A good teacher is only as good as how well they know their topic!
- Play the long game. None of us are wholly responsible for anyone’s faith and salvation. But the building blocks you instill are certainly a great cornerstone!
- Pray. And pray some more. Pray for knowledge, pray for discernment, pray for your children and your spouse. Pray for doors to open for conversations and then walk through them!
I may have missed the opportunity when my kids were younger to instill Jesus into their lives. But to be fair, He wasn’t deeply rooted in mine either. Thankfully, how I’ve allowed Jesus to change me and use me is also a great lesson for my adult children. Until this Age of Grace is over, it is never too late for God to work in our familys’ lives. As a changed follower I’m asking for His help, so that I can stand resolutely and faithfully in being my kids’ advocate.