The mandate of God to the nation of Israel as they were about to enter the promised land, in the book of Deuteronomy, was simple: Follow Him wholeheartedly, obeying His laws, and teach your children to do the same. Core to their existence as a nation and people of God was the aspect of vigorously and rigorously transferring their faith in God and their allegiance to Him to the next generation. Part of their following the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their strength and living by His commands, was the task of ensuring that the next generation came to know Him.
They were to talk about Him, rehearsing the way He led them out of bondage, through forty years of wilderness, providing for and protecting them, helping them overcome their enemies to finally settle in the land covenanted with their forefathers. They were to recount His deeds and magnify His greatness, so that, captured by His majesty, their children would choose to follow Him, just as they did, wholeheartedly. Thus would their loyalty and obedience to Him, their adherence to His worship and His service, would be perpetuated generation after generation.
To this end, He ordained and instituted daily sacrifices, weekly sabbath, monthly and yearly celebrations. The whole focus of their feasts and rituals was a showcase of their loyalty and duty to Him as their God and they as His people. Every aspect of their lifestyle and manner of living was constituted to this and for the transfer of their faith to their progeny.
Examples of Expectation
For example, they were asked to celebrate the Passover in the first month of the year with certain rites and observances to commemorate their deliverance from bondage. It was a lasting ordinance given to them: “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” This was to be done faithfully so that the generations that followed would know their own history and their God through that history.
The world of today and the society around saturate us, especially the young, daily with a philosophy that is totally out of sync with the Bible. John Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has declared that our minds are bombarded by conflicting messages coming to us through diverse media: television, radio, records, films, print, the plastic arts. A collage of impressions and ideas streams through our minds each day, leaving traces in our memories. Sometimes the messages we receive complement and reinforce our Christian convictions. On other occasions, the messages attack our moral standards and sap our spiritual vitality. Sometimes we notice their subtle but devastating effect upon our minds only after months and years have passed. If this is, we as Christian parents need to actively fight for and work to transfer our faith to our children.
What then are the habits that will daily help us battle against this invasion of our home values? What lifestyle will ensure that our children follow the God of their fathers? What will help parents to inculcate sound scriptural principles and counter input from outside?
Pattern for Practice
Referring to the pattern in the Word and my own experience, here are the habits that parents should practice at home:
1. Teaching the Biblical principles:
From the beginning of time, teaching is at the core of transfer of faith and ordained by God for every parent or head of the house. Indeed, God chose Abraham for this very reason, as He testifies of him: Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” The Greek word used in the New Testament for teaching is the word paeidia from which we get the English word encyclopedia. It indicates a study process undertaken by the parents, primarily the father, to inculcate the foundational principles of faith in the children. Training, in the scriptural sense, is a 18+ year educational activity undertaken by parents in the way of the Lord, so that they never depart from it!
2. Being an example of what you teach:
Walking the talk is crucial if you have to lead your children in the way of the Lord in a disciplined manner. Parents provide the first and best examples of the life of faith, providing role models for children to emulate. Educators insist that what children see impacts more than what they hear. When young ones not only hear, but also see the way of life illustrated in the life of their parents in real life situations, they cannot deny it. Falsity, putting on a mask, and a mismatch between what they see and what they hear will all surely birth rebellion against the faith of their parents. Children are idealists and must see the truth enacted or lived out before their eyes for them to be convinced enough of its veracity to follow!
3. Maintaining unity between parents:
Crucial to this training process is the unity and oneness between the parents. Children are smart and will play one against another to gain their ends. They are not cherubs but born with all the Adamic nature, which will manifest itself in aggression, manipulation or trickery. When there is a wedge between the parents, children will fall through the gap, as they play one against the other. Closing of ranks between the spouses, striving to live peaceably, forgiving and being one, walking in humility and mutual submission, will ensure that children choose to be wholehearted in their allegiance to the Lord. Parents often lose on squabbling about who is to give in and not understand the cost of their disunity. God honors and upholds the humble and so, for the sake of the children, strive to live in unity!
4. Developing family times and traditions:
Israel had a number of feasts instituted into the constitution of their nation as part of their social life. These celebrations were specific and focused, bringing together the family. These ensured common activities that fostered relationships, with God and one and another. Every family must set apart andhave special times that is specific to the family. For others it may not make sense or even be important, but for that individual family, it is binding and bonding. It maybe common festivities such birthdays and anniversaries, or Christmas, New Year and Easter, or deliverance from a special time of adversity or a court case or a healing or an answered prayer. All these can be turned into common meeting and greeting times, fun, food and fellowship times. As the family grows it maybe hard to do it, but still do not forsake such gatherings!
5. Rehearsing past encounters with God:
Godly parenting involves taking time to share with children the dealings and deeds of God in our lives. We encounter God from the day we decide to follow Him and be His disciples, at sundry times diverse ways. If we don’t share how God interacted or interacts with us daily, point them to our God sightings, talk about answered prayers, communicate times of discipline, the reality of His comfort in our down seasons, etc., our children will never grasp the actuality of His presence, here and now. He will be Someone ‘up there in the skies’ rather than be immanent and current in our situations and in our present. During the celebration of the feasts God ordained for Israel, they were to rehearse His deeds with the next generation so that the their children would learn about Him, understand His greatness and follow Him always. When they crossed over the Jordan, God asked them to take memorial stones out of the river and plant them as a reminder and remembrance to their crossing over. They were to serve as signs to tell their children in the future when they ask about the significance of the stones. Parents need to do the same so that their children would understand the greatness and glory of their God, and voluntarily choose to follow Him because they have come to know of His goodness!
6. Being part of and accountable to a community of faith:
There is an old proverb that is attributed to African cultures, popularized by Hillary Clinton and now being applied in the US, including academics. It declares that it takes a village to raise a child, meaning that an entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. A popular newspaper in India has pointed out this used to be true of Indian families, often with three generations under one roof, have now evolved to being nuclear or single parent homes. Personally, I have seen and known the efficacy and benefits of raising my three children within the church community and extended family. I weathered the teen years well and came out unscathed, with my faith intact, our marriage and family solid, only because of a very supportive and interactive community around me. Allowing the church family to be part of our lives has helped us grow as family since we all (both children and parents) had godly and good people to share in our ups and downs of normal life and living. Being able to share my struggles and triumphs has helped me maintain sanity as my husband went through midlife blues, I went through premenopausal upheavals and our children simultaneously struggled within the throes of life transitions into adulthood.
Participating in the activities of the church community, volunteering in the services of the church, involving ourselves in every aspect of the life of the Body of Christ, allowing people to comfort and correct us, these all have helped us emerge into a balanced and loving family unit. If you fear that letting people in may disrupt the harmony of your home, ask God to send the right older godly men and women who willingly give time to be your support system. When we pray aright, He will answer and so, be open to be part of a community that will give your children stability, security and living examples to emulate!
7. Participating in the sharing of the gospel
The early church members, not just the leaders, made participation in the Great Commission a mandatory part of their life and the prime goal of their Christian walk. This kept their faith alive and their passion red hot, impacting their families as they made it their goal to share the gospel, wherever they went. Remember, they lived in the midst of extreme persecution, great poverty and unimaginable circumstances, yet none of these deterred them, but only motivated them to follow Christ wholly. It kept their faith growing, their commitment to Christ intact and helped them to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the good news. It is because of such audacious faith, that we who live in this century have received the knowhow to be His disciples, since the transfer of the Way of Christ and the Apostles has happened consistently!
More than then, today we live in the midst of a postmodern culture and society wherein truth is being seen not as absolute but fashioned according to each one’s preference. In the midst of such confusion and conglomeration of beliefs, our children cannot be protected against the onslaught of multiple philosophies, unless and until we make it a family trait to be involved in the gospel. As we take pains, however difficult, to be part of Jesus’ last command before He left the earth, we will find our children seeing the glory and power of God as He follows His word with signs, wonders and miracles following! No child who has encountered, tasted and experienced His glory, will ever leave the faith permanently. Sure, there maybe setbacks, but that will be temporary or transitory rather than permanent or generational!
8. Watching over in prayer
The golden thread that will bind all of our efforts and work to raise a godly generation is constant prayer and petition for our children, individually and collectively. Our talk with our children and our walk before their eyes will bear effect and be effective only when we water our seeding in their lives with prayer. Without wrestling in prayer and interceding for them on our knees, we will not headway, for prayer will overthrow and destroy strongholds. It will help us demolish arguments and overcome philosophies that are contrary to the word of God, and not according to His Kingdom principles.
Our children are being daily bombarded, as John Woodbridge declares, by conflicting messages coming to us through diverse media: television, radio, records, films, print, the plastic arts. A collage of impressions and ideas streams through our minds each day, leaving traces in our memories. Sometimes the messages we receive complement and reinforce our Christian convictions. On other occasions, the messages attack our moral standards and sap our spiritual vitality. Sometimes we notice their subtle but devastating effect upon our minds only after months and years have passed. The only way we can combat such blatant battle is through building a canopy of protection through prayer over our children, our homes and our all.
Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, that existed amidst great idolatry and witchcraft, extreme ungodliness and sexual promiscuity, after doing everything they could, to stand and pray, being clothed with the armor of God. Let us not give up easily or unwisely our children to the enemy of our souls, but wage a heavenly and spiritual warfare, not earthly or unearthly, to save our generations. When words fail, prayer and power of God will not, and therefore, make prayer your first and best resort, rather than last and final desperate action!
Promise of power
Parents may often feel helpless and hopeless as their children seem to drift away from the faith of their fathers, adopting lifestyles and habits not commiserate to a godly offspring. We need to be fully persuaded that God who gave us our children as a stewardship, will bless our efforts and award the sincerity of our hearts, if we make raising them for Him a priority in our lives. He will take the ordinary water we have filled and change it into extraordinary wine , meaning, when we do our part, He will do His. Only let us not corrupt our expectations for our children with our own agenda and plans, which will not allow Him to work out His will in their lives. As Apostle Paul wrote, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Let us be sure that God’s promises and power will work to ensure that children follow Him, provided we do all that we can to ensure it!
Don’t despair or be desperate; just persevere and persist. God will take care as you seek to honor Him in your heart and hearth!