Recently I went fishing with my son Joshua and he asked a million questions. “What is the sinker for? Why does the bobber float? Why are you putting the hook through the worm? Is the worm dead? Do worms swim? Why do fish want to eat worms? Why is the swan hissing at us?” It’s tempting to ignore his questions. Or to get annoyed by the questions. Or to answer the questions for him. But I’ve started to let him wrestle with questions himself. “What do you think?”
The principle here is, “Don’t just give them the answer. Help them find it.” Jesus does this in Matthew 16:15. They were discussing what the public thought of him and he asked, “Who do you say I am?” He didn’t do was say, “I am the second person of the Holy Trinity, begotten of my Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light . . .” He asked them a question and used the dialogue to draw them to a deeper understanding of the answer.
Jesus also does this with parables. Parables don’t just give the answer. They engage, cause you to wrestle, and sometimes confuse. In the end, they teach us to consider God more deeply and reveal a truth more fully. Allowing questions and dialoguing with your children helps them to think faithfully and theologically. Don’t be fearful of questions, invite them.
Demonstrate an Integrity of Faith and Life
As a dairy farmer, my father-in-law often made trips into town. To the feed store, the hardware store, to the cattle vet, etc. When running errands, he told me, “I never go to town alone.” In other words, he always brought one of his kids along when he went to do business in town. He wanted his children to see how he conducted business, how he built relationships, how he treated people with care and respect, how he dealt with conflict, etc. He wanted to show that the God he believes in is the God he trusts, not only on Sunday in the sanctuary, but on Monday at the store and on the street.
Paul says a few times in letters, “Imitate me.” “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). A primary means of faith transmission throughout the biblical record is imitation. The model is apprenticeship where you see someone else live it and do it. Let your kids see that your faith is not just an add-on. When they watch you, show them the authenticity, honesty, and genuine nature of your faith.
My dad has a scar on his forearm. He never told us where he got it from. One day I finally broke him down and he told the story of when he was a teenager and a friend dared him to place a dollar bill on his forearm and extinguish a cigarette on it. There was a myth that a dollar bill would put the cigarette out without burning your skin. Turns out it was just a myth and he burned the skin on his forearm, leaving the scar. My dad was reluctant to reveal his teenage foolishness, but when he told me I could relate to him. Suddenly, I wasn’t the only foolish one. My dad had done stupid things too.
Paul admitted his weakness to his spiritual son, Timothy, in I Tim. 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.” Being appropriately vulnerable with our children is an opportunity for them to see grace. Show them how you have personally experienced grace. That even in your mistakes and missteps, you have experienced love without conditions from God.
Speak of Your Faith Personally
A quote has been floating around regarding the Millennial generation: “They want to live for something worth dying for.” There’s a bit of this in every generation. We all want to live for something significant and give our lives to something bigger than ourselves. Have you ever told your children why you are personally invested in your faith? Why you would die for your Lord? Why your Christian walk is of ultimate significance to you?
Psalm 90:1 says, “You have been OUR dwelling place throughout all generations.” The Psalms don’t simply speak impersonally and objectively about God. They powerfully and passionately use personal pronouns. This is OUR God. He has done mighty things for US. Jesus didn’t just die for the sins of the world. He died for MY sins. There is a compelling and personal testimony in these statements.
Tell your children your story. Expose your personal faith. What mighty things has God done for YOU? What prayers have you prayed that you believe he has personally answered?
Ask, seek, knock, search, plead, and pound. I know many of you pray for your children regularly. Don’t stop. Be persistent and constant even when it seems like a long shot. Especially then! In addition to praying for them, have you ever prayed with them?
Love Them When They’re Lost
I know parents who have had very serious issues with their children. Criminal situations. Drug abuse. Divorce. Run-aways. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions and say, “No.” Sometimes you have to let them experience the full consequences of their actions. But in all of this, you still love them.
The prodigal son disrespected his father. His rebellion was degrading. It was an inappropriate way for a son to treat his father. Yet when he returned to his father after hitting rock bottom, the Bible says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:10) This is the heavenly Father’s love for us – while we were still a long way off! And it is God’s love that we emulate when we love our own children.
The cross demonstrates God’s love for us precisely when we were lost. Not when were obedient children, obeying the rules, and getting straight A’s. His is a love that loves when we’re lost. Love your children even when and especially when they frustrate, anger, or scare you. Discipline them, and always be prepared to embrace them with open arms. They’ll know where love is found, and where they can always come back home.
Trust the Holy Spirit
There can be a lot of stress and angst as we raise children, as we care for loved ones, and worry about the next generation. Let me add some grace to your burden. We believe in the third article of the creed, that there is a Holy Spirit. Martin Luther says of the third article, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me . . .” You are incapable of manipulating a heart. You can’t reach into someone’s heart and make them love, trust, or believe. Only God has the capacity to melt and shape a human heart. And he’s been doing it for a very long time.
“You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Ps. 90:1). God has been implanting faith in children and grandchildren, loved ones and friends, for generation after generation. Your sons and daughters are NOT just your son or daughter. They are God’s. Trust him to work all things by his good design.
God bless you as you fulfill the sacred trust of passing the faith to the next generation.