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About this series
Effective Parenting in a Defective World
How to Raise Kids Who Stand Out from the Crowd
Raising children is a tough challenge in today's world. Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today.More from this series
As I talk to kids, parents, and grandparents – they have one thing in common. Fear. Think about what it’s like to grow up today and just, from the mouth of kids saying, “I’m really afraid I might make some really bad decisions or get involved in a relationship that is going to bring destruction later,” or I love the one perspective, “I’m really afraid that I will live in a way that is really not following Christ at all, and I won’t even know it.” That’s a pretty perceptive way to look at life.
Your kids are in a battle. I think it’s the hardest time, that I’m aware of, at least in recent history, to raise kids. And what I want to talk about today is how do you, as a parent or grandparent, help your kids win life’s biggest battles.
I want you to open your notes, if you will, and as you do, this is a message that is not so much, Here are three or four little practices. I remember reading a passage many, many years ago where God used a teenager to turn an entire country around.
There were a lot of smart people and powerful people, but they were paralyzed by fear. And there was this huge giant, nine feet tall. And there was a teenager named David and he watched all the people that ought to be doing something to make it happen and it was like, “Hey, I don’t get this.” Because he was naïve enough to realize, You know what? There may be a really big giant, but don’t these people understand who God is? He is blaspheming the living God.
And do you remember what he did? Some of you know the story. He went down and he got five, smooth stones and he put it in his sling and he just said, “Man, I’m taking him on, not in my power, but in God’s.”
And God used a teenager to slay a giant. And what I want you to know is that if you can live your life as a parent or grandparent, not so much focused on fear and protection, but equipping, how do you equip your son or daughter to slay the giants in their world?
God has been doing this for a long time. Daniel was a teenager when he got into the most counter-cultural, counter-Christian, anti-God environment and he changed the world. The same was true of Mary. A little, teenage girl when God wanted to change the world, He chooses a fifteen, maybe sixteen-year-old girl.
And believed that there was something in them, as they trusted Him, to really make a difference. Here’s the question. What do they need most? We’d think, Oh, well, a good education, a good home, when they get so old they need this, they need that.
I want to share with you that if I could only give my kids five things, five smooth stones to put in the pouch of their lives, to slay the giants I know that they are going to face, these would be them. In fact, all my kids are grown.
And I would say: This is what I want them to get, because if these five things become their lens, their worldview, and their core values, I will tell you what, I don’t care what happens in the world. They will do great. Are you ready?
Stone number one: Teach them to suffer well. The myth of the world is: No one should ever suffer at any time. And the myth of parenting is: How do I protect my little boy or little girl from ever going through difficult times? You’ve got to understand, they are going to go through difficult times. What you want to do is teach them to suffer well.
Let me give you a theology of suffering – biblical overview. Number one, life is hard, but God is good. They need to learn that early on. Number two, life is unjust. It’s not fair! But God is sovereign, He is in control.
The Old Testament roots is the life of Joseph. If you’re not familiar with it, this is one from the early storybooks, to when they get older, to reading, to pondering. They need to grow up with, Oh, Joseph. He was the seventeen-year-old whose brothers betrayed him and they put him in a pit. Boy, that’s not fair.
Not only did they put him in a pit but then he got sold and became a slave. That’s not fair. Then he got falsely accused of raping this guy’s wife. That’s not fair. Then he got stuck in prison and he helped these two guys and they promised they would help him, and they didn’t, and that’s not fair.
But all through those thirteen chapters, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph. And Joseph had been given a dream and a picture of what God wanted him to do, and he didn’t think that it was unusual to go through difficult, painful times.
He learned something in each one. God is going to take the difficulty that your kids go through, the unfairness, the pain, the kid who gets to play who is not as good, the one who doesn’t study and does better in grades, the people who get in a school when they practiced more and did better, the breakup that they are going to go through the first time – a boy or a girl says, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” They are going to go through difficult, painful times.
What you want to do is teach them to suffer well. And what you learn from the life of Joseph: God is in control, and He orchestrates things, He works all things together for the good to them that love Him.
And so, yes, there was the pit; and, yes, there was the prison. But God did all that so Joseph became the second most powerful person in the world. And he ended up in the palace. He ended up second to Pharaoh and it was that role that saved the entire nation of Israel.
And so, at the end of his life, all of his brothers, all of his sisters, everyone is saved and they end up there and then his brothers were a little squirrely. That’s not a biblical term, but they were a little squirrely. And even after the father dies, the brothers are thinking, Well, Joseph has been really nice, he said he forgave us, but now that Dad is gone he is probably going to put it to us.
And Joseph turned to his brothers, it’s the very end of the book, it’s one of my favorite verses. Chapter 50, verse 20, he looks at his brothers and I think in his head he’s going, You guys still don’t get it, do you? And he says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result,” and I think he looked at all those families, “to preserve many people alive.”
The New Testament, talk about an example, Peter is writing during a time of intense persecution. People who love Jesus are getting dragged out of their homes, they are being taken into stadiums, they are being wrapped in animal clothing and thrown into coliseums, they are being used as human torches and being lit for the emperor for his cocktail parties, and being burned alive. And life is not fair and life is hard. How could a good God let that happen?
Peter would write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 Peter 2, verses 21 to 23, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin; no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled insults at Him, He didn’t retaliate. When He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.”
Your kids are called to suffer, but they are called to suffer well, not blaming someone else, not getting resentful, not saying, “Life isn’t fair,” not getting consumed with themselves – to suffer well and to trust God the way Jesus did.
Because what He will do, He will do something in their character and He will use them and He is going to prepare them for things beyond their wildest dreams, if they don’t bail out of the process. In fact, the application is: Help your child to grow through suffering.
Let me give you two or three maybe practical ways to do that. One, as they are growing up, ask them often, what are they concerned about? What’s going on? Just make little notes for yourself where, What are they concerned about? And don’t be quick when they are hurting. You say, “Oh, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be all right, I’ll go talk to the coach,” or, “I’ll talk to your teacher,” or, “They are bullying you, I’ll step in, I’ll make everything…”
Find out what is going on in their heart. That means you’ve got to take some time and they usually don’t share that kind of stuff when you say, “Okay, let’s have a parent, meaningful conversation.” They usually do it when you’re just kind of hanging out.
The second is, when you find out what’s going on, what they’re really concerned about, what bugs them – go ahead and verbalize, and rather than solve everything, just say, “That doesn’t sound fair, does it? Boy, that must make you feel terrible.” Just affirm that it’s okay to be in life and that this is a raw deal.
And then model something. Say, “Why don’t we, this isn’t fair, let’s talk to God.” And just, in your own language, in your own heart, just share, “God, this hurts. This is difficult. Will you help my son, help my daughter?” And model for them.
A third thing that you can do, not only ask them what’s going on and pray with them, when you’re going through difficult times, I think sometimes parents have this, I’m a good Christian parent! I never have problems. I have a good attitude all the time. Share when you get a raw deal, where it’s appropriate.
Sit around the table and say, “I can’t believe it, you know? I got laid off. This is so unfair. I was one of the early employees; so-and-so didn’t.” And process with them, let them see you. And then you go to Joseph’s life and you open the Bible and say, and let them see your emotions: I don’t like this, this isn’t fair, but I am going to trust You, God. You begin to lay a foundation for them.
My one son is a musician. And as he was growing up, there was a young man in our church in Santa Cruz who was a prodigy. He was an amazing drummer, a guitar player. He said, “Oh, the piano, it looks like guitar strings but they are like this,” and three weeks later he could play the piano. Someone came and did a concert and had a little mandolin, he goes, “That looks kind of cool,” three weeks later, he was playing it. It was unbelievable. He wrote songs, had this voice that was just perfect pitch.
And he hung out at my house, those of you who have had kids with bands, like, the drums are in the garage, then the pianos, then the wires, and there are always people at your house all the time, they eat all your food, and you think, Well, it’s better than them being someplace else, right?
And John was super skinny. Super, super skinny. And we didn’t know why. I didn’t know why because he ate so much of my food all the time. And one day I found out why, because his parents called and said, “We are at Dominican Hospital, we would really like you to stop by. John’s got cancer.”
Two weeks later we found out it was a very rapidly growing type of cancer. Two years later, when he was emaciated and looked like he had been through a Nazi concentration camp, just skin and bones, they put a hospital bed in the lower part of his basement, and our worship pastor, with a guitar; his mom and dad; his fiancé was over here; Jason and I were here; and one other friend. And we sang worship songs and we prayed, because he had just a day, maybe, to live. And he died.
And when we walked out of there, knowing that he had hours or maybe a day, and he did die, I sat in the car with my son. And it was dead quiet. And he turned to me and said, “Dad, John’s got more musical ability in his little finger than I have in my whole body. How could God let him die and me live?”
And I will tell you, in those moments, parents, you better have done your homework and taught your child to suffer well. And I didn’t have a little verse to say, “Oh, it’s going to be okay, Jason, and God’s going to work it out somehow, someway.”
“Son, it’s a fallen world. Life is hard, but God is good. I don’t understand. And I am angry and I am hurt too. All I know is that John is twenty-five years old and sometimes God’s entire agenda can be fulfilled in twenty-five years, sometimes it’s fifty-eight years, sometimes it’s ninety-five years – that this isn’t all there is, this is painful and this hurts,” and we cried together in the car. And I watched my son suffer through it well. And he didn’t blame God, he didn’t turn away from God, he didn’t get resentful, he didn’t blame other people.
Some of the deepest things that will happen in the character of your children will be in their suffering. Don’t try and fix everything. Help them understand, it is a fallen world, life is going to be hard, life is going to be unfair, but Jesus is enough in the midst of it.
Suffering is normal, if you didn’t get that as the major life message. Suffering is normal.
The second smooth stone to put into their pouch is: Teach them to work unto the Lord. You understand that if you eliminate the time that you sleep, the time that you brush your teeth, the time that you eat a little bit of food, the time that you do basic necessities, you and your children will spend somewhere between sixty to eighty of your waking hours working. So that’s going to be a lot of their life, right?
So don’t you think you ought to teach them? So, how do you think about work? A theology of work. Work is a calling, not a job. The word vocation we used to use, “What’s your vocation?” The Latin meaning of vocation is, “a calling.”
He doesn’t call people into just full-time ministry. He calls people to be software developers, He calls people to be stay-at-home moms, He calls people to be construction workers, He calls people to be athletes, He calls people to be musicians.
There is a calling. Your son or your daughter has a DNA like no one else’s in almost seven billion people. That DNA makes them good at certain things, not good at certain things, it gives them passions, directions, personality. So you need to help them discover, So, what is God’s call on their life?
He’s got a purpose for their life. All work is sacred. It’s not white-collar and blue-collar or manual and headwork. All work is sacred to God, because He has made all people to do all work, and all work matters. It’s holy.
Third is, our work is to flow from God’s unique design and purpose for our lives. Doesn’t it make sense that if they are very analytical and they love mathematics and physics comes easy that being an engineer might be a really cool thing? Or if they are very relational and they love English and they are great with words that maybe it’s going to be talking with someone.
And doesn’t it make sense that if they happen to have a personality that might be a little bit more reserved and they are a deep thinker and they are a little bit artistic that maybe a sales job isn’t really what they ought to do?
See, God wants you to understand that the tools that He has put in the heart of your child is exactly the preparation, because He wants to use them. They are special.
A theology of work means that you work for an audience of one. This is hard. You don’t work to impress your mom and dad, you don’t work for the boss, you don’t work for the manager, you don’t work so you can make “x” amount of dollars. You work because you say, My life is a living sacrifice and when I come into a room like this, I’m just reminded of who God is. When I give the first portion of my time, the first portion of my money, the first portion of my energy and my dreams I am saying, “God, I want to live my life before You.”
And then when I show up, I’m a full-time Christian worker developing software or changing diapers or hitting a ball or catching a ball or coaching a team or writing blueprints or developing the cure for cancer. I live for an audience of one. I am made in the image of God.
The old theologians would say: “Doing life before the face of God.” That’s how you want your kids to learn to work. The Old Testament roots are Genesis 2:15 and I put that verse in there because work occurs and the assignment to work is before there is sin.
The myth of our day is that work is a necessary evil to make money so you can raise your standard of living.
So get through, you’ve got to work, get it done, because life is really about Friday, because Friday starts the weekend! And the weekends are about me and fun and pleasure and just what I want to do.
So work is a pain in the rear that, I guess if you have to do it, so here’s the deal. We have seventy percent of Americans surveyed don’t like their job. You want your kid, that’s sixty-some percent, maybe seventy percent of their waking hours, you live in a world where, I guess I’ve got to do this to make money in order to…
God says, “What a silly, silly way to live. I want you to discern, This is what I made you to do. And I want you to love it. I want you to discover not, you aren’t what you do, you should do what you are.” And there is a world of difference.
Berkeley had their graduation and of all people, they had Jimmy Page, the electric guitar player, supposed to be one of the best ever, ever. Some of you have never heard of him, others it brings back lots of memories. Easy, easy.
And here’s what he said to the graduates. He said, “Here’s what I have learned. I learned to do what I really love, and when you do what you really love, it’s not like working. But what really matters in life is doing what you really love, but do it in a way to serve other people.”
Now, I’m not sure how some of his songs served other people, but you can go from there, right? Amazing. That’s what you want for your kids.
So, the application is the New Testament, Colossians 3:23. What does he say? “Do your work heartily, unto the Lord.” Do it before God; do your work, not unto men, but unto God, where your kids realize, Whatever I do, whether it’s, I’m the small kid making my bed, whether my parents say, “Clean out the garage,” where I’m doing my homework, or whether I’m at college, whether I’m on a construction site, you want to teach them a work ethic that they work hard, they work well, they do it with a great attitude.
And when you do, you will help them be successful in whatever they do. But more than that, they will learn that work is a gift from God. Help your child discover God’s calling for his or her life, so they can impact their world and beyond.
A couple of specific ways that might help, especially when they are young, start early or begin now, and give them weekly chores. Give them things to do. And whether that’s making their bed, taking out the trash, unloading the dishwasher, doing some stuff in the yard – just, if you have to make up chores, but give your kids work to do and teach them how to do it with a good attitude.
The second thing is, become a student of your child. What are they good at? Just, literally, you ought to just study your child. What are they good at? How do they process information? What is their personality? Extrovert or introvert? Are they good with their hands? Are they mechanically minded? Do they have people skills? Do they tend to like sports or do they like…?
You want to be a student of your child and then you want to provide opportunities for them to develop. And your goal isn’t how they reflect on you. All your kids don’t need to go to college. All your kids don’t need to have great SAT scores. What you want to do is figure out: What did God make them to do and how do I coach and cooperate with them to do what God made them to do?
Because you know what? They will have a life of joy. They will have a life of impact. And they won’t be one of those seventy percent of the people going, I did this, my parents wanted me to do this, I felt all this pressure, and now I make a lot of money doing it and that’s really good, I guess, except now I can’t do anything else because I’ve got a lifestyle that requires this much money, so now I am sentenced to a life of doing what I am not made to do and I don’t really like to do it. And I am fulfilling everyone’s expectations, so I am just going to wait until my mid-life crisis, then I’m going to blow all this off.
The message: You were created to work. You want your kids, isn’t that a different message than: It’s a necessary evil? You were created to work.
Stone number three: Teach them to manage their lives wisely. Key word is: manage.
We are going to talk about a theology of stewardship. Do you know what a steward is? A steward is a manager. The myth of our day is that: It’s mine! I made it! I got it! I’ll decide what to do with it!
God says, “No, no, you don’t understand.” Here is a theology of stewardship. God owns everything. Psalm 50 says, “The Lord is,” it says, ‘The earth is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘and everything in it.’” God has entrusted things – time, talent, and treasure – and then He appointed us and our children to manage them for Him.
I tried to help my kids think about, What are you going to do with the time God gave you? What are you going to do with the talent God gave you? What are you going to do with the money that God gave you? What are you going to do with the brains God gave you? What are you going to do with the educational opportunity that God gave you?
It’s a stewardship. It’s not yours to blow off or decide, I’m going to do this or do that. God, what do You want me to do?
God expects a positive return on His investments. He has placed very special, unique abilities in your kids. For some of them, He has given them a lot of leadership; for some it’s brains; others athletic, artistic; for some it’s money. He expects a positive return.
And He will hold them accountable and I believe He will hold us accountable as parents, “Did you teach them to be managers?” Or did, out of the pressure of wanting them to be happy all the time, you gave them everything and taught them to be little narcissists? And then when the world doesn’t go their way, they get really mad, and then you can’t figure out why they don’t walk with God and don’t care much about you, because they think the world revolves around them. And the word they get early on, right? When they are even small, like two years old, “That’s mine. That’s mine. Don’t take that! That’s mine!”
And then they get older, “It’s mine!” And then they get even older, “And it’s mine!” You want to break that early. It’s God’s. How are you using it? It will completely change their perspective.
The Old Testament roots are Genesis chapter 1. Before sin enters the world, God says, “I created all that there is – good, good, good, good, good, good. And then I created you very good. Now, are you ready for this? Here’s the earth. Be co-creator with Me. I want you to manage it for Me: animals, manage it; fish of the sea, manage it; the future, manage it; the garden; manage it. Use your creativity. Explore, build.”
Christians should be the greatest environmentalists on the face of the earth. He said, “Steward the earth. Steward your gifts. Steward your money.”
The application from Matthew chapter 25 is the parable of the talents. That’s one worth really going over with your kids. Jesus is talking about how the kingdom works and He says a king was going to go away for a long period of time and he gave to his servants one, five talents; one, two talents; one, one talent, according to their ability.
In other words, if this person had a lot of ability, he is going to give them more. A little bit less ability, give them a little bit less. And the way he evaluated them wasn’t on the end result. It is, “What did you do with what I gave you?”
Two of them doubled them and he said, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter the joy of your master.” One of them squandered theirs because they were afraid; they buried it. And they got a sharp, sharp rebuke.
You want your son or your daughter to realize, God has given you some talents. He is going to hold you responsible. His heart is for you to have great joy with Him in them. But you need to use them well.
Here’s the application: Help your child become faithful in the little things. Faithful in the little things.
Now, I am going pretty fast, and you’re writing pretty fast. And Luke 16:10 says that, “He who is faithful in a very little thing will be faithful also in much. And he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous also in much.”
I would encourage you, as parents, that’s a real principle. It’s a financial passage, in terms of the context, but it’s not just talking about finances. You want your kids to be faithful in little things: how they clean their room. You want them to be faithful in their words and their attitudes, because if they are not faithful in little things, they are not going to be faithful in big things.
And I’m not talking about over-scrutiny and being legalistic, but you really want to help them to be faithful. And the little thing in this context, do you know what it is? It’s money.
The reason Jesus talks so much about money is because it’s the cleanest, clearest, most visible, tangible thing where you can figure out how you’re a steward or not. And what He is saying is, “If you can’t learn to manage money well, I’m not going to entrust true riches.”
If God gives you “x” amount of money and you can’t even handle money, “Why in the world would I entrust spiritual things or an important relationship or a job with more responsibility?” The training wheels of stewardship are money. You can see it. It comes in, it goes out, you’re given an amount, you’re accountable. If you can’t handle money, what Jesus teaches, there’s no way you’re going to handle your life.