Listen very carefully. The greatest joys you’ll ever experience on this planet will have to do with your children. The greatest sorrows you’ll ever experience on this planet will have to do with your children.
The most precious gift and possession that God will ever entrust to you are your children. And the greatest responsibility and potential for legacy and impact are your children.
So let’s jump in together and let’s get God’s perspective on children, big picture. And then I want to give you what I think are the four overarching, biblical axioms or principles about when God says, “What’s the blueprint for raising kids that fulfills My agenda, that brings you joy, and allows them to respond to Me in the way I want them to…” those are the four things we’re going to cover.
Your kids matter to God. Listen to what he says in Psalm 137:3 through 5. “Behold! Children are a gift of the Lord.” Circle the word “gift.” “The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Circle the word “reward.” Some days they don’t feel like a gift and some days they do not feel like a reward.
“But they’re like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gates.”
Notice an arrow is something that’s to be launched and sent. An arrow needs a clear target. An arrow needs preparation. God’s will for your kids is not just they’re sweet, and perfect, and happy, and everything comes out right. Arrows have purpose.
God has a purpose for your daughters and a purpose for your son. He has entrusted them to you temporarily and they are a gift and they’re His, and they’re a reward, and your job is to discern what is the target? And how does this arrow need to be shaped? And how do you release this arrow, not so everything turns out the way you want it to, but so that arrow hits the target that a sovereign, all-wise, all-knowing, loving God has for your son or daughter.
Because the greatest joy they will ever experience is being in the center of His will. You can’t do that for them but you create that environment.
Notice what the Scripture says, instructions to parents. This is the key New Testament passage. We’ll come back to it often. “Children, obey your parents.” By the way, when you think about what you need to help your kids learn, it’s the only one command in all of the New Testament that kids have.
Obey your parents. So, I’ll flip it around. How serious are you about helping them learn to obey?
Notice He goes on to say, “For this is right.” And then He reaches back into the Ten Commandments. Commandment number five: “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth. And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord.”
And so the summary we have is children are a gift from God, a sacred stewardship, temporarily entrusted to parents for the purpose of raising godly offspring to fulfill God’s agenda for His world. That’s a very long, purposeful statement.
A gift, stewardship, temporary. They’re not yours. This issue that how they turn out reflects so much on you. Christian parents especially take way too much responsibility for when their kids don’t turn out right and take almost no responsibility when they turn out well. You talk to Christian parents and if their kids turn out, “Oh, well, it was all the Lord.” Of course it was all the Lord. But you had a part.
But it’s really funny then you got two or three that make great decisions and they have little choosers and one of them makes some really bad decisions. And I’ve been with parents that for twenty years, “I’m a failure. I blew it. It’s all my fault.” Well, how can it be all your fault if it all goes wrong but it’s all God if it all goes right?
See, that kind of thinking is really not very good thinking. You, as a parent, are a steward. You create an environment where your children can learn, and grow, and respond to God.
What choices they make, you know what they are? They’re choices. And sometimes at fourteen, or sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-three they make some very foolish, sinful, stupid choices.
Now, if you haven’t taught them anything and you’ve been neglectful and you haven’t modeled the things that would help them make good choices, then you need to ask God to forgive you and repent.
But if to the best of your ability you’ve done all that you can to create that kind of environment and they make some of those choices, you need to understand, I’m a steward. I need to own anything that I’ve done that I know was wrong and then I need to release that child and realize, you know something? They need to learn to feel the weight of their consequences, and you not own everything that goes wrong in your kids’ lives.
There’s some parents, I’ve met people that their life stops. Everything is wrong. Everything is bad because somehow, anything that happens with their kids was all their fault.
I got news for you. You’re just not that big and you’re not that important. And so we need to understand. They’re our kids. We’re going to love them like crazy. We’re going to walk with God and set a great example. We’re going to create an environment. We’re going to be disciplined. We’re going to give them tough love and we’re going to give them tender love.
But at the end of the day they’re going to make some decisions and what you want to do, you parent differently when you understand, “I’m going to help them learn to experience some consequences to help them make great decisions and to follow hard after Christ.”
But there are no guarantees. There is no formula. There is no, “If you do A, B, C, and D, all your kids turn out a certain way.” And so let’s get really clear on that.
Now, let’s ask, well, what is that environment? How do you do it? Four biblical principles to become godly parents. Number one. Godly parents begin with positive, clear-cut objectives.
You might put an arrow in your notes and write the word “target.” As one of my old coaches said, “If you don’t have a target, you hit it every time.”
Godly parents start with a positive, clear-cut objective. In the Phillips translation, notice what it says in Ephesians 6:4. “Fathers,” negative command, “don’t overcorrect your children or exasperate them or make it difficult for them to obey the command.” Then notice the positive command. “Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.”
Negative command is don’t exasperate them. Don’t be perfectionistic. Don’t compare them with their brothers. Don’t say, “You ought to do this.” Don’t ask a C student to get all As.
Don’t demand that because you love sports they should love sports. Don’t demand that they ought to be musical because you just think musical is really important.
Don’t exasperate your kids. Don’t demand that every little thing is right all the time. Don’t scream and yell and intimidate them and discipline out of anger. There’s a lot of different ways that we exasperate our children and make it hard for them to obey.
But, by contrast, bring them up. The word, literally, is nurture. So how do you bring up or nurture, train, develop, and educate your child to fulfill, or become mature, of their absolute highest potential? That’s what He’s saying. That’s your job.
And so what He says, then, after this is how to do it. Christian teaching and Christian discipline. We’ll get into this a bit later. Christian teaching is what you say to your kids. Discipline is what you do. Those are the two, kind of, things that you have to help your kids. There’s certain things you say, there’s certain things you do.
Our problem, normally, is we get them at their, we flip flopped in the wrong time. When they’re very small we say, say, say, say too much. We got a two year old. All you need to tell him is, “Bobby, when I say, ‘Pick up your toys,’ pick them up.” “Why?” “I said so. That’s why. Because all you need to do is obey.”
Bobby is a teenager. “Hey, I want to go to this movie! I want to do this with my friends! I don’t understand! Hey, Dad, give me a break, will ya? How come I can’t?” “I said so.” Not a good answer.
When they’re a teenager you want to talk. Here’s the why. Here’s the what for. Here’s the reasoning. Why do you think you should do that?
When they’re small, what you want do is set the guardrails, by your actions and your consequences. They can’t think developmentally. They can’t think abstractly. They’re very concrete.
And what you’re going to learn all throughout the process when they’re young, pre-teens, teenagers, and older is these two tools are in your bag. Certain things you’re going to say, certain things you’re going to do.
And he says, “That’s how you bring them up and then nurture.” I call this the principle of focus. The greatest thing I see parents do, and been there done that, is parenting out of fear instead of parenting out of focus.
Being a good parent is not figuring out how to drive yourself crazy every weekend in SUVs and minivans. Taking kids to multiple things that they actually don’t want to go to, often, and are not ready for but because all the other parents are doing it.
And what’s the motivation? “I’m afraid my kid will get left behind. I’m afraid they won’t develop. I’m afraid of what the other parents might think.”
So you got a parent out of focus. What’s the goal? God’s dream or the world’s dream? I call it the American dream. God’s dream, under that in your notes write the word “Romans 8:29.” We often quote Romans 8:28, don’t we? You know how God works all things together for the good for those that love Him that are called according to His purpose.
So we can know that difficult situations, world tragedies, I mean, all kind of issues. We know a sovereign, all-wise, powerful God is going to work all things together for good. And we quote that.
Verse 29 tells us for what? He says, “In order to conform us to the image of His Son.” In essence, God’s primary agenda for your daughter or your son is to make him like Christ.
The Bible calls that “being holy.” Not holy as in you have to have bumper stickers on your car. Not holy as you are, you know, really weird and can’t relate to normal people.
“Holy” as being morally pure and different or distinct and being like Christ, loving other people the way Christ did. Caring for people the way Christ did. Having the heart, the character, and the love of Christ.
That’s God’s agenda for your son. That’s the number one thing he’s trying to get done. And you know what? Whether he can hit a ball or not, play an instrument or not, has a high SAT score or not, gets into an ivy league school or not, is more upwardly mobile than you or not. That’s the agenda.
But the American dream, the world’s dream, really, is we’ve been bombarded with thoughts to say, you know what success as a parent is? Your kid makes first team. No, forget first team, make the traveling team. Because it costs more money and you get to travel. And usually miss church.
And they need to be in the best schools. And the best opportunities. And have the good life. And be upwardly mobile. And be more secure. And they need to achieve. They need to have more status.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard parents say, “I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through.” That’s an interesting statement. I’ve heard parents say that who have really great character, who are very godly. And I’m thinking, “So, what is it you don’t want them to go through?” No pain, no suffering, no difficulty, no conflict in relationships? You know what? I’m just betting those are all the things that made you who you are.
See, what happens is generation number one discovers Christ, loves Him, has a radical transformation, begins to walk with God. When you begin to walk with God, you prioritize your money, you prioritize your time, you discover your spiritual gifts, you get into biblical community and guess what all that does? It causes God’s blessing.
And God’s blessing usually has some side benefits like personal peace. Usually He blesses a lot of other areas of your life. He often promotes you in ways. And you become more financially comfortable.
So generation number two comes and doesn’t go through all that pain and so generation two thinks, “Wow, Mom and Dad took care of this, and this is good, and this is good.”
And you have a conviction. They have sort of a comfortable, believing, consciousness of Christ. And then the next generation, often, is either rejecting Christ or lukewarm at best.
And a lot of it is the very thing that brings success… all these parents are trying to keep your kids from going through difficulty. Keep them from going through pain. That’s how you got close to God.
Now, you don’t have to create these situations but you need to understand, don’t parent out of fear. Don’t parent out of your kids getting in a difficult situation. We isolate them. We’ve isolated them in ways where the only people they’re ever around, at times, are Christians.
Any time, I’ve watched parents when there’s a little conflict starting, oh! Rush in. “You say sorry, you say…” I mean, my lands! Let them fight a little bit! You know what? A smart-aleck kid that keeps messing with people? Some bigger kid is going to help him learn how to not mess with people. But you can’t get that anymore. “Oh, oh, oh! Stop, stop, stop, stop!” And a lot of it is, you know what the parents says? It makes me look bad as a parent. “My child is not perfectly behaved.” None of mine were. And I have no idea what they did when I wasn’t around.
But you need to parent out of focus not parent out of fear.
One focus is on character the other is on circumstance. And I will tell you, especially some of you that God has blessed and are upwardly mobile. There’s a whole generation of younger parents that feel this invisible demand to have your kid involved in everything and be successful.
I just came back from an overseas trip where some very, very strong Christian people in Korea and Hong Kong, I mean, it’s like a tutor for six or seven hours every Saturday so the SAT scores are up here, so they can get in an ivy league school.
And I was with a man and his wife and we were talking about priorities, and family, and he’s a CEO of one of the largest companies there in Korea and I was asking him about his family and I did a retreat for them and as we were talking I said, “Your wife asked me a question that was really hard to handle in front of a group of people. I need to ask you about it.” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Your wife, you know, you have a son that got all these great grades, and got into an ivy league school, and got the multiple degrees, and he lives now in New York and has a very good job, and is making a lot of money.
“And he’s the picture of success, correct?” “Yes.” “Well, your wife asked, in front of those other CEOs at the table, she asked me, ‘What should I tell my son who told me, “If being a Christian is being a Christian like my father, I don’t want to be one.”’”
We were driving in the car going home and she said, “You know what? It was, we were…” He taught at the Wharton School of Finance for ten or twelve years. Later, he was asked to come back to Korea and taught there at a major university and then appointed to a very high government position. And because of that and the culture is just workaholism at levels that even I, having been there and done that, could not fathom.
And she went out and bought furniture for the family and one Saturday, after they’d been there about two or three years, they were sitting down to have breakfast together. And they realized they only had three chairs. And she, it didn’t even dawn on her. They only had three chairs because they never expected the father to, ever, be there at breakfast, or at dinner. And, you know, they just had this moment.
Now, what I gotta tell you is this couple, what they’re doing in their marriage, what they’re doing with their kids, how they’re leading this group of CEOs and saying, “You know something? We Koreans are really zealous. But we’re exporting a kind of family that is not honoring to Christ.”
And I guess what I’d ask you is, “What’s yours look like?” Is yours focused a lot on your kids being successful? Or is it on them being holy? And, by the way, it’s not an either or. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think every youth sport is wrong or, you know, music lessons… all the rest.
But I’m just saying the average parent is spend inordinate amount of time, money, energy, and focus so that your kids will be “successful.” And now what I want you to tell me is what’s your game plan and how focused are you in helping them become “holy?”
Because they get to be thirteen, fourteen, fifteen? If they’ve been on the success deal, it’s pretty, it’s hard to pull that string back in, isn’t it?