Raising Children Who Hope in the Triumph of God
Let's think for a moment about the word "Lord" at the end of Ephesians 6:4. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
Confessing That Jesus Is Lord
Lord is an extremely exalted title as Paul uses it. In Philippians 2:9–11 he says that "God has highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
To say that Jesus is "Lord" means
- that he is the rightful King of the universe,
- that he is ruler over all the world,
- that he is the commander of all the armies of heaven and of all his Christian soldiers on the earth,
- that he is now reigning until he has put all his enemies under his feet,
- that he is triumphant over sin and death and pain and Satan and hell, and
- that he will one day establish his kingdom of righteousness and joy on the earth and reign forever and ever to the glory of his Father.
To confess that Jesus is Lord means that you believe that he will triumph over all things. He is not a small-town god. He is more powerful than Reagan and Gorbachev and Hatcher and Khomeni and Kadafy and all the other leaders of the world put together. He will come in triumph. And when he comes, he will be just as visible and real in Minneapolis as Michael Jackson at the Met Center, only his audience will be bigger, and his band will be louder, and his laser will be like lightning from one horizon to the other, and when his concert is over, all the evil and unbelief in the world will be gone, and those who followed him will live and play and work as happy as a child could ever be forever and ever.
Therefore I conclude that whatever else it means to bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—the King and Commander and Ruler of all things—it means this:
- Bring the children up to hope in the triumph of God.
- Bring them up to find their place in the triumphant cause of the Lord Christ.
- Bring them up to see everything in relation to the triumph of God.
- Bring them up to know that the path of sin is a dead end street no matter how many cool and famous people are on it, because the cause of righteousness will triumph in the end. Christ has already struck the decisive blow on Good Friday and Easter morning.
The Family in God's Great Design for the World
I confess that I have gotten very excited about being a father as I have been thinking this week about what a family is and what it's for in God's great design for the world. I get excited
- when I think of the family as a breeding ground for children who hope in the triumph of God,
- or when I think of it as a training school for teaching what is true and false about what the world is really coming to,
- or when I think of it as a boot camp for fitting out young soldiers of Christ for the greatest combat of the world,
- or when I think of it as a fortress for protection or a hospital for healing or a supply depot for replenishing the troops or a retreat center for R and R,
- and I get especially excited when I think of the family as a launching pad for missiles of missionary zeal aimed at the unreached peoples of the world.
Instilling in Our Children a Vision of God's Triumph
Paul says, "Don't provoke your children to anger." What does he mean? He doesn't mean don't cross their will. He doesn't mean don't deny their desires. He means don't cross their will for no good purpose. Don't deny their desires without making it a part of some great vision of God's purposes in the world. Show your children something great to live for, so that when you cross their will and deny their desire, it's because you are fitting them for some great purpose of God!
Anger comes from feeling that a parent's rules are petty and trivial—that they don't have anything to do with something really great or important. But a child who sees that the rules of the home and their consistent enforcement are connected to some great vision of life and some great cause to live for will not harbor resentment toward their parents. They will be like young soldiers who may complain now and then about the toughness of the training but would die any day with the captain, because the cause he stands for is so great. Parents who don't see discipline as part of some great vision of what their children might become for God will wind up using discipline to increase their own private comfort. And children will see that and eventually become angry.
So I think it is in the spirit and wording of our text today to say that the great challenge for parents is to give their children a vision of God's triumph in the world, and to instill in them the thrilling hope of fighting on the side of truth and righteousness and joy and victory.
Ten Basic Ways to Instill This Vision
What then should we do? Well, sometimes it helps just to remind ourselves of the obvious things we so easily neglect. That's what I want to do. And I hope that it stirs us all up to be really radical Christians.
1. Make All of Life God-Saturated
The first thing parents need to do to raise children who hope in the triumph of God is to make all of life God-saturated.
I can remember the blankets that were on my bed when I was a little boy. There was a green one and there was a gold one. They were identical except for the color. And that's good because what mattered to me was not the color but the soft, smooth, silky edge. I used to snuggle down, pull the covers up around my neck, and then find that soft two-inch silky border of the blanket and hold it between my fingers as I went to sleep. The softness and smoothness and coolness of it made me feel secure and happy.
I think of that blanket now as a picture of the way a lot of church people treat God. He is the soft, smooth, comfortable border of their lives. He is not woven all through life. He is there on Sunday in a kind of external way. And he is there in times of crisis and trouble. But he is not pervasive. Life is not saturated with God.
He makes no difference in how much TV the family watches or what they watch. He makes no difference in whether the music in the home edifies the spirit or drags it down. He makes no difference in what the family does on the Lord's Day to keep it holy. He makes no difference in the disciplines of eating and exercising and sleeping. He makes no difference in what kind of car or house or clothes or furniture they buy. He just seems to be irrelevant most of the time.
And kids of course know this. And they draw from it the obvious conclusion—God is nothing very relevant to my life, and the cause of Christ is nothing great and all-consuming. God is not exciting enough to build your whole life around. He is a kind of necessary evil to be tolerated on Sunday but a dispensable drag on Monday through Friday. You can read this pretty easily from the kids that come from such homes.
So the first thing we must do is to be radical Christians—or I should say, simply, real Christians. We should saturate all our daily life with God. He should be the source and goal of all our acts. "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). The children will see it and by God's grace will believe that the triumph of God is the greatest thing in the world.
That triumph comes only by grace and only in answer to prayer. Prayer is the first and fundamental way that we join forces with God in his victory over sin and evil and unbelief. And so the second thing we must do as parents is pray for our children and teach them to pray.
We need to pour our hearts out in secret where none but God knows what we say, pleading for the salvation and holiness and perseverance of our children. And our Father who sees in secret will reward us.
We need to pray in the presence of our children so that they can hear our longings and read our hearts and learn themselves to pray. And we need to pray with our children so that they have a chance to pray in a loving environment.
How many great men have testified to the power of their father's and their mother's prayers. Augustus Strong, who was a Baptist seminary president at the end of the nineteenth century and who wrote a systematic theology still in print wrote in his autobiography,
One of the earliest things I remember is [my mother] taking me into a dimly lighted closet every Saturday afternoon after the day's work was done and kneeling with me beside a chest while she taught me how to pray. I remember her suggesting to me the thoughts and, when I could not command the words, her putting into my mouth the very words, of prayer. I shall never forget how, one day, as I had succeeded in uttering some poor words of my own, I was surprised by drops falling upon my face. They were my mother's tears. My mother's teaching me how to pray has given me ever since my best illustration of the Holy Spirit's influence in prayer. When we know not what to pray for as we ought, he, with more than a mother's skill and sympathy, helps our infirmities and makes intercession within us while Christ makes intercession for us before the throne. (p. 80)
3. Demonstrate the Importance of the Bible
The third thing we must do to raise up children who hope in the triumph of God is make the Bible the most important book in their lives.
William Quayle, a great old Methodist preacher from 60 years ago, looked back on his parents' home and said, "I would rather have been the son of a woman and a man, who in their penury could not leave to the child of their love . . . anything but a Bible, than to have been descended from all the majesties of history" (William Alfred Quayle, by M. S. Rice, 1928, p. 31).
I just read yesterday a little article by William Frankena who teaches philosophy in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He said that when he was a boy, his father read at least one chapter from the Bible after every meal and that they finished the Bible every year for 16 years.
Most of us are so afraid of a little resistance from our children that we set very small goals by the standards of our ancestors. After years of reading systematically through books of the Bible, we are working on memorizing verses this year at the breakfast table. We have memorized 29 verses so far this year.
We need to help our children feel what Eugene Nida just wrote this month in a summary of his life as a Bible consultant for Bible translating around the world. He said,
Another important privilege [of this work] was to realize that the message of the Holy Scriptures is certainly the most important and meaningful message for the modern day. [Do our kids see this conviction in our use of the Bible?] To see how an intelligible, clear translation of the Scriptures could have a transforming effect upon a psychologically distraught hippie, upon a self-satisfied and smug intellectual, and upon a depressed and oppressed Indian community in the Andes made me realize that there is no real substitute for this good news. ("My Pilgrimage in Mission," IBMR, Ap 1988, p. 62)
We must show our children that this book is the most important book in our lives and that it contains the answers to life's greatest questions and that it is the battle plan for the triumph of God.
There is so much more to say about what we must be as parents if we are to raise up children who hope in the triumph of God and who throw their lives into the great cause of Christ.
4. Be Living Examples of Faith
If we had time, we would talk of the need to be living examples of faith and hope for our children in very practical ways. And I would tell you stories about how my father was totally dependent for our livelihood on invitations from churches to preach, but how he said, when there were big holes in his schedule, that God would provide for those who trust him. He believed it. And it never occurred to me as his son to doubt God's word or my father's faith that God will always triumph.
5. Be Happy
We would talk about the need to be happy lest our children get the impression that the triumph of God would be the triumph of gloom.
We would talk about the need for firm, no-nonsense corporal discipline and recall what it did in the life of Amy Carmichael to fit her, as Elizabeth Elliot says, "for the buffettings she would have to endure" on the way to the triumph of God.
7. Be Humble and Willing to Apologize
We would talk about humility and the willingness to apologize to our children, and show them that the cross can triumph even over a dad's mistakes.
8. Worship Together
We would talk about the need to worship together so that the children can see mom and dad praise God and bow in reverence and cherish the preaching of God's Word, and get a foretaste of what it will be when the Lord comes in triumph at the end of the age.
9. Uphold Standards of Everyday Holiness
And we would talk about standards of everyday holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Standards of sexual purity, and financial integrity, and rigorous truthfulness, and self-control, and hard work—what it means in practical everyday terms to be on the side of the justice and grace that will someday triumph over all evil.
And finally we would talk about love. Parents loving children and children learning to love—learning that in the end everything is in vain without love, that in the world love is the visible expression of faith in the triumph of God, that in the soul love no matter what it costs is the way of joy.
Our great challenge from Family Week is to be the kind of church and the kind of parents that raise up children—old and young—who hope in the triumph of God.