I was a spiritual orphan.
Born into a physical family, I grew up in a home that had the outward trappings of religion without the life-giving breath of inward conversion. Although my sisters and I were raised with a foundational belief in God, my parents had no spiritual well to draw from as they parented. During the Vietnam and Cold War eras of the 60’s and 70’s, modern psychologists like Benjamin Spock claimed to be experts in child rearing, and biblical parenting went the way of breast feeding and stay-at-home moms.
Psychology was in, and the Bible was out. The culture of the day, combined with the absence of a biblical foundation, meant my parents reared me solely on the basis of whatever sounded “right.” As I became a teenager, their inability to offer me a standard for right and wrong meant they were limited to “feel good” reasoning that weakened even their best advice. They taught me it was wrong to steal because it was against the law, not because stealing defrauded someone and offended a holy God. They taught me to tell the truth because lying was wrong, but couldn’t substantiate exactly what made it wrong. Without biblical morality, the best relational advice they could give was to wait until I was truly in love to have sex.
When I came to know Christ as my Savior the summer before my freshman year in college, one of the first evidences of spiritual life was my desire to read God’s Word. It was natural then, after my husband and I married and began a family, to want to implement the truths and principles of scripture into our parenting. We envied friends who had strong, godly parents as role models. While we both had a fairly good idea of how we didn’t want to parent, we lacked the knowledge of how to parent.
James 1:5 quickly became our parenting verse: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” God also led us to a foundational passage in Deuteronomy 11 that captures the essence of Christian parenting.
On the eve of entering the Promised Land, God through Moses issued this charge to the Israelites. Notice God is addressing parents as he says, “I do not speak with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the Lord your God, his greatness and his mighty hand and his outstretched arm...but your eyes have seen every great act of the Lord” (emphasis mine).
God addressed adults who had seen God’s mighty hand as he freed them from slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea, destroyed their enemies, and provided for them in the wilderness. He was talking to those who had experienced God’s salvation. It was to these individuals that God offered instructions for biblical parenting. These timeless principles are equally valuable to parents today. His advice is threefold:
1. Love God.
2. Keep his commands.
3. Teach them to your children.
Godly Parenting Step #1 – Love God
“Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God...” (Deut. 11:1a).
The first step in godly parenting requires that we confirm our own relationship with God. Second Corinthians 13:5 encourages us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. As in my own life, it is not enough to have been born into a moral family, been raised in church, or have made a profession of faith early in life. Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “if any (wo)man is in Christ, (s)he is a new creature.” This means at the moment of salvation, a person begins to change and will continue to change (sanctification) throughout his/her life. A true believer should have a desire to read God’s word, be with God’s people, obey God’s voice, and be a part of God’s work. A believer has a sensitivity to sin and a desire to live a life that honors God. In order to be a godly parent, we must first have experienced genuine conversion.
Godly Parenting Step #2 – Keep His Commands
“Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, and keep his charge, his statutes, his judgments, and his commandments always” (Deut. 11:1b).
Unlike my upbringing, which had no biblical foundation for morality, believers have God’s Word to guide us. We don’t have to guess at right or wrong, test the social climate to see what behavior is acceptable, or consult secular “experts.”
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). When we train and discipline our children, we can hold up God’s standard for right behavior and give our children moral absolutes on which to base their decisions.
A word of caution is appropriate here. While many well-meaning Christian parents use the Word of God as a tool to train their children, they use it more like a sledge hammer than a shepherd’s crook. One of our goals in parenting should be to teach our children to love the Word of God, not despise it. It is a delicate balance to present God’s Word as his standard and yet not bludgeon our children with it.
It helps to keep in mind the purpose for which God gave his commandments – to guide us into all truth, to protect us from harm, and to enable us to live pure, healthy, and holy lives. He calls us to obey him because he loves us and wants what’s best for us, not because he wants to spoil our fun. As we teach and train our children, we must constantly remind them of this, especially when we discipline them.
It also bears repeating that we cannot maintain a double standard for behavior. If expect our children to tell the truth, yet we cheat on our income tax, our poor example will undo our teaching. If we train them to be pure and holy, yet watch movies and television with sex, violence, and profanity, our actions will speak much louder than our words. If we instruct our children to forgive and ask for forgiveness, but harbor bitterness in our own hearts, we are like the foolish woman in Proverbs who tears down her house with her own hands. Children are very astute. They are also very sensitive to hypocrisy. One of the greatest hindrances to our children’s holiness is often our own sinfulness.
Godly Parenting Step #3 – Teach Our Children
“Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul...You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 11:18-19).
I love this final step on the path to godly parenting because it is our protection against compartmentalizing our faith. When we have built a regular habit of church attendance into your family’s life, there is a tendency to relegate our Christianity to Sundays and an occasional weekday church appearance. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to help them understand that Christianity isn’t a religion, but a relationship. Relationships can’t be compartmentalized; relationships spill over into every area of our lives.
It is appropriate then, that God would instruct believers to teach their children the fundamentals of the faith during the normal course of life, not just within the four walls of a church building. This is true discipleship. During Jesus’ day, a disciple studied under a rabbi or other spiritual leader. The disciple didn’t just show up for class for a certain number of hours each day. Instead, the student lived with the teacher. He listened to formal lectures, but he also ate, traveled, and ministered with the rabbi. Wherever the rabbi went, the disciple followed. Whatever the rabbi did, the disciple did too.
What does this look like to 21st century parents? It means involving your children in everything you do. If you are cleaning house, train them to work alongside you. If you are preparing a meal for a sick friend, allow your children to help, and take them with you when you visit. When you are having your quiet time, find an age-appropriate children’s Bible and show them how to have a quiet time also.
When my children were young, I preferred to have my time of Bible reading either before they awakened or after they had gone to sleep. It minimized distractions and ensured I had quiet. I realized though, that because I had my quiet times while they were asleep, my children never saw me reading the Bible and praying. Since I wanted to demonstrate how important that was, I began having an additional (brief) quiet time after they awakened in order to model this important discipline.
When you are training your children as you do life together, it’s important to talk a lot. I often assumed my children instinctively knew why I did the things I did. I thought they would witness my acts of service or self-sacrifice and realize I was choosing to do these things because of my love for God and my desire to honor and please him. That was until I heard one daughter say to the other, “Oh, Mommy will eat the burnt piece of toast. She likes it that way.”
That comment was a wake-up call to be a little more verbal about what I was doing and why. In the past I had hesitated, because I didn’t want to seem to be bragging to my children about the good things I was doing. Instead of just hoping they would figure it out, I began to talk to them about the motives behind my acts of service.
Whether you are a first generation Christian parent or your family’s spiritual legacy goes back for generations, the principles of loving God, obeying him, and teaching your children will serve you well. May you be encouraged and challenged by God’s promise to faithful parents down through the ages:
“Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God” (Deut. 12:28).
This article originally appeared in The Mother’s Heart magazine. Used with permission.
Lori Hatcher is an author, blogger, and women’s ministry speaker. She shares an empty nest in Columbia, South Carolina, with her ministry and marriage partner, David, and her freckle-faced, four-footed boy, Winston. A homeschool mom for 17 years, she’s the author of the devotional book, Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms (available from Amazon.com). You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God...Starving for Time.
Publication date: January 3, 2014