On the first day of summer, our family traveled to Walnut, North Carolina. There we embarked on an all-day whitewater rafting excursion down the French Broad River. Before boarding our raft, my husband, children, and I were drilled on the importance of listening to and obeying our guide. We would paddle when Grier the guide said, “Paddle!” We would rest when she told us to rest. Grier, we realized, had knowledge about what we would encounter on the river. She knew the names and history of each section of rapid water, was familiar with their strength, and knew how best to navigate them. That day trusting Grier’s knowledge and wisdom protected us and ensured that we enjoyed a successful—though admittedly stressful—run.
As Lee and I raise our sixteen-year-old twins and preschooler, we realize that the parenting journey is a lot like a fast-paced adventure down the French Broad. Sleepless toddlers pitch tantrums. Teenage defiance rears its ugly head. Hurtful things are said and done by the kids’ peers, and sometimes the daily ride of helping our children to grow up gets so bumpy that I feel panic rise. But then I remember that I am not alone: my husband and I have help as we run these child-rearing rapids. As Christian parents, we have the authority of Scripture to serve as an ever-present guide that prepares us for sections of white water and helps us navigate.
Nowhere in the Bible does God promise His followers a smooth parenting adventure. In it He does, however, give us wonderful keys to success that we can use as we seek to raise godly children.
1. He reminds us that raising good kids is not the ultimate goal. He’s after their hearts, and He wants them to be holy.
One of Satan’s most cunning schemes is to convince people that the “good” things they do make them good enough for God. If he can get our children to believe that their awards, their charitable deeds, and their honor roll standing are what the Lord really desires, then they’ll think they don’t need Jesus. They’ll waste their lives assuming they can earn their way into Heaven. What God really desires is that our kids recognize that they are sinners in need of His grace, that they simply can’t do anything to merit His love and forgiveness, and that they are therefore in need of Jesus, the Savior, who laid down His perfect life so that we could enjoy relationship with our Creator.
But how easy it is to feel that enrolling our kids in one more activity or pushing them harder in their studies or carefully crafting their image through clothing selections is what parenting is about! Instead, it’s our ultimate job to teach them about the Lord, to help them see their need for Him, and to encourage them not just to place faith in Jesus but to live in obedience to Him.
Aim, therefore, to train your children not in goodness or even in greatness but in godliness. Make every effort to lead them to trust in Christ and then help them to live in a way that honors God’s holy standards, not the world’s.
2. He lets us know that we will make mistakes, and reminds us of the need to rely on Him.
Scripture is full of stories about parents who made huge missteps in raising their kids: Jacob showed favoritism; Samson’s parents failed to curb his selfish behavior; David nearly allowed his son Absalom’s defiance to tear his kingdom apart. These narratives remind us of our need to go to God about every decision that relates to the way we raise our children and to remain vigilant about the kind of example we set.
As I think about this topic, I’m reminded of the ever-present danger of hypocrisy—claiming to be a follower of Jesus while shamelessly disobeying Him. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day publicly acted like they loved God, but when they didn’t think anyone was watching, they’d lie, cheat, and steal. “Everything they do is done for show,” Jesus said (Matthew 23:5). Jesus knows one of the enemy’s most successful strategies against kids raised in a Christian home is to water-down their parents’ witness. To tempt you and I to let sinful choices become the rule rather than the exception. To forget that consistently walking with Jesus is the most important thing we can do for the precious little girls and boys we love.
Choose, then, to live as God commands in His Word. Ask for His help in extending forgiveness, avoiding gossip, and living above reproach. With God’s power at work in us, we can choose to resist being held prisoner by temptation. Instead of dwelling on what was done to us, we can focus on what Jesus has done for us. And as we do, we can limit our mistakes, grow closer to the Lord, and walk with the kind of humility necessary for apologizing to our kids when we do fail.
3. He reminds us of His track record of faithfulness, encouraging us to trust in Him rather than in our own limited vision.
WhenGod asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, it seemed impossible that God’s promise to make Abraham the father of many nations could come true if he were to agree to the plan. Abraham couldn’t see that the Lord was testing his faith and was masterminding a scene that would foreshadow God’s own sacrifice of His Son many years later. Nevertheless, Abraham set out to do that hard thing God requested of him, focused not on the challenge but on God’s past goodness in leading him to Canaan and allowing him to become a father in his old age. The Lord blessed his trust, eventually providing him with six more sons and making Isaac father of the Jewish people and ancestor of Christ.
Maybe you are currently facing a test of faith. Will you trust the Lord to bring a complex situation involving your child to resolution, or will you live in panic? Maybe you have done all you know to do to help steer your kids to Jesus and wonder whether your rebellious child will ever embrace your faith. Maybe you wonder whether your daughter will ever see past the handsome face and into the heart of that guy she’s dating. Remember, making miracles out of messes is God’s specialty.
Scripture is full of stories in which God blessed His people as they chose to trust in His goodness rather than fearing their circumstances. Recall the blessings He’s already given you. Then trust your faithful heavenly Father to act. He loves your son or daughter even more than you can.
4. He suggests wonderful, applicable guardrails that we can apply on His authority.
Guardrails are safety precautions appearing in between lanes or alongside curves; they keep drivers from straying off the road and into danger zones, like drop-offs or rivers. Similarly, the insights and rules offered in God’s Word are intended to help us avoid moral dangers and situations that can rob us of joy and peace. For instance, when God’s Word says, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33), it is reminding believers to choose their friends wisely; hanging out with those who often rebel against the rules sets us up for disaster.
By studying God’s Word alongside her children, a Christian parent both makes her kids aware of the guardrails God encourages them to set up in their own lives and enjoys the added benefit of pointing to the Lord’s authority as her backing when she creates house rules and practices such as “only listen to music that has a message that is praiseworthy and pure” (Philippians 4:8) or “choose entertainment you wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch with Jesus” (Romans 16:19).
Christian parents need rarely resort to, “Do such-and-such because I say so.” Choose to make Bible study an active part of your daily interactions with your child. You can make no wiser investment and you can enlist no stronger ally.
5. He reminds us that prayer works.
All believers go through seasons in which they feel as if their prayers are hitting a ceiling, going unheard. This experience is particularly frustrating for parents, whether we are begging God for our child’s salvation, healing, or simply asking for a softening in attitude. I love what Jesus’ half brother says in James 5:17: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” And in Matthew 7:7 Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. … Keep on knocking, and the door will be open to you.” The Lord does indeed hear our prayers, and we can approach Him with confidence—whether we feel He is listening or not.
How well I remember the time our son Daniel, a leukemia survivor, and I prayed his leg pains would get better. He finally looked up at me and said, “Mommy, we’ve been praying for an hour that Jesus would take my pain away. Why hasn’t He done it yet?” I told Daniel that God is making him into a champion. And He takes time building His champions.
Don’t grow discouraged when Jesus doesn’t answer your prayers exactly the way you want. The purpose of prayer is ultimately to get our hearts in tune with His. Remember, He’s preparing you for things you cannot imagine. Scripture repeatedly calls us to take our concerns to God, and He does still answer in wonderful and diverse ways. So, no matter the season of your child’s life or the difficulty of the moment, talk to the Lord. He generously provides. His Word promises that He’s working all things out for your good—even when it hurts.
We as Christian parents serve a God who can walk on water and calm even raging waves with just a word. By trusting in and applying the truth of Scripture, we can navigate every season of our children’s lives—not without stress, but without fear.
Tara McClary Reeves is the daughter of beloved evangelist Marine Corps Lieutenant Clebe McClary. Tara is a sought after speaker and author, and her latest title, Is Your Dad a Pirate?, releases on August 2. To preorder and learn more about the story, visit: www.isyourdadapirate.com.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Burke/Triolo Productions
Publication date: August 2, 2017