I’ve heard it said that parenting is like building a cathedral one brick at a time. Usually, it can feel more like one tiny Lego at a time—especially when it comes to character building. I never fully understand this analogy until we began the process of building our dream home in the country. We stood on a piece of rugged land, ready to be cleared of debris as we snapped a family photo on a rare hot October evening. Since then, I’ve been had a front-row seat to every step and building character in children is much like building a home.
Would you live in a dream home that has every detail imaginable—a great floor plan, extra storage, a pool in the backyard, and a high-end kitchen but the house didn’t come with plumbing nor was it wired for electricity? Of course not! Building godly character in our children is the same.
God creates the foundation and helps us frame the walls but it’s up to us to complete the process—adding windows, sheetrock, trim, and all the other little details—honesty, obedience, respect, kindness, integrity, honor, love, and compassion. Just like God’s ultimate goal for your life on Earth is not comfort but character development; the goal for our children shouldn’t be their comfort or happiness, but to be godly. The Bible reminds us, “Take on an entirely new way of life — a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:22-24 MSG).
Why Is Character Building so Important for Children?
Why is character-building so important? Because God asks us to partner with Him in shaping our children. Character building according to Focus on the Family is “The development of positive, stable character traits should flow directly from spiritual growth. Attempts to train a child to be “good” will be relatively meaningless and have only limited success if that child has no personal relationship with God and no real understanding of His love and justice. A kid can make all the right spiritual noises and toe the line when Mom and Dad are watching, but what happens when no one is looking or when he goes off to college by himself?”
Matthew 7:24-27 puts it this way about building character, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
What Are Some Excellent Character-Building Examples from the Bible?
So, what is Character? In simple terms, a person’s character is who they really are. Character is defined as the strength of the moral fiber. A.W. Tozer described character as “the excellence of moral beings.” The Bible is filled with stories where God built character through their circumstances.
God used every trial to prepare Joseph to lead a nation in famine. His brothers sold him into slavery. But during those years as a slave, Joseph’s character of hard work, humility, and integrity helped him rise from a lowly slave to being second in command of an entire nation.
David was the runt of the litter among his brothers. His main chore was being a shepherd boy who endured years as an outlaw before he became king of Israel. Despite his many sins, God considered him a man after his own heart.
Esther laid her life on the line to save all of her people from genocide. She went from being a mere Jewish girl to queen.
Nehemiah was a professional wine drinker who went from serving the king to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in under 55 days. He rallied an entire city and reignited their faith in God.
Daniel was a young teen when his people were captured by the Babylonians. God used Daniel to show the king and his court he was the living God after Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for praying.
Jonah learned he couldn’t run from after spending three days in the belly of a fish. But during those days, he realized God valued obedience.
What Are Some Characteristics We Hope to Instill in Our Children?
Our culture idolizes people based on their fame or fortune. Rarely is anyone acknowledged for their character so it shouldn’t surprise us that our world is facing a crisis of character. As parents, we are the ones who have been given the divine responsibility to help shape our children’s character. Our job is to turn to the well-worn pages of the Bible filled with principles to help train them up in the way they should go instead of letting the culture influence their character. The Bible tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
But we don’t have to do it alone. Not only does God have confidence in you as a parent, but He also provided the Holy Spirit to help guide us and He’s given up a basic blueprint of nine character qualities based on the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Three Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Strong, Biblical Character
According to Paul, the fruit of the Spirit is a natural result of “walking by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). As a family, we’ve found that walking with the Holy Spirit is essential in building Christ-like character; not just for our children but for ourselves. It’s much easier to help our kids “catch” what we are modeling versus teaching. It is through the Spirit that we develop these traits, grow in grace, and glorify God. No matter the age of your children, here are three timeless ways to cultivate character.
Talk, talk, and talk some more
It seems so simple but how many of us actually talk to our kids? It’s easy to talk at them but how about talking to them? The best teaching moments aren’t ones that are planned—they happen unexpectedly and the world around us presents endless opportunities; whether the man in front of you is impatient with the cashier, or someone refuses to follow policy about wearing a mask in the store. TV shows, the news, movies, social media, music, and literature are filled with character examples. Use it all to talk!
One of the best character-building practices is to point out the impact of someone’s behavior on another person or highlight how that behavior impacted someone’s feelings as well. These moments are good moments to talk to your kids about that person’s character and whether or not it honors God. Whether you’re working on kindness, patience, or self-control, it’s vital to keep the conversation going throughout the day: Don’t just talk at your kids, talk to your kids.
It’s Caught, Not Taught
Parents are children’s first and most powerful teachers. They watch what we say, how we say it, and what we really mean through our actions. Are you maintaining self-control when the person in front of you is driving 50 in a 65? What words are coming out of your mouth after getting off the phone with a difficult customer? Do they find you reading your Bible or praying? Each day ask yourself: “If my child had only my behavior to watch, what example would he catch?” The answer is often quite telling.
Prayer. There’s nothing more important we can do for our children than to bring them before the Lord. Praying for their character is a part of building up the good character as God uses opportunities to mold, temper, and shape them. We desire for them to be like Christ, and our greatest hope is that others will be able to see Him in them. However, it is not enough just to “wish” that our children will emulate Jesus, we must pray His character into their lives.
To pray God’s character into the lives of our children is simply a matter of studying His Word and praying that specific characteristics will be manifest in us! Let’s look at one short passage that gives four distinct characteristics of God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23. Each trait can be a form of prayer, for example here is a prayer for self-control.
I am so grateful I get to be Tori’s mom. I love how You shaped her heart to be so tenderly loving and kind. I lift her up to today in continued prayers of keeping her healthy through the rest of the school year and I also ask that You help temper her self-control. Give her the strength she needs to have self-control. Help her to recognize, resist, and fight her temptations so she can remain steady on the path You have laid before her. Father, remind her of Your grace when she messes up and stumbles in this area. But also show her Your love so she can be resolved to stand on Your word to help her with her self-control because we both desire that she be more like You. Amen.
Father God give me the strength to have self-control. I have my struggles and temptations and I know that Satan will use them against me. Lord help me to have the self-control to fight my temptations and remain steady on the path you set before me. I know that if I give in my feet will fail me and I will stumble. If that happens, Lord, convict my spirit to not continue in my temptations. And help me, Father, to stand up strong and lean on you to continue in the way set before me. I pray that in my self-control I will hear you more clearly so that you can change me to be more like you.
Let us never forget that character training is a never-ending process. It doesn’t matter if your child is eight, 18, or 38. The relationship we have with our children changes from captain, coach, to consultant. In all of these stages, we can still instill character through our example. Just as God refines and tempers us on our life journey, we too have the same opportunity. It is a continual process filled with both bad moments and happy days. Remember the words Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/monkeybusinessimages
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.