The Top 5 Influencers of your Children’s Spiritual Health
I want to highlight a book that distills some recent research done on the spiritual upbringing of kids in our world. I suppose I feel a word of balance is needed right at the start. First of all, there is nothing you can do that will create spiritual life in your children. Nothing. We have to tell ourselves this often. New birth is a gift of grace, not an outcome of faithful parenting. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about this in John chapter 3, even after telling Nicodemus “you must be born again”, Jesus went on to compare the experience of new birth to the coming and going of the wind. You never know how the wind is going blow, or even if it going to blow. So it is with the Spirit of God. He creates new life and you can’t tell Him when to do this.
So does this mean you just sit around and twiddle your spiritual thumbs? Not all at. That would be disobedience to the same Bible that also tells us new birth is outside our manipulations. So what do we do? The Bible has all kinds of calls upon us a parents. We are to raise children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), we are to discipline them (Prov. 13:24), we are to train them to understand the Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15-16), we are to model before them a life of conviction and supreme joy in Jesus (Prov. 4:1-4), we are to teach them about God’s world and how to live wisely in it (Prov. 13:1), we are to pray that God would save them. Basically, the home is a small church and most of what is supposed to happen in a church is to be happening in the home.
Therefore, while we cannot get them saved, we can salt the oats, grease the wheels, till the soil, and shine copious amounts of light upon their sin-loving hearts. If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom.10:17), then we can make our homes a veritable concert hall where truth is constantly echoing through its bedtimes and chore times and mealtimes and discipline times and fun times.
To tell you the truth, and to bluntly remind you, Scripture is sufficient. We don’t need this research. If we simply believed what the Bible said about parenting and children, took it seriously, and worked fervently to put it into action then so much would change in our families. We wouldn’t care so much about studies because we would be so busy doing family things, most of them full of joy. Good studies will confirm what God told us.
But in this case, I thought this was helpful because it focuses on particular activities that are a little more concrete. This is helpful because when you bang your head on concrete you feel it. So often people turn the Scriptures into suggestions that never materialize into anything. But when you show people that the Scripture is supposed to be used for making concrete actions, this can rock them back to reality.
The book is by Jana Macgruder and it is called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. I don’t know the author and I haven’t read the book. I found this at a blog that can be read here. So while I am not familiar with the author, I found the conclusions resonating with me. Here they are with a few of my comments.
1. The child regularly reads his/her Bible while growing up.
This only makes sense. As mentioned above, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” If a child is not made familiar with the Bible, then he will be cut off from transforming truth. But “familiar” is ambiguous. Many kids will say they are familiar with Bible stories. But that is not what we are talking about. Kids need to read all of the Scripture and not just the stories. They need to be read to until they can read on their own. They need to know the gospels, the teaching of the NT letters, the history of the OT, and the preaching of the prophets. If a child understands the Bible because of regular intake of it, then God often turns that understanding into the glorious light of wisdom that leads to salvation. Is your child reading the Bible?
2. The child regularly spends time in prayer growing up
Does a child know that God is a personal God? Does a child know that they were created to have relationship with God? Does a child know who this God is? If so, then prayer is natural. But along the way, as they pray to a holy God, they will often become aware of how sinful they are. This often turns childish praying into pleas for salvation. This is good.
3. The child regularly served in church while growing up
What is this telling us? It is saying that they didn’t just go to church. They didn’t just attend, starring glassy-eyed at the preacher. They were made to participate. Yes, I used the word “made.” Children have to be directed into what is right. And when they are rubbing elbows with people who love Jesus and love to serve, they will have to come to terms with why these people love Jesus so much. Eventually they will begin to evaluate their own heart and its hidden motives and loves.
4. The Child listens primarily to Christian Music
This one surprised the blogger, and it caught my attention too. But I have some personal testimony in this area. I listened primarily to oldies in middle school because my parents didn’t listen to music much, I liked the sound of oldies, and there wasn’t so much messed up stuff in them. But then I heard a Christian band, DC Talk, do a rendition of “Lean on me”. With that I was carried into the world of Christian music and it deeply impacted me. Why? Because you have two powerful things combined into one. First, the power of music is real. It grabs your emotions and makes you feel things up and down the human spectrum. And don’t forget that in our world music is nearly omnipresent, working its emotional power constantly. Second, truth is powerful. The gospel is right and deep down we all know God is there. Put the emotional power of music alongside the truth of God’s word and it will affect you. If God gives a person new birth, there is a sound track immediately in place that draws a person to God and not away from him on an hour by hour basis.
5. The Child participates in church mission trips and projects
I think this one is taking the power of #3 above and putting it on steroids. If they were confronted with issues of truth, the zeal of others, and their own heart while serving at church, then this bumps it into the stratosphere. It also bring the gospel into prominence, confronting the soul of the child, because that is the usually the driving factor in community missions.
May our homes become little churches, where a father is leading the family to God though the good news of God’s Word, a mother is sacrificially serving her home in the name of Christ, and both parents are living out the realities of new-birth love for Jesus in the real issues of life. Where both parents are not present or are not faithful in this, may the church fill the gaps where it can. And over all, may the Spirit be merciful to save children in spite of our weak and feeble efforts.