Last time I tackled the “Along the Way” series, I shared some of the guiding principles I use with my kids as I disciple them in everyday life with the gospel. I promise I have a lot more to say, however I felt like what I shared needed some additional clarification and more thoughts that add on to what I said.
A lot of times articles and books and conferences on raising kids seems like a bunch of rosy principles and is lacking on the whole real life, in the trenches, backstage kind of stuff. We return/finish the book freshly pressed with a load of new knowledge and fresh vigor to engage our children and raise them into the super-children they were destined to be. All of it quickly goes nuclear when your daughter is screaming at you to stop talking to her as little flecks of animal cracker spatter your face. Tragically, we are left with the warm, molten lump of our good intentions and we delete their application for Mensa.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with a lot of the material available to parents (although there are some that are extremely unhelpful and should be avoided). There are a lot of fantastic books that offer a lot of solid wisdom and principles when it comes to parenting your children. What I am a lot more concerned about is how our hearts as parents interact with that material and how we apply it to our children. Oftentimes, and I am guilty of this just like you probably are, of taking those things as inerrant rules and trying to take the square peg material and hopelessly jamming it into the circular hole that is your child’s mind and heart. What we fail and have failed to do is consider that everyone’s children, as well as each individual child of yours, has different hopes, fears, personalities, reactions, and behaviors. If we are shooting for just a cookie cutter response to modify our children’s behavior, we are potentially missing out at getting to their heart and allowing the gospel to change their behavior from the inside out.
However, there is so much more to sharing the gospel with your kids than telling it to them whenever and however you feel like it. In the midst of the everyday struggles of being a parent, there are spiritual realities that motivate and shape how you share the gospel with them. Discipling your kids with the good news of Jesus Christ takes work on your part to understand and navigate your child’s heart, as well as yours, and to pray against the schemes of Satan and sin that will seek to side-track and derail repentance and gospel growth.
As I struggled through the questions of discipling my kids and raising them to follow Christ, the very first thing I found that I needed to do was to not leap into it right away, but be praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal the hearts of my children to me. Just like we spend time asking the Spirit to reveal our idols and expose where there is a need for growth, so to we need to ask the Spirit to help us understand our children’s personalities, their hopes and fears (potential idols), their hearts and minds (how the process information), and their reactions to our discipline and to our gentle rebukes. Just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians to receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ (Ephesians 1:17), we can pray that the Spirit is able to uniquely speak the truth of the gospel through us in a way that our kids will understand.
“I consider myself to be the Apostle Paul and I am observing the Athens landscape of my kids’ hearts in order to find connecting points for the gospel message”
For example, it is a normal routine for my wife and I to ask the kids questions that can delve deeper into these things. I will ask about their days at school, who they played with, what happened during the day, what their friends say and do, what their teachers say and do, and what others think about one another. These are all ways to find out more about what they think about what goes on in their lives. Children will readily make their opinions known and it can be easy to draw out what they think about how someone else acted or why they did something to someone else. Also, I will observe how they interact when I pick them up from school, how they interact at church gathering, with friends, with family, and with strangers. I consider myself to be the Apostle Paul and I am observing the Athens landscape of my kids’ hearts in order to find connecting points for the gospel message (Acts 17). When we asks questions, observe, and process them in prayer, we can find plots to plant gospel seeds that can blossom in their hearts as they hear the good news and begin to follow Jesus for themselves.
As the good news sinks in and you share it with your little ones, I cannot stress enough that this is never a simple path and that it must be saturated in prayer. Not only does prayer help us to hear from the Spirit and help us open our kids hearts and minds, but it is a very real weapon in the battle against our Enemy, Satan. Evangelism and discipleship are not just a head and heart issue, but it is also a battle being waged on the spiritual plane. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that those who are disobeying God are actively serving the spirit of this world, which is ruled by the “prince of the power of the air”, who is Satan (Ephesians 2:2-3). Satan is called the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9) and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Your kids will be just as vulnerable as anyone else to the devious schemes of Satan to deceive our hearts and enslave us to the spirit of the age.
When we started sharing the gospel with our kids regularly in our discipline and our times as a family, we started off pretty well. However, a couple of weeks in, Micah, our oldest son, started bucking against everything we did and said and was just terrible night in and night out. It was really exhausting and wore me down to frustration and started to effect how Tina and I dealt with the kids. It was only after confessing our need to others to pray for us and praying ourselves that we have seen the hostility subside and I can truthfully say Micah has been a lot better as of late. It was then I started to see how Satan really is prowling around like a lion to devour those who are susceptible (1 Peter 5:8). It was only when we picked up the Sword of the Spirit (God’s word) and prayed in the Spirit that we saw the battle turn in our favor. Parents, please do not neglect this important aspect of evangelism with your kids (and others) that we are waging a spiritual battle and to depend on the Spirit in prayer.
“We can plant the seeds of the gospel and water them as we disciple our kids, but it is God who will give the growth.”
Satan is also able to play to our hearts because by nature we are fallen creatures who have rebelled against God and chosen our own way. Since the fall in the garden, our sinful hearts are of a fleshly nature and we long to fulfill are own desires and our hearts are stubbornly for ourselves (Psalm 81:12). If your kids are not-yet-believers and still hearing the truths of the gospel for the first time, their hearts will not always be inclined to hear what you are telling them. We must be prepared to meet opposition from our children directly and realize that the gospel seeds can and will take a long time to germinate in their hearts and make the long journey from their heard to their heart. Our efforts at times might seem fruitless and frustrating, but I want to encourage you that it is not up to us, but if we can plant the seeds of the gospel and water them as we disciple our kids, but it is God who will give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). Take heart, depend on God, and avoid the temptation to allow your frustration to overtake you and lead you to depend on your efforts for gospel growth.
It is way too easy to start depending on our own efforts and the words we use to “convert” our kids instead of trusting the Spirit to do that work. When we take the gospel truth and we turn those words into a rod we use to beat our kids with that truth (I am guilty of this), the gospel loses its power and become merely a hollow law for our kids to obey in order to appease us. That is not gospel but is the very religion Jesus sought to rebuke. How dubious and terrifying it is that not just our kids’ hearts can stubbornly follow their own way, but we as parents can take the liberating truths of Christ and turn them into rules and laws for our kids to obey to get our approval and modify their behavior.
God have mercy on me for the times I have done this! The gospel is not a list of rules, but is a story and a message that is liberating and transformative message that takes our hard and stubborn hearts and softens them to give us new desires to follow God and have relationship with Him through the person and work of His son, Jesus Christ! (Romans 1:16-17) Speak that truth to them and allow the Spirit to work in their hearts, just as he did in yours!
Parents, fight the good fight, pray for your kids and proclaim the gospel in both thought, word, and deed and you will begin to see fruit and set a foundation in speaking and acting out of love for what God has done for them through the person and work of Jesus Christ. I am praying for you and for the legacy you can set!