The scripture tells us that, if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Jesus tells us that it’s not just for us to control our relationship with God, but that He is also doing things to draw us close to Him. So it’s a joint effort. We’re supposed to be doing things and He’s doing things.
The example that Jesus gives us is that He says that, when He was lifted up from the earth in crucifixion, that we would be drawn to Him because of His sacrificial love for us. And in this series we’ve been examining what God is doing and what we should do to be close to God. If you think about it, everybody has their ideas on what’s most important, right? And I have about a hundred different ones that I say all the time – you know, “This is the most important thing….” This is, if you think about it this way, the end goal. We’re going to live forever in a harmonious relationship with God. We’re going to be in God’s family right?
You know what it’s like when you’re having family problems. It’s not good. So God is not going to have it like that in His Kingdom. It’s going to be good for us. We’re going to like being there.
So far, in the first of the series – just to recap a little bit – we’ve seen that God, in His plan to enlarge His family, has designed us to desire family relationships from infancy. We’re hard-wired for it. And how our human parents treat us has a lot to do with how we relate to God later.
In the second in the series, we saw that, if our parents take care of us emotionally, then we develop trust for them and that trust is then transferred to God as we grow older. We saw that, based on how we’re treated, we develop a relational style with other people as well. And that gets transferred to God, as well. So, if you haven’t listened to the other ones in the series, you might want to go back and get those.
So, in the third one, we looked at all the things that God does to draw close to us – all the blessings, all the protection, the Holy Spirit. Maybe you remember that one that we gave on that.
And then in the last one we gave – the fourth in the series – we saw that the ability to tell a story about our faith development predicts the relationship with God. Isn’t that interesting? How did we come to that conclusion? Does it say that in the Bible? Well, it doesn’t actually say it in the Bible. It’s one of those things you learn by looking at what God has created. We know that people can overcome an insecure attachment to their parents by developing a rich story about their past. So it just follows, doesn’t it, that a rich story about our faith development would also help that as well.
So today – the fifth in this series – we’re going to look at ways that parents can yield themselves to God and foster the faith development of their children. That’s the next phase of the series. And the title is Parenting for God.
The first principle that I want to cover, once again, is the idea of intentionality. This is not something that happens by accident. We have to intend for our children to develop faith in God.
Let’s go to Malachi, chapter 2, starting in verse 13. God is listing off all the things that the Israelites did that He didn’t like. And He says:
Malachi 2:13 – This is the second thing that you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with crocodile tears – with weeping and groaning – because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does He not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and your wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
They put all their offerings out on the altar, and they say, “God isn’t hearing us. He’s not blessing us.” And they’d whine and cry about it, but they weren’t willing to do what He said. And one of the things they were doing was breaking their marriage covenant. And God said:
V-15 – Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? That’s interesting, isn’t it? This is talking about people before Christ, right? And yet there’s a portion of the Spirit in their union. And what was the one God was seeking? Godly offspring. Oh, did you know that? The reason that God provides everybody a bit of the Spirit is so that they can have a good relationship and bring up children who will feel secure and be able to easily relate to God. That’s the point of it all. He says: So guard yourself in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth – or to the husband of your youth. We wouldn’t want to be sexist here. We shouldn’t leave anybody out, right?
So divorce inhibits God’s plan. It doesn’t just make people unhappy. Divorce damages children. It makes them feel insecure. When children are going through a divorce, they suddenly become very clingy to one parent or the other – or maybe both – because they feel unsafe – like, “This is the only one I have left. What happens if this one goes away?” So what do we call that? Separation anxiety. It makes it harder for children to trust and, when they grow up, harder to have faith in God. So God wants children for His family. And divorce makes relating to God harder for us.
We do live in a narcissistic age. Why do people in our culture have children? It’s expected. We have a biological urge to do that. Some people have kids because they can get more money from the government. I mean, why do we? We want a baby. Ask most of the young people in the church, “Why are you going to have a child?” “Well, we wanted to have one. It’s what we want.” Right? You know, when a young couple in the Orthodox Church decides to have a child, it’s in their mind that they are bearing children for God. They think about increasing the church. That’s what they’re thinking about. It’s an intentional thing with them, because they know that God wants Godly offspring. And that’s why He allows us to be married. What they do – if they’re good Orthodox Christians – is everything that follows from that is intentionally aimed at helping their children develop a relationship with God. It’s not so much about getting good grades at school, and having a career, and all of that, and being good, and not embarrassing me. It’s about them developing faith in God. “Oh, I hope my kid stays in the church.” Isn’t that kind of a very parochial, shallow view of what really needs to happen there? It’s not about being in an organization. It’s about somebody developing a relationship with God – Godly offspring, who behave the way God wants and who are connected to Him. Our church really needs to get in line with that value. It’s something that our young people can do to help the church grow – to partner with God in that effort.
I just think that, if we start out headed in a wrong direction, we’re probably not going to get where we need to go. So I think we need to stop being so self-centered and think that life is all about us. I’m not just picking on young people. How did they learn to be that way? Well, it’s just the way our culture is. It’s how we think about things. We need to start thinking about what God wants, and what He desires, and what He hopes for and get in line with that. We’d all just be so much happier if we all could do that, wouldn’t we?
That’s my rant on that part of the issue. The second thing that we want to think about is, how can we help our children develop a trusting relationship in us? Because, if we can do that, then we’re more than halfway home on the other.
You talk to young people, who have left the Church of God or any Christian organization, and they have been wounded by the behavior of their parents, and other peers, and siblings and other people in the church. And they don’t feel like they belong there. They don’t feel like there is a place for them. They’ve been offended. They don’t see any good to it.
I was talking to a young teenager the other day, and she said that her youth pastor told her that the biggest turn-off for people toward Christianity is the Christians. And that, quite often, is the Christians in our own home – the parents. So how do you develop a trusting relationship with your children? How do you help them trust you?
Well, one of the big things is to take care of them at all levels. You know, you shouldn’t spoil your kids. They need to learn to be quiet and obey orders and all that. You can’t really spoil a child in the first year of its life. Every time it’s crying about something, there is something that is very important to that child that’s happening.
I had a man tell me recently that he didn’t know what was wrong with his son. When he was about nine months old, they couldn’t get him to stop crying, so he put him in a car seat, put in the back room and shut the door – because he couldn’t tolerate that. So what do you think was going through the mind of the baby while all that’s going on? Abandoned. Right. Neglected. “I’m not important.”
So what should you do? Do we have to be able to know everything that’s wrong with them and soothe them? No, we just have to be present with them. We have to hang in there with them until their stomach stops hurting or whatever the problem is. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we can usually figure it out and take care of it. But in those times when they cry and we don’t know what’s wrong, that’s very scary to them. And that’s when they need us the most – when they can’t be soothed.
Physical needs: diapers changed, warm enough, fed, that kind of thing. Emotional needs: babies liked to be played with. They like to have eye contact – as long as it’s positive. They like to do their baby talk thing – you know, they move their little arms and legs in unison with our sing-songy, up and down voice – “Oh, you stinky little thing. I know what you need.” If you put that on tape and you slow it down, you’ll see that their moving in rhythm to the mother’s or father’s voice. They’re trying to connect in their own baby-kind- of-way. They’re wired for that. They need that. They need to be comforted when they’re upset. They need to be understood. They need to know that somebody knows what to do – at least, most of the time.
What else do kids need in order to trust? We talked about the baby in the crib, right? Gone around about that – around and around the circle: baby has a need, baby cries, parents meet the need, baby feels better, baby has a need, duh, duh, duh, dah, duh dah – around and around we go. How many times does that happen in a year? That’s what develops trust in the first year of life – taking care of babies. They don’t need to be put on rigid feeding schedules right away. They don’t need to be left to cry themselves to sleep. They need to be taken care of and loved. All that other stuff will fall into place later when they get old enough to understand what the word no means. About the time they get old enough to understand that, they’re ready to hear it. But before they’re old enough, to hear that, they don’t need to hear that.
What other things? We all grow in phases. And so we have different things that we need at different times. We have developmental needs. One of the things that I see kids in our culture really lacking is the right amount of freedom for their age – hardly ever the right amount – most of the time, too much or too little.
I had a twelve-year-old who came into my office one day with her lip pierced. Her mother got her that for her birthday. It made her really happy at first. But later she got tired of it. So when she was fourteen, she was telling me, “I wish I’d never done it. Now I’ll have a big scar if I stop wearing it.” A twelve-year-old doesn’t know what they want. They don’t understand how that’s going to affect them later.
Elaine was watching The Waltons the other day and Mary Ellen, the oldest daughter, was smother-loving her little boy, making sure he never fell down and all that. All the other kids were giving her the business about it, including her father, who wouldn’t let his next oldest daughter go to a social event because soldiers were there and he was afraid they would look at her – even though she was old enough to figure that out and deal with it herself. I mean, he could see when somebody else was having that problem, but he couldn’t see when he was too controlling for the age of the child. And that usually is the issue in development. It’s about control. That is more often dictated by our past experience than what would be helpful for the child. “You’re not going to do that on my watch, because then I’d be responsible. This is about me and what’s good for me and what I’m comfortable with, not what you need.” That’s how we do it.
What else do they need? Well, they need boundaries. Boundaries are for two purposes. One, to keep children safe – “Don’t run out in the traffic.” – and to help children grow – “You will go to school today.” It’s not just to keep children safe. It’s to push them into doing things, sometimes, that they don’t want to do, so that they can grow.
So building a trusting relationship with a child…I have never met a kid who believes that being allowed to do whatever they want is a loving act by their parent. They always believe that their parents don’t care enough about them to make them follow the rules. Of course, they gripe when they make them follow the rules, but at the end of the day, they realize, if their parents don’t care about them, they’ll just let them do what they want. They’ll give up too easily. So we have to have boundaries, we have to meet their developmental needs, their emotional needs and their physical needs.
Let’s look at some scriptures that take us to another area that’s important, too. And that is the area of valuing our children. Let’s go to Ephesians 6:1. (Hey, we’re getting ready to do that in our Bible study next week, aren’t we?)
Ephesians 6:1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother – this is the first commandment with promise – that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.
Okay, that’s what kids are supposed to do. But we’re talking about what parents do today, so we’re going to read verse 4.
V-4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord.
How do you do that? “Ve are going to church, und you vill like it!” Is that how it works? Let’s look at some of these words. Do not provoke. What does that word provoke mean? It means incite. That’s one of the definitions of that word. So how would you incite somebody to be angry? Well, you’d disrespect them. You’d ignore them. You’d abuse them. You’d dismiss them. You’d tune them out. You’d neglect them. That’s how you provoke people to wrath.
So how would you provoke somebody to love and good works? I read that somewhere in the Bible once, right? Maybe twice, even. So how do you incite someone to love you? Well, you show them respect. You attend to them. You take care of them. You consider their opinion as important. You focus on them. And you provide for them. That’s how you do it. That’s how you incite someone to love you – the opposite of provoking them to anger.
What happens when you provoke kids to anger? Well, they think you’re an idiot and they don’t want to do anything you say and they don’t believe anything you believe. That’s how you drive them away from God. But if you respect them, attend to them, care for them, consider them, focus on them and provide for them, then that makes them realize you love them and they’ll love you back. And suddenly, what you think becomes really important to them. That’s how I work with kids in my office. I spend a lot of time attending to them, and making eye contact with them, and being interested in them, and then, after a while, we get down to the really important stuff and they want to know what I think. I have power in the relationship to help them because of the time spent loving them – provoking them to love me by taking care of them.
Let’s look at another one of those words. Provoke not your children to anger – we won’t need to look at the word anger, because it just means anger – but bring them up…. Bring – how do you bring somebody up in it? Well, the Bible says – Louw & Nida says – that word can mean provide for or rear – to raise them up by providing for them. Both of those meanings are elemental here. The dictionary just says: to convey, lead, carry or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded – Wow! That’s a mouthful – to cause to be, act or move in a special way. Strong’s says: to nourish up to maturity; to nurture or to bring up. So do you get the feeling of that word? It’s not to control or bully or nag or force, but to lead and draw and nourish. Didn’t Jesus say that He was going to draw us to Him? He doesn’t whip on us – to beat us – to get us to go the way He wants us to go. He does something that’s sacrificial and that draws us to Him, because we know He loves us when we see that. And that’s what parents are supposed to do. That’s how we get them to go along with us – to value what we value and to develop the same kind of faith that we have.
Bring them up in the discipline…. What is that word? Loving and corrective training that leads to maturity and responsibility on the part of those who experience it. Loving and corrective training. Louw & Nida: to train someone in accordance with proper rules of conduct and behavior; to discipline; to train. The same words used in 2 Timothy 2:24 and 25.
2 Timothy 2:24-25 – The Lord’s servant must be gentle as he disciplines his opponents – or those who oppose what he says. Gentle – not a show of power, but gentle. So reason and enticing more than using force.
One more word to look at here: instruction of the Lord. To impart understanding or a mind for something; to set right; to have corrective influence on someone – corrective influence on someone; to lay on the heart of someone; to impart understanding; to teach. So it’s not
just teaching, but persuading, (if I could make up a new word here) “exampling,” correcting, enticing and guiding.
When your kids are really little, you can be really directive with them – especially when they’re in their two’s and three’s, but as they get older, they need to have reasons why things are to be done. They need to be reasoned with. Some children won’t listen to reason, because they’re already too angry with us. But, if we have a good relationship with them, then what we think is important to them, and they will listen to our reasoning and, more likely, come to good conclusions.
There are four other things I’d like to mention – how to go about building that relationship where kids listen and want to be a part of. It gets right down to just fundamental things. Eye contact – positive eye contact. They know little ten-second bursts of eye contact, directed at an infant while you’re changing its diaper and talking baby talk to it, is the thing that cements in the relationship – the belief on the part of the baby that everything is going to be okay, and “I’m understood,” and “We’re together here.” “She gets me.” That’s what does it. And that doesn’t stop when they’re a year old. It continues on.
The second thing to think about…. In our culture, the only time we look kids in the eye is when we’re mad at them. We frown at them, growl at them, give them the evil eye. That’s not how it should be. I’m not saying some kids don’t need to be scowled at sometimes. I’m just saying that they need the other stuff, too.
The second thing that I want to mention is appropriate touch. I had an autistic boy who came to see me for awhile. He was six-foot-three, 280 pounds, and after every session he wanted a hug. He’d have to bend over to hug me. He was like a giant. It probably looked hilarious, because I was so small compared to him. People talk about how autistic kids don’t understand relationship. They’re not all like that. He gets it. I really enjoy having him come around, because he is a nice person.
Focused attention is the third thing – being present with people. When you talk to people who are angry because of the way somebody else has treated them, they’re almost always going to say, “They don’t listen. They don’t get me. They don’t understand what I’m talking about. I can’t get my point across to them.” So we need to listen to our kids. Usually, most of the teenagers that come to my office, their problems are rooted in the way their parents treat them. And their parents don’t understand it. That’s usually what’s happening. The autistic boy – that wasn’t the case. His parents were very good with him, but he was born with that developmental issue. But most of the time, when kids come in my office, there is something really out of whack at home. So what do I teach parents to do? Start hearing what their kids have to say to them. They tell me what the problem is, so, if their parents will listen to them, they’ll tell them, too. So, pay attention. Don’t just blow off your kids or think, “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re just kids.” If you listen long enough, you’ll understand what’s going on. Then you won’t have to pay a hundred bucks an hour for somebody to sort out your family junk.
The fourth thing is – a much as possible – to be non-judgmental. That’s really easy for me, as a therapist, because I don’t have to hold the rules at home. And we have precious few rules in the office, but show affirming love. In spite of what they do, we still love them.
I was talking to a person who goes to church. And this person was telling me that he was thinking about the fact that he was starting to not believe some of the things that we’d always believed in our church. And he was very afraid that his relationship with his parents was going to go south. And I said, “Well, do you believe that your parents wouldn’t love you anymore if you didn’t tow the line on this?” He said, “Well, I believe my mother would still love me, but I don’t think my dad would.” Does God love us when we’re not doing the right thing? Did He love us before we made a commitment to Him? Well, there’s the answer to what that man ought to do then. He ought to realize that, developmentally, his child – his son – has a right to make his own choices, and, if he makes a choice that’s not in line with what the father wants, he’s supposed to love him anyway. He doesn’t have to agree, but he needs to just let go of that and let God take care of it. He’s an adult now, so he can figure that out for himself. He doesn’t have to solve all the problems.
Let’s talk a little bit more about instruction – how to teach our kids. There are just a few things that I think about that make this really simple to understand. One is that our teaching needs to be age appropriate. The younger a child is the more concrete it needs to be. Okay? So the two big things that we want to teach people is how to treat God – what God wants us to do and how we’re supposed to respond – and then how to treat other people. Okay? You start with little kids with things that are very concrete.
And the other thing that I think about is that all of our efforts need to be consequences- oriented – you know, why? Why does God tell us to keep the Sabbath? Why does He tell us not to tell lies? If you think about all the stories in the Bible, they all have a point to them. And the point is to show us what happens when we obey and when we disobey. Isn’t that right? So that’s kind of the approach you take.
There’s a lady that goes to Cincinnati independent Church of God. Her name is Stacey Shoemaker. She has a very excellent program for teaching children Godly principles. It’s a fun and interactive way and a way that’s very doable. It follows all these principles – especially the one about being age appropriate. For younger kids, it’s much more concrete. She did that at our festival site in Sandestin last year and we volunteered to be the hosts for a couple of families. We learned how it works in a very real-time kind of way. The idea of it is that you have specific lessons that you can teach little kids in a concrete way. They were talking about how, if you did that once a week – from the time a kid was five until they were eighteen – you’d have thousands of opportunities to concretely drive home how God’s way works. Let’s see, what was one of the things that we did? We had rolls of toilet paper on sticks and we used a hair dryer to blow the toilet paper off the rolls, so it would string out. And we asked the kids, “So what makes it do that?” “Well, the air does.” “Can you see it?” “No.” “So God is like that. Even though you can’t see God, He’s still there. Just like the air, God is there! Right?” I mean, I know some adults that haven’t learned that yet. It’s really a great program. She calls it Becoming a Deuteronomy 6 Family. I’m hoping we can get her to do the same thing – or similar – this year at the Feast as well.
So those are some things that are important as far as instruction – what you focus on. It’s got to be age appropriate. We focus on how to treat God, how to treat other people, what happens when you do and you don’t, and we find specific, concrete ways to talk to them about that. And that’s when we go to the Internet and find the programs that already exist. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s already out there.
The last thing that I want to talk about is what I call a history of faith. I’ve observed in the independent church that many parents really have educated their kids about the Bible stories. I think we do pretty well at that. But I think we need to understand that it’s got to become more personal than that. Do we spend enough time acquainting our children with how God has been active in our lives, as their parents. That makes the family connection, right? It makes it a lot more personal – the story of our family with God, and how that’s a cooperative effort, and how God gave us children, and how their birth stories become a part of that – there’s always a story about the birth of a baby, so that needs to become part of the family history – included and ingrained in it – and how God has blessed and protected us together as a family and the individuals.
There’s a movie called Facing the Giants that is really an excellent example. That movie is a story about one man and what happened to him in his efforts to do what God wanted and about his family. You might want to check that out sometime.
What do you do in your family to enrich that family story? What else should it include? Well, we talked about some of it already – birth stories, how God has blessed and protected us. It should include expectations for the future – helping our children to develop their own faith stories and how they want them to come out – what to pray about. Now, why am I talking about this? Well, if we go back to the beginning of this series, we learned that the ability to tell a story about your past says a lot about how you are as a person. And if you can tell an honest, coherent, detailed, logical story, then you’ve processed all the bad things and it’s all been put in place and you’re ready to go forward to grow further. And, if you have a faith story, that’s about your connection to God. That’s what that is – you know, about how God loves us, protects us and blesses us and how we respond to Him. And this story needs to be ritualized. It needs to be something that is a part of the family routine – you know, every Friday evening – after family dinner on the Sabbath – using the Sabbath for what it was intended for – we can work on the story. Kids will love it.
You know, my parents weren’t especially religious, but when I was a little boy, my father would tell us stories about growing up on the farm. And we learned how to be normal kids – well, roughly speaking – by listening to the stories he told. I didn’t know it then, but those stories formed the foundation of my knowing my father and also learning how to be a man. My mother was very loving, but she was much more quiet and she didn’t have the same influence on us as my dad did, because he was much more expressive about his past life. My mom grew up in an abusive home. And I think the reason she was so quiet about it was that she didn’t want to tell us all the negatives, but I don’t think she even pieced it together herself – or finished her story – until her old age, because she told me about her life. When she got old, she was having short-term memory problems, so the only way I could converse with her was about the past. She could remember that very well. What I learned was that she figured all that out after I grew up and left home, because I heard stuff that I’d never heard before in her old, old age. And all of that helps me understand the dynamics of our family. And, even though my mom was more quiet, she did work at letting us know who she was in her own way. They managed to do that in a way that my brother and I liked and that drew us all closer together and made us a family.
So, the point of all this is, that anything we do to draw our family closer together is eventually drawing our children into the family of God. That’s where it goes. We saw in the beginning of this presentation that God wants us to do that. He wants Godly offspring. So it figures, then, that if we’re stumped on how to do that, if we ask Him for help, He will help us in that effort. All He needs from us is the intentionality and the commitment and He will help with the love and the wisdom. So you’ll notice with this fifth presentation, we’ve now moved into things that we can do to be a part of God and His work – in our work together in helping our children – namely, raising our kids. They’re His children and they’re our children. And we have a joint project with God the Father in doing that. It’s something we do together with God.
So next time we’re going to look at something else we can do together with God – to partner with Him – that’s going to draw us, also, closer to Him as we involve ourselves in that effort.