“I am not going to introduce Jesus to my children. Instead, I am going to wait and let them decide for themselves as an adult whether they want to follow Christ.”
Sounds like a fair-minded, reasonable proposition, until you carefully examine it.
As a mom, I often struggled with forcing my children to do things they did not want to do. When my kids were younger, with minimal weeping and gnashing of teeth, I was usually successful in getting them to abide by reasonable, socially acceptable behavioral expectations consistent with a Biblical worldview. This included such things as brushing their teeth, taking baths, observing a decent bed time, doing chores, playing fair, being kind and respectful toward others, and attending school, sports practices and church consistently.
I required my kids to do all these things (and many more) not because I wanted to control them for control sake, but because I deemed these behaviors to be in their best interest and necessary for them to have a good life here on earth and eternal life in heaven. I cared more about their long term best interests than their temporary comfort and happiness. It didn’t make me very popular, but I wanted my kids to possess good character and integrity, to love and be loved, to be healthy and strong, and to trust and obey God. In short, I wanted them to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ so that they could experience the blessings of obedience, including peace and not just happiness, but fullness of joy.
However, as our kids entered their teens, it began to dawn on them and us that they did not have to obey mom and dad if they did not want to. The control we thought we had over their conduct was illusory. We could not force them to do anything they did not want to do, but could only encourage them to do the right thing by offering rewards for good choices and negative consequences for bad. Consistently enforcing family rules and consequences is the hard work of parenting and it is rarely fun.
If by their teen years our kids did not care more about having a good life than we cared about them having a good life, we – and they – were in trouble. It is disappointing, frustrating, heartbreaking and depressing when our kids choose less than God’s highest and best for themselves. Even though there were consequences for disobedience – being grounded and losing privileges like cell phones, computer time and driving, coupled with an angry lecture – kids are kids. Sometimes they would either fail to consider those consequences, or after a brief risk-benefit analysis, occasionally would decide to do things their way instead of our way. (I can hear God saying to me, “Now, do you get it?”)
We hoped their way would mirror our way which we hoped followed God’s way. But just as we did not always obey the Lord in all we said and did, neither did our kids. However, if there came a point in time when their behavior was more disruptive or defiant than it was peaceful and compliant, it was time for them to move out and make their way in the world where they could do what was right in their own eyes. We would no longer impose consequences for undesirable behavior – the real world would now do that through financial hardship, lost jobs, and failed relationships…just as it had for us.
Our goal as parents was to prepare our kids to survive and thrive in life – on earth and in heaven. We knew that Jesus was the key to a good and righteous life that God would bless. We understood that their internal compasses needed to be set to true north – the absolute, unchanging and infallible truth of the Bible – so that their conduct and choices would be governed by a perfect, eternal standard, and not by their parents or others, or even by their own best judgment. However, we didn’t always know how best to do that, and we often bumbled along in our humanity and made a mess of things.
Yet we were convinced of this: to not offer our kids Jesus would have been to give them less than the best, to gamble with their salvation and possibly deny them the hope of eternal life. We loved our kids. Why would we ever deprive them of Christ during their learning and growing years, when their beliefs and values were being firmly rooted and established? They needed the teachings of Jesus to give them wisdom and discernment and the Holy Spirit to strengthen and comfort them even in childhood and certainly to navigate their teen years with all those challenges.
For these reasons, we required our kids to regularly attend church, even when they did not want to go. We knew it was in their best interest because it was in Sunday School, during the worship service, in the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters, and serving others that they would experience the love of God and begin to know his Son, Jesus Christ. We figured there would be plenty of years ahead of them when they could decide whether worshiping God was a priority for them. But as for me and my house, we would serve the Lord.
The Word of God is our playbook for life. We don’t always execute those plays perfectly and sometimes don’t follow them at all, but we know there is no higher standard than Jesus to govern our thoughts, actions and plans. The most important thing a parent can do is teach their kids the Playbook. We have experienced the blessings that come with following the example of Christ and doing things by the Book, and we have suffered the consequences when we substituted our wisdom for God’s and stubbornly insisted on doing things our way. We want our kids to be men and women of the Word, to be better than we have been in following Christ, to see the unseen and to go long.
Jesus told us to make disciples, to baptize them and to teach them to obey him. Our first mission field is our children. My husband and I did a lot wrong as parents, but we sure tried to do this right: to share the love and teachings of Jesus with our kids in the hope that they would decide for themselves to accept him as their Lord and Savior and follow him the rest of their days. We don’t always feel like doing what is best or what we need to do, and our children are no different. As parents, it is our job to train them to be self-disciplined, to help them choose to do the next right thing and enjoy the peace that accompanies it. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11.
While we cannot and should not force our children to believe his claims and accept Jesus as Lord, we can and should introduce them to Jesus at an early age and help them get to know him, so that they can be guided by wisdom and one day make an informed decision whether to believe and follow Christ. We pray daily for our kids and their families and ask God to relentlessly and continually pursue their hearts that they may tune into His voice more, and the world’s less. To the extent there is good in our kids – and there is plenty of it – it is all because of Jesus, the great gap-filler, who took our inadequate parenting efforts and has continued to make something beautiful of all of our children, in his time.
Don’t wait to introduce your kids, grandkids, and other children to the One who gave it all so that they might live. Now is the time. Today is the day. Plant Christ in the next generation while the soil of their heart is still soft and ready to receive the truth. When times of famine and hardship come in childhood and beyond, He will sustain them and they will thrive.