As Christian parents, we deeply desire our children to develop a strong, enduring and close relationship with God. What can we do to help them on that path?
I sat in the first row with tears in my eyes. One of my friends sat beside me. I could just make out my son with his father, standing at the front of the hall.
The minister stepped out, everyone grew quiet, and the ceremony we had waited for all of our son’s life began.
“Have you repented of your sins? … Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, your Lord and master? … I am now going to baptize you. …”
As a young adult, our son made a commitment to have and maintain a relationship with God for the rest of his life. What a joyous and pivotal occasion!
As Christians, our relationship with God is the most important relationship we will ever have. As Christian parents, our goal—our hope—for our children is that they learn to build and maintain that relationship as well. But how do we help our children grow to become truly Christian young men and young women? How can we point them in the right direction?
Talk about God
One of the first things we need to do in helping our children build a relationship with God is to begin talking about God when they first begin to comprehend. Point out how God created food or the plants in your yard or the sunset and sunrise.
As they mature, explain God’s instructions on how to live. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-19) we find instructions to talk about God’s ways when we sit in our house, when we walk, when we lie down and when we rise up. That pretty much covers all of our activities for the day.
The point is that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we need to take the opportunity to talk to our children about God and His beneficial laws. This should be a natural part of our conversation, born from a deep and abiding relationship that we ourselves have built with God and are maintaining.
If parents are hypocritical, unethical, immoral or even just simply lazy in their approach to obedience to God, their children will be the first to know!
Talk about blessings
Talk about the things that God has given to you. Each family lives in different circumstances and enjoys a different variety of blessings. Explain to your children the many blessings God has given them and you, and your specific family blessings. Mention some of these blessings when giving thanks before meals.
One way we tried to convey God’s beneficence to our children was to point out things in God’s marvelous creation. Occasionally we woke them up to see an especially beautiful sunrise. There is nothing like that moment of silence as you watch the sky blossom with color as the master artist paints a beautiful picture.
A friend once described some of the amazing things we see in nature as “gratuitous beauty.” God has made so much beauty for us to enjoy. Why not take the time to notice and then share that with your children?
Tell your children about the wonderful blessing He has given them and you by placing you together in a family. Let them know how thankful you are to have them as a part of your family and how you feel they are a gift God has given you personally. There are many people in this world who have tragically lost their families. Help your children see the blessing that God has given them to be a part of a family.
Another way to talk to your children about God’s blessings is to point out situations where God has intervened in your life or the lives of others. He cares very deeply about each one of us, and He does intervene in our lives.
One lady related an incident from her childhood. She had gone to bed one evening when a brick came flying through the window and landed on her pillow—right in the indentation where her head had been just moments before! You see, she had suddenly remembered something she had to go tell her mom and had gotten up to tell her. She had no doubt that God had protected her!
At times, we pray and ask God for healing or something specific, and He provides it for us. Help your children recognize these answered prayers when they occur. These blessings of healings or protection become a part of your family story.
On the other hand, there are also times when we pray about something and do not get the answer we want. At such times, show your children why God may have said “no” or “wait.” Sometimes we as parents have to say “no” or “wait” to something our children have asked for. It is not because we don’t love them or we want to withhold something from them, but because we can see a bigger picture and realize another answer is better. God does the same thing for us (Romans 8:28).
Talk to God
Involve your children in worshipping God. Teach your children how to pray and pray with them. Teach your children how to study the Bible and study it with them. Take your children to church and talk about the message with them afterwards.
One of my memories as a child is sitting beside my mom as she did her Bible study. She would talk to me about what she was studying and explain from the Scriptures what she was learning. My dad would read Bible stories to us before we went to sleep. It was always exciting to listen to the stories. As we got older, our family would play Bible games like 20 questions or “catch me if you can” and had family Bible studies.
Now, when our little grandson comes to visit, his nightly routine includes prayers with Grandpa and Bible reading with Grandma. He looks forward to that time snuggling and learning. Almost without fail, he wants to keep reading when we get to the end of our story for that night.
Daily prayer is a foundational part of a Christian’s life, so our children must learn its importance and how to do it. Make praying a normal part of the daily routine of life. A prayer of thanksgiving before every meal is a good place to start. Dad or Mom can start out giving the prayer, but as the kids grow, help them take a turn saying the prayer. Prayer becomes a natural part of family life.
The same thing applies with Bible study. Tailor your Bible study to the attention span and understanding level of the child you are working with. A young child can generally relate to a story—and there are so many great stories in the Bible. After you have read a story, help your child draw lessons that he or she can understand. As your children get older, make sure they have their own Bibles.
Parents need to show their children how to walk through the steps to build their relationship with God, and walk through those steps with them.
We see in Psalm 78:4-7 that we as parents are to make God’s law known to our children. It is a kind of heritage that is to be passed from generation to generation. What better heritage can we give our children than a healthy pattern of worship?
Demonstrate godly characteristics
There is an adage that says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But the truth is, we as humans do judge a book—or a person, organization or way of life—by what we see. Our children will do the same thing.
If parents are hypocritical, unethical, immoral or even just simply lazy in their approach to obedience to God, their children will be the first to know! And not only will they know, but it will taint their approach to God.
On the other hand, if children see their parents praying and studying and upholding God’s standards, they are much more likely to do the same.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul talks about how he and Timothy were Christ’s ambassadors—His representatives urging people to be reconciled to God. Christians are likewise to be ambassadors of God’s way of life to others. Nowhere is that role of ambassador more important than with our children. God wants to use parents as a conduit to teach their children both what to do and how to live.
Your children hear the words that come out of your mouth when you hit your thumb with a hammer. They know whether you turn a movie off because of the bad language or other inappropriate content. They know how much you drink. They know whether you break the speed limit. They know how you apply what you learn at church. They see whether you are ethical in your dealings with other people. They see whether you are respectful to your spouse and parents. Actions really do speak louder than words.
A joyous day!
On the day of our son’s baptism, he formalized his journey as a Christian. It was a joyous day for us.
Teaching our children is one of the most amazing and important tasks in all of creation. None of us is perfect at the task, but neither can we afford to neglect it. Of course, it is God who calls each person, and it will be each of our children’s personal decision whether to accept that calling. But that does not diminish the responsibility and privilege we have to help our children build a relationship with God that can last for eternity!
For more about Christian parenting, see the “Parenting” section of the Life, Hope & Truth website.