“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.
While this verse holds as much ultimate truth as the rest of the Word of God, it is also lofty and “out there.” Sometimes, it seems it is impossible to reach. I think the majority of us make two major mistakes when we read or quote this verse: the first mistake we make is to use this verse like a wish from a genie in a bottle. We release ourselves from the major responsibility of the “training” aspect of this verse. We falsely believe that as long as we introduce our children to Jesus and His church, they will receive an automatic “get out of jail free” card from God and follow Him all the days of their lives. And the second mistake we make is to believe that because of God’s promise in Proverbs, we are to tell our children to live a godly life with no exceptions, and if they do, God will bless them. And if they do not, He will turn away from them.
Neither are correct.
The first one produces liberalism, which takes away from the Truth in the Word of God. And the second one produces legalism, which adds to the Word of God. This inevitably leads to rebellion.
The truth and the beauty of this verse lies in the simplicity of parents following Jesus, allowing their children to see life lived out, both when we succeed at following Him, and also when we fall short. Both at our best, and also at our worst. But we always point them to the truth of God’s Word, to the God who guides our every step.
It is a commitment to a long process, not a fast food item on a menu. God presented a beautiful picture of this Truth to me in our morning walk. A mother duck was swimming in our community pool, with seven little ducklings in tow. As we stood and gazed at this sight, she made several turns and long strides forward in the water. But never at any point did she change her position. The ducklings changed positions several times. But the mother duck stayed out in front as she guided her ducklings.
Growth steps occur when we plan them, and when we don’t. Praying at the dinner table is a wonderful practice to demonstrate to your children and to have them join in. Family devotions and planned missions trips together are wonderful ways to instruct our children to spend time with God, both growing themselves, and reaching out to others. But much of our children’s instruction comes in the unplanned circumstantial moments of life. How we react when someone speaks meanly to us in a restaurant or at the gas station. How we handle and instruct them when someone is unkind to them and hurts their feelings. How we react to family tragedy, such as death, loss of position, and so forth. These are times when our faith is put to the test. So is our voice, though not audible, it speaks louder than when we are giving out instructions. Growth steps happen one at a time. They strengthen, build, reinforce, and create a strong, secure and devoted child who continues to step forward and grow into a pre-teen, teen, and eventually into adulthood.
If you find yourself exhausted at times in the first stages of growth steps with a young child who demands repetition and patience over and over and over, remember,
“Do not grow weary in doing good. For in due season, your efforts will produce a rich harvest.” Galatians 6:9
One of my fondest memories of raising my children, is not a birthday party, a Christmas, or a family vacation. It was a time their father was on a mission trip to Romania. He was demonstrating his commitment to go and share the Gospel. And I was doing my best to demonstrate my faithfulness to God and him, to pray faithfully while he was gone—for him and the team and the ministry they were doing. I had written a prayer journal for the weeks he was gone, one copy for him and one copy for us, with his daily itinerary included, so that we could pray for him continually. The children and I were doing this faithfully each day. We would pray before we left for school. We would pray for Jim’s day and for the people he would share with.
We had finished our devotion one morning, along with breakfast, and the kids grabbed their backpacks and lunch pails and they jumped into the car, ready for school. We were living in Northern California at the time, at it was Winter. A big storm had happened and it brought lots of rain. Strong winds had begun to blow and knocked down a power line next to us. When I went to push the button for the automatic garage door, it wouldn’t work. I jumped out of the car, prepared to save the day and lift the garage door manually. As I pulled on the bar to release the mechanism, the spring sprung, and my pinkie on my right hand took the full force of it. My hand was not broken but it hurt immensely! I knew I probably needed to go to the doctor but I needed to drop the kids off to school first. I jumped back into the car, and frustrated, put my head on the steering wheel and said, “I’m not sure what to do. I wish Dad was home!” My 5 year old and 7 year old said, “Shouldn’t we pray Mom? God will take care of it.” We did, and He did!
Growth steps are taken, one at a time. In the beginning steps, we set the example for our children by the way we live our lives. Prayer is the greatest discipline we can teach our children. That moment in my garage, stuck inside by the storm pressing in from the outside, I was reminded by a 5 year old and a 7 year old to pray and trust that God would provide and take care of us. Just like the mother duck demonstrating for her ducklings the steps they should take, we must do the same for our children. And on those days when our weaknesses win over our strengths, our children may just become the example for us.
Growth steps are not about perfection or performance but about commitment and obedience in God’s direction.
A mother duck leads her babies in the right path, keeping them safe, secure, and at the same time challenged to take the next growth step when they are ready. As parents, our directive from God is to set the example by the life we live to direct our children’s steps, confidently in the direction of following Him in loyalty and steadfastness. Then and only then will our children be well on staying on God’s path and not depart from it.
Next week we will continue on the path toward growing faith in our kids. We’ll talk soon!
Speak Truth Love