Parenting God’s Way

Psalm 127:3-5

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Since today is Father’s Day, I thought it would be a good idea to begin my sermon with some wise fatherly advice.  So I searched high and low for the kind of wisdom that only a dad can give and I finally found it in that great theological magazine that my wife subscribes to called Country Woman.  There was a short article in one of its issues some time ago written by a woman from Eugene, OR named Melva Smith.  She had written it on the occasion of her dad’s 90th birthday, so it included some of the lessons he had taught her and her brothers over the years.  Here’s a sampling of some of them:

  • Family is important.  Take care of them – someday you may have to have someone take care of you.
  • If your child fixes dinner, just eat it.  One meal won’t kill you.
  • Teasing a daughter about having the shotgun on hand when her date picks her up is just a way to say, “I’ll always protect you.”
  • Choose the car that’s going to last the longest – even if it’s pumpkin-colored and lacks a fast back.
  • Worms don’t have feelings – just pinch off a piece and put it on the hook.

This year nearly 4 million Americans will be given a very special gift, the God-given gift of a brand new baby.  Tens of thousands of others will adopt a baby.  Few, if any, callings in life compare to parenthood.  Wouldn’t you agree?  I mean who else can heal a boo-boo with a simple kiss?  Who else can appear to be the smartest person on the planet when teaching a child how to fish or plant seeds in a garden?  And who else can spot the God-given strengths in their children that others tend to miss?

That’s what Tom’s mother did.  Tom couldn’t even speak until he was 4 years old.  At the age of 7 he was kicked out of school, if you could even call it a school – 28 kids of all ages jammed into a single classroom with an underpaid, overstressed teacher who was constantly bothered by one question that 7-year-old Tom was always asking.  And that was the question “Why?”  Why does this do this?  Why does that do that?  And if the teacher had no answer, then Tom would ask him, “Why don’t you know?”

So frustrated, the teacher decided that young Tom did not need to be in his class.  He noticed that Tom’s head seemed abnormally large, so he came to the conclusion that Tom’s brains were “addled.”  That’s a word they used back then in 1854 to mean mixed or scrambled.  Tom’s mom, however, disagreed with the teacher.  So she began the process of educating her son at home.  By the age of 14 Tom had read nearly every book in the local library.  He had built his own laboratory.  He could explain the findings of Isaac Newton.  And he was publishing and selling his own newspaper.

It would later be said about Tom that he was more responsible than anyone else for creating the modern world we know today.  No one did more to shape the physical character of modern civilization than Tom, better known as Thomas Edison.  For that reason he was recognized as one of the most influential figures of the last millennium.  That’s what historians have said about Thomas Edison.  But what did Thomas Edison have to say about his mother?  He said, “She was the making of me. She was always so true and sure of me, I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

The next time you turn on a light, thank God for the mom who saw the potential in her son and then quarried that gift from him like a miner removing a priceless diamond from a cave.  And pray that moms and dads today can do the same, that they can have that kind of influence over their children.  I know it’s not easy.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes energy.  It takes sacrifice.  But you know what?  If you don’t do it, someone else will.  Heaven knows that there are countless other influences in our culture today that are vying for your children’s attention and trying to sway them in a multi-variety of directions.  So this morning I want to offer to you two simple facts that the Bible teaches us about parenting.  They are two facts that, sadly, far too many parents don’t know or understand.

The first one is this: Your children don’t exist because of you.  Oh, I know you think they do.  And I know our language suggests they do.  For we talk about my son, my daughter, our children.  But the truth of the matter is, if we’re loyal to Scripture, then we need to change those pronouns to God’s son, God’s daughter, God’s children.  Listen once again to verse 3 of our text:  “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.”  The Hebrew word for gift there means property or possession.  And the verb form of that word suggests to entrust or give an assignment to.  What that means, my friends, is that you own your kids about as much as a teacher owns her students or a sharecropper owns the property he farms.  Make no mistake about it.  Parents raise God’s kids.  Moms and dads simply serve as curators, caregivers, guardians of God’s masterpieces.  As one man wrote:  “All husbands and wives borrow their children.”

Isn’t that the point I make after every baptism I perform when I hand the child back to the parents.  What do I say at that time?  I say, “Receive your child back now for the amount of time that God has loaned him or her to you.”  Our children then are not given to us to do with as we please.  They are not given to us to mold into our image.  They are not tools to be used but souls to be loved, souls to be nurtured, and souls to be saved.  So remember, we raise God’s kids.

Does that surprise you?  It might.  Does that humble you?  It should.  Does that encourage you?  I think it could because one of the most comforting aspects of parenting is that we don’t have to do it alone.  God is our partner.  He’s right there by our side at all times and he has given us all kinds of wisdom and advice in his Word, if we’ll just pay attention to it and follow it.

God is to parents what Gary Hahn was to me a number of years ago when he took me and one of our former vicars, Matt Woods, and his fiancée flying one day.  You may not have known that about Gary, but he does have a pilot’s license.  Or at least he did back then.  And the day he took us up out of the Salem International Airport was a day I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  For that was the first and I am pretty confident the only time I will ever fly a plane.  When we reached about 3000 feet Gary turned to me and said, “Are you ready to take over, Pastor?”  Well, I really wasn’t, but thinking I would never have this opportunity again, I thought, “Sure, why not?”  He explained to me exactly what to do, what dials I needed to keep an eye on, the altitude and rate of speed we needed to maintain, and so on.  And with his help, I flew that plane all the way to Carlyle Lake and back to Salem.  It was pretty cool, though Vicar Matt said he could really see the tension in my face and neck.  In fact, he took a picture or two of me looking anything but cool, calm, and collected.

Now could I have flown that plane by myself?  Absolutely not!  But with Gary by my side telling me what to do, I could.  And so it is with parenting.  Thank God that parenting is not a solo flight. God assures us of his presence and he gives us all the instructions we need in his Word. Which is only understandable because like I said earlier, our kids are not really our kids.  They are his kids. So he wants them raised properly.  He wants them raised correctly.

And that takes us to the second point I want to make this morning.  And that is that not only do your children not exist because of you, but your children don’t exist for you.  Again, we think they do.  We think our children exist to make us proud or to carry on the family name or to take over the family business or to develop the family fortune.  But please listen very carefully to what I’m about to say because it so flies in the face of the way the majority of parents think today.  According to the Bible, the high purpose of children is not to give parents pleasure, pride, or even eventually grandchildren, not that there’s anything wrong with those things.  But God’s purpose for our children far outshines our pleasure, our pride, and our scrapbooks.  For all of God’s children, including yours and mine, exist for his glory and not ours.  As God declared in Isaiah 43:7: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth–everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”   Elsewhere, in Ps. 139 David writes: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

That phrase “woven together” consists of a word in the Hebrew language that Moses used when he described the intricate needlework that was used on the curtains in the tabernacle, which served as the Israelites’ primary place of worship after they left the land of Egypt.  The picture here is that of being stitched together by the most skillful hands for the highest of purposes.  That’s what God did for your children when they were growing in your wombs, moms!  And as he was doing that, he was implanting or weaving in your children certain tendencies, certain gifts, certain personalities that he wanted to use someday for his purposes and his glory.  That’s really the meaning behind one of the most misunderstood verses in all of Holy Scripture, namely, Prov. 22:6 which says: “Train up  a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  The misuse and misunderstanding of that verse has created a lot of false hope and a lot of guilt in countless parents who think that what it is saying is if I put my kids on the right path, teach them all the right Bible stories, and have them memorize all the right Bible verses, then they’ll all turn out ok.  But we’ve all seen that it doesn’t always work out that way, right?  Good kids can go bad.

So what really is the meaning of that verse?  Well, the word “train” in the Hebrew language literally means to develop a thirst.  In fact, when Hebrew babies were born, the midwife would awaken the palate of the child by dipping her finger in a bowl of crushed dates and placing a little bit of that in the baby’s mouth.  To train up then means to awaken a thirst.  The role of parents then is to awaken the thirst of a child “in the way he should go.”  The Hebrew phrase here carries with it the idea of a pre-programmed direction, that your child is given to you with inborn characteristics and traits that God has instilled in them.  I like how the Amplified Bible renders it when it says: “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  This helps to explain how you can raise 2 children in the same way and under the same roof, and yet they can turn out so differently from one another.

But you know what it also means?  It means that we parents need to look upon our children as an 18-year or more research project during which time we study them, observe their tendencies, take note of their gifts, and then gently nudge them in that direction so that they will then be able to be used by God for his glory and for his purposes, just as he planned all along.

So just to recap what we’ve learned today: Your children don’t exist because of you.  Rather they exist because of God.  They are his kids, not yours.  You are simply stewards or caretakers of them. And as such, your greatest parental responsibility is not to provide them with food, clothing, and shelter, but rather to introduce your children to Jesus, the Savior who loved them so much that he was willing to die for them so that they could one day enjoy life forever with him. And then secondly, remember that your children don’t exist for you.  Rather they exist for God, to bring honor and glory to him.  Two rather counter-cultural ideas, yes.  But they really aren’t new because they’ve been around ever since God invented the family.  And if taken to heart, they are two ideas that can completely revolutionize the way we view our children, the way we assess them, and especially the way we parent them for we will then be parenting them God’s way.  Amen.