If the purpose of parenting is to raise righteous and godly children, the question naturally arises: how do we accomplish this? How do we raise children who are in right standing with God, who love Him with all their heart, and who live godly lives?
The answer is very simple: training.
As parents, we must train our children deliberately and purposefully, and this requires planning. This is why parenting must be intentional.
Training does not happen by default. Godly children do not turn out by accident; they are the product of the efforts of committed, godly parents. There is a lot of information on parenting in the world today, probably more than ever before.
Some of it is sound, but much of it is not, because it is based on philosophies and world views that are the products of men’s minds rather than the mind of God. For wise counsel on raising godly children it is best to refer to the original source material: God’s Word, as recorded in the Bible. With this in mind, I will focus on three Scriptures that provide fundamental guidelines for training children.
Know the Way—Show the Way
The Book of Proverbs is an excellent resource for conscientious parents because much of it was written from the perspective of a father giving wise counsel to his son. Perhaps the most fundamental child-training principle of all is the Scripture I cited at the close of the last chapter: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6 NIV).
We could call this the “Parents’ Mandate.” Our basic job as parents is to teach our children to think right, talk right, and live right—to show them the right way to live. Sounds easy enough, don’t you think? But right away we face a couple of big challenges.
First of all, in order to show the way to our children we must know the way ourselves. If we don’t know the way, how can we show the way? How can we train our children to live right if we don’t know how to live right? How can we teach them to pray if we don’t know how to pray? How can we teach them God’s Word if we don’t know God’s Word? How will our children learn to trust God in all things if we do not model that trust for them in our own lives? Our children can go only where we, their parents, take them.
So our first job as parents is to study and know for ourselves the way that our children should go so that we can show them the way. And what is the way? It is the way of righteousness and godliness. That’s a tough assignment for parents (or anyone else)! And this is where we find our second big challenge. Why? Because learning the way of righteousness and godliness is a lifelong process for us as well as for our children. So, even as we are learning the way, we must model it and teach it so our children will learn to follow our example.
This is why it is so important for young couples to be qualified for parenthood before they get married. There is a lot more to qualifying for parenthood than possessing the biological and physiological ability to conceive and bear children. Remember, the main purpose for marriage is to produce godly offspring for God. No matter how old you are, if you do not know and are not learning the way of righteous and godly living, you are not ready for either marriage or for parenthood.
Parents who know the way show the way so that their children will grow into fruitful, productive, fulfilled adults who reflect in their lives the likeness of Christ—His nature, character, and behavior. There is no greater gift and no more powerful legacy parents can pass on to their children than to train them in the way of the Lord and to teach them to love Him with all their hearts. Such a legacy helps our children discover that meaning and purpose in life are found in living consciously and deliberately as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is this legacy that brings us to the second part of Proverbs 22:6: if we train our children in the way they should go, when they are old they “will not turn from it.” God is saying to parents, “Don’t worry about your children. If you did your job properly, you have them for life. They will love Me and live for Me forever.”
I have ten siblings. My parents raised 11 children, and all of us know Jesus. Mom and dad never had much money. Although they were not able to provide for us with much in the way of material things or worldly wealth, they always put food on the table and clothes on our backs. We were never hungry or cold. Even more importantly, they gave us in abundance what money could never buy: love. Every one of us 11 kids felt equally loved. Mom and dad taught us to love God. And they taught us how to live. In an environment such as that, what difference did it make if we were “poor” in material things? We were rich in the things that really matter: love of God, love of family, love of life, and the knowledge and the confidence to live life abundantly. What more could we have needed?
One of the reasons my parents succeeded with their children is because they understood that parenting is intentional and must begin immediately upon the birth of each child. Waiting until children are teenagers to get serious about training them is too late. It is never too early to begin training a child. Even infants learn quickly and benefit significantly from a deliberate parental plan of training and instruction.
Repeated studies have made it clear that children learn everything they need to learn in their first seven years of life. After age seven, children learn only what they want to learn. In other words, if you do not train your children in the way they should go by the time they are seven—if you do not nurture in them your nature, character, and behavior by then—you probably never will. But if you do show them the way by age seven, it is highly likely they will follow that road all their lives. They may “test the waters” or “sow their wild oats” for a time, as young people often do, but most of the time they eventually return to the values, beliefs, and training they received as children. That is the promise of the proverb which says to train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Don’t forget that as humans we are spiritual beings housed in physical bodies. Unlike our physical bodies, our spirits are ageless.
When we begin training our children, that training goes right into their ageless spirit where it takes root and begins to grow. Normally the growth of a child’s spirit outstrips his or her physical growth. So when a properly trained child tends to be led astray by the fleshly urges and desires of a still-maturing body, the child’s spirit can assert its supremacy and draw that child back into walking the “straight and narrow” path of his or her early training. The training of the child’s formative years prevails so that the child, when old, will not turn from it. Know the way and show the way. That is the surest way to bring up godly offspring.
-Kingdom Parenting (Foundations)