This is a complex question and if you were to ask 50 people, you would probably get 50 different answers. Christian parenting is a marvelously individual endeavor. It requires prayer, petition, humility and patience. In this post, we will take a look at the job of a Christian parent through the lens of those things we can and can’t control.
Things we CAN control as a Christian parent
We can control our children’s exposure to the gospel
As I have said before, discipling children is a bit like that saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You can surround your child with the truth of the gospel, but you cannot make him internalize it and accept Jesus as his savoir. It’s our job as Christian parents to make sure there are ample opportunities for our kids to get thoroughly saturated with the Truth. This happens through discipleship. Click here for ways that you can disciple your children at any age.
We can control how we live out our faith on a day-to-day basis
Your relationship with the Lord has a huge impact on your children. The congruence between what you profess and how your act will have a lasting impact on their lives. If we endeavor to draw closer and closer to God through prayer and faith lived out in actions, our kids will not be able to help but notice.
But if we say we believe in Jesus, yet act like we only believe in ourselves, our kids will notice that too. Children (especially teens) can easily spot hypocrisy. It is as important (or more so) for us to invest time in our relationship with the Lord. Any change in our hearts will be manifest in a change in our behaviors (Matthew 15:18).
We can control our reaction to their behaviors
This one is not easy, but it is possible. We may need to do varying degrees of work within our own selves to be able to do this well. We may have our own patterns of reacting and responding rooted in our own upbringing. We may have to invite Jesus and/or a professional to help us do the inner work to break unhealthy generational patterns.
Once we can recognize our triggers, we will be better equipped to handle them in a way that comes from a place of conscience response rather than unconscious reaction.
We can repair the ruptures in our relationship
When we don’t control our own behaviors and emotional reactivity, we still have something we can control: the repair. Coming to our children with quiet and repentant hearts when we have sinned against them will go a long way in helping them see the work of God in our lives in a way that will draw them to Jesus.
We may think that apologies mean weakness, but it is actually a strength that illustrates in real time the very power of the gospel of Jesus.
Things we CANNOT control as a Christian parent
We cannot control their convictions
We can train, correct, teach right from wrong, but we cannot do what only the Holy Spirit can do. We cannot convict. We may try, but all we will likely achieve is shame and guilt. Neither of those are transformative because they draw a person’s attention inward rather than upward (toward the forgiveness of God) and outward (toward the restoration of relationships with others).
We may to try to use Bible verses to convict, but the word of God is a sword of the Spirit. Not a sword of the parent. We need to use it to teach and heal. We need to help our kids see that it reveals the very heart of God for them and that it is the primary way that God speaks to His people. If our kids associate it will rules and condemnation, they will never seek after it for solace and sanctification.
We cannot control their behaviors
You may disagree with me on this. You may even cite situations when you were successful in changing your children’s behavior though punishment, consequences or incentives. But I would challenge you to think of this: If your child wanted to, could they have refused to be changed? Could they have dug their heels in and refused to comply? If you have a strong willed child (or a teenager for that matter), you likely know that the answer to these questions is “yes.” Children control their behaviors. You cannot.
We cannot control their salvation
This is one of the hardest things to come to terms with as a Christian parent. As believers, we know that the only hope for life everlasting is through a faith in Jesus. There are no other entry points for eternity. But you cannot make that decision for your children. Just like God cannot make the decision for the people He created. God shares your desire for your children to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
When God put those two trees in the garden and tagged on an instruction, free will was born. He wants people to freely choose to follow Him. He longs for fellowship with our broken, tattered selves, because His very nature is drawn to that in us. Your children may need to experience some difficulties in life before they can really know the yearning in God’s heart for them. That brings us to our last point…
We cannot underestimate the power of prayer
Prayers make a difference (James 5:16). Our children need us to faithfully pray for them every day. As concrete beings, we like concrete tasks. As a spiritual discipline, prayer can seem less significant than training our kids and correcting them in the moment. But never underestimate the power of prayer or the God to whom you lift them.
The mysterious interchange that happens when we talk to God changes us, but the Bible is clear that it also changes things (Mark 11:24, Matthew 21:22, John 15:7). And if you don’t know what to pray, just go to Him, open your heart and pour out what you find there. He will hear you (Romans 8:26-27).
The job of a Christian parent is complex and cannot be distilled down to a few bullet points. But you are not alone in your endeavor. If you are struggling with a parenting issue, please reach out. I often feature questions in future posts or newsletters.