When it comes to parenting, there are no guarantees. Speaking on raising children is a fearful thing for a pastor. There was a time when I was a parenting expert. I could tell you exactly how you should raise children…I had all the answers. Then I had children.
Here is a progression for pastor’s titles for sermons on child raising: “10 Rules for Raising Godly Kids” “10 Guidelines for Raising Good Kids” “5 Principles for Raising Kids” “3 Suggestions for Surviving Parenthood” Notice they get less and less emphatic and confident?
Well, we survived parenthood. Now we’re into grand parenting…but still do some parenting as well.
I know not everyone here is a parent. Mother’s Day can be a painful time for some. But the task of discipling children is for all of us. As parents, we all face questions – Will my children turn out OK? Will they make wise decisions? Will they be healthy: physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally?
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22: 6
As parents, we read this verse and we hope that all we are doing or all we did is or was enough. We pray that our failures as parents didn’t mess them up too much. Imagine with me 2 sets of parents –
Joe and Jill are godly parents that go to church regularly, and have raised their children in the church. They have tried to be a good example of Christians to their 3 children. 2 of their grown children are also Christians and seem to be doing well in their Christian walk. But 1 of their children has turned away from God. Joe and Jill look at Proverbs 22: 6 and they feel guilt. They see their wayward child as proof that they have failed as parents.
Bob and Barbara are also Christian parents that dedicated themselves to raising their children to follow God. However, of their 2 children, 1 has totally turned their back on God. But Bob and Barbara have hope. After all, God has promised that because they taught this child Biblical truth in the early years, the child will return to God…someday.
So…the same verse is a source of guilt and a source of hope. The misinterpretation of this verse can burden parents with unwarranted guilt – can give parents unfounded hope - can foster foolish pride – parents taking the credit for how their child turned out. So what IS this proverb teaching?
1. The Proverb of Probability
The book of Proverbs is Hebrew poetry. It is wisdom literature. The theme of Proverbs - Proverbs 1: 7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
2 possible paths in life are often spoken of in Proverbs: The way of wisdom and life and the way of folly and death. So this book is full of comparisons between common things and complicated, abstract truth. The nature of a proverb is for us to read it, scratch our head, and say “Hmmm.” We are supposed to puzzle them out, think them through. Proverbs are wise observations about how life generally works: what USUALLY happens, but not what ALWAYS happens. In fact, many observations in the book of Proverbs are far from universal: the righteous are not always honoured - The wicked sometimes succeed -The diligent can lose it all - The lazy can strike it rich. These are principles, not promises. God’s promises are absolute – it’s a done deal. You can take it to the bank.
So what do we have here in this proverb? Solomon’s wisdom is that if we do all we can to raise our children in the Christian faith, the PROBABILITY is that they will remain in the faith once they grow older. So, what is the process that Solomon suggests?
2. The Process of Parenting
Our natural expectation is that this is good advice with a good result: If you raise up your child in a godly way they will be a godly adult. In most cases. But not all the time. No guarantees.
The word “train” in the Hebrew has 3 ideas associated with it:
A. To Dedicate. It is an intentional commitment and consecration of our children. It is a shepherding of our children’s hearts as they grow into adulthood. The idea is one of pointing them in the right direction. Getting them started on the right path.
B. To Throttle. Now, I know what you are thinking…but not that kind of throttle. This means “to make narrow” or to discipline. The idea is to hedge them in with external controls. An example would be a bit in a horse’s mouth. The bit doesn’t control the horse, but it is a point of contact that the rider has with the animal. It is used to direct a horse’s natural desire to run, but to do so in a safe and useful manner. The idea is to use external controls with a child until they have matured and have internal controls that will guide their behaviour.
C. To Instruct. So as we train our children, our desire is to create an appetite within them for God. We cannot force feed Biblical principles to our children. We must find ways to stimulate their appetite for spiritual things.
This is about pointing your child in the right way – toward things of God. This verse is a warning against letting a child develop according to their OWN way, instead of the way of God or the way of the wise. As parents, our great objective is helping our child to choose the right way in life. Proverbs teaches there are 2 ways: God’s way and the way of the world. Proverbs 10: 29 “The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless.”
The bottom line is that they are all little sinners. The natural way of a child is the way without wisdom. Away from God. If we leave kids to follow their own way, the chance that they will follow Jesus is slim. We have to teach them everything else: to make their bed, brush their teeth, say please and thank you, to flush the toilet and to be a good citizen. We intentionally teach those things…how much more must we intentionally teach them to follow Jesus?
When it comes to choosing the right way, children today face more cultural pressure, more media pressure, more in the world leading them to do wrong than that which is leading them to do right. So we know we must train them in the way of the Lord. How?
3. The Precepts of Parenting
A mother was walking with her 4 year old daughter. The little girl picked up something put it in her mouth. The mom took it away and told her not to do that. “Why?” the girl asked. “Because you don't know where it's been, it's dirty, and probably has germs!” The little girl looked at her mom with total admiration and asked,
“Mommy, how do you know all this stuff- you are so clever.” Mom thought quickly and said. “All moms know this stuff. It's on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don't let you be a Mommy.” They walked along in silence. “OH...I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don't pass the test you have to be the daddy.”
Congratulations all you moms on passing the mommy test… and happy Mother’s Day.
Being a mom has always been tough. But the pressure to be the perfect mother has been amped up. And this proverb doesn’t help. I mean, isn’t it saying that if we don’t do everything just right as a parent we’ll ruin our children forever!!??
Here’s the good news, moms and dads. We are imperfect, but the Gospel can overcome our faults as parents. Our God is the God of the impossible, and He can use our imperfect parenting to produce children that love and follow Him. You incorporate God’s truth into everyday life. You present the truths of God in an appealing and compelling way. You make it real and practical - and you model it for them in the reality show called your life. “What is a child’s greatest need?” - love, security, education, discipline, self-worth. But the greatest need of each child?
A. REGENERATION - “The way they should go”. We help our children get on this path to life through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of training our children is to bring them to Jesus Christ.
B. RESPECT –“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. This is the time to teach them about God’s authority, and the best way to do that is to encourage them to obey our authority. We as parents are their first picture of God. It is important that they learn that they must obey: God, parents, and others in authority. This builds a foundation on which the rest will be built.
C. WISDOM - Truth and how they view the truth. We want them to see the Bible as God’s truth. Knowing God’s word leads to Godly wisdom. Timothy learned God’s word from – his mother and his grandmother:
D. FAMILY – “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5 No one will do this perfectly. But our children don’t need perfection. They need authenticity, unconditional love and redemption.
4. The Pain of Parenting
“Even when he is old he will not depart from it...” As parents, we are to instruct, disciple, prepare our children, point them in the right direction…but there is no guarantee that they will continue on the right path. Our problem is not with Proverbs 22: 6. Our problem is with our children. They have minds of their own. People do not automatically follow Christ because of their upbringing. We as parents have a sacred responsibility for how we raise our children. But we have no ultimate control over how they turn out. We have all sinned. We all make choices. And sometimes we choose the wrong way. The bottom line is that children will answer to God for their own choices.
Because we live in a broken world, there are so many variables that affect our children’s choices. Like a farmer. A farmer can do his best getting the crop in and caring for it. But too much rain, too little rain, insects, wind, hail – all can have an impact on his harvest. There’s a warning for us here, too. We are so quick to judge other parents. “Oh, look at how Bobby turned out. His parents must have failed in their parenting.”
The pain of parenting is that if a child chooses a different path than we taught them, then we have failed as parents. Or did God fail to keep His promise?
We’ve learned from this verse that a general principle is that if we early on, intentionally, carefully point our children in the direction of the way of wisdom and toward the Saviour, throughout their growing up years, that it’s a pretty good chance that they will never stray from it.
But, there’s no guarantee. There is not even a guarantee that after a season of rebellion, they will return. The story of prodigal son in the NT isn’t a promise…just the story of one young man’s return and the father’s loving response.
So where is the hope? Are you a mom or dad who is heart-broken because you have a child that has turned from God? Here it is: God hasn’t given up on them. He continues to draw them to Himself. He loves them more than you do.
But they have to turn to Him. It is their choice. What can you do? 1. Pray 2. Proclaim your love for them no matter what 3. Plead with them – be gentle in your disappointment, but be honest about your feelings 4. Point them to Jesus
5. The Potential of Parenting
Our parenting and grand parenting has the potential to change the world. The way we train our children will affect the way they train their children and so on, generation after generation.”
Parenting and grand parenting affects the next 100 years!
We are raising the next generation of Christ followers, who will impact this world for Christ. The opposite is also true: if we don’t transmit our knowledge and experience of God to the next generation, it will be lost. There are many examples from biblical history of a legacy of faith being lost in one generation.
The challenge is, can our children and grandchildren say “I followed your example and that helped me follow Christ.”?
All of us here have the capacity to influence children and young people. As a church community, it is our responsibility to come along side parents as they train up their children in the way they should go.
Mother’s Day is always a tough day for those who desire to be a mom, but that’s not happening right now. May I lovingly encourage you to find a way you can be an influence in a child’s life? A nephew or niece, a neighbour, perhaps serving here at the church with children. What are you taking to heaven with you? All the stuff…it’s all staying here. But our children – we can point them in the way of heaven.
“It’s faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success, that bridge the gap between our own parenting efforts and what, by the grace of God, our children grow up to become.”
We have said that a child’s greatest need is regeneration, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are here this morning and you had parents who taught you about God, took you to church, perhaps even lived a godly life as best they could.
Or maybe that’s not your story. But you are far from God. This is great time for you to respond to God’s gracious gift of the death of His Son Jesus in your place. No one can chose for you.
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10: 13