Parenting is a weighty responsibility. Soon after the initial joys of being a parent set it, we are met with this truth. This most adorable little person is entirely dependent upon me for nearly everything. The burdens are myriad: physical, emotional, financial, educational, etc. But it’s the spiritual burden that rises above the others. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach and lead our children to God. What makes this so unsettling is the fact that it’s neither easy nor automatic. Our kids don’t become Christians just because we are. It’s not an inalienable right we walk into, like voting for American children when they turn 18. No, our children must believe the gospel for themselves.
When we consider the responsibility of parenting, we need to have three truths in mind. First, parents are commanded to teach and train their children (Eph. 6:4). Second, our children, like everyone else, are born totally depraved and alienated from God (Eph. 2:13). Third, the gospel is powerful; it saved us, and it can save them (Rom. 1:16–17).
So what do we do in light of these three theological truths? The combination of these three can keep us up at night. Feeling the weight of the burden, you should parent like you can save your kids and pray like you can’t.
Parent Like You Can Save Your Kids
There’s a temptation when we consider God’s sovereignty to throw up our hands and be complacent. But reducing our Christian experience to fatalism is as unhelpful as it is unbiblical. God is sovereign, but he’s also a God of means. He uses people like you and me, parents, as means to accomplish his ordained ends. So what do we do?
Love them. Love is expressed with actions (1 Cor. 13:4–7). This requires presence with our children. There should be intentionality of daily expressing love, humility, service, forgiveness, and grace. Make them laugh. Smile with them. Let them know that you love them as God loves in the gospel. Therefore, no matter what they do, you’ll never love them any less.
Train them. Parents are to shepherd their hearts with the word of God (Eph. 6:4). This requires the correction from what is wrong and the training in what is right. But it’s more than only discipline; parents are to teach their children God’s Word (Deut. 4:9, 6:7; 11:19). Knowing that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17), we must have the gospel on our lips, that God might be pleased to bring it home to their hearts.
Protect them. Obviously, our younger children need to be protected, but sometimes we forget this as the kids get older. Parents who feel the pressure of being restrictive in other areas will often loosen things up when it comes to entertainment, technology, and their friends. If I could encourage the younger parents concerned about appearing legalistic, as a dad of three adult children and a friend of dozens more, these small compromises of personal convictions or principles are often pathways to much bigger problems than you can anticipate. If you are a parent who’s concerned about your child, be sure that you’re more concerned about how to have a clear conscience before God than being well-thought-of by others. Doing what’s right is often challenging. But it’s safer and more reasonable than violating your conscience.
Pray Like You Can’t Save Them
God has not left us helpless. He calls us to pray. Recognizing the urgency of the situation and our own helplessness to change it on our own, we storm the throne of grace in prayer (Heb. 4:16).
Think of each day when you awake as fresh snow. There are no tracks. All is quiet. Then you get up and bring your petitions to God for your children. You pray for their salvation. You pray for them to honor Christ. You pray for their studies in school. You pray for their potential spouses. You pray for them to serve in Christ’s church. You pray for them to grow in their understanding and love of the Bible. You pray for them to be faithful. You pray for God to supply a rich gospel legacy. You pray for them to steward their lives and the gospel well. You pray for them. What a privilege!
But this is also a priority. They need us to pray. What happens if we get lazy as parents? We won’t pray if we presume upon God’s grace, minimize the danger of sin, undervalue the joy of holiness, or overestimate our ability to parent them. This troubles me. It convicts me. Not praying for our kids is neglecting one of the best and most loving things we can do for them. To not pray for our children is to neglect their souls. It is to fail to do them spiritual good. We may rightly impugn those who ignore their children’s most basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, time, development, and so on). However, how indicting is it if we as Christians fail to make tracks to the throne of grace?
Pray like a helpless, trusting parent who desires to see their child saved.
Pray and Parent
This is hard work. It is, however, the work of faith, the work of dependence, and the work of love. It’s gospel work. It is Christian parenting. So get to work, in the prayer closet and at the kitchen table; plead Christ to them and them to Christ!