A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

If you were to poll parents on their greatest fears for their children, the answers would vary greatly—being victims of abuse, adopting unbiblical ideologies, being exposed to inappropriate material, indulging in destructive behaviors, and so on. But as dreadful and disheartening as those fears are, for the Christian parent, the greatest nightmare is a child never knowing the Lord. As a father of three, I know this fear firsthand. 

I imagine my children living broken adult lives—enslaved to sin, harming themselves and others, never thinking of God, and leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Or, perhaps worse, I imagine them living outwardly pleasant lives—education, career, marriage, children, comfort—and yet neither acknowledging God nor giving thanks. I can all too clearly see the desires and personality traits of their 2-year-old selves taking root and becoming the rotten fruit or hollow triumphs of their adult lives.

This particular nightmare, it turns out, was a reality for an entire generation of parents: “All that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10).

Throughout the lifetime of Joshua and his companions, the children of Israel faithfully worshiped God (Judg. 2:6–7). But the following generation went astray. In just one generation, the people of Israel went from faithful to faithless. 

In just one generation, the people of Israel went from faithful to faithless.

What’s striking about Judges 2:10 isn’t just that the new generation didn’t know the Lord—they also didn’t know the works he’d done for Israel. This is sobering. Unfaithfulness in family discipleship contributes to the possibility of children being unacquainted with the Lord’s works. This warning should freshly provoke us to faithfulness in discipling our kids.

Tell His Works (All of Them)

As parents, we can’t control if our children come to Christ. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). And yet we can control whether or not they learn of him and his saving work (Deut. 6:5–9). We can intentionally share the gospel, calling them to repent of their sin and trust in him. We can read God’s Word and explain what it means. We can share how he saved us. We can help them memorize Scripture.

And retelling God’s works—culminating in Christ’s work on the cross—encompasses all of God’s dealings with his people since the sixth day of creation. Our children need to hear how sin entered the world through Adam’s rebellion and how God graciously promised to reverse the curse through a coming deliverer. They need to learn how in judgment God flooded the earth and in mercy saved Noah and his family. They need to learn about the exodus, how God delivered Israel from slavery through great acts of judgment—showing himself both merciful and just. They need to be so familiar with God parting the Red Sea, providing manna in the wilderness, and bringing them to the promised land that they could retell the story of his faithfulness in their sleep. They need to know how God protected David from Saul; sustained Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; shielded Daniel from lions; and brought Israel out of exile. They need to know that Israel was a rebellious people, and that God’s dealing with them can show his grace and love toward his people today.

And they need to hear about Jesus. They need to know that he is the Son of God in human flesh, the last Adam, the promised deliverer, the Passover Lamb, and the Savior of the world. They need to know that the Old Testament points to him. They need to know about his miracles, his compassion, his forgiveness, his love. And they need to hear that his sin-bearing death and grave-conquering resurrection isn’t just a historical fact. It’s also for them.

Parental Faithfulness

If Judges 2:10 is a parent’s nightmare, Psalm 78:1–8 is a parent’s daydream: 

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
    incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done

He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
   so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
    a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
    whose spirit was not faithful to God.

The psalmist speaks of deliberate generational discipleship, with one generation telling the next of the Lord’s wondrous works in hopes that they’ll trust and obey. Here is a vision and strategy for family discipleship. Since the vision is for multiple generations to know Christ, the strategy is to faithfully introduce our own kids to his saving work.  

We have an opportunity to proclaim God’s works so persistently, so loudly, and so winsomely that our children can never get away from the echoes of them. As they grow, they will not be able to look at the world around them without seeing reminders of God’s character, his redemption, and his dealings with the sons of man. As they grow, the oft-repeated testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness will stand before them—an open door, ready to welcome them home to Christ.

Intentional Discipleship

This strategy can take many forms—consistent family worship, Scripture memory, and catechesis, along with regular corporate worship on Sundays. Yet it also requires intentionality in the informal day-to-day moments—talking about Christ and his Word with our spouse in the presence of our children, having church members over and asking them to share their testimonies, praying with our kids, and sharing the gospel when disciplining. What’s important is our intentionality and perseverance in leading our families spiritually, as we pray fervently for the Lord to bear good fruit in his perfect time.

Pray fervently for the Lord to bear good fruit in his perfect time.

Parents, don’t lose heart. Be encouraged by 2 Timothy, where we see an example of our dream being brought to fruition as Paul recounts how Timothy’s grandmother and mother knew the Lord and taught him Scripture from infancy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14–15). What was true for Timothy’s family serves as an example of what God can do in our own.

Imagine, decades from now, when your children have children. You visit and witness them reading Scripture to their kids, expounding on the Lord’s works as they explain the passage and lead in prayer—the way you did with them. In God’s providence, that vision can become a reality. May we take active steps toward it now.

In the northeastern United States, codfish are not only delectable, they are a big commercial business. There’s a market for eastern cod all over, especially in sections farthest removed from the northeast coastline. But the public demand posed a problem to the shippers. At first they froze the cod, then shipped them elsewhere, but the freeze took away much of the flavor. So they experimented with shipping them alive, in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse. Not only was it more expensive, the cod still lost its flavor, and in addition, became soft and mushy. The texture was seriously affected.

Finally, some creative soul solved the problem in a most innovative manner. The codfish were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy—the catfish. From the time the cod left the East Coast until it arrived in its westernmost destination, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank! And you guessed it, when the cod arrived at the market, they were as fresh as when they were first caught. There was no loss of flavor nor was the texture affected. If anything, it was better than before.

A couple of questions seem worth asking. First, can you name some catfish swimming in your tank? Maybe you live with one of them. Or it’s somebody at work whose irritating presence drives you to your knees several times a week. Every church has a few catfish as well! They’re there to keep all the cod from getting soft, mushy, and tasteless. Second, have you given thanks for them lately? Yesterday, we talked about God’s mission being to shape you into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Just think, it’s that tension in the tank that helps “the image” emerge. With the right attitude, we can learn how to keep from resenting them as intruders as the chase continues.

To do so we’ll need to put an end to pity parties and whine clubs and gripe gatherings in the tank. When we do, it is nothing short of remarkable how closely the chase begins to resemble “the race” mentioned in Hebrews 12 . . . but whoever heard of Hebrews 12 since Hebrews 11 is so much more popular? It’s one of those passages I told you I feel sorry for, one that is overshadowed by its neighbor.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s you I feel sorry for.

Joshua Chatman

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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