Will Our Children Have Faith?
One of the things dearest to a mother’s heart is that her children will have faith. All parents desire that their children will embrace the faith they have and will live by it. As I have visited with many of you, this has been the topic of conversation many times and even those of you who are grandmothers express the same heart's desire. You have mentioned it as a matter of pain when you have seen children or grandchildren going astray. You have mentioned it as a matter of joy when you have seen children or grandchildren drawing near to the Lord and serving Him. We have often made it a matter of prayer.
Since it is such a great concern, I thought it would be appropriate for us to talk about it this morning on Mother's Day. Particularly, I want to talk about what we can do to assist our children and grandchildren come to faith. As we think about this, we know that we cannot guarantee that they will believe. Each individual has to make their own decision of faith and Jesus told us that some will not choose to follow in the faith. Yet studies also show that the influence of mothers's, father's and grandparents most often does bring people to faith. What are the important elements that bring children to faith?
We will study God's Word to see what it has to say and I will also share the results of a study done by Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer on psychology students at the University of Manitoba and Wilfred Laurier University. It was a study that examined how people followed the faith that they had grown up with. It revealed that a majority of people will follow in the path they grew up with. The intent of the study was to find out what happened to the anomalies. One part of the study, which I would like to tell you about today is those who grew up with faith and then rejected that faith. The other part of the study dealt with those who had not grown up with faith, but now embraced it. The thesis was to find out why those who had grown up with faith left it and why those who had grown up without faith now accepted it.
I. The Biblical Mandate
When I hear the heart cry of mothers and also fathers and grandparents about the spiritual state of their children or grandchildren, I know that I am hearing a cry that is dear to the heart of God. This desire of yours is a desire that God has placed in your heart and His Word affirms that bringing our children to faith is something we ought to be very concerned about.
Having just completed a study of Deutereonomy it is hard to shake its influence especially since there are numerous passages in this book that tell us that what our hearts say is what we should be doing.
In Deuteronomy 4:7-9, after reminding Israel that they had a God who was near to them and who had given them righteous laws and decrees, Moses told the people of Israel in verse 9, "Teach them to your children and to their children after them." It was their duty to pass on their faith. Also notice that this was to be done for both children and grandchildren.
In Deuteronomy 6:2, Moses pointed to the law and then he indicated the goal of this law and that was "so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord." Once again the mandate to live the faith and to communicate it to children and grandchildren was commanded.
In Deuteronomy 6:7 after giving the most basic precept of Jewish life, Moses commanded the people of Israel to "Impress them on your children." The word used here is interesting. He does not merely say teach, but uses the word "impress." The Hebrew word means to sharpen with a whet stone. What that implies is that by regular, patient working, our children must have the Word of God gently and carefully and deliberately inscribed into their lives.
In Deuteronomy 31:13 in the section in which he tells Israel that after he is gone, they must keep the law of God ever before them, he also tells them "their children who do not know this law must hear it..." Once again we see the duty to pass on faith.
So we see that throughout this book the importance of passing on faith is communicated.
There are other passages in other parts of the Bible which also make this point. Even the Psalms carry this message. Psalm 34:11 says, "...come my children, I will teach you." and Psalm 78:5 says, "He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children,"
In the New Testament, in Ephesians 6:4, this duty is also given to fathers when it says that they are to "bring up (their children) in the training and instruction of the Lord."
So again I want to say that when your heart longs for the souls of your children, that is a longing that is put there by the Spirit of God and affirmed by the Word of God.
II. Strategies For Passing On Faith
But what are the things that we can do to help bring our children to faith?
A. Christian Living Leads To Faith
In the study of psychology students done at the University of Manitoba and Wilfred Laruier University, "...about 80% of the students raised Christians said they were still Christians, while the other 20% were now "nothing." The biggest difference we could find between these two groups appeared in how much the home religion had been stressed. Parents of those who had "kept the faith" emphasized religion twice as much as the parents of those who had become apostates." p. 11
What that study found was that the consistency of Christian living and the degree to which faith was real in the home resulted, in a majority of cases, in faith in the children. This says some important things to us. It is encouraging that in most cases the lifestyle and faith we live and model for our children will be the lifestyle and faith they choose. It reminds us that the first mission field and one that ought not to be neglected is the mission field in our own home. And, it is a mission project that promises a high degree of success.
But this statistic does not only encourage us, it also challenges us to ask, "what are the things that I must have in my lifestyle and my home which will make this difference?" The study found that the greatest success in passing on faith was in the homes where religion was emphasized "twice as much." In other words, if it is truly a lifestyle and an emphasis in the home then it is more likely that children will also embrace the faith. Another way of saying this is that you reap what you sow. The Bible gives us some specifics.
1.Recognizing God In Life
One of the most important ways in which we can live our faith is to keep what God has done before the eyes of our family at all times. We read in Deuteronomy 4:9
“do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart.”
The beginning of apostasy is forgetting about what God has done. In other words, failing to be thankful and failing to recognize God's grace causes God's works to be forgotten and God's name to be hidden.
Should we not place before the eyes of our children the wonder of God's work in salvation? We can do so by emphasizing Christ in Christmas, making Easter an important celebration, letting them see the observance of communion and hear the testimonies of baptismal candidates and observe baptismal services.
Should we not remember and recognize God's work in our family? We should have celebrations of what God has done and we should acknowledge God's gifts in prayer.
Should we not hold up Christian service before them by inviting missionaries over and by bringing them to church when there is a visiting missionary?
Our children must know the story of what God did and is doing!
In Deuteronomy 6:7, we noted that parents are to impress these things on their children. Then in the rest of the verse it says, "...Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, the truth of God must be taught in the course of daily life. If faith is to be successfully passed on, it cannot be something that is talked about on Sunday's only or once a day at devotion time only. The strategy by which we will pass faith on to our children is by speaking of it in the course of daily life. As we explain from scripture why we are living the way we are living, we will have a great impact.
3.Focus On God’s Word
Along with that, Deuteronomy 31:13 reinforces the importance of teaching the word of God. Moses tells the people, "their children who do not know this law must hear it..."
The teaching of the Word of God is not only for men and women, but also for children. Today, as those of you working in clubs are finding out, there is a tremendous ignorance about the word of God. Children today just do not know what the Bible says. If we are to pass on the faith, we must make sure that our children know what the Bible says. We must tell them Bible stories and help them memorize Scripture and teach them the songs of faith. Passing on faith involves giving a solid knowledge of the Word of God.
We have long understood the phrase "what you do speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you say." As we remember the works of God and as we teach the word of God, we must also live consistently with what we teach in order to have the greatest impact.
So, for example, if we put Philippians 4:8, which says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." in front of the TV we are teaching them the values necessary to make good viewing habits. But if we ignore that verse and watch what we want(because we are adults), we are communicating that this is a nice verse, but it doesn't really mean anything.
If we will recognize God in daily life. speak about faith in the course of life, take time to teach our children the word of God and live what we speak, in most cases, the study suggests over 80%, we will lead our children to faith. Those are impressive results and since it is a biblical goal and one which expresses our heart, it is one which is worth pursuing diligently.
B. Children At Risk, or Those Turbulent Teen Years
But we know that there are times when it isn't that simple. There are times when faith is severely challenged. How can we continue to pass on faith when our children are challenging it? There are some times and some children who are severely at risk. Often this happens in the teen years. How can we continue to guide them towards faith in these difficult times?
Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." One writer says that the Hebrew words for "the way he should go" suggest that we should train them according to their stage of life. There is no question that the most critical stage of life which children go through is the teen years. It is often in these years that the decision for or against faith is made and so we need to keep a special eye on the strategies that we use during this stage. At this stage, our method will be different because our children are at a different stage.
This is not news to us, we understand it quite well. We know that it is at this stage that many questions are asked, and that faith is often embraced or rejected. How can we lead them even at this stage?
In the study I mentioned, one question asked was "Did the apostasy in these amazing cases arise from major crises in parent-teen relations or broken homes, or severe problems with siblings?" most said no p.116 although where it was a factor, "unfair strictness" was a major problem p.116
I have seen children rebel against "unfair strictness" although sometimes how "unfair" is judged is quite different between parent and teen. It would be easy to say that this is the children's fault and they should repent of their sin and disobedience. That may be true and necessary, but how can we bring them to that place?
One point of view worth noting in such a situation is the words of Ephesians 6:4. The phrase "do not exasperate your children" has something important to say to this issue. One way we exasperate them is to treat them as if they have no choice. We must encourage, nourish and teach, but also remember that children have a dignity of their own. We must treat them with dignity, but also teach them to respond to our expectations with willingness, not unthinking obedience.
Although our children can sometimes be very exasperating, we must make sure that they are not exasperated because of what we do.
In the study it was found, however, that the main cause of apostacy was not rebellion. The authors state, "If you want a "nuclear" cause of the amazing apostasy we uncovered, it originates with this issue: Can you believe in the Bible, and its story of the existence of God?" p.111
What the study found was that most of the serious apostates were so because they were unable to accept the truths which had been taught them. What is interesting is that the questioning began, on average, at about age 12 1/2. It is worthy of note as we realize this that "Nearly half never asked anyone for help with their first question." They were afraid of what would happen to them for questioning. p.112. Of those who did seek help, "...Most of them went to one or both parents; others asked their priest or minister. But in most cases, this proved unsatisfactory. The parents got angry, or cried, or gave the same "pat" answers the religion did, or told them just to believe. Clergy offered reasoned answers to the questions more often, but failed to convince." p.112 "In most of the eight cases where the children found help, they went to their mothers, who gave them a gentle, sympathetic hearing - but not ultimately satisfying answers." p.112 The central issue in these cases is that "They simply found it impossible to believe their religous beliefs were true." p. 118
This creates a real challenge for us. How can we bring those teens who question through the challenge to faith?
When we remember our interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 which says that we must train them according to their stage in life, it tells me that we must not be afraid to tackle difficult issues with them. The study found that many parents became angry at the questioning and considered that it was just a stage. If we take that approach, we will not help them. Since most often, these questions come up in the early teen years, there is still much time to help them work through the questions. We must give time for questioning and seek answers to the questions with them. Where answers are not easy as they are not in many of the issues of faith, we must demonstrate that a reasoned faith can still be held. If we say, "just believe" we demonstrate that we have not thought through difficult issues. If on the other hand, we participate in or at least allow the questioning, but show that in spite of a full knowledge of all the problems of belief, faith is still a reasonable option, we will allow them to hold both faith and questions in the creative tension that allows for growth.
C. When They Have Rejected
One of the groups of people that my heart goes out to the most is those who have known faith growing up and then have rejected it. They are in a difficult spiritual position because the Bible warns about the eternal danger of rejecting faith. Yet, they are not forever lost. From the history of Israel we know that God is very patient with those who wander from Him and always holds out the invitation to come back.
Once again, we need to think through the strategy which will help them to return. What can we do to help them come back?
The first thing is that we must pray. Although prayer will not guarantee that they will come back, since God does not violate our personal choice. Yet by His grace, through prayer, He will continue to work in their lives as we pray for them. The kinds of prayers we can pray is that they will have a clear understanding of the choices they have made. We can pray that they will see the destructive nature of their choices. My favorite prayer is that God will bring people into their lives who will be just the right people to witness to them and to bring them back.
The other thing that we must do is to keep doors open. When Kristen asked me to perform her wedding ceremony, I struggled with that because we were not sure exactly where Shane was spiritually. I spoke with a trusted spiritual counselor and he advised me that I should by all means marry them. The reason given was that in that way, I would open doors. When we are legalistic and when we demand obedience, we close doors, but when we are gracious we open doors. What we fear, that they will see our opening doors as support of their disobedience rarely is the case. They know what is right and what is wrong. I believe it is the attitude of the father of the prodigal son who let his son go, gave him the inheritance and left the door wide opened for him to come back.
When we open doors, we create a way back so that when a crisis comes into their life or when they rethink things, the way back will not be blocked with stones of offence or walls of rejection.
Perhaps you have been pretty casual about raising your children. I want to challenge you to make it the priority we see in God's Word. This is a high priority. How can you do it? How can you do it more deliberately?
Perhaps you are afraid that your children will not come to faith. The promise of God's word and the evidence of research suggests that in a majority of cases, they will follow where we go. That ought to encourage us.
Perhaps you are in the midst of a battle with children who are questioning or who have left. I want to encourage you to continue in prayer and also in faithful living in Christ. We will pray with you.
May God give each one grace and wisdom to pass on faith.