When your 3-year old turns 27-years old, and he can only have one takeaway from your parenting, what would you want him to retain? What is the one thing that is more important than all the rest?
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Scenario #1 – Your child is 27-years old, and you have finished your parenting. You’ve given him your best advice, wisdom, training, example, and prayers. Let’s say your child can only have one takeaway from all your parenting. What would you want your child to retain?
Scenario #2 – Your child is 3-years old, and your parenting has just begun. You’re about to embark on one of the grandest journeys any person could experience. Other than your relationship with Christ and your spouse, being a parent is your next best relational blessing.
Scenario #3 – You’ve messed up your family through lousy parenting practices. You’ve now recognized this, and you want a do-over. Though it’s not possible to retrace your steps and begin again, you know you can repent and rebuild from where you are right now.
Thus, you plan to repent actively and humbly seek to rebuild a life with them. If you could only give them one thing at this point in your life, what would it be? What would you choose to export to your children?
We’re All Exporting
We’re all in the export business. There are no other options within the human family. We live shoulder to shoulder and bumper to bumper with each other. No matter where you are, other people are around you.
You are exporting your life to others. The things you know, say, and do are being observed and reacted to by those who are around you (Philippians 4:9). This perspective should not be perceived as a negative thing at all.
Because of the transformative power of Christ working in us, we are operating from a position of strength—His strength (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). We can give the Christian message to others by our attitudes, words, and actions.
Affecting people is not an option, but how we affect people is an option. How do you influence people? This article is about your children, even though you can apply it to any person within your sphere of influence.
What are you exporting to those around you? Or, back to my original question, “If you could export only one thing to your child, what would it be?” Give it some thought. What is the main thing you would like for your children to take into their adult experience?
Here is a partial list of some of the things we pray about regarding our children. These are the things we want to export to them, hoping it will give them a more productive and more meaningful life.
As you read this list, let me remind you that none of these things represent the primary thing, as far as how we want them to build their future lives. These are all secondary matters that flow out of the vital thing that we want to export to them.
The Christian List
Become a Christian – I put this one first so that I could get it out of the way. Of course, I cannot give them this. Becoming a Christian is not in my hands. This gift is what God gives to them. If I could export regeneration to my kids, I would do it in a heartbeat.
My hope and prayer are that the Father will open their hearts and grant them the gift of repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25) and they fall in love with Him. I pray this way every day of my life. I want my children to be Christians (John 3:7).
You and I know bad parents whose children became Christians. We also know good parents whose children rejected Christ. Christianity is not exported to children by their parents but given to them by the benevolent mercy of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Love God – There is no doubt that I want my children to love God. This truth is the greatest of all the commandments, according to Jesus. While I want them to love God actively, the main thing I want to export into their lives is slightly different.
Love others – I think most parents want their children to love others. It’s the right thing to do and the second best thing Jesus said they could do. Christ would commend you for teaching your children the value of others and the privilege of serving them (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 10:45).
Enjoy God – To walk with God and find joy in doing so is rare among Christians. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about how much they enjoy God. I used to hear this when I was younger, but not now. My hope for my children is that they will enjoy Him.
Glorify God – This is where I would take issue with the Westminster Confession as far as being the main thing. I agree we should seek to make it our aim to glorify God above all else (1 Corinthians 10:31), but this is a behavior. It is what we should do. There is always a prerequisite to our practices, which is our motives.
Bible knowledge – Some would seek to pump their children full of Bible verses. That’s not a bad thing to do, I suppose. We should have sufficient Bible understanding. I want our children to love God’s Word and a desire to learn it. It’s a good goal.
Biblical relationships – Lastly, under the list of Christian goals, I want them to have biblical friendships. I would never want to undersell this one, especially if they plan on staying pure, eventually marrying, or possibly have children.
If they do not understand the Bible’s view on relationships, they could be set up for a life of hardship. Relationships are challenging, and a practical understanding of the Bible is essential if you’re going to enjoy them.
The Vital Importance of Structure and Support in Parenting
The Gentile List
Then there is another list. I won’t elaborate it. These are the things the Gentiles seek (Matthew 6:32). While I want to prepare my children on how to think about these things, attaining them do not represent my main parenting goals.
Christ was clear: the Father provides these things. My children have their roles and responsibilities to play when it comes to attaining them, but only from a secondary human responsibility perspective.
God will provide them in the proportion in which He wants my children to enjoy them. If a parent seeks to make these secondary goals most important, their children will undoubtedly fail in the things that matter.
One of the sadder outcomes I have observed in the Christian community is how sublunary goals supplant biblical priorities. Here are some of those secondary goals:
- Status in the community
- Satisfying vocation
- Elite education
- Good health
- Social standing
- Financial freedom
None of these things are necessarily evil, and I hope my children attain some of them, but they are still secondary to the main thing. As you peruse your Bible, you will note how the Lord does not put these things at the top of any “I must have this” list.
This perspective is not a call for sloppiness, apathy, or laziness. That, too, would be sinful. I want my children to work as hard as they can within their God-given capacities. The real issue here, and in the context of this article, is about priorities: What are your priorities or where is your treasure? (See Matthew 6:21-24)
The Main Thing
Here is the main thing that we want to export to our children: the foundational tenet in our parenting is to give our children sound theology. That’s it. Sound theology is the foundation, the rock bottom, and the platform upon which a person will build their life and stand upon it. Theology is the main thing. It is the thing I want them to take into their adulthood.
Everything else in life flows out of their theology. Let me explain. You know what the word theology means, right? The Greek words are Theos and Logos. The word Theos means “God.” You may translate the word logos like the “word concerning” or “the study of” something.
The word theology means the word concerning God or the study of God. The most foundational thing any child could have in their life is a sound understanding of God.
If the Sovereign Lord is not your rock and foundation, you can expect tough sledding through life. If you work through my list of seven Christian goals above, you will see how all of them flow out of sound theology—a sound understanding of God.
- You cannot practically live the life of Christ well without sound theology.
- You cannot glorify God in the most effective ways without robust theological precision.
- You cannot love God fully without continually applying theological truths to your life.
- You cannot receive adequate counseling if you do not draw it out of sound theology.
If you go back to the beginning—the Garden of Eden—there were no Bibles and no other relationships for Adam. In the beginning, there was God. Then God made a man so he could have a relationship with God.
Man’s first order of business was to become a theologian. His primary pursuit was to pursue God. Though God knew it was not good for the man to be without human companionship (Genesis 2:18), his soon-to-be human companionship was not more significant than knowing God. The Lord was Adam’s “significant other.”
One Thing I Know
After all these years of counseling and all the trouble that I’ve seen in people’s lives, it has become more real to me than ever how we need a better foundation on which to land when we fall. And we will fall.
The only person who can accurately answer the “why question” after we fall is God. The Lord is our best answer when trouble comes, and if we do not know Him or understand Him well, our suffering will be more complicated than it needs to be.
If God is our hope, which He is, knowing Him well is essential. The most oft-repeated appeal in the Bible, either explicit or implied, is to fear not. The Lord is always calling us to trust Him. You cannot fully trust someone you do not know, which is a call to elevate our theology—the study of God—above all else.
Making It Practical
If I could export one thing to my children, I would choose theology as the main thing. I want them to walk into life knowing God, and out of that knowledge, my hope is for them to enjoy every other good possibility that the Bible offers to seasoned God-lovers.
If they don’t have sound theology—understanding of God, what grows out of their lives will not be the best that it could be. I’m not talking about just having Bible knowledge, as in knowing the facts of the Bible. I’m talking about knowing God.
- If they are going to have strong faith, they must know God well.
- If they are going to live practical, biblical lives, they must know God.
- If they are going to love others the right way, they must know God correctly.
I want my children to know the Lord, His person, His character, His attributes, and all the things that He can do. My hope is when they come face-to-face with real-life problems, they will be able to endure because they can see our great invisible God.
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27
We spend a lot of time teaching our children a sound theology. Here is a list of some of the terms they have been learning over the past few years. The list moves through a sequence of who God is to what He does for us. They first learned what theology is and what they are becoming—theologians. Then they began learning about God.
- Hypostatic Union
- The Fall
The weakness with too many Christians is their lack of theological depth. Some parents and youth leaders seem to have a “theological timidity” as if the kids are too ignorant or too immature or too disinterested to learn theological truths about our great Lord.
Children are encouraged and motivated when the “big people in the room” let them into the “adult world of big words” like the hypostatic union. They feel respected, loved, cared for, and trusted. It creates a built-in eagerness to learn more about God.
The problem is not their lack of capacity to learn, but our lack of awareness regarding the opportunity that is before us, and the lack of intentionality to step into this opportunity.
Call to Action
Give your children a sound view of who God is and what He can do. They need to know Him more than they need to know anything else, and from that foundation, you can equip them with all of the other things they will need to know to be mature, God-loving adults.