Church and Home
INTERSECT: Follow Me as I Follow Christ
“Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old he will not depart
from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Forbes magazine recently listed the most stressful jobs for 2017: event coordinator (5), police officer (4), airline pilot (3), firefighter (2), and military personnel (1). If you think about the top four, the common denominator is the safety of others. When lives are at stake, the stress level is understandably high. With that in mind, another job should have been included on this list—parenting.
Parents never “clock out.” They don’t get a paycheck. Their work often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated. If you have been a parent for any length of time, you probably realize your need for advice or help. If so, the proverb above contains a timely word just for you—a principle and a promise.
The Principle in Practice
The phrase the way he should go may also be translated according to his way. The idea is to train a child according to his or her bent, recognizing tendencies and adjusting training accordingly. Of course, you will not change the goals or principles of your parenting; you simply recognize that each child is different and must be parented differently—each according to his or her own way.
Getting children off to a good start spiritually has never been more important. The well-worn illustration is still a good one. The human heart is like wet cement. The older we get, the more it hardens and becomes set. Therefore, if you want to shape a child’s heart, to put your handprint on it, you must do it while there is time. Do it early rather than later.
In the way he should go implies a way he should not go, the way his or her sinful heart would take him. It is the parent’s job to correct. This verse clearly calls us to be parents and not peers of our children. We live in an age when many say, “You shouldn’t suggest there is only one right way. Let children decide for themselves.”
Not only does this go against common sense, even more frightening, it goes against the teaching and example of Scripture. Youth ministry guru Walt Mueller says media acts as a map and mirror for this generation. It is a mirror because it gives you an accurate picture of their culture, a map because it also gives them direction. It tells our kids, “This is the way.” But it is our job as Christian parents to say, “No! This is the way.”
This is what Solomon did in Proverbs 5, for example, when he urged his son to guard against the wiles of the wayward woman. While children are young, and their hearts are still malleable, it is our responsibility to communicate the way of God to them clearly, “molding” them through His teaching before it is too late.
The Promise for Parents
And when he is old, he will not depart from it. This is a general truth or promise, meaning there are exceptions. Here’s what I mean: godly parents teach their child the way of the Lord. They live a consistent Christian life before him. They take him to church. They provide a solid Christian home and environment. But when he reaches adulthood he leaves the church and never looks back, living in complete contradiction to the way he was taught.
What happened? Consider three possibilities: 1) he was never a Christian; 2) he has strayed and will eventually return; or 3) he is a Christian but has chosen to abuse his free will. His lifestyle and behavior cannot be blamed on his parents. He may return to the way of the Lord, or he may not.
These necessary disclaimers still do not dilute the power of the promise. This is a general truth that typically bears witness: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
No, we cannot control the child’s will or future decisions. But we can control the training. We find a tragic statement in Judges 2:10: “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
After the death of Joshua and the Israelite leaders who followed him into the Promised Land, the next generation did not know what God had done for them. They had not been taught, and it resulted in a tragic culture where “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
How can we keep this from happening in our day?
By verbally instructing our children in the way of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to share the way and teachings of God in the normal, everyday routines of life. The Word of God cannot be relegated to an hour on Sunday morning. God’s way must be just that—a way of life, with the Word of God woven into the fabric of all we do.
By providing an example of walking in the way of the Lord. A sermon, lesson, or talk about the Lord is good. But our words must correspond with our visible example. Human beings learn by imitation. We identify patterns or examples, and we adapt our behavior to match. One of the most damaging things to children is an inconsistent example. While they don’t need perfection (good thing, because we cannot provide that), they do need consistency.
In an inconsistent world, children need parents and grandparents, teachers and coaches, youth workers and camp counselors who both tell them and show them the way they should go. As the Apostle Paul once said, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” Can you say that to your children and grandchildren about your own life?
About the Writer: Barry Raper is Pastoral Ministry chairman at Welch College. Learn more: www.WELCH.edu.