My second grade classroom was bustling with excitement on the morning following our school’s big Open House. Even our teacher seemed excited as she removed our artwork from the walls.
“Your mom is so beautiful!” she whispered as I slipped into my seat.
Before I could respond, she lowered the boom.
“And you know something, my dear? You look just like your dad!”
Imagine my dismay. I knew my mom was beautiful, and I wanted to look just like her so people would tell me I was beautiful, too.
Over the years, as I understood my mom’s deep faith and saw her tireless example of servanthood, I began to understand that her heart is as beautiful as her face. Today, I no longer look for her reflection in my mirror. Instead, I pray my heart will look more like hers.
The pursuit to raise children who love the Lord looks much the same way. When our children long to have hearts that reflect ours―as we, ourselves, seek to reflect Christ—we’ve won the battle. No amount of instruction, nagging, or church-going will work the same way.
GODLY PARENTING ISN’T PERFECT PARENTING
All parents can raise a glass to the truth that godly parenting isn’t perfect parenting. It is, however, parenting that looks different from the norm. God calls us to “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), or to be set apart―different from the world and its ways―as a reflection of Him.
In my earliest years as a parent, I struggled. I wanted so desperately to be a good mom. As a new Christian, I wanted to raise my girls in a way that would convince them to follow Christ. In spite of my efforts, my constant failures left me discouraged and hopeless.
That’s when I inadvertently made the best decision of my life. In a desperate attempt to salvage my parenting mistakes, I threw my hands in the air and asked God to help me. As a result, I opened my Bible and discovered it to be “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
In other words, the path to raising godly children wasn’t as murky as I’d thought. Instead, it was as clear as the words in my Bible. I was determined to use the Scriptures to build a foundation for our home. I suspected it would mean swimming against the current at times. But, I was willing to risk isolation or even ridicule for the assurance that “everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
Building a foundation of faith, however, doesn’t mean we aren’t exempt from making a ton of mistakes.
My husband and I enjoy flipping houses, especially those that need extensive remodeling. In the process of buying homes, we’re seldom intimidated by overgrown landscaping, plumbing that needs replacing, or even walls that need to be removed. But, if the foundation is cracked or sinking, we always say no.
In the same way, we as parents are sure to make unwise decisions and fail in a zillion ways. But, a Biblical foundation of faith gives us the strength to get back up again and repair what’s been broken.
DO AS I DO, NOT AS I SAY
Raising godly children means teaching them to follow Christ―but we can’t shout our instructions from the sidelines.
While in high school, one of my daughters came home from her summer job as a swimming instructor and complained the director had made her get in the water with her students. She’d been happily instructing from the side of the pool, and she couldn’t fathom why it mattered whether or not she got wet.
As parents who want to raise future adults who love the Lord, we don’t have the luxury of lounging on the sidelines and pointing out how to live. We’ve got to get in the nitty gritty with our children and swim upstream with them in a world that’s content to do what everyone else is doing. That means we demand honesty from ourselves, as well as them, and we use the same level of self-restraint we want them to use. In other words, we must do exactly what we tell our children to do.
One of the dangers of teaching our children from the sidelines is hypocrisy. In other words, if all our efforts are spent telling our children what to do and little effort is spent making sure we follow the same principles, we set ourselves up for professing a faith that’s not genuine. According to a wise pastor whose words helped guide my life as a young mom, “If you want your teenagers to rebel, then be one person at home and another person at church.” In other words, our pursuit to raise godly children is sabotaged by inauthenticity.
One of the ways I checked my own authenticity at home was to make sure I wasn’t trying to be a ‘super Christian’ in public and someone else at home. I wanted to be the real deal because, although there’s no way to guarantee older children won’t rebel, an authentic lifestyle earns respect. And without respect, we are unlikely to have a positive, lasting influence on the people inside the walls of our home.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO APOLOGIZE
All parents fall short of what they intended. We grow impatient, overreact, respond unkindly, and generally blow it. That’s why it’s important to note that our failures can serve as lessons in humility if we simply apologize.
One of the first instructions we give our toddlers is, “say you’re sorry” and we basically make them apologize. But as they grow older, the command is not enough. We can’t expect our children to be merciful and forgiving if we don’t demonstrate the power of grace in front of them.
Raising godly children is a process that demands humility. First of all, saying I’m sorry encourages our children to do likewise. Secondly, seeking forgiveness from our children can heal hurt feelings and restore intimacy, ultimately demonstrating the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. We captivate the hearts of our children when we extend and ask for forgiveness often and freely.
SPEND TIME IN THE SCRIPTURES
When family rules and boundaries are established on a Biblical foundation, obeying them becomes less about submission to parents, and more about submission to God. Nothing gave me more freedom than knowing I didn’t make the rules―God did. When my girls argued, I referred them to the Scriptures. When they begged me to change my mind, I explained that I was bound by my commitment to God’s Word. Although there may have been an eye roll or two along the way, my daughters nearly always acquiesced.
The most effective thing we can do in our quest to raise godly children is to make sure Christ rules in our own hearts. That requires time for Bible study and prayer, even if it means cutting other things out of the calendar. As our own decisions, attitudes, and behaviors are shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit, our children will notice and may follow suit. That’s why we’re encouraged to, “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
RELATIONSHIP OVER RULES
Perhaps the most widely misunderstood parenting tool for raising godly children concerns rule-making. Simply put, parents can’t command godliness.
Although our authority may convince our children to do what we want them to do, that will only go so far. Rules without relationship are ineffective for raising godly children.
To better understand the role of rules versus relationship, consider our response to Jesus. If we obey the Bible’s teachings simply out of fear, they’ll eventually feel harsh and burdensome. But, when our submission to God flows naturally out of our loving relationship with Him, the Scriptures are not only easier to follow―they’re a delight to us.
That’s how it is with our kids. An over-controlling, authoritarian parent who demands submission but spends little time building intimacy will likely change her child’s behavior―but she won’t change her child’s heart.
To raise godly children, parents must spend time nurturing relationships that will win the hearts of their children. Then, obedience flows naturally out of love.
Encouraging our children to love the Lord comes naturally as we lead them by example. Like my beautiful mother, we can pursue a lifestyle that honors God and hopefully inspire a longing for Him. Although we can’t guarantee our children will ultimately choose to walk in Spirit and Truth, we can do our best to nudge them in that direction.
As a mom, how do you encourage your children to love the Lord? Share some of the challenges you face, or have faced, as you seek to to lead by example in this area.
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