As parents, we want the best for our children. And as Christians, we know that ‘the best’ is eternal joyful life with God. But how can we raise our children so that they will become mature Christians and devote their lives to the Lord?
The shocking answer is: we can’t. Whether or not our children will develop a personal, living faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, is beyond our control. Faith can’t be transmitted from one generation to the next. Our children need to accept God’s offer of forgiveness for themselves; we can’t do that for them.
But as parents, we do have a great influence on our children, and that brings both a huge responsibility and a wonderful opportunity. Even though a Christian upbringing is no guarantee for eternal life, it’s an enormous blessing for our children to grow up in a Christian home. And it is our responsibility as parents to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Teach them about God
The first thing we should do, is to teach our children about God: “How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14).
It is of central importance for our children to know the truth about the world, about themselves, and about their Creator, as it is revealed to us in the Bible. This teaching can start from a very young age, for example by reading Bible stories, singing songs together, but also by making God part of our daily lives. As God commanded the Israelites:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).
This teaching is primarily the responsibility of the parents, but can also be supported by other Christians. Many churches offer Sunday school classes, in some countries there are Christian schools, and there are many helpful books, songs and craft ideas to help parents with their task. This is especially important if the parents themselves are new to the faith, or if only one of the parents is a Christian.
Provide living examples
Just as important as knowledge about God, are living examples. The first examples a child has, are his own parents. We need to model what a life with God looks like. Our children will certainly know that we are not perfect – we can’t keep up appearances 24/7 – but they should know that we are authentic. They need to see how we put our hope in God, how we base our everyday choices on the Bible, how our priorities are shaped by God’s will.
Again, we parents are not the only role models around. Other mature Christians can be inspiring examples too, especially for teenagers who tend not to take their parents’ way of life for granted. This is one more reason why it is so important to belong to a church! As Hebrews 13:7 urges us: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith”.
Paul writes: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17), and he encourages Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). That’s our task as parents, but also as church members – being role models, especially for children who might not have that many mature Christians around them.
Train them to live with God
Raising children is also about creating good habits. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). It is important for our spiritual life to regularly read our Bibles, to have a healthy prayer life, to attend church services, and so on.
All this can be practiced and trained. If these elements become ‘normal’ for our children, it will be much easier for them to keep doing this as adults. This must not be complicated. We can make it a habit to pray with our children before they go to bed. They can get used to Bible reading in the morning or after meals. They can join us when we go to church and when we enjoy the community with fellow believers. They can be involved in Christian service to people who need help, in the support of worldwide mission or evangelistic outreach in your neighborhood. All this is a kind of training in discipleship.
Pray for them
In the introduction, we mentioned that we can’t make our children into mature Christians. They need personal faith and need to be born again by the Holy Spirit. We can’t make that happen, but God can. Therefore, it is so important to pray for our children. They are in God’s hands. “Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” – including your own family members! (Ephesians 6:18). We can use our own words in prayer, or use Bible verses to guide us. For example, see this list of 30 prayers for your children by Revive Our Hearts, which is also available in the PrayAssist App.
Lord, let salvation bear fruit within our children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory (Isaiah 45:8; 2 Timothy 2:10).