“Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost.” (The Message – Read the chapter)
Parenting is tough. I can say that with confidence and I’m only ten years into it. Every season has its challenges. And every season feels like its challenges are bigger and harder than the season before it. You can’t imagine it could get any harder—or better—and then it does. If you are a parent committed to seeing your children grow to love and follow the Lord, this just adds an extra burden to the pile. This particular burden is great enough, verses like this one are often claimed as a cover for mistakes we might have made along the way. Is that okay?
The short answer is a confident maybe. Helpful? Let’s look at how that could work and how it might not. We’ll start with the latter. This verse is a proverb. What is perhaps most important to remember about claiming proverbs for our lives—especially proverbs like this one—is that they are not guarantees of how life will always work. They are conditional wisdom statements that describe how life generally works, all things being equal. The challenge, of course, is that all things are not equal.
As a general rule, if we seek to follow the wisdom of the Proverbs, they will point us in the direction of a good life. But sometimes we pursue their course of wisdom and things still go haywire on us. This doesn’t mean they were wrong, it means our situation went wrong. Sin got in the way somehow, whether ours or someone else’s. If we will stick with the path of wisdom, though, life will eventually be our reward.
That’s the hard news here. The good news is that a fair bit of research has shown that parents who raise their kids in the faith are more likely than not to turn out children who follow in their faith footsteps.
There are, however, a couple of caveats to that. First, just because we raise our kids in a faith context doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. Choosing to accept Jesus as Lord is not a choice we can make for them. They’ve got to come to it on their own. Some kids are presented with all the evidence and reject it anyway. The reasons for that are manifold, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve done anything wrong.
Second, raising our kids in the faith isn’t something that can be done by proxy. In other words, we can’t drop them off in hopes that someone else will take care of it for us. Dropping kids off at church and then not going ourselves sends the message that church is something for kids to keep them occupied and out of trouble, but isn’t necessary for grown-ups. If we teach them this lesson with our behavior, we can be sure they will learn it. We could change the verse like this: Drop your children off at the church when they are young, and when they are old they might do the same thing to their kids, but probably not because they’ll still be angry at you for doing it to them.
If we’re going to point our children in the right direction, we’re going to have to be sure we walk it with them. As Moses commanded, we must teach them diligently. Go to church with your kids. Serve with them. Let them see you using your spiritual gifts. Pray for and with them. Talk about the faith with them. Talk about your faith with them. Talk about their faith with them. Show them what it looks like to study the Bible. Memorize Scripture with them. Let them be a part of the decision of how much you will give. Encourage them to give themselves.
This is all what it looks like to raise children up in the Lord. If we do this consistently, they may still reject it because life doesn’t always go the way we plan. But the odds of that are much lower than they will be otherwise. Have courage, parents. Your work, when done well, is not in vain. Ultimately, make the Lord your faithful aim and they’re likely to follow.