By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
Few parents ever feel truly ready or even qualified to raise a child. There is nothing unique about parental trepidation and even self-doubt. It’s part of the parenting process and has been since the beginning. Proverbs 22:6 may teach us to “train up a child in the way he should go, even when he grows older he will not abandon it,” and for God-seeking parents, this is always the hope (3 John 1:4); however, raising upright children in what has become a truly upside-down world is no easy task, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
As a new father, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t troubled by recent events or concerned about the direction our world is heading. The world may never be as safe as I want it to be for my daughter. Some battles I can fight for her; some I must teach her to fight on her own. But in any season, current and prospective parents must remember that…
1) Children are a gift and reward from the Lord (Psalms 127:3),
2) God never promised an easy, trouble-free life for our children, and
3) God’s plan for our children is ultimately good, even when times are not (Jeremiah 29:11).
The Bible also reminds us that God has a way of raising upright children in some of the most unusual, uncertain, and upside-down moments in history. Here are four ways He does just that.
God Chose the Time and Place Your Child Would be Born
No matter what is currently happening in the world, God chose this specific time and place in history for your child to be born; in the same way, He chose you specifically to be a parent (Psalms 139:13-16). Nothing is accidental or coincidental about God’s timing or plan for your child. Nothing! Jesus reminded His disciples that, “even the hairs of your head are all counted,” (Matthew 10:30), and if God cares enough about our children to know even the tiniest details about, like the number of hairs on their head, how much more is He aware of everything they’ll encounter throughout their lives, in both the blessings and the struggles.
For example, Moses may have been uniquely chosen to deliver God’s people from slavery, but God’s plan for the deliverer didn’t end once the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. During the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, Moses was responsible for receiving and communicating God’s law to the people and transcribing that instruction into the first five instrumental books of the Bible, known as the Torah. Why is this noteworthy?
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the author of the Torah had spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence learning how to write in Egypt, the cultural epicenter of early written forms of communication? God would overcome Moses’ many shortcomings throughout his life, but in choosing Moses to write the Torah, God had also prepared him for the role well before he ever received the Ten Commandments. Again, nothing was accidental or coincidental about God’s plan for Moses. From the basket to the burning bush, God was writing the story.
Likewise, what would have been a truly terrifying experience for Esther to be taken away from her family to marry a pagan king eventually became the perfect opportunity to save God’s people. In Esther’s case, God had strategically placed Esther in a position of influence that could be used for tremendous good. As Esther’s uncle, Mordecai concluded, “if you keep silent at this time, liberation and rescue will arise for the Jews from another place, and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, emphasis added).
The point is, Moses and Esther weren’t born in ideal circumstances or happy times. Moses was born in slavery when the Pharaoh was systematically murdering children his age. Esther was born in captivity and taken from her family to marry a foreign king against her will. There was nothing good about the world they were born into. God, however, didn’t need a good world to do great things. His plan for them was greater than any negative, ugly, or messy situation the world could throw their way. The same is true for your child today.
What Others Meant for Evil, God Turns to Good
It’s hard to imagine many children having as dramatic and tumultuous a childhood as Joseph. As his father’s favorite son, Joseph went from a life of privilege to being sold into slavery by his own brothers. There he worked and gained favor with his master before being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by his master’s wife and thrown in prison. From great to bad to slightly better to notably worse, the guy just couldn’t seem to catch a break; and if anyone had a reason to be bitter or angry at God, it would be Joseph. And yet, Joseph never lost sight of the goodness of God even when his circumstances were far from good.
God would again elevate Joseph to a position of influence, this time, second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt, and there, in the most cinematic payoff imaginable, Joseph was given the power and opportunity to get his revenge on the very same brothers who had sold him into slavery. Instead, in their moment of desperation, Joseph chose to forgive those who had wronged him, recognizing what few would after a lifetime of betrayal and abuse. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to keep many people alive.’” (Genesis 50:19-20)
Few moments in Joseph’s life were easy or comfortable, and there are numerous examples of Joseph being wronged by those closest to him. However, instead of holding on to what others had done to him, he chose to focus on what God was doing for him. Sometimes we can’t see what God is doing in the painful or uncertain moments of life, but when we learn to keep our eyes on Him, we recognize that what others may intend for evil, God can overcome and even turn to good. He did it in Joseph’s life; He can do it in the lives of our children.
Learning from Our Example
In writing to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote to, “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14). From a young age, Timothy was trained and commissioned for ministry, and like most children, he learned by example, instruction, and imitation (Ephesians 5:1). Thankfully, he had a pretty good mentor and role model in Paul to guide him along the way. However, Timothy wasn’t the first child of God to learn from the example of those who had come before him.
- Before leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, Joshua spent years learning from the leadership of Moses.
- Before becoming king of Israel, Solomon had learned from the wisdom of his father David.
- Before taking up the mantel of prophet, Elisha had learned from the boldness of Elijah.
- When Josiah didn’t have a righteous father or grandfather to learn from, God provided His word and the example of righteous ancestors for him to follow, namely David.
- And the Twelve Disciples, though ordinary in every sense of the word, became extraordinary leaders only after years of walking in Jesus’s literal and spiritual footsteps.
God often surrounds our children with upright parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, pastors, and leaders to model the kind of behavior and character he wants them to adopt. Our children will hopefully learn from our mistakes. But they must also learn from our positive example and instruction (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), and nothing encourages a child to follow in Christ’s footsteps quite like a parent who’s doing it themselves.
Learning to Develop Small but Essential Disciplines
In teaching our children to become imitators of Christ, we also must help them develop the kinds of spiritual disciplines that build godly character and grow the kind of fruit God wants to see in their lives. Sometimes that involves actual discipline and reproval. Sometimes it means creating the right habits early. As a young man, Daniel was taken from his home and immediately thrown into a “re-education” program designed to indoctrinate him in the ways of Babylonian and purge him of his Jewish heritage. Many parents reading this fear a similar kind of cultural reprogramming and indoctrination that can happen in our current education system.
So how do we effectively train our children in the ways of the Lord when they are often being taught the complete opposite in school and on TV? How did Daniel do it? Prayer. From the beginning of his time in Babylon, Daniel kept himself set apart through the discipline of prayer and fasting. He rejected new cultural norms that broke from God’s commands and committed to holding onto the one thing that really mattered in his life, his unique relationship with the Father.
We don’t know what kind of relationship Daniel had with his parents, but the fact that he entered captivity with the discipline of prayer already firmly established might give us some clue as to what kind of disciplines he’d been taught prior to Babylon. Prayer gave Daniel the daily focus to see God when everything and everyone around him tried to steer him in the opposite direction. Even David, who would become a renowned warrior, military leader, and king, spent his early days learning the value of hard work as a humble shepherd. In his quiet moments, where most kids today would turn to their phones or tablets, David meditated on the wonders of God, praying and worshipping in his alone time.
Mary, when given the news that she would become the mother of God’s own son, the promised messiah, chose God’s acceptance and approval over anyone else’s. Only one opinion truly mattered. That was God’s. And when God finally answered Hannah’s prayer for a child, she immediately dedicated her son (Samuel) to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:28). Samuel, like many children of the Bible, served the Lord for the rest of his life, being taught to listen for God’s voice from a young age. It’s worth noting that Samuel was called at a young age but dedicated even younger.
No child is born under perfect circumstances. God, however, doesn’t need perfect circumstances to do incredible things in the lives of our children. Parents may wonder how they will ever find the wisdom or strength to raise upright children in such an upside-down world, but take heart! Not only has Christ overcome the world (John 16:33), He has a plan for your child that was set into motion long before they ever came into this world.
Times may be unpleasant, your child may experience as many ups and downs in life as Joseph, Moses, or Esther, but never forget that you were both chosen to be alive today for a specific reason. You may not understand that reason right now or know how your child’s story will play out, but in time, God’s perfect plan will be revealed. He will guide you, equip you, be with you and instruct you and your child in the days to come (Isaiah 54:13).
So pray for your children, instruct them in the ways of God, and trust that God will never abandon or let them go. As it is written, “for I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/myshkovsky
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.