I once attended a parenting seminar where the speaker asked parents, “What is your ultimate goal in raising your children?”
How would you answer that question?
Some people in the group gave very noble and biblical answers, like, “I want my kids to grow up to know and love the Lord.” Others desired that their children would get a decent job, have a nice family, and be happy.
We all want the very best for our kids, don’t we?
The problem, however, comes when society muddles the definition of what ‘the very best’ really means when it comes to our kids.
Let’s consider some ways that well-intentioned, Christian parents today are missing the point.
What’s the point?
First, it would be appropriate to determine why we and our kids are even here in the first place.
In Isaiah 43:7, the Lord refers to “… everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Notice God says, “... whom I created for my glory.” He did not say, “whom I created for personal happiness and success in the world.” So, my greatest hope for my child should be for him to glorify God. Similarly, the way I love, rebuke, encourage and guide my child should bring glory to God as well.
If we have been made for the glory of God, how can we change our thinking and behavior to reflect that desire?
Sadly, other priorities and values are revealed even in the most subtle of exchanges.
What priorities are you communicating?
Several years ago, my mom visited me in Cape Town and bought me an ostrich egg lamp. The lamp was very special to me, and lasted a long time displayed on a bookshelf in our living room – until one day, when my kids were playing with a beach ball in the house. Of course the ball hit the only breakable thing in the room, and down went the ostrich egg lamp into countless pieces.
I was obviously upset, but I remember in that moment realizing I had a choice to make. I could have easily let my anger boil over in harsh words to my children. By doing so, however, I would’ve been silently communicating to them that the lamp was more valuable to me than my relationship with them. Instead, I’m grateful the Lord caught my tongue and helped me to express grace and forgiveness rather than rage.
It hasn’t always been that way, though. Too many times, I’ve spoken harshly to my kids for silly things, like damaging a dining room table that has been in the family for decades. Whenever this has happened, I’ve had to repent and ask their forgiveness, acknowledging the fact that it’s just a table. I’ve had to realign my perspective toward an eternal one, acknowledging aloud that I certainly won’t be taking the table to heaven with me!
I share these stories to demonstrate how easy it is to reveal our priorities to our children. Am I more concerned with preserving material things, or my relationship with them?
These priorities can be revealed in any number of ways.
Author Tedd Tripp gives the example of a child who has lied to his parents. A natural tendency might be to say, “Don’t lie, because then your friends won’t like you, and people won’t trust you.”
Without trying, this response teaches children to fear man rather than God. It tells them that what other people think is more important than what God thinks.
Instead, we should be saying, “Don’t lie, because God hates it and it doesn’t bring glory to Him. Don’t lie, because Satan is the father of lies, and when you lie, you’re speaking his native language instead of honoring the Lord.”
Consider another common example. Have you ever said the following to your kids?
“If you don’t work hard at school now, you might not get in to college. I’m teaching you not to be lazy so you can grow up and get a good job.”
While college and future employment are good goals to aspire to, they should not be our primary motivation. The ultimate goal should be to honor God with the gifts and strength He has granted us, and to desire to serve for His glory.
Even students in Christian schools have succumbed to the temptation. The primary concern, often, is to get good grades ... a pressure usually imposed by the Christian parents themselves. We may send our kids to Christian schools so they’ll be influenced positively, but we still pressure them to get the best grades. We measure their success on test results, and not on personal spiritual growth or godly character development.
Don’t get me wrong – academic excellence is important, and a noble desire. But it should be secondary to the desire for growth in holiness and godliness. Christian schools that emphasize the development of Christian character and spiritual maturity over and above academic excellence, while still maintaining high educational quality, are doing a good work and a valuable service to their students.
How can we avoid missing the point?
As Tedd Tripp says in a talk entitled, “Heart of Behavior,” it’s easy for parents to manipulate behavior without dealing with the heart. In doing so, we often magnify unhelpful qualities. We can (knowingly or unintentionally) teach them to be motivated by guilt, pride, self-love, fear of man, etc. – but the only thing that can transform the heart is the grace and power of the gospel.
The goal is not to create legalistic, moralistic, perfectionist children. The goal is to develop in our children a genuine love for the Lord and His ways, and a desire to serve and honor Him in all that we do.
One way to help children understand what it means to bring glory to God is to highlight examples of their own behavior in a positive way. For example, if your son helped his sister clean up a mess he didn’t make, you could say to him, “Well done. The way you just served your sister brings glory to God.” Point out real-life examples of ways to give God glory.
While we ought to be striving to teach our children what it means for them to bring glory to God and how they can do so, I would be remiss to neglect the importance of parents to be cultivating the same desire for themselves in their own hearts.
For example, last week I discovered an offense that one of my children had committed. My initial reaction was one of anger, and I spoke to him harshly. Afterwards, I had to go back to him in repentance and acknowledge my wrong. I told him his offense didn’t bring glory to God, but neither did my anger. I asked for his forgiveness, and he graciously granted it.
Tedd Tripp highlights the importance of parents demonstrating humility and repentance to their children when it is needed. Parents who show that they’re not perfect and can relate to the problem of sin will likely have more receptive children.
As we face the hourly challenges of parenthood, may we continually be asking ourselves, “What is my goal here?” And may the answer always be at the forefront of our minds: “My ultimate goal, by the grace of God, is to bring Him glory.”
May God help each of us to give Him all the glory in everything that we do.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” - 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Kate Motaung is the wife of a South African pastor and homeschooling mom of three. She has contributed to Ungrind, Radiant Magazine, (in)Courage, StartMarriageRight.com, Thriving Family, MOPS and Young Disciple magazine. You can read more from Kate at her blog, Heading Home or on Twitter @k8motaung.