Series: I am going to spend the next few weeks blogging my thoughts about Paul David Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity. I want to encourage all parents and youth workers to read this book and glean from Tripp as he lays out a Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens.
It has been said lately that family in America is under attack. There is much truth to this statement as we can see the carnage all around our communities. Perhaps the foundation of this catastrophe lies in the fact that many have lost the definition of family. Family was intended to be more than just a group of people living under the same roof. Family has a specific function in the world. When we lose sight of this particular purpose our homes can easily become nothing more than a place for denizens. We must get back to the biblical design for the family in order for it to function properly. This begins with us as parents. We cannot assume that our children will behave if we don’t understand what our role in their lives must be. Simply put, our role in their lives is to biblically inform and prepare with intentionality. The first problem is that so few of us actually have a plan for this. Paul David Tripp says it plainly, “that most parents are more organized, more intentional, better researched, and more goal-oriented when planning their vacations than they are in raising their children.” Now that we’ve had our teeth kicked in let us move on to a better understanding of how our families should operate.
We must first begin with the all important understanding that the family is GOD’s primary learning community. This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 6.4-9. I believe that GOD outlines two avenues for us to biblically inform and prepare our children here. One is a formal training, while the other is informal. This formal training refers to specific times set aside for informing our children about GOD’s truth. This may look like a family worship time or a devotional time at the breakfast table. The text also describes an informal setting as we are commanded to teach our children as we walk by the way. I see this as biblically informing them as we go about our day, as situations arise, we insert biblical truths into their lives. These moments are unplanned and usually the most effective. Both of these avenues for communicating GOD’s truth are imperative for preparing our children with a biblical worldview. This great task falls primarily on the parents to make sure that the family functions as a learning environment. We must use every moment, every problem, every conflict, every question, every joy and every sorrow to biblically prepare them.
As a Communication major in college, one of the first things that I learned in my class work was that in order to effectively communicate, you must know your audience. Therefore in order to biblically inform and prepare our children, we must first understand them. There are three apparent things about children that we must take note of in order to effectively inform and prepare them biblically. These three things are that children were created for a relationship with GOD, that they are natural interpreters and that their behavior flows out the heart.
First, children were created for a relationship with GOD. They were made to know, love, serve and obey Him. We have all been created like this. If we are not loving, serving and obeying GOD, then our hearts will quickly find something or someone else to love, serve and obey. This is worship. Every person is a worshiper. The question we must answer is what do they worship. This is easy to detect through observance. We must take notice of the things that they do, what they desire, the choices they make, the relationships they pursue – these are all indications of where their worship is directed. Our children, like us, will worship and serve GOD or they will worship and serve something else. Those are the only options; see Romans 1.18-32 for proof.
Secondly, children are natural interpreters. This means that children will in fact make assessments and conclusions about life, right or wrong. GOD says that there is a right way and a wrong way to think about life, and that whatever you think about life will shape the way you act. You may want to read that statement again to grasp the weight of it. It’s saying that if our children think incorrectly about the things of life, this will cause them to act out in a way that is harmful to them and even worse, unpleasing to the LORD. For instance, I have dealt with so many students that have naturally interpreted their life circumstances as being that no one loved them, including GOD. These students had incorrectly interpreted the pain in their life and determined that they were unloved by all of those around them. This false interpretation led them to accept a pseudo-love in place of an agape love, which they so desperately needed. This is just one common scenario. The way that we combat this is to do everything we can to get our children to think out loud. This will allow us to see their thought pattern and correct any kind of erroneous interpretations that they might have derived. This happened to me recently with my three year old son. I was busy in the kitchen and had my back to him. Unaware that he was sitting right behind me, I accidently stepped on him. My mind was focused on my task at hand and so I didn’t think much of it at first. I then turned around to find him walking away slowly with his lower lip sticking out. I then engaged him, telling him that I was sorry that I stepped on him. That didn’t seem to help much. I then asked him, why he was so sad and what was he thinking. He gave me his interpretation of the event, that I intentionally hurt him and was ignoring him. I quickly corrected the misunderstanding and gave him some attention and love and we went on to have a good time that evening. That is a simple story but it displays the importance of allowing your children to reveal how they interpret things. This is vitally important as it allows you to insert truth into flawed thinking. We must biblically inform our children. This is done by inserting the Word of GOD. Study 2 Timothy 3.16-17 for more on how this is done. Without the truth of GOD’s Word, we cannot interpret life properly.
The final thing to understand is that children’s behavior flows out of their heart. So many people miss this and strive towards the goal of getting their children to do what is right. Many accomplish this through control tactics that are tiresome, unloving and have only short term effects. I am not saying that students don’t need boundaries, as they desperately do! But these boundaries are not our end goal, they may function as a means to an end, but never the end. The goal remains that they have hearts for the LORD. After all, the thoughts and motives of the heart shape the way people act. Matthew 12.34 says this best, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” It’s simple math really, right beliefs plus good desires equals right behavior. It is your responsibility to instill these right beliefs straight from the Scriptures. This is the easy part. The hard part is constantly seeking our children’s hearts to ensure that they have good and righteous desires. Their nature, like ours will not be for good and righteous things. This is where we make war for them. We fight for them. We love them. We shepherd them. This is not easy or comfortable, but parenting was never promised to be so. This is the family that GOD has intended for us to be.