The Bible explains that the children of Christian parents are holy and that God is calling them into a relationship with Him (Acts 2:39; 1 Corinthians 7:14). However, even with God's invitation, your children must personally choose to follow Jesus Christ. You may wonder what you can do now to encourage them to accept His call to live Christian lives. Here are several suggestions to consider.
1. Teach your children to love and revere God
The best way to help your children learn to love God is through your personal example. If your children see that you are in constant loving fellowship with Jesus Christ and obey Him at the expense of small sacrifices in your life, they'll likely desire to do the same. Conversely, if you rarely take time to study the Bible or pray, your children may feel that having a relationship with God is of little or no value.
Besides demonstrating a Christlike example, you can regularly discuss God and His nature with your child. Scripture tells us that parents have the responsibility not only to teach their children about their Creator, but to help them learn the importance of obeying His laws and revering Him (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
Additionally, be sure to talk often about all that God has done and continues to do. The Bible says we can even boast about Him (Psalm 34:2; 1 Corinthians 1:31). Highlight many of His qualities by pointing out the marvels of the natural world. You can also discuss how God provides your family's daily needs and how He has assisted you in miraculous ways. These actions can help your children comprehend that God is very real and that He blesses those who choose to honor and obey Him.
2. Give your children the vision of God's purpose for them
Your children need to see not only that God has a purpose for their lives, but that He will guide them into future success. Help them understand that they will receive greater blessings by following God than by leading a life without His involvement.
Make a point to show them not only that they can expect a promising future, but that life today can be rewarding and fulfilling (John 10:10).
This is important, for if your children feel that living a Christian life is only one of sacrifice with few immediate benefits, it will seem unattractive to them. While helping them enjoy life now, continue pointing them to the special future that awaits them in the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
3. Present Christianity in a positive light
We all know that even while striving to lead a Christian life, troublesome events occur from time to time. Be very careful about discussing negative situations in your children's presence that don't really concern them. This is because most children lack the maturity to accurately evaluate adverse events. If at all possible, discuss such circumstances with your spouse and friends in private.
If your child does learn about a particular problem, take the time to explain the situation in the most positive manner possible. Failing to do so could lead him or her to inaccurate conclusions. If negativity is emphasized, a child may begin to think that God is weak, powerless or even a myth. Explain that patiently waiting on God's help and intervention is vital and that there are many valuable lessons to be learned in the process.
If your children observe poor or sinful conduct in other Christians, help them understand that all Christians sin at times. Encourage them to pray for those who have fallen short and to trust that God will deal with the situation in a just and fair manner.
4. Teach the purpose and value of trials
God sometimes allows trials to correct and refine us. Children should be taught that such difficulties are meant not to discourage but to strengthen and help us to think and act more like Christ (James 1:2-4).
At times we can unintentionally discourage our children by describing troubles or missed opportunities we've encountered as a result of obeying God's laws.
For example, a parent might mention that he was passed over for a promotion at work because he wouldn't do something unethical. While it's understandable that a parent may be temporarily discouraged by such an event, a child might mistakenly conclude that God's way of obedience, patience and faith doesn't work. Always remember that your child needs to see that God's way of life brings greater success and happiness, but sometimes requires faith and patience on your part (Matthew 11:28-30).
In Romans 8:28 the apostle Paul stated that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Help your child understand this truth by discussing the stories of Joseph, Esther and other biblical personalities who successfully overcame difficulties with God's help. Teaching your children lessons like these can help them build spiritual faith and confidence.
5. Fulfill your children's physical, social and emotional needs
Children need to feel accepted and valued, and it's crucial for their spiritual and emotional development. Be sure to spend a lot of time talking and interacting with them in addition to caring for their physical, social and emotional needs.
Sometimes parents only correct for misbehavior and fail to give their children praise for accomplishments. Try hard to have the majority of your interactions positive. You can do this by actively looking for ways to positively reinforce good behavior.
As your children grow into their teen years they'll experience increased social requirements. Since their friends will gradually influence them more and more, it's important to give them many opportunities to interact with other teens from Christian homes.
To do this, however, you might need to give up some of your short-term personal goals. But sacrificing for your children will give you greater long-term blessings. Your sacrifices will also show them how truly loved and valued they are to you.
6. Honor God by disciplining your children
While it's important to make your children feel accepted and valued, they also have to understand that you won't allow bad or sinful behavior. In an attempt to please their children, some parents allow them to dishonor God by their actions. Teach your children godly principles of obedience to all of God's laws, including the Fifth Commandment to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12).
Lovingly discipline your children when they fall short. We find many scriptural admonitions to do so (Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 23:13-14; 1 Timothy 3:1-5). For example, the Bible tells the sobering story of Eli the priest who didn't correct his sons for their bad behavior. Eli honored his sons above God, which is sinful (1 Samuel 2:30; Matthew 10:37). In the end this led to both his and their demise (see 1 Samuel 2:12-36 thru 1 Samuel 3:1-18).
Parents who overlook sin or neglect discipline can cause damage to their child's character (Proverbs. 22:15; Romans 6:23). For example, if you fail to teach self-control your child may suffer penalties from lack of self-control throughout later life.
Teach your children that every decision and action has consequences. Help them understand the debilitating results of sin. As situations arise where you see the penalties of sin in other people's lives point these out to your child, without revealing names, unless it is a circumstance he or she already knows about. Such examples may help your child see that sin leads to bad results.
Create in your children the desire to obey God. For example, instead of just telling your son that he can't be involved in sports on the Sabbath, ask him if he loves God. If he answers that he does, remind him that God instructs us to observe the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest, and that it isn't for seeking our own pleasure (Isaiah 58:13).
Help him understand the lasting blessings of godly obedience compared to the temporary pleasure of playing sports on God's weekly Holy Day. And try and find him another activity that does not fall on the Sabbath, so he can learn to build a fulfilling life in line with God's law.
7. Guide and correct through loving parental authority
While parents should always encourage their children to voluntarily obey God, there will be times when they may be unwilling to do so.
To use the above example again, if your son insists on participating in sports on the Sabbath, you might have to use parental authority to keep him from doing so. However, determining how such a situation should be handled will be different in each family.
For instance, if your spouse is not a practicing Christian you may not be able to establish family Sabbath rules. Also, you may have just begun Sabbath observance yourself and your child has already been participating in Saturday sports activities. In these situations you may want to seek counsel with a minister of Christ on how to best proceed. (Contact the United Church of God, which publishes The Good News, to be put in contact with a minister near you.)
8. Help your children discern for themselves
Your children will need help dealing with scientific theories like evolution. Widespread concepts like this can lead to the faulty conclusion that God is a myth. You should take the time to discuss the biblical account of creation with your children and answer any questions they may have to help them reach an understanding that God is very real.
It's important for you to know what they're being taught so you can help them by giving factual, scientific research and information revealing the many inconsistencies and falsehoods of evolutionary theory. A wealth of information is available on the Good News magazine website to help you in this important task.
Ultimately your children will have to develop their own personal faith in God. Until they mature spiritually, make it a point to help them find and sort through scientific findings that clearly disprove defective concepts and ideas.
9. Trust God to help you with your children
Preparing your children to follow Christ is a challenging yet rewarding responsibility. You have the wonderful opportunity not only to explain but to demonstrate God's way of life. Remember that no parent can be successful without God's help. Ask Him regularly in prayer to guide and direct you. Each child is unique, and God will lead you in the way to best help him or her.
If, however, your child decides to lead a secular life after reaching adulthood, don't beat yourself up over it. Although you might have done everything possible as a parent, the fact is that you can't ultimately control what happens to your child. Many variables will influence his or her decisions throughout life, and many will be out of your control.
In this case it's important to realize that God fully knows what has occurred. Ask Him in prayer to continue guiding your child. Place the situation in His capable hands and wait patiently and faithfully as He works with your child in His good time.