For the past 5 months, I’ve been working in a third world country dealing with violence, malaria and frequent bouts with food poisoning. Skype and texting keeps me connected to my family but I’m not present daily to influence and mentor my children. That being said, my kids have had a remarkable spiritual journey over the past few months even though I was not there guiding them.
One of the parenting principles that I am adamant about is exposing our kids to the gospel and faith but not forcing the timing or fruit of the spirit. I know parents who have walked their kids down the aisle at church when they were 5 years old and asked the little ones to give their hearts to Christ. The kids say yes, of course and the parents rejoice! Only God and the child truly know if they accepted Christ or not but I’m always skeptical. I wonder if the child really understood that they were freely accepting Christ by grace or were they simply trying to make mom, dad, grandma, etc. happy in the excitement of the moment?
As a result of this skepticism and my own false-positive experience, we’ve always made it a point to expose our children to the faith, the gospel, and modeling a walk with Christ but we’ve never asked our kids to give their hearts to Christ or spent a lot of time on Christine doctrine.
To many people, this is backwards approach to faith. Most people learn Christian doctrine through stories, Bible studies, etc. and then come to some sort of faith decision at some point in their lives. My wife and I’s approach to faith with our kids was to model a Christian life, rather than preach or make them study it, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives when they were ready according with God’s plan.
I’ve said in the past that my kids cannot quote you the scripture of the story of the “Good Samaritan” but I’ve seen them many times stop and help those in need, give their own money to the poor or stand up for those being bullied. It’s the difference between living your faith versus knowing about faith.
J.I. Packer puts it eloquently by stating “There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God.”
Pastor Andy Stanley writes that many Christians today take an academic approach to faith like it’s a college course you study for and then Christians falsely equate Biblical knowledge with spiritual maturity. Many churches and parents take this approach in assuming that the more head knowledge you have on God, the greater your relationship with Him. I happen to agree more with Stanley, who states that the true measure of spiritual maturity is evidenced in the daily action in one’s life and a person’s trust in God and His plan.
I have a lot of friends who have left the faith with a lot of head knowledge about God, they can quote scripture back and forth, but they never had a relationship with Christ. They learned the stories, doctrine, and practiced the rituals of religion but never experienced authentic faith. As I wrote about before, sadly many Christians today are learning religion not faith.
This summer, both my kids gave their hearts to Christ, of their own free will, and without my wife or I present. They were at summer camp and the Holy Spirit moved in their lives and compelled them. Two weeks later, they were both in the Appalachian Mountains helping those in need on a mission’s trip and again the Spirit moved in their lives. My daughter, who has had some anxiety issues for a few years, learned to take her fear and her weakness and cry out to God for help. She learned the power of prayer and that even when we feel scared and weak; God will protect us and bring us through the storms of life. Both my kids were moved by the trip but my daughter came out of that week with a new-found faith that can only be obtained through experience and trust in God. My son learned this lesson a year earlier in Gettysburg.
As a parent, I’d love to take a victory lap and say it was all those years of hard work and modeling but I know this is false. God had a plan long before I did; God has his own timeline and all my best intentions as a parent cannot override His work.
As parents we need to remember this lesson. We all want our kids to come to know Christ, we all want our kids to experience the fruit of the Spirit but we cannot force it. If you want your children to experience authentic faith in their lives, we cannot rush God’s plan or supersede the work of the Holy Spirit.