20 years ago I was absolutely convinced that if I truly loved the Lord, truly loved my wife, spent quality and quantity time with my kids and consistently led family devotions around the dinner table all 5 of my children would eventually grow up to embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
I would have put the odds at 99% or better.
Afterall, the studies I had read said that the young people who were falling away frequently cited the unreality of their parents’ faith as a major contributing factor in their apostasy. They said that mom and dad were fakes. They went to church but didn’t really believe. Therefore, I reasoned, if that wasn’t true of me – if I was a real, authentic Christian – then my children would love and follow Jesus too.
Many of those same young people pointed to the bad marriages of their “believing” parents as proof of the unreality of the Christian faith.
My wife and I have been blessed with a great marriage! We love each other, enjoy each other, we hardly ever fight and we regularly express appropriate affection in front of the children – too regularly and not always appropriately, according to some – so again, I was assuming that we were doing all the right things and therefore could expect all the results that we were hoping and praying to see.
And I spend time with the kids – lots of time! I coached their soccer teams and went to dance recitals and saved up for family vacations. We wrestled on the floor and played chess. I taught them how to ride their bikes. If I wasn’t at the church I was at home with the kids. I regularly asked my wife if she thought I was spending enough time and the right kind of time with the children and she always said that I was.
So I had that box checked off as well.
And then there was family devotions. We read the Bible, we prayed – we even SANG! I read a quote once by Charles Spurgeon who said:
“I agree with Matthew Henry when he says: ‘They that pray in the family do well. They that pray and read the Scriptures do better. But they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.’”
If you can’t trust Charles Spurgeon quoting Matthew Henry then who in this world can you trust? We did all those things – assuming that we were going above and beyond – and therefore believing that we could reasonably expect all our children to grow up and follow Jesus.
But I’m not sure I believe what I use to believe about parenting.
I’m not saying that any of those things were wrong – on the contrary – I think they were all right and helpful and good – and we’re still doing all of them – but, I am aware now of a few things that I had failed to adequately account for in my early thoughts and convictions about parenting.
What I Missed:
20 years ago I’m not sure I really understood the viciousness and ruthlessness of Satan. Until you are protecting little minds and steering little souls you don’t really feel the strength of the winds of culture. You don’t taste and sample the poison in the air.
But now I know.
I know – experientially – that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
Seeking my kids to devour.
I feel that now.
I live that reality every day.
I feel like I am on 24 hour watch against his incursions into our house. He comes at my kids through the internet – through YouTube kids! – through cell phones, through friends, through the school system – through EVERYTHING! There is no break, there are no holidays and there doesn’t appear to be much of a leash anymore, at least not one that I can see.
It feels like the devil’s chain has been lengthened and he is using the full extent of his permission to harass and seduce my children.
I hadn’t really reckoned on that when I first started parenting, but I see it now. I think about it and I pray about it all the time.
I also don’t think that I had fully wrestled with the sinfulness of sin – mine or theirs. Kids come out so cute and innocent looking. We can forget for a while that:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
Human beings have an incredible capacity for self-deception. Kids can suppress the truth in wickedness with the best of them. 20 years ago I honestly thought that if I told my children the truth and showed my children the truth then they would see it, believe it and embrace it without much difficulty or equivocation.
I failed to understand how frequently my sin obscures my presentation and how often their sin obscures their observation.
It took me a while to really believe in the doctrine of total depravity – but I’m there now. I believe it for me and I believe it for them. Sin makes it hard to see and savor Jesus.
But thankfully – right alongside of these potentially devastating discoveries – I have also come to understand and delight in the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. I’m not sure how I ever missed it. There is hardly a page in the Bible that doesn’t explore and exposit that magnificent theme. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians says:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6 ESV)
When I first started parenting in the 1990’s I wasn’t singing from that song sheet.
And that’s why I felt like I had to do everything right.
I assumed that it would be about me.
I didn’t realize that God had begun planning the salvation of my children from before the foundation of the world.
Realizing that tends to take some of the weight off your shoulders as a parent.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that our children are not responsible for the decisions that they make – of course they are. The doctrines of God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility are often presented side by side in the pages of Scripture. Peter’s Pentecost sermon comes immediately to mind:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22–23 ESV)
According to Peter, Jesus died just as God had Sovereignly ordained for him to die. And yet, at the same time, he was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
God was responsible AND the leaders in Jerusalem were responsible.
I’m not entirely sure how those truths go together but it is clear from my reading of the Bible that they do.
Applied to parenting this means that ultimately, God is responsible for saving our children. He will have to go first. He will have to do what only he can do. Only he can open blind eyes. Only he can soften a hard heart. Only he can raise the dead.
If our kids are saved it will be a miracle of God!
And yet – our kids are responsible for their actions and decisions.
They can turn away from the truth and pursue worthless things. If that wasn’t so then there wouldn’t be so many “if” statements in the Bible.
But there are.
The Epistle To The Hebrews is full of them:
“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:14–15 ESV)
People can turn away from the good things to which they have been graciously exposed. Young people can suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
That’s why two parents – who love Jesus and each other – can raise 3, 4 or 5 kids the same way, some of whom grow up to love and follow Jesus and some of whom do not.
Because God is Sovereign and people are responsible.
I’m not sure I had really reckoned with those truths when I first started parenting.
Where I’ve Landed:
So where does that leave me?
Doing most of the same things but in different ways and for different reasons.
I still love Jesus and I try very hard to invite my children into my personal faith. I try to talk to them as much as I can about how I see the Lord and how I’ve experienced his goodness and power in my life.
I think that matters.
And I still love their mother.
We are a team and we enjoy each other today even more than we did when we first got married.
And I still spend time with the kids. Probably more now than 20 years ago.
And we still read the Bible, pray and sing at the supper table.
We do all of those things – not because I think that any of those things will “make” my children love Jesus, but because I think they are right things, good things and beautiful things for us to do as a family. They are ordinary means – and God typically uses ordinary means whenever he chooses to do gracious and miraculous things.
I still expect my children to love and serve the Lord.
But now I expect it not because of what I am doing, but because of who God is.
He is good.
He loves us.
He loves our kids.
And he does not desire for any to perish.
I expect to be in the parenting business for the rest of my natural life. Sin makes everything harder and slower and the devil appears to be working overtime. But if my reading of the Bible has convinced me of anything it is that God knows how to awaken sinners. He knows how much rope to give to those who are straying. He knows whether to wound or woo. He knows how to poison the wells and how to undermine our false foundations. He knows when to give us what we want – and when not to. He knows how to wall up every false way and he knows how to expose every lie and deception we have chosen to believe in.
God is really good at this whole God thing.
He’s working a plan.
I have a part to play – but it’s way far down in the credits.
So I will pray.
I will make good use of my ordinary means.
I will watch.
But I expect that when God saves my kids all of what I have done will fade into insignificance. He will have done the heavy lifting. He will be the hero of their story. And I will stand weeping and watching from the sidelines.
So let it be.
And may God alone be glorified!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Happy Duty of Daily Praise,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Volume 32 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1886), 32: 289.