"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)
As parents, we often think we are missing the mark when it comes to raising our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Maybe it's just me who thinks this, but I don't think so. In once sense, we are of course. We're all sinners, and we all we fail to be intentional with the time the Lord gives us. But I think it's equally possible that we've become too introspective and that we're missing what God is already up to in the hearts of our kids.
Aiming at Heart Transformation
When our focus is on "getting our parenting right" we can forget what our real aim is. It's easy to aim at imparting information to our kids, but that's not our goal. It's also easy to use the Bible to get our kids to behave. But if we're aiming to win our kids' hearts to Christ, then "getting it right" is less important. In fact, if our kids are going to see their need for Jesus' good news, they'll also need to see how desperately we, their parents, need him.
I probably need the truth of this post more than anyone I know. I'm much better at aiming at my kids' behavior than I am at being vulnerable and sharing my own brokenness and need. It's an attempt to bring about a spiritual outcome without living in dependance upon the Spirit myself. It won't work. It can't. We must be growing in our own faith and repentance. That's the only way to lead our kids to greater experiences of dependence as well. We can't expect something of them that isn't true of us.
Living with Intentionality and Faithfulness
We're all desperate to hear the message of Christ's cross and resurrection applied to our brokenness every day, and that leads to my second point. Our kids need to see us live out this desperation intentionally and faithfully. That is, they need to see it more than just on Sunday. They need to see their parents studying God's Word and crying out in prayer. Our kids need to experience us repenting of sin, especially when we've sinned against them. They need to see us valuing our church community and modeling service. Why? Because being desperate for Jesus is easier caught than taught.
This kind of everyday gospel parenting requires a level of intentionality. As Dallas Willard wrote, "Grace isn't opposed to effort. It's opposed to earning." We must be intentional with practicing the means of grace for our own personal devotion. And we must be intentional with family devotion, our living room proclamation of the good news. Develop habits and rhythms that work for your hectic schedule, and, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, also for the families you lead.
It’s important, because transformation will only come when our kids see the goodness and greatness of God (Ps. 100:5; 112:2). Don't lose heart (1 Cor. 4:1-6). Be encouraged and energized. You can live the gospel life before your kids. In fact, I believe that you will, because he gives us his strength and power in the midst of our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). You might be surprised to notice that he's already at work.