Beyond the Sermon: Reaching the Next Generation

I left church last Sunday energized by Pastor Ken’s perspective-changing sermon on reaching the next generation. God had put it on my heart to write last week’s blog post about some of the things Pastor Ken had just preached about, and I was excited to go home and truly see the God-given potential in my children. I was ready to parent with renewed purpose. This was going to be a good week!

But then, the weekend ended.

On Monday, a note came home from school outlining some problematic behaviours at school. On Tuesday, our family evening quickly devolved into tantrums, fighting, and chaos. By Tuesday night, with my kids finally in bed an hour behind schedule, I was in tears, all of my excitement gone. I could no longer see my kids’ potential over all of the behaviours that needed to be addressed, and the piles of toys that needed putting away. I began my week with high hopes of what God would do in our kids’ lives as we nurtured and prayed over them with renewed intensity, but only two days later, I felt like I was back to a mere survival state.

For those of us with children or young people in your lives, I hope your week went smoother than mine, but if any of this rings true, take comfort from this:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

In the past, I mistakenly would use this verse to fuel the motherly self-condemnation that ran through my mind at the end of weeks like this one. If I was truly training them up in the way they should go, then these behaviours wouldn’t happen, right? But then I focused on the word train. If we’ve ever driven behind a student driver, or waited in a checkout line run by a cashier in training, we’ve (hopefully) shown them extra grace. Why? They’re in training! We naturally don’t expect perfection from someone still learning the basics of their job, because if they knew everything already, they wouldn’t need the training in the first place. Mistakes are to be expected during the training process. If we can show grace and patience to someone who’s new to the job, we need to be able to show even more grace to our children, who are new to this life and have more to learn than any trainee. But if we are persistent, taking every opportunity to lovingly correct our children when their ways deviate from God’s, the bible has an amazing promise for us – they will not depart from the path we set them on, even when they’re old.

What a promise! And what a responsibility. The strengths we encourage in them, the prayer life we model, the words and actions we speak over them and the limits we set can form a path that will influence the direction of their lives. I have put a great deal of prayer, time and energy into trying to teach my children the path that they should follow, only to feel discouraged when they put a foot off of that path. I have responded with all sorts of consequences and warnings. It’s as though we line our paths with pylons, warning our children not to knock them down. But our children, like brand new bike riders, are still learning to steer. We haven’t failed if they knock over a pylon. Our job is to patiently turn them in the way they should go, until they know how to do it themselves. I am so thankful that when I stray from the path, God deals with me mercifully, and guides me back again. I want to show my kids the same mercy and guidance.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

If we follow the example of our heavenly Father, then we need to patiently guide and teach our children how to find and follow the narrow road to everlasting life in Jesus, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We may turn to the right or left, but God will help us return to His way, and we need to follow His example. When our children make mistakes, get into trouble or sin, we can take comfort that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Even these challenging behaviours can be a learning opportunity for our children. God can work through our loving correction to teach our kids lessons they will carry with them all their lives. 1 Corinthians 16:14 tells us to “do everything in love.” The next time my children need correcting, I’ll be sure to pray that I will act out of love, and rely on God to work in their hearts as I trust Him.

Raising children, especially those who are still in the early stages of being trained up in the way they should go, can be an exhausting job at times. But how exciting to remember what we learned this Sunday, that young people, especially those between the ages of 4 and 14, are the most receptive to the Gospel of any other group. The work may be difficult, but the harvest is worth it.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

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