Reaching the Souls of my Children
By LESLIE LUDY
Eric and I have been in ministry for about twenty years now. A good part of those twenty years have been spent discipling young adults and training them how to be grounded in the Word of God and firmly planted in the Gospel. We have worked with thousands of young people who grew up in Christian homes and learned the basics of biblical thinking and godly character from their parents. But a large majority of them were never truly discipled in their Christian faith. As a result, they are often struggling with doubts, habitual sins, and extreme frustration in their spiritual walk now that they are older.
Seeing this pattern over and over again has made me very passionate about discipling my own children in these early years, while they are still young and fresh in their faith. But I have realized firsthand that discipling my children in the gospel isn’t as easy as it sounds! Sure, it’s fairly easy to read them Bible stories and help them memorize Scripture. And it’s not super-difficult to pass along basic biblical morals to them (i.e. be kind to your siblings, don’t lie, don’t steal, etc). However, reaching my children with truth in a way that touches their soul and changes them from the inside out is the ultimate goal. And as a parent, it can be challenging to know exactly how to accomplish this.
Being around conservative Christian circles for the past twenty years has reminded me how important it is to get to the souls of my children, and not just deal with their outward behavior. I have observed many Christian families who appeared exemplary on the outside — the children were respectful in public, they knew how to sit still in church, they were diligent in their studies, and their homes seemed to run like clockwork. Yet when the children grew older, they rebelled. Often, they left the Christian faith altogether. Why? Because they had been given the mechanics of Christianity, but not the engine or fuel that makes it actually work.
Many studies have been done that prove a large majority of kids who grow up in Christian homes have left the faith by the time they graduate from college. As a mother, my greatest desire is for my children to be so passionately in love with Jesus Christ and so firmly planted in the gospel that their faith will remain unshakable once they become adults and leave home. I know that this can only be accomplished by God’s supernatural work of grace in my kids’ hearts. But I also know that, as a parent, I have been given the sacred task of leading my little ones to Him, and teaching them how to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
All of my children have made the decision to give their lives to Jesus. (For more about how my husband and I shared the gospel and walked through the salvation process with them, see my book, Set Apart Motherhood.)
For the next several years comes the challenging part. They must be trained, discipled, and firmly planted in the Gospel life.
As Amy Carmichael wrote, “We knew that we could not expose our children to certain influences until New Testament convictions and New Testament attitudes toward life in general had become part of them, something that could not be torn out or laughed out of them.”
That is exactly where I’m at in the discipleship process — seeking to make the gospel so much a part of who my kids are that it cannot be torn or laughed out of them later in life.
Here are some of the practical steps I’ve been taking to accomplish this goal:
1. Live it Out
I wrote in Set Apart Motherhood about the importance of teaching children by my example, not just by my words:
“When it comes to training their children in honorable behavior, many mothers over-teach and under-model. A well-known quote goes something like this: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” My words of instruction to my kids should be merely icing on the cake, a reinforcement of what they see me living out every moment of every day. What a high and serious calling this is!
Romans 2:21 presents a poignant challenge to every parent: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?”
Having children has helped me maintain spiritual sharpness. Everything I teach them, I must also teach myself. Everything I expect them to live, I must also live out consistently. So even though it’s a little like living in a fish bowl, having those little eyes constantly upon my life is also a great blessing, because it reminds me to live a life “worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1).
Long and short, I cannot expect my children to have a vibrant, passionate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ if I am not cultivating the same thing in my own life. They need to see me excited about the gospel, not merely talking to them about the gospel out of duty or obligation.
In her book The Shaping of a Christian Home, Elisabeth Elliot wrote about her father’s passion for Scripture, and how it impacted her and her siblings while they were growing up:
“My father did not push us to prayer, he led us … there was no hypocrisy on his part to pull the rug out from under what he tried to teach us. He believed what he said. We could not have doubted that. He lived by it.”
2. Tackle the Spiritual Issues
Whenever I see one of my children habitually demonstrating an ungodly behavior, I have found that it’s important to deal with the issue straight on — not just from a “behavior modification” standpoint, but also from a spiritual standpoint. For instance, my son should certainly receive a consequence for tattling on his younger brother, but it’s also important that I also have a heart-to-heart chat with him about where he is at spiritually. I need to be asking him questions such as, “What is going on in your heart right now that you are you trying to get your brother in trouble? Are you feeling anger or jealousy toward him? Is this attitude pleasing to Christ? Why not? What needs to change in your heart toward your brother right now? Who can give you the strength to love your brother instead of harm him?”
Walking through this process with my child ensures that I’m dealing with the root issues and not just the surface ones.
In Set Apart Motherhood, I wrote about the importance of reminding my children of their position in Christ, and the power they have over sin:
“As they are newly planted in Christ, our children need to learn the principle of reckoning themselves ‘dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’—the concept of the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ (Rom. 6:8-13). When Eric and I see a sinful behavior pattern surfacing in their lives, we will often ask our kids where ‘old Kipling’ or ‘old Harper’ is. We remind them that their ‘old man’ is dead and buried, and that they are now ‘new Kipling’ or ‘new Harper’ who is in Christ Jesus. In their new position ‘in Christ,’ they have the power to ‘reckon [themselves] dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 6:11).
This may sound like a complicated truth for preschoolers to grasp, but we have found that our kids truly do ‘get it.’ They are aware of the difference between their ‘old’ and ‘new’ man. The old man has no ability to overcome sin. But now that they have been made new, old behavior patterns no longer have to control them. Through Christ, they have been given the power to choose right behavior over sin. When we remind them of these truths often, we see an incredible difference in the way they live. This doesn’t mean we have perfect children. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!) But they are beginning to understand that sin no longer needs to have power over them.”
I have found that this kind of purposeful discipleship is critical for the souls of my children—applying the principles of the gospel to every struggle they face, and teaching them how to wield their position in Christ for a lifestyle of victory over sin.
Note: if you feel a little “rusty” in understanding your own position in Christ and power of the gospel, I encourage you to listen to the messages In Christ and The Carpet Bag Gospel, available at www.ellerslie.com.
3. Help them Know Jesus
It’s easy to teach our children a lot about Jesus, but fail to help them build a daily, personal relationship with Him. However, when our kids’ faith flows from an intimate relationship with Christ (rather than just a set of biblical morals), they are far more likely to remain rooted in Him even as they grow older. Eric and I help facilitate a daily “quiet time” for each of our kids, where they can spend time with Christ, praying, studying the Word, and listening to His voice. Even though some of our kids are a bit too young to read consistently, we have found that putting on an audio Bible followed by worship music is a great way to help them fall in love with the Word of God and spend time meditating on Christ. They each have journals in which we encourage them to write down (or draw pictures of) prayers that are on their hearts, truths they are learning from God’s Word, and things they feel His Spirit speaking to their hearts. Whenever they have attended a Biblical teaching time (at home or at church) we try to ask them questions such as, “What did you feel God speaking to your heart through the lesson today?” Rather than just, “What was the lesson about?”
When I remember that relationship with Christ — not just understanding about Christ — is my ultimate goal for my children, it helps me continually remain on the lookout for ways to point their hearts back to Him!