B - Breathe Image
You must establish your child's identity in God's image. Loving and caring for our children is a natural impulse for most parents, but helping them establish a godly identity is very much a matter of choice. Children need structure and discipline to enter into God's ways and take on His image, and this requires the structure and discipline of ourselves first.
Solomon says that parents need to be like warriors pointing our children like arrows towards a firm target, which is godliness (Psalms 127:4-5).
Paul, the Apostle, says, "Bring them (children) up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Note that this is not just any discipline or instruction, but the type that comes from, and leads one to the Lord.
Parents can do this consciously in a variety of ways:
Lead by godly example
My mother smoked, I began to smoke; my father drank alcohol every day, I began to drink alcohol; my parents went to nightclubs as entertainment, I began to hang around in these type of places as well. When I became a Christian, however, I had to unlearn (repent) these habits in order to live the godly life I had been called on to live as a Christian.
If you, the parent, pursue a godly image, your children will follow. Children can be taught theory about godliness from Sunday school or Christian summer camp, but they learn the practical side of godly living from watching you, the parent. The old saying is still true today, "Children don't do what you say, they do what you do."
Establish godly traditions
It is amazing to note that while they were in the desert, the Jews' entire life experience revolved around their worship of God: preparing sacrifices daily, moving and reassembling the tabernacle, feasts, prayer times, teaching, and the Sabbath each week to mention a few of their religious responsibilities. These were given in order to chip away at the sinful shell that living in a pagan land for four centuries had produced, and mold a people into a godly nation.
The work of breathing a godly image into our children is similar in approach. On a daily basis we mold them with rules and discipline according to biblical principles and morals; speaking the truth in love; disciplining in fairness without anger; affirming their individual personality and unique spiritual gifts; and encouraging personal devotion and prayer, just to name a few. Little by little, the tedious everyday work of molding them into spiritually minded and spiritually sensitive people is accomplished.
In a larger context we also begin to see markers that provide meaning and practice to their spirituality (e.g. regular attendance at worship, summer camp, youth rallies and family dinners at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving). Some families even create traditions that are spiritual in nature and unique to their own family (e.g. our family had a devotional each evening when together at family vacations). We need to establish spiritual habits and traditions that celebrate and constantly remind children that we are God's people.
C - Breathe Forgiveness
Forgive your child as God has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13). God is a God of mercy, and to breathe the Spirit of Him into your child is to help him experience forgiveness. If a child does not learn this key virtue, that child will have difficulty learning about God's mercy, and will struggle with relationships later on.
Part of this training includes:
- Saying, "I forgive you" when they sin.
- Not holding on to their past wrongs.
- Model saying, "I am sorry, please forgive me" because sometimes the parent is in the wrong.
- Listen to their angry feelings and do not become angry because they are angry.
- Discuss biblical examples of forgiveness (e.g. Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32). This is a wonderful teaching/imprinting opportunity.
- Train them in the Christian process of forgiveness.
- Talking it out.
- Accepting responsibility.
- Asking for forgiveness or offering forgiveness.
- Receiving forgiveness (gratitude).
- Reconciliation (peace).
- Renewal (letting go of the past).
God's ultimate purpose in bringing Christ to earth was to offer us forgiveness. A child who is not schooled in the meaning and experience of giving and receiving forgiveness is incomplete spiritually.
D - Breathe Enthusiasm
The fourth element necessary in breathing spiritual life into you child is enthusiasm, what the Bible calls joy. The English word enthusiasm comes from the Greek word "ethnos" which literally means "in God." It is what Nehemiah had as he led the Israelites in the hard, dangerous and discouraging work of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. He exhorted them saying, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). In the same way, Paul said to the church, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). Enthusiasm/joy is the pleasure we experience when our hearts are in tune with the Lord.
Children need to learn that their faith is the cause and the source of joy in their lives, not simply adherence to rules, and certainly not acquiring things or money. Again, there are practical ways parents can cultivate the spiritual environment around and in their children so that they can actually feel the enthusiasm produced directly by their growing faith.
Model enthusiastic faith and service
There is a component of joy that is essentially viral, you catch it from someone else. If there is no enthusiasm for spiritual things coming from the parents, there will not be any from the children either. They catch it from you.
Encourage Christian friendship
As children grow, much of their behavior and attitudes will be influenced by their friends. While you can, breathe into their lives every opportunity for them to bond with other Christians. Most congregations provide various Christian activities, camps, rallies, and at some places Christian school. Encourage them to offer hospitality to other Christians, and most importantly, let them know that you expect them to marry a Christian one day.
Include them in ministry
Just like you encourage them to help you bake a cake or build a birdhouse using grown up tools and equipment, let them know the joy that comes from working alongside you in ministry (visiting the sick, cleaning the church building, preparing a baby shower, etc.). Nothing bonds parent and child more in the spirit and joy of Christ than serving together in His name. A child who equates spirituality with joy will be inoculated against the counterfeit happiness promised by the sinful practices of this world.
What we are aiming to do as parents is to have our children internalize the image of God that we are modeling and teaching them. William Gaultiere (quoted in Gary Thomas' book, Sacred Parenting p.189) puts it this way: "As parents, we want to try to pass on the love, identity, forgiveness and enthusiasm of God to our children so that they can internalize it for themselves and then share it with others."
This spiritualization will effect how they see themselves (forgiven, loving, godly and joyful) and how they will see and treat others which will prepare them to breathe God's life into their own children one day. Remember, those will be your grandchildren.