There are various ways of stating a certain truth concerning growth in the Christian life. How many of these expressions have your heard?
“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
“We are either progressing or retrogressing.”
“No man is an island.”
“The more you give, the more you receive.”
“Eating without exercise kills a man.”
Or, a favorite of mine remembered from a bank’s billboard: “There was a man —they called him mad —the more he gave, the more he had.”
In various ways, these and other sayings get at a truth which is very important in the Christian life. We cannot ever be stingy and close-lipped and isolated in our Christian lives and still experience Christian growth. To grow in our Christian lives, we must share the things God gives us. . . materially, but also spiritually. We must be generous with the truths of God, sharing them and sharing them and sharing them. Otherwise we stagnate and, like a stagnant pond or puddle, kill all life and growth. Proverbs puts it this way:
“The generous soul (both materially and, especially, spiritually, CB) shall be made fat.”
This is one of the areas in which children lead parents into new blessing and joy. Children are a daily, hourly, constant source of responsibility in sharing the truths of God’s Word and the Christian life. As a parent —father or mother— trains his children in knowledge and understanding, his own knowledge and understanding grow. He finds he has to search out, constantly, new truths of Scripture, and thus in training his children he is led more and more into deeper knowledge as well as to convictions and to love of God and God’s Word. God uses the training of our children to develop us spiritually.
Now, it is true that this kind of spiritual development won’t happen automatically just because we are parents. Rather, parentage is one of the means God uses to cause His beloved children in Christ to develop. It happens only as we take seriously the spiritual responsibilities which we have towards our children and earnestly desire to work and carry out these responsibilities. If we do not earnestly strive to train our children, then the opposite will be true: we shall not develop and grow in grace but instead go backwards, become more calloused towards sin and worldliness, love God and the Bible less. To grow spiritually, it must be said of us as it was of Jesus’ mother, Mary: “She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
What are some of the ways in which training produces spiritual growth?
Picture a Christian mother (or father) holding in her arms her first newborn baby. I cannot imagine this scene without certain emotional responses being present. If you are a mother, recall once how many of these thoughts were present when you were alone —or with your husband —following your child’s birth. If you are still unmarried, think once about how you may someday feel with your own baby.
□ Response 1: Humility. What a gift is this child! Who am I to be given such a gift? This child is God’s child! What a wonder that God has given me a child of His to train! I am not worthy.
□ Response 2: Prayer. “Father, as thou hast given us this child, give us also the wisdom and understanding to train him. Help us to fight our own sins so that we may not be an example of sinfulness but of godliness. Help us to learn Thy Word better so that we may instruct him properly in Thy fear.”
□ Response 3: Resolution. As the Baptism Form says, we resolve by God’s grace to train up this child, as far as in us lies, in true doctrine and holy living.
□ Response 4: Training. How young is the child when instruction begins? Only minutes. As soon as the Christian mother holds her baby, she begins to speak to the child of those things dear to her. She whispers of her longings for his spiritual welfare, of his need to learn to know God. The child understands nothing of her words but already, immediately, understands the love in her voice, and quickly responds to the attention and care he receives. Training begins immediately, at birth.
□ Response 5: New understanding. God uses the parent-child relationship over and over in Scripture to illustrate the relationship He has with us, His adopted children in Christ. As we experience the love we have for our children, the concern for their sins, the grief we have when they disobey, we learn by this parallel also to realize more and more how God loves us and deals with us as His children. And as we also study how He deals with us in His Word, we learn by His pattern how to train our children as He desires.
Examples from Christian homes illustrating these points could be endless. I once wrote a letter to my mother describing somewhat my feelings following the crib death of our three-month-old baby, Janelle, in 1982. To illustrate the point I am making, I would like to share this same experience with you who are reading this.
Our Janelle was a baby who was born prematurely so that she stayed in the hospital nearly a month, and when sent home she was on a monitor because of a breathing problem called apnea. The response to this situation was a watchfulness and care for that baby which greatly exceeded the care we had given our other babies, much as we had also loved them. But I saw certain changes in Janelle which greatly impressed me. When she came home from the hospital, she was an extremely uptight and tense baby, screaming for all she was worth at every small need; by the time she died, two months later, she seemed an entirely different infant, relaxed, trusting, barely whimpering when she had a need. She had learned that there was help for her needs, people who loved and cared for her; she had learned to trust.
And from her, I learned. I learned to realize over again that this is also the starting point for our Christian lives: we must know that we have deep needs to be met but that we also have a heavenly Father Who in love meets our every need; we must like a child trust Him. If we don’t have first this basic relationship of trust in our Father, we have no basis for development in our love of Him, either. Janelle taught me a new dimension to our love and trust of God our Father.
Any Christian mother could give you many examples of similar situations in her parental experience (if she thought awhile, anyway). I’ve heard mothers say that they never knew the Bible until they had to teach it to their children. Teaching our children to pray leads us to renewed conviction to be more faithful in our own prayer lives. Hearing sinful words or ideas from our children usually confronts us with our own sin, the source of their sinful thoughts. . .and we are convicted to fight our sin more faithfully. Nor may we miss the encouragement which we receive from godly responses from our children —but I hope to stress this in the next article.
Growth in love of God, in knowledge and fellowship with Him, is our joy and source of all secondary joys. The Bible says that we are sanctified through the Word of God and prayer. And so, as training our children leads us deeper into Scriptural study, into prayer, into firmer convictions and faithful living, we are led into greater joy also. Such joy is God’s gift to us, given as one of the fruits of the Spirit, given in many circumstances, and given also as we faithfully train His children. There is great joy in faithfulness.
May God grant us consistency of doctrine and life so that our training and our lives blend together in steadfast love and conviction to His eternal glory.