My ancestors came over on the Mayflower. From the record we have of their lives, it’s safe to say William and Mary Brewster were serious about their relationship with God.
And yet as I research my genealogy, my spirit sinks to note that it appears I am, for all intents and purposes, a bona fide 2nd Generation Christian.
My ancestors immigrated to this country and suffered fatal hardships because they loved God, but it didn’t take long before my family tree was indistinguishable from the self-worshipping trees around it. In fact, it became so bad that by the time my parents sprouted, they were some of the first in their families to be born again.
How did that happen?
The “Doesn’t-Trickle-Down” Effect
How does God’s life-altering truth not filter down to the children?
Why can’t it be passed on like a family heirloom?
How is it we share the same physical DNA, but lack the same spiritual genes?
Of course, the answers to these questions are found in God’s Word. Each generation has the responsibility to choose or reject God. It doesn’t matter how passionate mom and dad are; their zeal won’t just “rub off.”
Ken Ham has dealt with this subject many times. His book, co-authored with C. Britt Beemer, Already Gone is a fantastic study in this concept. I’ve linked his newest article here: “Gone in Only One Generation: The Battle for Kids’ Minds,” but I’d ask that you stick with me for a couple of minutes before you head over there.
Here are some important biblical truths that will help our next generation (and hopefully the ones after them) to live.
The Spiritual Greenhouse
Before we will have any effect in our kid’s lives, we must understand that . . .
- We cannot force our children to bear the fruit of repentance. There’s not a Christian parent on the planet who hasn’t wished at some point they could pull out a tool box and tinker around inside their children’s hearts. But there’s nothing we can do to directly change the minds of our kids. God is the only one with that power. So what can we do?
- We need to create an atmosphere conducive to spiritual life and spiritual fruit. Dr. Jim Berg compared the role of a parent to a hired gardener who tends a greenhouse. This picture is instructive for A. The plants do not belong to the gardener, and B. The gardener is not responsible to make the plants bear fruit; he is responsible to produce an environment conducive to fruit-bearing. Let’s consider a tomato plant.
Many people run to home depot, buy a tomato plant, put it in the ground, and surround it with a cage. The plant subsequently grows into a 3-foot tall bush, produces some tomatoes, and is discarded at the end of the year. But did you know your tomato plant should look like a 7-foot string of red pearls? My shortest tomatoes are 7-feet tall, my tallest are close to 10 feet, and they each produce more tomatoes than my family can eat. How?
Tomatoes are vines; not bushes. They perform best when cut down to one main stem. But because they’re a vine, they need to be tied to a stake in order to keep them off the ground.
Tomatoes don’t multitask well. All the nutrients and energy the tomatoes consume go primarily to the creation of new leaves, any leftovers are routed to fruit production. A productive tomato plant needs to have all but a few of its leaves and suckers (branches that grow up out of the apex of a branch and the main stem) cut off. This process channels all of the plants energy to creating delicious fruit.
Now that we know a little about raising tomatoes, let’s apply this to our parent/gardener metaphor.
- The gardener is a steward of the owner’s plants.
- Parents are stewards of the children God gives us.
- Understanding this will affect our attitude toward our children more than anything.
- “How could you do this to me after everything I’ve done for you?” is never be spoken by a gardener who embraces his stewardship.
- The gardener is actively involved in creating a perfect environment for the plant to grow. They monitor the light, the nutrients, the water, the soil, and the temperature.
- Parents need to shine the Light of the World on their kids from waking to sleeping (kids need more SonLight than plants need sunlight).
- Parents need to feed their kids the Bread of Life at every possible moment.
- Parents need to introduce their children to the Living Water as early as they can.
- Parents need to work the ground to break-up the hardened soil of spiritual ignorance. They need to dig out the rocks or spiritual superficiality. They need to pluck up the spiritual distractions that may choke out God’s truth.
- Parents need to monitor the spiritual temperature of the home. Isn’t it interesting that the most ungodly part of Sunday is generally at home as everyone’s rushing to get ready for church?
- Once the plant is established, the gardener continues the previous tasks, but adds the important jobs of pruning and staking.
- Parents need to apply appropriate boundaries so their children can flourish spiritually.
- Parents need to prune behaviors and relationships from time to time to ensure Christ-honoring growth.
- Gardeners never get mad at the plants for not producing. They may become upset at themselves for failing to see the signs of disease or insects. They may be angry that the plants died or failed to produce because they themselves didn’t do the job the way the owner instructed. But no intelligent gardener ever gets mad at the plant.
- Parents get mad when their plans are thwarted.
- Very rarely is our anger without sin. James 4:1-3 tells us,
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
If we don’t want to lose the next generation we must apply these truths every moment of every day. Even so, the sad reality is that we have no guarantee that the plant will bear fruit. God, the perfect Father, had many children (the children of Israel) rebel against His perfect love and example.
But “wait,” you say. “What about that promise in Proverbs?” Proverbs 22:6 does tell us that if we train a child the right way, he won’t stray away from that training when he’s older. Let’s tackle this one for a minute.
Is this Proverb a Promise?
- Some view it as a promise. If this were a hard and fast promise then God’s a liar since the children of Israel rejected Him and Judas rejected Christ. It cannot biblically be a promise the way most people view it.
- Some view it as a proverb. There are others who say it is merely a pithy statement expressing some commonplace truth. But if it’s not always true, and if it’s just a nice thought . . . what good is it?
- We need to see it as a provision. Providing we give our children truth, and providing they accept that truth, they will not depart from it. This verse is another in the long line from which we build the doctrine of preservation/perseverance. True training does not occur if the student hasn’t learned the material. Though this statement seems one-sided – Hey Parents, Train up a child! – it’s really a two-sided thing. The parents need to train in truth, and the children need to embrace that truth by accepting God and His plan for their lives. Only then will the children persevere in the truth.
Unfortunately the child’s part in all of this is not something we can easily quantify. All we can do is continue to create a green-house environment that will encourage spiritual growth as we “train” every day.
The Next Generation
Your children will run from God if they are not introduced to the truth of His Word. They will struggle if the distractions and cares of this life are allowed to crowd out the spiritual realities of life. They will fall way if they embraced “Christianity” solely to avoid being punished.
Of course, please don’t think I’m putting the fate of your children’s spiritual life in your hands. Inevitably your children will be held personally accountable for their choices. And as a friend of mine mentioned, the grace of God does far more in reaching our children than we do. But we mustn’t allow these observations to deceive us into parental apathy. Even though we don’t give life or cause fruit to grow, we cannot relinquish our responsibilities.
We’ve been tasked with the monumental undertaking of tending the greenhouse of the King. Are you ready?