Editor’s Note: How can Christian parents encourage their children to become followers of Jesus Christ in today’s pleasure-seeking world? Ishwaran Mudliar, Ph.D., a professor of Old Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in the following interview by FamilyLife writer Mary May Larmoyeux.
What advice do you have for parents who are raising children in today’s tolerant culture?
I would advise Christian parents to make sure they are grounded in the Bible and in the faith. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach their children about the Bible, prayer, and spiritual disciplines.
The father of a four-year-old child told me that his daughter said that people at her pre-school told her that there is not just one God. What should he tell her?
There is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus says, I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me. And even Isaiah explains in Isaiah 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” … Encouraging these kinds of truths … is a way to equip our children to know how to deal with the opposition they might receive.
But parents should also speak to children in practical terms. For example: What is the proper, the natural, the normal way to eat—through the mouth. There is only one way. We don’t eat through our eyes, we don’t eat through our ears, we don’t eat through our feet. We eat through our mouth. There are many things in life that way. It is just the way that it is. If God has spoken on the subject about the way it is for knowing Him and the way of salvation, we should accept it as that instead of coming up with our own ideas or solutions.
Is the Bible still relevant to address today’s questions?
Yes, because the Bible itself declares, … “it is your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). It is also described in Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fades but the word of our God abides forever.” … or Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”
So Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles believed that the Bible is always relevant to answer the questions of life, especially the most important—how to know God and have eternal life.
What if parents are not well versed in the Bible?
All they need to know is one verse for all of the major questions, and then use cross-references from the focal passage. And there are only a handful of questions, maybe a dozen, that usually come up, like: “Is Jesus the only way to God? Or, what do we need to do to be saved from our sins? Or, is it proper for one man and one woman to marry and should they have children?” Whatever the question is, if you know of just one verse and are able to turn to it in the Bible, then you can put references to other passages there on the same subject that you can show your children.
We live in an age of cell phones, computers, and text messaging, where people are accustomed to instant communication and instant results. Children think they should get what they want, when they want it. How can parents teach their children the value of waiting?
The parents themselves live that way and so it is hard for them to teach their children not to be that way. The parents have to first repent of that and then teach and train their own children not to be that way. If the children don’t see it modeled in their parents, they probably won’t get it. So don’t give them the latest gadget the moment it is advertised. Most of the gadgets that are available are unnecessary anyways to children.
What can parents do to cooperate with God to encourage their kids to come to saving faith?
God commands us to teach our children (Deut 6:4-9), so I would define cooperation in terms of simply obeying the commands of God—knowing what the gospel is, conveying the gospel by word and by deed. It’s also living a godly life and praying for one’s child and letting the child get exposed to like-minded people … and in time leaving the outcome up to God.
Knowing that God desires saving faith and knowing that God is in control does not mean that we are inactive. It means that we should do these kinds of things [pray, model godly life, etc.]. Doing this will not guarantee that all children will turn out to be godly, but there is certainly a higher success rate if we are faithful ourselves.
What would you say to parents who have tried to model and convey the gospel to their teenager with no avail?
Be consistent. Be calm. Be patient. Continue doing what is right. Keep praying. Don’t compromise. Spend more time with the child but don’t compromise the faith or the disciplines during that period.
What books of the Bible could parents emphasize today?
Parents could emphasize the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes because both of them emphasize the fear of the Lord and the value of living one’s life before God whatever the matter—the eyes, ears, hands, feet. The values regarding money, sex, marriage, family, work… all of these are dealt with in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
How would a parent go about doing this?
During family devotions, we read various books of the Bible and I encourage the children to read these books in their own devotions. Memorize Bible verses together. When incidents occur, remind the children of those verses.
One verse that comes to mind in my own life is Proverbs 17:28. I taught the children that even a fool when he keeps silent is thought wise … prudent. So sometimes if I am talking too much or saying some nonsense they quote that to me. We have fun with this.
How do you encourage personal devotions with children?
Encourage them to begin reading the book of Proverbs when they have some level of understanding. Encourage them to read verses in the morning on their own. … I don’t push it. I don’t ask them every day [if they had devotion time]. Maybe two or three times a week I’ll ask them “Was there something that struck you [in your devotion]?” They know that is on my mind but I don’t nag them about it.
When do you ask them this?
It’s varied. It could be in the car, at the dinner table, on the way to school, back from school, running an errand … even in the evening when we have our family devotions.
How can children learn to fear God when the world does not fear God?
The parents should model it, believe it, have full conviction, live it themselves, find a church and friends who are desirous to do so, and not compromise.
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