Feature: Living the Mission
Dr. Abraham Swamidass, family ministries coordinator for the Wisconsin Conference, wrote the following article which was published in the February, 2013, issue of the Lake Union Herald. In this article, Swamidass, who is also pastor of the Madison Community, Monroe, and Evansville churches, shares important aspects in helping children become more like Jesus. It is well worth the time reading.
|Dr. Abraham Swamidass and his wife, Joan, have been married 27 years. Their children left to right in above picture are: Rajesh, Ravi, and Sanjay. Swamidass is a certified family life educator and dynamic seminar presenter.
According to Romans 8:29, God's dream for all of us, including our children, is to conform us to the image of His Son. Our goal as parents is to help each one of our children to become like Jesus. This goal has nothing to do with hairstyles and dress code. Neither is it about rigidly observing a set of rules. Our task is higher and more sacred than that. In fact, it will require God's help. The point is for our children to be kind like Jesus, disciplined like Jesus, and others-centered like Jesus — not because they have to, but because they love Jesus and want to be like Him. How, then, can we, as stewards, help our children become like Jesus? How can we cooperate with God in such a way that His dream for our children can become reality? There are three specific things we can do.
Teach the beautiful, simple plan of God's salvation
Teach your children that salvation is a gift from God and that it cannot be earned by good behaviors. But make sure they understand that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was costly, and that they should not condone sin. Make sure they understand that God's grace should never be trampled underfoot or His forgiveness taken lightly. Always underscore the goodness and the unconditional love of God. Teach them that we are loved not because of what we are but in spite of what we are.
One of the reasons I talk so much about the goodness of God is because my mother not only taught it but also modeled it. My father walked out on us and was not home for several years, but Mom took charge of things at home. My siblings and I were not perfect kids; we made plenty of mistakes. But Mom never focused on our weaknesses nor on the problems. She always focused on the solutions. Mom constantly told us we were the best kids in the world and God has a wonderful plan for every one of His precious children. We grew up secure, knowing that my mother loved us and believed in us. She was going to stand behind us through thick and thin.
By the way, research indicates that most children get their concepts of who God is and what He is like from their fathers. If the father is mean, critical and harsh, inevitably the children will grow up with a distorted view of God. If the father is loving, kind, compassionate and just, the child will better understand God's character.
I came across an interesting statement in an article, by Robbie Low, titled "The Truth About Men and the Church." In this article, Robbie pointed out the results of a survey that took place in Switzerland. Questions were asked to determine whether a person's religious practices influenced the spiritual practices of the next generation. What the survey discovered was interesting. Here is the major result of that survey: "It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children."1
So, fathers, teach your children the beautiful, simple plan of God's salvation. Take them to church; don't send them. You have incredible spiritual influence on them.
Since the goal is for children to grow up to act, look, think, live, speak and pray like Christ, the method [for adults] is to be that example for them. We can preach to our children until we are blue in the face, but if Jesus Christ is not real in our lives, He won't be in their lives either. I have discovered that good modeling is not acting. We must not pretend or show off our good behavior. If our example is going to be effective, it has to be honest.
A few years ago, after a marriage seminar, my eight-year-old son approached me and asked, "Dad, how come you don't do all that you teach in your seminar?"
Jokingly, I asked, "Did Mom tell you to ask this question?"
But I was humbled. I responded, "Son, Dad is not perfect. I am praying everyday to become more like Jesus. Would you pray for Dad to look and act a lot like Jesus?"
"Okay, Dad," he answered. It became crystal clear that children have x-ray vision. They can see right through their parents' hypocrisy. Children see through us if we pretend, so be authentic.
Authenticity is the goal, not perfection. If being Christlike causes parents to feel an enormous amount of pressure, let me encourage you. You don't have to be perfect. In fact, you couldn't pass perfection down to your children if you wanted to; they are fallen human beings, just like you and me. What you can do, however, is demonstrate how godly people handle themselves when they blow it. Let them see how you deal with failure as well as how you deal with success. You can demonstrate what it means to repent, to confess, to humbly accept responsibility for your mistakes, and to ask forgiveness. In fact, asking your child to forgive you for a mistake is one of the most powerful teaching tools we have.
It's not about having it all together; it's about living out what you believe day by day and responding appropriately when you miss the mark. It's impossible for you to be perfect for your children, but anyone can be authentic. When Jesus said that everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40 NIV), He wasn't putting a heavy burden on people in teaching or parental roles. He was giving every parent and teacher an opportunity to nurture honest, genuine disciples. You can make lots of mistakes and still raise awesome kids by showing them how God has mercy toward you and gives you hope. When children see change in their parents, it gives them hope that their failures are not final either. They grow up to be authentic human beings who are aware of their faults and embrace God's grace.
Expose your humanness. I can remember numerous times when I blew it in front of my children. My tendency was to get frustrated when they didn't follow clearly laid-out instructions. But when I began to see the effect of my reaction on them, I was compelled to repent and apologize, affirming that what I had said was appropriate, but acknowledging that I had said it in the wrong way. In time, I began to see them play out the same dynamic with me; they would take the initiative to apologize for their offenses toward me. Because I had shown them how I dealt with my failures, they began to imitate me in dealing with their own.
Ask yourself this question: Do I want my children to turn out like me? Can you honestly say that the way you live — your worship, lifestyle, prayers, devotion, habits, stewardship, generosity, love and kindness — is the way you want your children to live when they grow up? What we parents have to accept, whether we like it or not, is that there's nothing we can do to change this dynamic. It's as universal as gravity.
I think psychologist and author Carl Pickhardt had it right when he declared, "The power of parental influence comes to this: the example parents model (who and how they are) and the treatment parents give (how they choose to act and react with their child)."2
What if it's too late? What if I've already modeled many of the wrong things? Don't despair. God can take the most negative past and produce a positive future as we turn wholeheartedly to Him for help. Scripture promises, Love covers over a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8 NIV). I can't tell you how many times I went to my children, privately met with them in their bedroom, owned up to violating one of my own standards, and asked them to forgive me for the behavior I knew they'd just witnessed. My kids didn't learn how to be perfect from me, but they learned how to be real.
Our parenting is about more than getting through the stages of development. It is an offering to our children, a gift that will help them to become Christlike, and an eternal relationship with their heavenly Father.
Offer Unconditional Love. Showing unconditional love requires three things:
1) Let kids see that you love your spouse. Here's the first thing we want to show when it comes to modeling unconditional love: Parents must love one another and let their children see them express affection. My wife and I never fail to show our kids that their mom and dad not only love them but they also love each other very much. Particularly after a conflict in our relationship, we make it a point to show a proper level of affection to one another in front of the boys. We don't have to fake it — and you can't fake it either!
We want our boys to know, through our mutual affection, that God loves us unconditionally and that we should forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave us (see Ephesians 4:32).
Through the years, I've learned a lot about forgiveness — not just in my relationship with my wife but in all of my relationships, both personal and professional. But recently, I've learned that there's a big difference between reconciliation and conciliation. Reconciliation means to bring things back to the way they were. Conciliation means ending things on friendly terms.3
Today, most couples don't want reconciliation when they are offering forgiveness — they want conciliation. They want to just go ahead and end the argument without dealing with the real issues. Sadly, some even choose divorce — a form of conciliation — because things may end "friendly."4 The greatest gift parents can give their children is reconciliation. Remember God's goal for all of us, including our children, is not to conform us to an ideal but to the image of His Son.
2) Make sure your children feel loved. This is not to say our children are always right about what they feel. However, when we focus on emotions, we say to our children, "I care how you feel. Your feelings matter to me." And when our children get this message, they feel deeply cared for. That's when they feel loved.
A few months ago, I was lying in bed and thought of a conversation I had with my son. He said he didn't feel as though I understood the pain and frustration he had gone through recently when I lost my cool with him. Actually, he reminded me that I lost my cool a few times. This was happening quite frequently, and he wondered if I really cared.
At the time, I didn't know the depth of his feelings. So before I went to sleep, I chose to walk in his shoes during the past month and experience it with my heart. So many feelings came to me; it was quite overwhelming. I felt his pain and, suddenly, understood how he could have felt. I became quite emotional.
I met with him two days later and shared what I had done, explained how I started to understand his pain, and asked him to forgive me. I believe it helped my son to know that I understand his hurt. Now if he was an adult, he would have looked at me and said, "That's all I needed from you."
James gives this counsel: But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19 NIV). I think that is especially true for parents. Children will break your rules and your heart; but when you understand their feelings, a connection is established that makes healing a lot easier.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus related to people's feelings. When they cried, He cried; when they celebrated, He celebrated with them. This doesn't mean He was controlled by people's feelings but that He understood them and identified with them. As parents, we should not be slaves to our children's feelings; but at the same time, we should not send out signals that we don't care about how they feel.
3) Love in the hard times. Loving our children unconditionally means that no matter what they are, what they do, where they go, they're still ours. A story that came across the Internet, from an unknown source, illustrates the point.
Some time ago, a father punished his three-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy."
The man was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, but his anger flared again when he found out the box was empty. He yelled at her, stating, "Don't you know, when you give someone a present, there is supposed to be something inside of it?"
The little girl looked up at him, with tears in her eyes, and said, "Oh, Daddy, it's not empty at all. I blew kisses into the box. They're all for you, Daddy."
The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and begged for her forgiveness. Only a short time later, an accident took the life of the child. The author also wrote that her father kept that gold box by his bed for many years and, whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.5
As believers in Jesus Christ, as men and women filled with the indwelling Spirit of God, you and I have the capacity to love without restraints or conditions. It is the supernatural love of God flowing through our weakness and powerlessness. And, let's face it, it's not always easy to love our children. Scripture tells us that real love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:7, 8 NIV).That kind of love doesn't flow naturally from a parent's heart. It's a gift from the Holy Spirit. And if we belong to Him, that divine love can pour over the channels of our lives (see Romans 5:5).
Pray for and with Your Children
There never has been a time when we needed to pray for our children more than today. They're fighting battles we can't imagine. They need to know that Mom and Dad are standing with them and praying for them. My wife and I make it a priority to pray with and pray for all three of our children.
If it's true that prayer changes things, what sorts of issues can we pray about regarding our families? How should we pray for our spouse and children? What petitions can we bring to God's attention?
Author Patrick Morley offers a list of concerns we parents can pray for regarding our children:
- Pray for a saving faith if they don't know the Lord.
- Pray for a growing faith if they're immature.
- Pray for an independent faith as they get older.
- Pray that they will be strong and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
- Pray for a sense of purpose and destiny in their life.
- Pray for a desire within them that they will have integrity, for a call to excellence.
- Pray that they would understand the ministry God has for them.
- Pray that they will set aside times to spend with God.
- Pray that they will acquire wisdom.
- Pray for protection against drugs and alcohol and premarital sex.6
If I had to summarize this, I would appeal to the story of Mary and Martha, in Luke 10:41, 42, where Jesus said, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed. He was talking about her personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. If our children's personal relationships with Jesus are solid, most of the other stuff will settle in. So, I pray about my children's walk with God and their faithfulness to the Lord.
Parents must have a single focus and a daily prayer: "Lord, will You help me cooperate with You so we can work together on this gift You've entrusted to me? Will You help me prepare this vessel to be filled with your Spirit, so that in ten, 20, 30 years this child loves and trusts You, knows Your grace, and has values and convictions that reflect Your heart?" If you ever wanted to know how to get an "A" as a parent, this is it.
1. Robbie Lowe, "The Truth About Men & Church: On the Importance of Fathers to Church Going," accessed December 29, 2012, http://www.fisheaters.com/menandchurch.html.
2. Carl Pickhardt, "Keeping Parental Influence in Perspective," accessed August 5, 2003, http://www.carlpickhardt.com. Quoted in Ed Young, The 10 Commandments of Parenting, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 61.
3. Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham, The Language of Sex: Experiencing the beauty of sexual intimacy, (Ventura: Regal Books, 2008), 189.
5. http://help.com/post/91319-the-story-goes-that-some-time-ago, accessed December 28, 2012.
6. Patrick M. Morley, The Man in the Mirror, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 97. Quoted in Dr. David Jeremiah, Gifts from God, (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1999), 73.
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