As we’re wrapping up the section of this series on “The Need for Your Child to Move Past Religion and Toward Relationship,” I want to conclude with the most important thing that you, as a parent, can do to help your child move in this direction. After years of being a church kid and being around other church kids, I truly believe that the best way a parent can pass their faith onto the next generation is by Keeping It Real.
What does that mean?
In short, avoid hypocrisy in your own walk with Christ.
Nothing---and I mean NOTHING---turns a church kid off to Christianity faster than a phony parent who is Mr. or Mrs. Super-Religious on Sunday morning, and Mr. or Mrs. Live-However-You-Want the rest of the week.
If a parent is all “Jesus-is-the-most-important-thing-in-the-world-to-me” in front of church people, and “Jesus Who?” when you’re behind closed doors, you are creating a stumbling block that will very likely cause a wreck on the highway of your child’s spiritual life.
I’ve seen it over and over again. Almost every time, the story ends the same way:
Child is taken to church by parent.
Child is disgusted and nauseated by the phony routine that the parent is putting on for the church people, while knowing the truth about the parent.
Child’s disgust turns into anger and teenage rebellion.
Teenage rebellion turns into a young adult deciding that they aren’t going to be a phony. Instead, they leave the church and continue following the sinful lifestyle of the parents, only this time without shame or restraint. Oddly enough, even though they are living against the principles that they were taught as a child, they feel like they are taking the moral high ground because, at least they aren’t lying about it.
Although this scenario is all too common, let’s be honest, it’s not really the script any parent wants their child to play out in life.
No parent who raised their child in church wants their child to abandon religion.
No parent wants their child to ultimately suffer the consequences that inevitably come with choosing to sin. (Especially if they’ve already suffered the consequences and seen the error of their ways.)
That’s why it’s time for parents to start recognizing the important role that they play in influencing their children’s attitudes toward religion and a relationship with Jesus Christ and accept their God-given responsibility to lead by example, not simply with words. For, as we all know, kids are more likely to mimic what you do that what you say.
If you, as a parent, want your children to have a passionate, life-changing, God-centered life, than it’s time you start modeling a passionate, life-changing, God-centered life. What are some practical ways that you can do this?
1. It’s Important that Your Children See that God is A Very Real Part of Your Daily Life.
Many Christians lead fragmented lives. They have their work life, their home life, their social life, and their church life. God fits into part or parts of their lives, but definitely not every part. This is wrong.
If you want to be a parent who passes their faith onto their child, then your children have to see that God is actively involved in every part of your life. They need to see you modeling a living, breathing relationship that influences each and every aspect of your life and all of your decisions and choices.
When I was growing up, I had no doubt that my Mom had a very real, personal, vibrant relationship with the Living God. I saw her daily spend time in prayer and reading the Bible. Frequently, I heard her worshipping and praising God in our little house. Throughout the day, she’d talk to and about God. He was as much a part of our family as my Dad, my sister and I.
I watched her pray before making decisions and then act on the direction the Holy Spirit was leading her. She spoke openly to me about things she felt the Holy Spirit was speaking to her. When the Holy Spirit convicted her of sin, she was honest about it. We knew why she was changing something in her life---she was convicted and she wasn’t doing it anymore.
Watching her live out her own personal relationship with God as a part of her normal daily life, taught me what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. More importantly, it made me want what she had. It was like watching someone eat a delicious chocolate cake. When you’re given the choice you don’t say, “All things being equal, I prefer the taste of the rice cake that tastes like saw dust.” No way! You say, “I want some of the good stuff!”
2. It’s Important that Your Children See You Enjoying Your Relationship With God
Again, children model what they see. If they see you avoiding your prayer life or complaining that reading the Bible is a hassle, they will grow up believing that a relationship with God is a hassle. They’ll see it as something they “have to do” rather than something they want to do---kind of like a dentist appointment---I don’t want to go, but I do because it’s good for me.
The same thing applies to doing the right thing and living by the principles of the Bible. If you model the attitude that being a Christian is robbing all of your fun and joy in life, you’re going to have a hard time convincing your teenager or young adult that this is the lifestyle they want to choose.
If you’re walking around all the time complaining about “those rotten church people”, don’t be surprised when your teen or young adult decides to leave the church and find some nicer friends.
You may be saying, “Hey, you’re talking about keeping it real and I really do feel this way about all those things. How can I keep it real and still demonstrate the right attitudes for my children?”
Unfortunately, there’s only one answer to this question: You need to check your own heart and readjust your own attitude toward the things of God---not just for your kid’s sake---but for your own as well.
The truth is that if you’re suffering from a constant case of the “have-to’s” than you are starting to have problems in your personal relationship with God. It’s possible that you may have fallen into the ever present trap of religion and abandoned the first love that created your personal relationship with Jesus. As it says in Revelations 2:5, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
It’s time to start rekindling the fires in your love relationship with Jesus and do what is necessary to re-fan the flames of passion that once burned inside of you for the things of God. Once your own heart is back on track, you’ll be able to truly, genuinely set the example of an active, passionate relationship with God for your children.
As I’ve said so many times before, having a Mom that has an active, personal, passionate relationship with God provides tremendous incentive for a child to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus. It’s like watching someone eat a delicious meal and thinking, “I could really eat that, too” or watching someone have a fantastic time and thinking, “I want to have fun, too.”
My former pastor used to say that we should present Jesus to the world like a shiny red apple so they want to take a bite. The same is true of a parent’s personal relationship with Jesus. Are you offering your child a spoiled apple filled with worms or a shiny, red, delicious delight? Something to think about.
3. It’s Important that You Teach Your Child that Life is Hard, but God is Good.
As important as it is to set a good example of a happy, healthy, living and active relationship with God, part of keeping it real involves being honest with your child about the fact that sometimes life is hard and hurts. Sometimes it seems unfair, and it’s easy to question whether or not God really knows what He’s doing or if He really is working all things together for our good.
Reality is that just like any other relationship, sometimes our relationship with God involves difficult times, times of doubt, and times of questioning. Sometimes we don’t understand or we feel angry. There are days when we won’t feel God’s presence or we’ll feel abandoned or alone.
Part of modeling a personal relationship with God over religion is teaching your child that these times are perfectly normal. You can even show them passages in the Bible where great men and women---even prophets and kings---questioned God, became angry, doubted, and struggled emotionally with the things that God allowed in their lives. (Talk about being real! A quick perusal of Psalms or Jeremiah will show you that a close relationship with God isn’t a guarantee a life free from pain!)
However, the beautiful part of each and every one of these Scriptures is that it was the godly person’s relationship with God that sustained them through the dark times of life. It was because they had an intimate friendship with God that they would say whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. They could be completely vulnerable and real---yet still walk away saying, “Even though I think these circumstances stink, I love You God, and I’ll follow you because of our relationship.”
That attitude doesn’t come from religion---it’s exclusive to relationship. Quite frankly, watching my Mom live out this lesson in her own life greatly influenced my decision to choose relationship over religion in my own life. You see, my Mom’s life was not always easy. In fact, for most of her Christian walk, it was very difficult, filled with health issues, persecution from unbelievers and her religious husband, financial struggles and heartaches.
I remember once asking her, “How do you do it? How do you keep suffering and yet still maintain such a vibrant relationship with God?”
Her answer was, “Because I love Him.”
That’s all that mattered---the relationship was built on the fact that she knew He loved her and she loved Him. No matter what else happened, good or bad, the relationship was solid because it was built on love. Yes, there were days when their conversations were filled with anger, doubt, pain, or questions, but at the end of the day, the commitment was real because it was built on love. No matter how hard life was, she knew God was good and following Him was worth it.
Even when it would have been easier to go another way, Mom still followed God because she loved Him.
Even when she was busy or in pain, Mom talked to God and prayed because she wanted to talk to her Best Friend and Closest Confidant.
When life was really hard and didn’t make any sense, her relationship with God grew stronger because it was built on love and trust.
Looking back on the course of my life, I can say with complete certainty that the single greatest influence in my Christian life was my Mom. Because of her open, honest, vulnerable, very real relationship with Jesus, my sister and I wanted what she had. She really did present a genuine relationship with Jesus like a shiny red apple.
Given the choice, I needed to take a bite so that I could have a relationship like that in my own life. A relationship that wasn’t phony or part-time, forced or fake, but constant, steady, secure, and built on the loving commitment of both parties involved. Because she kept it real, I wasn’t turned off by her religion; rather, I craved her relationship.
As we wrap up this section on “Religion versus Relationship” it’s time for you to ask yourself the question, “Do my kids know that my relationship with God is real?”
Maybe we should ask it differently: “Am I modeling a real, personal, passionate relationship with God in front of my children?”
If not, why not?
Are you choosing religion or relationship in your own life?
You see, modeling a real relationship with Jesus requires that you first have a real relationship with Jesus. What is hindering you from cultivating a personal relationship with God in your own life?
Isn’t it time that you removed those barriers in your life for the sake of both you and your children?
Today, there is a very real God Who wants to have a very real, very intimate, very personal relationship with you. He doesn’t want to be just a part of your life, but He wants to be your life. It’s His desire that every one of His children abandons religion with all of its traps and actively pursues a personal relationship with Him. Once you have your own intimate personal relationship with Jesus, than you can introduce your children to the wonderful world of the possibility of an intimate, personal relationship with the God of the Universe. Rather than being a stumbling block in your child’s spiritual progress, your life will become an on-ramp leading your child to the right road of choosing relationship over religion.