Someone mentioned to me the other day that he had made a sincere commitment to Christ five months ago. But he was still searching to know how to be a good Christian father. He said he'd been visiting a number of churches and study groups, adding he'd learned a lot from them. But he said they seemed more focused on having him learn their doctrine than helping him know how to be an effective Christian parent. Then, before I could respond, he was called away.
What would you have said to him? I've been thinking about what I'd have told him for several days.
I know I'd tell him about the help found in the Bible, particularly in the teachings of Christ Jesus, who appreciated children's special receptivity to the truth. His parables and his Sermon on the Mount make the point that our actions are the product of what we think or harbor in our hearts. Also, he strongly rebuked hypocrisy. Jesus made it clear that we need to practice whatever we teach. Over all else, the four Gospels encourage love. And as we study them, we'll see that this love is strong, that it can dissolve conflict, that it rises above hate and revenge, that it resists temptation, and more than all else that it constantly acknowledges God.
In addition to studying the Bible with special attention to the Gospels, parents can find another book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, very helpful. Note in particular the last part of the title: with Key to the Scriptures. Although it was written by the Founder of the Christian Science Church, it's a resource for Christians of all denominations-in fact, for anyone. It is a book that helps unlock the Scriptures and helps shed light on their spiritual significance. In addition, Science and Health explains how we can faithfully live up to the teachings of Jesus.
Back to that man's question. What should a Christian parent strive to do? If we want to make a list, it will probably be endless! But here are a few things that come to thought today:
*Share a love and an understanding of God. The child who knows something of God's love, and perceives that God is everywhere and all-powerful, will be safer and healthier. The letter known as First John urges, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (3:1).
*Instill an appreciation for the Ten Commandments, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and especially the Beatitudes. A parent can help children to see that these are guides to help them experience God's blessings day by day.
*Help children learn the Lord's Prayer by heart. More than just learning the words, we also want to help them understand its spiritual power and practicality. In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy notes, "Our Master taught his disciples one brief prayer, which we name after him the Lord's Prayer. Our Master said, 'After this manner therefore pray ye,' and then he gave that prayer which covers all human needs" (p. 16). Not everyone recognizes this last point, so it is helpful to share what we are learning ourselves.
*Emphasize such virtues as unselfishness, patience, love, purity, fidelity, spiritual strength, obedience, and spiritual understanding. Jesus emphasized all of these virtues. Since we teach best by example, parents can cultivate these qualities more and more in their own lives. It helps to note how often Jesus awakened men and women to their native spiritual characters. If we recognize that God's child is naturally good-not inclined to sin-we'll see that children have a God-given ability to be good.
*Pray daily for children. This can keep them healthy, just as it can bring quick healing of any symptoms of sickness currently troubling them. It's impressive how children are responsive to prayer, and can pray very effectively for themselves and for other family members.
A list like this can go on forever. Perhaps drawing up one of your own would give a valuable spiritual focus to family life. These suggestions are also helpful for people who are new to the Bible, and who want to gain a familiarity with the fundamentals of Christianity.