When raising children we are to nurture their physical, emotional and spiritual needs; to be successful in this, it’s important to know their condition and give them specific attention needed to help them grow to their best abilities. Solomon reminds us “Be sure to know the condition of your flocks, and give careful attention to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23). But the wise Solomon does not end with verse 23 when speaking about this very important practice of knowing and giving careful attention. He continues with why this is so important.
He continues in verse 24 “…riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations…” Relating this truth to raising children, it’s also important to note: our time to mold and nurture our children’s faith is on a time-table. It’s not forever. It’s been said that by age 7, children have fully formed their personality. Likewise, spiritually speaking their teachable spirits become less teachable by age 13 (or even younger). We have limited time to impact a child that will direct the rest of their life for the Lord.
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However, Solomon prophecies a future for us, if we take the time to know our children and give them the careful attention needed, “When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family and to nourish your female servants” (Proverbs 27:25-27). If we develop the faith of our children daily through reading the Bible, talking about Jesus, pointing them to God’s power, relating to them spiritually, and consistent church attendance, they will produce new growth. They will be gatherers not consumers. They will be the ones reaching out to others and even to us. They will bless our society with the love of God and they will enrich our family. They will provide milk for the beginners and meat for the seasoned. They will impact not retract.
The question for us is this, “How do I know the condition of our children, so we can give them careful attention?”
Children, teens and adults go through different stages of faith. Yes, I did say children, too. It begins with them. Even infants are born spiritual learners. We are each born with 100% ability to have faith in God. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “…that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children” (Mark 10:14). And what avails us heaven? Faith in Jesus! Watch the links of faith a child moves through:
The Pre-faith stage is for babies to 2 year olds: In the first link, children know God by how their parents and caregivers care for them. Faith for this child is feeling. All the senses help them learn and grow. They encounter God through their parents and those who care for them at church. If you are a harsh neglectful parent (or caregiver), they will see God that way. If you are a loving, sensitive and involved parent (or caregiver), they will experience God just the same.
A child ages 3-7 years old is in the Fantasy Stage. In the second link, children believe that everything they hear and see is truth. This is why it is so important to tell them the truth and leave the fantasy and abstract to their older years. They have a very hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy. They also learn to act as Christ did by mimicking the adults in their life. We can learn much from this age group; they teach us to believe with 100% faith in the power of God. Focus on the scriptures stories that show God’s power, and make sure you are modeling the Lord’s behavior. They encounter God by the reflection of their parents and their teacher’s instruction and behavior.
A child ages 8-12 years old is in the Formation Stage. In the third link, a child’s faith gets more personal. At this stage, children are ripe for making a firm commitment to Christ. Children become peer-conscious and are very interested in the interrelationships found in the stories of the Bible. Focus on those relationships and then relate them to their personal relationships. They want to know and can understand the spiritual disciplines, like regular Bible study, prayer, worship, communion, baptism and consistent church attendance. They encounter God as a family concept. This is why regular church attendance is so critical. It feeds their need for belonging and sets the stage for the kind of friendships they need in order to stand firm in their faith when they enter the teen years.
We have heard the sad report that young adults are walking away from church and their faith. We ask, “Why?” I would challenge parents to go back a bit farther in these young adults upbringing. What link broke in their faith stage? Since consistency is vital to a child’s ability to learn and grow spiritually, we must heed this caution: it is often at the formation stage that children’s attendance to church becomes sporadic; this behavior teaches our children that church attendance is not a necessary discipline. Yet, doesn’t the writer of Hebrews tell us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” (Hebrews 10:25). In addition to this problem we find that sports, extra-curricular activities, and academics replace the disciplines of the faith. The complaint most parents have is they just don’t have time. This is a true statement. But the better question is “What can be done, so time is available?”
It’s at the formation stage I believe that children begin to walk away from church and eventually away from God. Their young faith at age 2 or age 7 will not withstand the challenges these children will face in their teen years. Their faith is weak; when they go off to college they are easily enticed by all the other ideas and philosophies. A weak faith makes room for seducing temptations.
So, I challenge parents today – do not break the links of faith – be consistent at church attendance and the spiritual disciplines. You will regret it if you are not. Let me ask you, “What kind of academic education would your child perfect if they went to school sporadically and completed their homework sometimes?” I think we would agree their education would suffer. It is the same with their spiritual education. If you attend church sporadically, talk about God and read the Bible sometimes, their spiritual education will suffer greatly, and worse than this, your children will abandon their faith. They are wide open for the evil one’s attack. A life without faith in God is a life full of darkness and sin. There is no in between. If you are going to cut something from your busy life, do not cut church and the spiritual disciplines that feed your child’s eternity. Cut extra-curricular activities or slim it down. Have the courage to make the hard choices, so your children will develop a thick strong faith that keeps their light burning and can advance against a troop of temptations that they will face in the teen and adult years ahead.