Several months ago, while studying in preparation for a workshop, I came to a new understanding of the well-known verse Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I believe this is one of the most commonly quoted verses but least appropriately applied.
How can it be misapplied when the verse is so straightforward? Doesn’t it teach us that if we raise our children in the way we want them to go, they will live like that as adults? I have observed “good” Christian parents raising their children–families who go to church, espouse to love the Lord Jesus, and even homeschool their children. Aren’t they training their children in the way they should go? Let’s find out.
Sadly, even within the Christian homeschooling community, I’m seeing children who are being raised to be children all of their lives. They are trained, but is it really in the way they should go? Does it match the goals these parents have for their children? In another twenty years, will the entertainment-focused Christian youth of today all of a sudden change their ways? A turnaround in focus didn’t happen as my generation grew up, nor do I honestly believe that Proverbs 22:6 teaches it will.
If the years of one’s youth mean one fun activity or sport after another, when do children learn to enjoy work? Must our children always have great fun while homeschooling? If this is their training, how will they respond as adults to jobs that aren’t always fun? In Genesis 2:15 we read that God put man on the earth to keep the garden. Our lot in life as men is to work and serve.
It is as if we believe there is some magic switch on the back of our children’s heads that, when flipped, will instantly turn a childlike youth into a mature, Christ-serving adult. Unfortunately, a child who has been fed a constant diet of fun and games is not going to have an appetite for work and the things of the Lord. What happens when church is the place of boy-girl relationships and pizza parties? It will likely mean that church must have a great social calendar, potlucks, and sports leagues to keep our adult children coming back. Hmmm. If it isn’t the intention of parents to raise perpetual children, why are so many doing just that?
We must search our souls over this. How will our sons ever grow up to be responsible, Christ-serving men of God if we don’t truly “train them in the way they should go”? If our young men are fed a diet of fun activities and sports in their youth, won’t they grow into adults with an appetite for ongoing recreation and couch-potato-type viewing? I’ve met very few men who began life with an entertainment focus and were able to break the training (actually, I can only think of two).
Christ is our example and our Lord. We see no hint of the Lord Jesus spending His time on what is the norm for Christian youth and men today. Why didn’t He? Was it because there wasn’t entertainment back then? No! It was because Jesus knew the clock was counting down, and He was not going to waste precious time on activities of no eternal value. I think that may be at the heart of the parent’s problem. Our focus today is on how to spend as much time as possible doing what is the most pleasurable. We do not believe that time is precious, and that we need to be about the Master’s business. “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). “But this I say, brethren, the time is short. . .” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
Most Christian parents will say they want their children to grow up to be good Christians. Sadly, what our generation has come to accept as “good” Christians is, I believe, very different from being dynamic followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
This leads to the first step we parents should take to train our children in the way they should go. May we bow before the Lord and ask Him to evaluate our lives. What is my relationship like with Jesus? What is the focus of my heart? What do I enjoy doing the most? Who do I want to be with the most? What priority does my daily quiet time with the Lord Jesus hold? I think we will agree the answers to these questions reveal whether we are carnally or spiritually minded. I join you in bringing these questions before the Lord.
Generally, our children will follow in our footsteps. Are those footsteps leading them in the way they should go? If we are setting a good example, then the fruit will be good. If, however, our example is of following the world, then the fruit will be bad. We must approach Proverbs 22:6 with stark honesty. We should realize that what we are creating now is ultimately what our children will be. Certainly, God can perform a miracle as He did with Paul, but He is holding us responsible for how we lead our children. The issue goes beyond whether or not we are satisfied with the example we are setting for our children. Rather the question would be, “Is the Lord Jesus pleased with our example?”
May we be fathers who will critically evaluate whether we are leading our children in the way they should go. If not, may we seek the Lord for a change of direction and then be obedient to it.