When the Israelites finally came to the end of their desert wanderings following their exodus from Egypt, they faced the task of dividing the Promised Land among the various tribes. This division, as we read in Joshua 19, was according to families.
In other words, the family you belonged to determined your place in the land. It decided where you lived. That, of course, would then have an impact on various other aspects of your life. Simply put, to a large degree, your family determined your direction.
What was true in a practical sense for the Israelites is true for families even today in a spiritual sense. The direction of our children is largely defined by our direction as parents.
I don’t mean that God never intervenes and allows a child of lost parents to be saved and live a fruitful life. I also don’t mean that God’s grace, mercy, and love are limited by the faults and failures of saved parents. God has the right and the ability to intervene miraculously and pluck children from even the worst circumstances and create something beautiful in their lives.
But even so, I think we can acknowledge it to be true that the overall spiritual condition and direction of parents generally has a significant impact on the lives of their children and the direction they follow.
This isn’t by accident. God gave parents the responsibility to bring their children up in His ways. When parents use their influence well, it can have a profoundly positive impact on their children (spiritually and otherwise). That’s the way God intended it. Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well—when parents neglect or abuse their influence, the results can be tragic.
This truth ought to inspire in us a desire to walk closely with God so our children can see and learn from our example. Am I living in such a way that I would want my children to learn from and copy what they see in me? Am I providing them the daily example they need to see firsthand what a genuine Christian life looks like? Will they one day be able to look back at the legacy I leave behind to gain inspiration or instruction on how to live their own lives in a way that’s pleasing to God?
These are weighty questions.
Here’s another we could all ask ourselves: If my children grow up and never progress beyond my current level of spiritual maturity, would I be satisfied with that?
Put another way, if my children never outgrow my example, is that good enough?
(To be honest, I think there’s a sense in which our answer to that question should always be “no,” but I also think there are different kinds of “no.” A clear, emphatic “no” brought on by our realization that we’re not even close to where we ought to be spiritually is very different than a humble “no” given by a mature child of God who is very attuned to their daily shortcomings. We should always want more for our children, but an objective observer would discern a clear difference between these two scenarios.)
I definitely want my children to progress beyond where I am today. I’m aware that my example to them hasn’t been all that it should be, and that’s a convicting realization.
Now, the truth is, by God’s grace, our children may indeed go beyond us spiritually. But we don’t really have a right to expect that.
The good news, however, is that our spiritual life isn’t static. We don’t freeze in place when our children are born, never to take another spiritual step forward. Where I am today isn’t where I was when my first child was born, and where I am today isn’t where I hope to be five years from now.
I take comfort from Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ . . .”
God has begun a good work in me, and I’m confident He’ll continue that work. Am I satisfied with where I am today? No. Am I a perfect example to my children of a vibrant Christian life? Absolutely not. God and I have more work to do together.
But even this growth—if it’s really happening—can be part of my example to my children. They can see that the Christian life isn’t someplace we park and stay—it’s a lifelong journey with the Savior.
That itself is a good example and a positive legacy.
By God’s grace, let’s press on in our walk with Him. And let’s seek to be a good example to our children—of growth, progress, and daily fellowship with God.