© Marcelo A. Tolopilo
Frequently parents approach me and essentially ask, “What is the key to successful parenting?” What many parents want to hear in response is some sort of short list of steps or techniques that will help them effectively shape the behavior of their children. What I share with them is the key biblical principle for the spiritual health of our families. That essential pursuit is this, to know and love our God.
In my book, Discipleship, God’s Plan for Parenting, I remind my readers of what I tell my listeners, “Increasing in your knowledge of and love for God will make you a better Christian. How so? As you grow in your knowledge of and love for God, you will delight in the Lord more, and because you delight in Him, your heart’s desire will be to please Him in every aspect of your life. This inclination will produce more obedience which will bring with it God’s consistent, manifold blessings and compound your joy in the Lord. With regard to the family, this transformation as a Christian man or woman will have some of its most profound impact on those closest to us.
Allow me to share a very simple and straightforward idea that is virtually absent from the contemporary discussion about the family—so much of which seems to center around strategies to reshape behavior. This is so simple yet so important.
Growing in sanctification (the process of transformation into the image of Christ, becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus, growing as a believer, becoming a more consistent Christian) makes you a better husband, wife, parent, son, daughter, sibling. In other words, whatever makes you more like Jesus Christ will surely impact all your relationships, especially with those who are nearest and dearest to you. Do you desire your family to heal, to grow in love and in Christian character, in harmony with God and with one another? Then increase in your knowledge and love for God because it will transform not only how you live, but it will impact those with whom you live.
I find it interesting and enlightening that this life priority list of one (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)—the essence of the Bible reduced to one commandment: to know and love God—is given
to us couched in the preeminent biblical passage on training our children spiritually (Deuteronomy 6:1–9). Of all the places God could have inserted this essential commandment, why did He choose to put it here? Why did God have Moses give this injunction to the heads of households (parents)? Why do you think that is? I’ll tell you why.
One important reason the foremost commandment is placed in this great familial passage is simply because there is nothing else that will transform parents more thoroughly, more radically, than an informed, growing love for God. And nothing will impact our children spiritually more than for them to witness in their parents a dynamic passion for the one true God. Do you want to make a profound impact on your children, your grandchildren, your whole family? Make it your ambition to know God more, to love God first, to love God most. Make that your prayer!
So often we reduce “good parenting” to strategies for changing our children, schemes to alter their behavior to fall in line with what we want (the same could be said for marital counseling). There may be parenting books and seminars (Christian and secular) that promise to help you change your children’s behavior, but sometimes the motivation to “change” our children’s behavior through strategies is mixed. Often we seek behavioral change in our kids to avoid being embarrassed or to try to look good. However, strategies that attempt to modify outward conduct in others without addressing our own heart and that of our children may bring a short-term change, but they will fail to transform anyone in the long run.
I am not suggesting that strategies, parenting techniques, and formulas have no value. There is a time and a place to employ these effectively. And yet, if our focus is simply to amend behavior through technique, that focus—by itself—is askew. In reality, it misses the mark. In fact, it can short-circuit and possibly circumvent God’s plan. God doesn’t simply want to tweak our children’s behavior to prevent our embarrassment, or to make us look good, or to satisfy our sense of behavioral symmetry. His desire is to transform our children, but His priority is to transform us (parents) through a living and intimate relationship with Himself. He wants to profoundly change us first, from the inside out, in order to use us as catalysts for lasting transformation in our children. That’s God’s priority. God wants to reshape your heart and through you change those of your children as you shepherd them. God wants our children to intimately know Him and passionately love Him, but how can they find that road if we don’t show them the way? Dad, Mom, who are they going to follow?”
In Deuteronomy 6:4–5 we are reminded yet again that the solution to the many challenges we face in life (parenting, marriage, etc.), the answers to to the questions that plague us, can be satisfied in the pursuit and the pleasure of the knowledge and love of God.