‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’. Joshua 24:15
As young parents John and I decided we wanted to bring up our children God’s way. We didn’t really have a clue about bringing up children or parenting. We hadn’t really planned our first baby and we were unprepared for her. On top of being unprepared and clueless, we had a bit of a bad start, because she was rushed back into hospital on her third day of life with meningitis. It was touch and go as she fought for her little life in an incubator. It was pretty grim watching her through the glass dome and unable to touch her or communicate with her any way.
Although we were born again, we weren’t walking with the God at the time but I can remember throwing up wild prayers. I also randomly opened my bible, searching for comfort and direction. While Lisa (our daughter) was in the hospital, my ouma (granny) was also fighting for her life in a different hospital in another town. She had had an operation for a hernia and in was in the process of dying in the theatre. She told us later how she left her body, and was catapulted through several realms towards a blinding light. As she neared the ‘Light’ she looked around and saw glittering lakes and fields of brilliant flowers, overwhelming in colour and fragrance. As she drew closer to the ‘Light’ she was given several instructions and directives. The ‘Light’ (the Lord of light), told her He was sending her back because she had a lot of work to do, primarily to pray for her 6 children and their families. She also ‘saw’ our Lisa, dressed in a cute outfit dancing in the flowers and then heard the instruction to come back and tell us that HE was giving Lisa back to us BUT that we must bring her up in HIS ways.
When she recovered and told us, we were already pretty shaken by our experience and had already made a commitment to follow Jesus more closely. We quickly agreed to bring her up in HIS ways and began to ask Him to show us how. It is truly amazing how answers come when you ask! Almost immediately, the Spirit began to coach us in ways to bring up our children. I have summarised below a few of the principles the Holy Spirit taught us in those days.
- Put God first: Led by the Spirit, we said together, ‘Me and my house, we will serve the Lord’. Joshua 24: 14. Over the years, the Holy Spirit has led us to flesh this out in many ways. Our first commitment was to set aside Sunday mornings for attending our local church. It wasn’t so much about going to church, but about what we could do as a family to facilitate ongoing spiritual growth in all of our lives. There were choices to make: don’t do anything too exhausting on a Saturday night, be organised with baby equipment and toys to amuse little ones, have an attitude of joy and excitement that spills over onto the children, and go to church, even when we were tired or not very well. Most times we would be invigorated and refreshed by the worship and fellowship and if we were sick, we could receive prayer from the elders or ministry teams.
Sunday worship is only one aspect of putting God first. God really does have to be first all the time so that this bubbles out in whatever circumstance. It’s a decision and attitude and our inner thoughts affect out actions and behaviour. On one occasion when Lisa was about 2 years old, we heard her suddenly shriek with pain. We dashed through to the little garden outside to find her mouth, tongue and chin covered in large black biting ants. The bottom half of her face was covered with a mass of these black ants. She had been eating a piece of cake and dropped it in the dirt, picked it up to eat again and in so doing had attracted the biting ants. Their bite can be extremely fierce, a very sharp sting, and she must have been in pain. Without hesitation, John put his hand on her lower face and commanded the ants to disappear. In an instant, before our eyes, her face cleared. I don’t know where the ants went or what happened to them, but I do know that they instantly disappeared! This was putting God first! I have to admit that my first instinct was not to pray, as John did, but to run for water or to try and pull the ants off. The problem with this would have been that they cling on so hard that it would have taken a long time to pull them all off and also some of the ants don’t let go and their little pincers remain locked into the skin while the rest of their body is pulled off! Putting God first was better by far!
When our children became ill, we used to pray for them first before taking them to the doctor. We saw them healed (and ourselves) many times. This was another way we put God first
We also claimed our children for the Kingdom. We believe that whole families should be together in the Kingdom and along with Lydia and her household, Acts16:15 and the Philippians gaoler. Acts 16:33, believed, prayed and decreed that our children would be born again at the first possible opportunity. Both our girls made this commitment within their first 5 years and both were spirit filled at the same time.
2. Develop a prophetic vision for your children.
Mary ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ Luke 2:19. The birth of Jesus had been so supernatural and she had received many words of prophecy about the future destiny of her child. God had a plan and purpose for our children and we wanted to find out what it was Christian parent to seek out this plan and to saturate their young ones with a sense of Godly purpose and destiny. This sense of mission will anchor them deeply in the times of testing and difficulty they will face throughout their lives.
When Lisa was quite young I felt the Lord saying to me in a time of prayer, ‘How do you see her growing up? What do you want for her?’ I couldn’t answer at first, but these questions drove me to thinking deeply about what I wanted for our children. I spent some more time with the Lord, thinking and talking about this and came up with a prophetic vision that I wrote down. Several years later, when we packing up to relocate to the UK and Lisa had completed her schooling, I found what I had written down about Lisa and was amazed at how much of this prophetic picture of her had emerged. One of the things I had written down for her was that I wanted her to be strong young girl who was able to ‘leap over obstacles’. She turned out to be an excellent athlete and was often the winner of the hurdles race! How delightful was the prophetic fulfilment of these words!!!!
Your prophetic vision should include words of prophecy, blessings and scriptures spoken over your children, as well as the unfolding discernment that the Lord will give to all parents as they seek Him about the future destiny of their children.
You should try to make this picture as expansive as possible! Include their future marriage partners and children, their vocations, their skills and talents. Think about the values and character qualities you want them to embrace. Do all of this with the leading of the Holy Spirit, you want His perspectives and vision. Write it all down.
And then release the outcome to God! In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9
A prophetic vision will impart a sense of destiny and mission and will produce children of the Spirit
3. Really mean what you say.
This was one of the first principles that the Lord impressed upon both John and I. Both of us tend towards being phlegmatic and laissez faire! In terms of child rearing I think if we had been left to our own devices we would have been of the school that allows children to do whatever they want to.
However the Lord told us clearly: Mean what you say and DO what you say.
For example, on the one hand don’t say you will take them somewhere, or give them something and then not do it. If you have said you will take them to the beach on Sunday and on Sunday you don’t feel like it because it is too hot or too cold, you should still DO IT!
On the other hand, when they have been disobedient, don’t threaten them with punishment and not carry this through. In terms of disobedient and challenging behaviour if we said, don’t do that again or there will be a consequence and they went ahead and did it, you will need to respond to that immediately. If you said, you’ll get a consequence; they need to get a consequence!
If you keep moving the boundaries, they will never believe you. Some parents tell their children over and over again not to do something and threaten the children with consequences, but never carry these out. This is negative training and will breed insecure children who do not believe you.
4. Create the right environment for your children to flourish
Make your home a haven! Under no circumstances allow ‘atmospherics’ from anyone, including you. Sulkiness, withdrawn or manipulative behaviour, whining and complaining, outbursts of anger all contribute to ‘atmospherics’ and undercurrents which are draining and exhausting. A lesson we had to learn as parents was to rise above difficult or stressful situations and constantly provide an atmosphere of love, acceptance and harmony. Of course this is impossible to do in our own strength and can only be done with the help of God. We have to constantly be forgiving, kind, gentle with each other and believe the best about each other. To do this we need His Spirit of love within us.
Children flourish in an atmosphere of safety, security and harmony, where they feel loved and accepted even if they have done something wrong.
There were other things we felt prompted to do to create a flourishing environment for our girls. We were very careful about schools and chose the schools they went to with very great care. In every school, we tried to be involved in the school support system in some way. This gave us both insight and little influence in the schools. In nearly every school I was able to participate in a prayer group and I believe it was through this that the Lord gave me insight into various situations that threatened the well being of our girls. One particular year I believe our prayers resulted in significant change in a school where there was a morally wrong situation! We were able to create a flourishing atmosphere for our children through prayer and warfare.
Another prompting we had from the Holy Spirit was to do ‘mission holidays’. We would plan some of our holidays around a mission trip, usually to neighbouring African country and once to Europe. The girls had to participate in the mission in some way, preparing dramas or simple lessons or cooking or befriending. They also had to raise some of the money themselves, learning to trust the Lord for finance in this way. These holiday mission trips were fantastic fun and remain among the highlights of our family experiences.
There were many other lessons the Holy Spirit taught us but I would like to finish by saying if you are a young or old parent, and have not been led by the Spirit in your parenting, ask Him right now to help you. He will definitely have plans for you and your children. He will have strategies, principles and answers but you need to ask Him to show you. And He will!
“Train up a child in the way he should go (and in keeping with his individual gift or bent) and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov 22:6