Loving your children: the top 3 priorities
Love for our children can be expressed in many ways, but in my opinion three clear action items top the list. These three things help us keep our priorities straight, focus our own hearts and minds on our children's upper most need, and train us to love as God loves.
Our children, like all humans, are made up of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. When a baby is born, much of a parent's time is consumed with meeting that child's immediate bodily needs; the need to be fed and diaper changed is loudly demanding. They are so cute and cuddly and seemingly innocent at that early stage that we are constantly—and rightly!—oohing and aahing over every move and facial expression. At that stage we tend to forget that they have a sin nature and a dead spirit. Unless this is regenerated, their lives will end in disaster—both here on earth and eternally.
Our primary love for them, then, needs to be cultivated in the area of their spirit. We easily overlook this because the physical, bodily aspect of life is so dominant and accessible to our senses. We have to retrain our own thinking from body, soul, spirit, which is our natural, sinful, upside down perception, to spirit, soul, body, the right-side up truth. Paul expresses this so well in I Thessalonians 5:23: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
One of the best, if not the best, thing we can do for our children is pray for them. Daily. If God doesn't do a work in their hearts, regenerating their spirit and convicting them of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), all our efforts, no matter how good and worthy, will be in vain. As the psalmist said, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." (Psalm 127:1) If we don't pray for them, our efforts to mold their character is presumption: that is, we are presuming that our parenting can change their hearts apart from God's intervention. This simply is not true and is a tactic of the enemy to keep us from prayer. I must confess that I fell for this lie for a long time—not that I didn't ever pray for my children, but, and I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't pray for them in a concerted, daily, determined manner. It took some hard knocks for me to recognize my presumption and our deep need for God's work in and through our parental efforts.
Our children need our prayers. As parents we see their character flaws and shortcomings, their sinful propensities and their needs, far better than others who only see the surface presentation. And who, better than the parents, cares as much about their well being, their character development, and their life trajectory? No one. That's why we must bear this prayer burden for them before God. We pray for their hearts to be open to God and to His Spirit. We pray for the shaping of their character to be conformed to that of Christ. We pray for sensitivity to the things of the spirit and a sensitivity to others. We pray for protection from temptation and deliverance from the designs of the evil one. We pray for conviction of sin, for a high standard of righteousness, and for a growing awareness of the coming reality of standing before Christ to be judged for the thoughts, words, and deeds done while here on earth. We pray for the Word of God to take root in their lives. We pray for our efforts as parents to be infused with the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Pray for your children.
The second action item in loving our children is to model the priority of spiritual things. Most of our children's habits and priorities are caught rather than taught. It is our sacred duty to model the truth before our children. If we don't live out before them what we teach with our words, they of all people will see through that and turn away from such hypocrisy. If we say that the Bible is God's Word and that through it we come to know God and learn how to live, if we say that God should be most important to us, but then never make time to read the Bible in our day-to-day life, never have time to pray, they will not hear your words but will read your actions. They will perceive that you are wanting people to believe God is important to you when He really isn't.
All of us carry hypocrisy in our souls. That is part of the sanctification process that the Spirit of God is cleansing us from: He is ridding us of our inconsistencies. It takes time; it takes practice. We must continually pray for ourselves that the actions of our lives would match the words of our mouths. The more our lives line up with our words, the more we model authenticity to our children and the more our lives glow with integrity. Model what you believe to your children.
The third important action item in loving our children is teaching them the Bible. You can start reading the Bible to your children when they are in the womb. If you are pregnant, use your time alone with God each day to read the Bible out loud to your baby. While still in the womb, they can hear your voice. Read the Bible to them while you are nursing them. Say Bible verses to them while you are changing their diaper. Tell them about God's love and how much He cares for them. When they kick and scream, tell them about their sin nature and how sin came into the world. Tell them about the promised Savior and the need for His grace.
As they learn to talk, teach them weekly memory verses. Teach them the 10 commandments, for Paul tells us that the law leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24); it reveals their sin and shows them their need for a Savior (Romans 7:7). Read the Bible to them at mealtimes. Show them in these daily, moment-by-moment ways that God is the most important priority in your lives and that what He has revealed in His Word is the truth they can live by, a solid foundation that won't shift with time or culture.
When you go for a walk or take them to the park, talk about God. Praise Him for the beauty around you. Help them see God in all that they do. Remind them that He is the Creator of all things and that He has embedded His truth in all He has made. Sing songs about God and His truth, children's songs that they can easily pick up and sing along. In all these ways you will be fulfilling God's command to parents in Deuteronomy 6:7: "You shall teach them (the words of the Lord) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house (mealtimes and living room/family room times), when you walk by the way (car time and park time, etc.), when you lie down (bedtimes), and when you rise up (morning routine times). Even the times when we have to discipline them are teachable moments to help them understand the truths of justice, of right and wrong, of sowing and reaping, of consequences and responsibility for actions. Whatever the occasion, teach your children the truth of God's Word.
Phileo, this rich emotional love that seeks the highest and best happiness for our children, is best expressed first and foremost through prayer for them, modeling the truth before them, and pouring the Word of God into them. We are seeking to woo their heart toward God. The most loving of all actions is centered in loving their spirit. Think through these 3 avenues of love for your children: prayer, modeling, and the Bible. What simple steps of commitment can you take today, this week, to love your children in these ways?
There are no better ways than these to grow in love and deep affection for your children, a love not based on their performance but based on their need and on the love God has placed in your heart for them. If we apply ourselves and give of our time to these things, our own spirit will grow by leaps and bounds as we watch our children grow "in wisdom and in stature" (Luke 2:52). Through these means God teaches us to love our children with a pure heart out of a sincere faith.