Is Your Young Child ‘Growing to Salvation’?
ALL Christian parents want to see their children grow into mature, Christian adults. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. It is by no means automatic that the child of a Christian parent will himself grow up to be a Christian. Why is that?
We can see one reason from Peter’s words: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2, 3) The exhortation to “form a longing” suggests that our children will not naturally have a longing for spiritual things. We may have to form, or develop, such a longing in them. Yet, as the text also shows, salvation is involved. Just as children have to learn to like healthful food if they are to grow to healthy adulthood, so they must learn to enjoy spiritual food if they are to “grow to salvation.”
Parents—do you have children who are not yet teenagers? Has your program of child raising and discipline worked well for you up to this point? If so, that is fine. However, things may change during the teenage years. In fact, while the problems of adolescence are sometimes overstated, experienced parents warn that you should expect some anxious times during that period. Can you prepare for them now, while your child is still young? Yes, there are definite steps you can take. For example, we should help them to develop . . .
An Intimate Relationship With Jehovah
Young Samuel, whose birth was an answer to the prayer of Hannah, his mother, ‘grew up with Jehovah.’ (1 Samuel 2:20, 21) What a wonderful upbringing! Remember, too, that on one occasion parents brought their young children to Jesus. At first, the disciples reprimanded them, but “at seeing this Jesus was indignant and said to them: ‘Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to suchlike ones.’” Jesus approved of the parents’ bringing their children to him. He took the children into his arms and blessed them.—Mark 10:13-16.
Can parents today help their children to ‘grow up with Jehovah’ and bring them to Jesus Christ, thus helping them develop a relationship with Jehovah and Jesus? They can, but it takes time. Jesus was willing to spend time with other people’s children, so surely we can spend time with our own. If possible, we should start from infancy, as Timothy’s mother did. (2 Timothy 3:15) We should talk about Jehovah and Jesus as real persons, teaching our little ones to appreciate some of their wonderful creative works. When we take them to the park, to the zoo, or out in the country, we can help them to see Jehovah’s hand in the wonders they see. By means of our conversation, we can develop in them a desire to do what is right because this pleases Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. (Compare Deuteronomy 6:7.) Do not put off doing this. The time that our children are little is far too short. They grow up quickly, so time spent with them is precious.—Matthew 19:13-15.
Of course, the primary way we teach our children the truth and help them to gain an intimacy with Jehovah is by means of a family Bible study. This will be most successful, however, if we . . .
Make It Enjoyable
A mother who wants her child to enjoy wholesome food does not force huge quantities of it down his throat. Rather, she will prepare it tastefully and encourage him to eat small portions at a time, gradually building his taste for it. Something similar is needed for spiritual food. Whether you are starting a study program for the first time or you want to do something about your program because your child is getting bored, the requirement is the same. Strive to make the program interesting.
With young children you do not have to stick to a formal question-and-answer method, nor do you have to make each study last a whole hour. Adapt the study to your child. Tell him stories about Bible characters. Let him draw pictures of Bible scenes. Let the children act out Bible events and dramas. Give them homework to prepare. Make it lively and varied. You want your child to “form a longing” for the word, so make it as tasty as you can for him.—1 Peter 2:2, 3.
The results are worth the effort because they are long-lasting. If your child enjoys spiritual things when he is young, he can be helped to develop an intimate relationship with Jehovah that will last throughout his lifetime. “Start a boy on the right road, and even in old age he will not leave it.” (Proverbs 22:6, The New English Bible) But there is something else that will help your child to develop a love of spiritual things. What is that?
A Happy, Balanced Family
Yes, just as a plant grows best when the soil is rich and the atmosphere is just right, so a child will flourish spiritually in a happy family atmosphere. However, for such an atmosphere to exist, family members need to spend time together. Parents, do you make sure that your family members spend time together and talk to one another? Do you have a family policy on TV viewing? on recreation? on choice of music? on family study? on other spiritual activities? What is the family atmosphere like at evening mealtime? In many homes the evening meal is the best time for the family to be together. It affords the opportunity to discuss what has happened during the day, to share a little humor and relaxed talk. It can be good for everybody.
Remember, too, that while children need spiritual activities and have to fulfill their responsibilities in the home, they also need time to play. Charles R. Foster, in his book Psychology for Life Today, said: “Recognizing the importance of recreation in the lives of their children, parents should make provision for the children to enjoy these experiences. . . . Children, as they grow older and develop, should see the relationship between these activities and family expenses as well as home responsibilities. If they do recognize these relationships, and do not use recreation as an escape from home duties and responsibilities, a happier atmosphere in the home will result.”
Parents who help their child to develop a balanced attitude toward recreation, work, and spiritual matters contribute much to his enjoyment of spiritual things and his closeness to Jehovah. (Compare 2 Timothy 3:4b; Titus 3:3.) Such progress will bring them much joy. And there is something else they can start doing to build their child’s appreciation of spiritual things in early childhood:
Help Set Worthwhile Goals
Wise King Solomon gave good advice on child rearing when he said: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) “According to the way for him” could mean either according to his capacity, or, more likely, in the manner of life, the way, the goal in life, that you would have him choose for himself. Thus, one of the most important ways a parent can contribute to his child’s happiness and spirituality is to assist him to set meaningful goals. These goals should be worthwhile and realistic. They should also be attainable within a reasonable period of time. Then, when some goals are achieved, this will encourage the child to set others that are higher.
It is a common mistake to wait for a child to set his own goals in life. A child’s experience is too limited. If parents do not help him to set goals, someone else will—perhaps the children at school or the school counselors. Christian parents can help the child set goals that harmonize with his appreciation for spiritual things. Young children could make it their goal to qualify to join the Theocratic Ministry School. In the field service, good goals to be achieved one by one could be to offer a handbill at the door, to give a magazine presentation, and then to give a simple sermon. Study goals could be set. Children could gradually learn the order of books of the Bible and memorize certain key texts. Career goals should be talked about early. While school counselors will hold out one kind of career, Christian parents can stress goals that will satisfy the child’s growing interest in serving Jehovah, such as pioneering, Bethel, and missionary service.
Parents also want their child to develop a sense of responsibility. They can help him train his conscience on the basis of Bible principles. As he develops, they should let him know that they trust him to do the right thing. In some endeavors they may give limited freedom, and if the child makes a mistake, they can help him to learn from it, instead of severely criticizing him. Earning a name for being dependable is an achievement children will be proud of, and it will contribute to their ‘growing to salvation.’
As the child grows, the parents watch for changes and alertly adapt training and discipline to new situations. They are completely honest and open with him. They communicate how they feel about his actions and changes. By being honest and open, they hope to help him communicate freely with them—he will not become a stranger in the house.
Young David cultivated a longing for spiritual things. The psalms that he wrote reveal a deep appreciation of Jehovah’s love. (Psalm 23:1-6) This confidence in Jehovah stood him in good stead when he had to face up to a wild bear, a lion, and finally the Philistine giant Goliath who had struck terror into the hearts of the whole Israelite army. Imagine how proud Jesse, David’s father, must have been because of David’s faith! David developed an intimacy with Jehovah that lasted all through his life. (1 Samuel 17:32-37, 45-50; Psalm 19:9, 10, 14; 15:1, 2; 24:3, 4) Our children can build a similar intimacy and make us similarly proud—with our help. But we cannot do it alone.
Pray for Help
When Manoah learned that he was going to become a father, he asked for guidance on how to bring up the child and how to train him. Jehovah answered his prayer. (Judges 13:8, 12, 24) Parents today, too, should not neglect praying to Jehovah about their children, imploring him for wisdom as they try to guide them onto the way to life. Samuel, a prophet of Jehovah, considered it to be a “sin against Jehovah” if he neglected to pray in behalf of Jehovah’s people. (1 Samuel 12:23; compare Proverbs 1:24, 25.) We should feel the same sense of responsibility toward our children. We want them to develop a spiritual attitude. Regular prayer for help is essential.
Do Not Give Up
Is any of this easy? Of course not. It is rewarding but not easy. When our child becomes a teenager, problems and crises are sure to arise. When they surface, do not be panic stricken. Handle them one by one and do not expect miracles. Be firm, but do not overreact; refrain from making cutting remarks but deal patiently with the problem. If we maintain our composure in this way, generally the crisis passes, and we can once again enjoy closeness with our child.
All God-fearing parents want the best for their children. We want them to ‘appreciate sacred things,’ to form a longing for the word of God, that through it they may “grow to salvation.” Sometimes, it is true, despite much hard work, Christian parents see their children grow up and then reject the truth. Nevertheless, diligent work on our part will reduce the likelihood of this happening. With Jehovah’s help we will work hard to train our children according to the way for them. May our reward be to see them endure in the way of the truth throughout their lives.—Hebrews 12:16; 1 Peter 2:2; Proverbs 22:6.
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Jesus was willing to spend time with other people’s children. Surely we can spend time with our own
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If you want your child to ‘form a longing for the word,’ make it as tasty as possible for him