Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, U.K.
The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the
fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes … (Jer 7:18a)
This is a vivid description of a
functional family whose members work in harmony—a dream that we all hope to
achieve. In modern society, the activities in Jeremiah’s portrait are no longer
commonplace, but the basic aspects of family life remain. Parents give
direction to their children, sharing their experiences, acting as role models, and
passing on their values, social skills and sometimes technical skills, in order
to prepare them for independence when they come of age. Children obey and learn
from their parents, often helping out with household chores. Some children even
support their parents in their livelihood. Parents and children alike share a
common goal: the social and economic advancement of the family as a whole.
Because parents want the best for
their children, they will work hard to give them a good education. For some,
this may mean paying for private education so that their children stand a
better chance of entering a top university. To prepare them for a successful
career, not only must they excel academically, children also need to participate
in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, speech and drama. These
develop the children holistically, equipping them with the right social and
However, everything comes with a
price—and not only in financial terms. All these activities take time: parents
have to chauffeur their children from lesson to lesson, waiting for them to
finish before moving on to another appointment. Important dates are dotted on
the calendar—music exams, concerts, sport fixtures, competitions, etc. The tussle
for time between family, work, and church life is a pressing issue—how often are
we late for church services or have to rush off because of our children’s
activities? Yes, we console ourselves: “It is only a one-off; surely God
understands.” However, as parents, should we not look at the bigger picture? What
is our priority in life for ourselves and our children?
If we return to the description of
the harmonious family in Jeremiah, we will notice that they are in fact working
together to serve, not God, but an idol—the queen of heaven. Are we similarly
leading a life that serves other gods rather than working for the riches of the
inheritance that God has prepared for us?
CELEBRATING THEIR SUCCESS YET GRIEVING QUIETLY
We are undoubtedly proud of our
children’s achievements; indeed, the Bible describes children as “the crown of
old men” (Prov 17:6). Children are our support and strength (Ps 127:3–5), and
we treasure the material things they bring to us. Consider the gifts we receive
on special occasions, invitations to expensive restaurants, paid-for holidays,
and even the occasional professional help from them. Take the biblical example
of Isaac and Esau. Isaac loved Esau, as Esau was a capable hunter and brought
Isaac the game he loved (Gen 25:28). Isaac enjoyed these gifts and was probably
proud of Esau’s prowess.
But when our children grow up,
they will lead an independent life and do whatever they think fit, such as in
Esau’s case. When he was forty years old, Esau took two Hittite women as wives
and his actions were a “grief of mind” to his parents (Gen 26:34–35). Or take a
look at Samson, who demanded from his parents a Philistine girl as his wife.
His parents could only question him timidly as to why he wanted to marry
someone with a different belief (Judg 14:2–3). Samson’s marriage was doomed and
ended tragically (Judg 14:20; 15:6).
Our children could have successful
careers, yet we would have failed them if they are not rooted in their faith,
leading a life that is not according to the truth. Whatever material gain,
social standing, or success they have, will not compensate for the grief their
wayward behavior will cause us. We will have a constant sense of guilt,
frustrations, and sorrow, which could burden us until the end of our life. So,
what should we do to ensure our children remain steadfast in their faith?
LIFE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE AND GOD
Jeremiah depicted a family life
that was offensive to God (Jer 7:18). There was nothing wrong with gathering
wood, kindling a fire, or kneading dough. However, the family was working in
unison to worship a false deity, the queen of heaven.
In modern times, the “god of this
age” blinds the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor 4:4). Many families work in
harmony because they pursue the world and the things in it, the modern day “queen
of heaven.” For this reason, God has no place in their lives (1 Jn 2:15).
Children are molded in the image
of their parents. The innocent boys whom Jeremiah depicted did not know what they
did was wrong; they were simply following instructions. When they grew up they would
take a wife and instruct their children to gather wood to prepare sacrifices to
the idol, and thus continue the same offence. Therefore, it is vital for
parents to provide spiritual guidance and to walk on the right path for their
children to follow.
The spiritual backsliding in the
time of the judges was partly a failure of parental guidance. The new
generation did not know God and the works He had done (Judg 2:10). Naturally,
they followed their own desires and did evil in God’s sight (Judg 2:11).
Micah’s mother did not chastise him for stealing her money; instead, when the
money was restored to her, she used part of it to make a graven image as if it
were an offering to God (Judg 17:1–5). Micah even anointed one of his sons to
be the idol’s priest. This sad story shows us that the mother lacked moral and
spiritual insight, a deficiency that was passed on to her son and
Whenever we visit True Jesus
Church (TJC) members who have lost contact with the church, their common
responses are: “All religions are the same; they all lead people to do good,”
or, “All churches are the same. It is inconvenient for you to visit me; it is
easier for me to go to a local (non-TJC) church.” It is no surprise that, in
turn, their children become influenced by their reluctance to come to church
and will often lose their faith.
A LIVING FAITH—EDUCATE BY EXAMPLE
Perhaps we comfort ourselves that
we have done our part by taking our family to church regularly. Our children
have gone through the religious education (RE) system, and they should be rooted
in the faith by the time they grow up. The responsibility of nurturing our
children’s faith appears to have been passed on to the RE teachers. It is not
uncommon for parents to complain to RE teachers when their children are
misbehaving. As parents, we have not completed our duty if we simply go through
the motion of taking our children to church. We need to reflect on our own
faith and way of life. We need to have a faith that is manifested in our life
so that people around us and our family are blessed.
The Bible tells us to train and
teach our children so that they will not depart from the way when they are
older (Prov 22:6; Deut 6:7). This is a holistic process. It starts from how we
lead our life—when we are walking, sitting, lying, or rising up, God’s words
should be in our heart (Deut 6:6–7). And the love of God should manifest from
our heart in all we do (Deut 6:5). We cannot just tell our children, “Do as I
say, not as I do.” Jesus deemed the Pharisees to be hypocrites as they did not
practice what they preached (Mt 23:2–3). In contrast, Paul did not just preach
the gospel of salvation and uphold the doctrines, but also presented his way of
life in Christ Jesus as an example (1 Cor 4:7). He exhorts us to imitate him as
he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We need to actualize this Christ-like image in
our daily living to allow our family and other people to see Jesus in us. This
transformation should come from within (Rom 12:2), a character change that
transcends the outward display of piety by the Pharisees (Mt 6:2, 5, 16).
Elder Peter exhorts us to answer,
in meekness and fear, those who ask us the reason for our hope (1 Pet 3:15).
Why would anyone ask us about our hope if we have not exhibited this hope in
our behavior? If we act, behave, and speak like non-believers, no one will see
that we have a hope that is different from anyone else’s.
Knowing the impact of Christian
living on our family, we need to prioritize and refocus our life, making room
for God and cutting back on unnecessary worldly pursuits. The church has
advocated the setting up of a family altar for a number of years. Worshipping God
is not confined to a few hours per week in church; it should be our way of
living. Daily prayers, regular Bible reading and study, and sharing spiritual
experiences gained at work and in church, are key components of this family
altar. We should take every opportunity to instill this way of life and
Christian values in our family members through our day-to-day interactions with
them. Moreover, we should create opportunities for our family to experience God
and to receive His blessings.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR FAMILY TO EXPERIENCE
Faith is not simply an assent to
doctrine, as the Catholics put it. It begins with the knowledge of God, which
can be learned during church services, Bible study, RE classes and theological
training. However, faith is not grounded in knowledge alone. Having a personal
relationship with God is another matter. Our understanding of Him begins with
knowledge. But we need to augment our knowledge with wisdom and spiritual
understanding as we experience God on our journey of faith. We may become discouraged
by failure and mishaps, but with trust and perseverance, our knowledge of Him
will gradually take shape as we walk in the Lord (Col 1:9–10). This is why we
must lead our children to not only know God, but also to walk with Him and
develop their own personal faith.
Jacob was brought up in a family
of faith, yet to him God was the God of his fathers (Gen 31:5; 32:9). His faith
finally became his own when he encountered God, and was subsequently delivered
by Him (Gen 32; 35; cf. Gen 28:21). He cleansed himself and his household,
removing all strange gods from their midst (Gen 35:2–4). And on his deathbed,
he recalled his lifelong experience with God, acknowledging Him as the God who
fed him throughout his life (Gen 48:15).
For a positive example of how to
create opportunities for our family to experience God, we can look to Abraham.
Hebrews 11:11 describes Sarah as faithful because she believed she could
deliver a child when she was past the age. However, she initially doubted God’s
promise (Gen 18:13; 17:16, 19, 21). Her faithlessness was laid bare when
Abraham unknowingly received God (Gen 18:1–2, 14). Abraham’s hospitality and
good work allowed Sarah to encounter God and to reflect on her own shortcoming.
And through this experience, her faith and trust were strengthened.
Additionally, Abraham’s obedience
and trust in the Lord had an impact on his son Isaac. Abraham followed God’s
command to sacrifice his only son, and when the angel appeared, Abraham’s faith
was reaffirmed and Isaac experienced God firsthand (Gen 22:11). Isaac witnessed
God’s power, purpose, and good nature. In both cases, Abraham’s obedience, good
behavior, and faith allowed his family to personally experience God, which in
turn strengthened their faith.
We should long for the
immeasurable and unfathomable treasures of God rather than for achieving
greatness in this world. This means striving to lead a
life that is worthy of our calling, and in such a way that brings opportunities
for our family to experience God and develop their own relationship with Him.
The whole family works in unison for a common goal—to serve God and to project
a Christ-like image in our life so that our family and friends can experience
God through us. In this way, we will have no regrets in our old age—only sweet
memories of God’s lifelong blessings upon our family.