Children come into this world thinking only of one thing: me, me, me! As infants they require almost constant care. They are takers, not givers. Instead of serving others, they need to be served. As they cry out for help in the middle of the night, never once do they stop and consider that they should be serving others.
All of us come into the world with a taker’s mentality. This is unavoidable and it’s perfectly normal for infants to require so much care. However, do we want our children to continue to be takers and a drain to society as they grow up and become adults? Absolutely not! Somewhere, somehow children must learn that they are here to be of service to others. Their mentality must take a 180-degree turn.
I think the concept that children should serve was much better understood a few generations ago when most families had a small farm. There was always work that children could help with around the farm, and children were welcomed into these families because of the asset they were. This concept is still alive in some parts of the world but mostly foreign in our modern American culture. Today it is rare that children would grow up on a farm, where most of the work is done by heavy equipment. Instead, children are raised in city apartments or subdivisions, where there is very little for them to do. The parents work away from home, and children are left to be entertained by their babysitters, school teachers, electronic games, television, etc. These children grow up expecting their parents to continue to care for them, even pay their way through college. many graduate, hardly prepared to care for themselves, much less to serve others. Is it a wonder that our government continues to provide more and more aid to its citizens?
This is a morbid picture of our American society. I am not pointing this out to criticize or to make one discouraged. I am bringing this to our attention so that we as parents realize that we have a great responsibility placed on our shoulders. Teaching our children to work, to be responsible for themselves, and to serve others is a difficult challenge, especially in the society in which we live. We as parents need to realize this challenge and cry out to God for wisdom (Jas 1:5). We need to have a plan that is much different from the world around us.
I. Teaching our children to work. “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph 4:28). God wants us to work with our hands. manual labor was not a result of the curse. God created us to work with our hands, and this concept must be taught to our children.
The Bible says very little about teaching our children to work. Is this because it is not necessary for our children to learn to work? No. I believe this is because it was an understood concept in Bible times. Think about it. most families had their own small farm, and with no modern farm equipment, there was plenty of work for the children to do. Today, however, most of us fathers hold jobs away from home. This is not an ideal way to teach our children to work.
We need to plan things for our children to do, like gardening, raising chickens, cutting firewood, making wooden pens, etc. And when we are home, we need to make the most of our time spent with our children. We must include them in our work. I regret the many times that I sent my children out of my way (out of the shop, out of the garden) because they were constantly underfoot. We need to find ways to include our children in our work even if it makes more work for us at the moment. If you are in the shop, they can hold your wrenches. out in the garden, they can carry your tomato stakes. If they are too little to pull weeds, perhaps they can carry them to the wheelbarrow. Sometimes we need to make up work just for the purpose of involving our little ones. They need to be included, feel needed, and learn the techniques of work at an early age. When our youngsters learn to help, we must pour on all the praise and encouragement that we can. We all like to hear compliments for a job well done. It is an incentive to work harder yet. The same is especially true of children. The Apostle Paul used this method many times in his epistles to young Christians, and we should as well.
Not only can our children learn from us by watching, but working side by side creates the opportunity where our child can open up his life, share his problems, and ask for advice. It may be a friendship struggle at school, or a deep moral failure, or just a hunting story, but our children need these opportunities to share their hearts. If we are constantly sending them off to play somewhere else so we can get the work done quickly, we are sending them down a road that will take them far away from us.
II. Teaching our children to be responsible for themselves. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam 3:27).
Our children not only need to learn to obey and do as they are told, but they also need to learn to be self motivated, responsible for themselves, and able to make their own decisions. I remember that when I was boy, my mother would give me a small section of the garden where I could plant a garden of my own. I was responsible to make my own rows, plant my own vegetables, weed, fertilize, mulch, and water at my own discretion. If my garden was neglected to grow up in weeds, I bore the consequences of my actions. I also remember a time when I was in the primary Sunday school class and lost my book. Not only was it humbling for me to admit that I had lost my book, but my teacher required that I pay for the expense of the new one. It is good for our children to learn the lessons of real life at an early age in this way. Not only should carelessness have consequences, but good behavior must have rewards.
Sometimes our children want to do things a little different than the way we as parents prefer to do them. I think it is good if we can allow our children room to be creative and make their own decisions, even if we know there will be some hard knocks along the way. For example, I remember questioning my mom about whether it was necessary to fold my clothes and keep them organized in my dresser drawers. She told me that if I wanted to, I could pile them in my drawer without folding them. I tried that method for a while and then decided that it was better to do laundry mom’s way. Sometimes this method is more effective than if we would require strict adherence to the way we have always done it. Sometimes our children need to learn life’s lesson for themselves. We see this illustrated in the story of the prodigal son.
III. Teaching our children to serve others. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
I believe in this last point we are finally getting to the heart of the matter. Teaching our children to be hard workers and to be responsible for themselves is not enough. They must also learn to be servants. This really is the goal. If our children learn the traits of hard work and personal responsibility only to grow up to become selfish millionaires, we’ve accomplished nothing. We have only set them on a path headed toward eternal destruction. We must go on to teach our children why we must work hard and be responsible for ourselves. It is so we are able to serve others. See Ephesians 4:28c.
As parents, we must lead the way by example. We must be convinced that this is our reason for being here. No amount of words, reasoning, teaching courses, Sunday school lessons, and lectures can take the place of what we teach by our own example. This is how Jesus taught. John 13:14,15, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Peter says it so clearly in First Peter 2:21, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”
Do our children see us willingly giving up our time for others, or do they hear us complain loud and long about the sacrifices we make? Fathers, do you complain to your family when it’s your turn to study for a Wednesday evening topic, or when it’s your turn to go to the jail service Friday evening, or when the neighbor calls and asks if he can borrow your lawnmower? Life will require many sacrifices. God will give us many opportunities to serve. Are we looking for those opportunities? Do we view serving as a privilege? Shame on us when we try to avoid opportunities for service. Shame on us when we brag to others about how we always “get out” of sacrificing our time or money. How wonderful it is when we willingly accept the opportunities God gives us to be of service! This was Paul’s attitude in Second Corinthians 12:15, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” read also Philippians 2:17; 1Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:10.
We need to teach our children not only to share their toys and do their jobs, but also to do so willingly and joyfully. We haven’t really taught our children to share their toys if they only do so when we make them share. We have not taught them the joy of serving if we allow them to grumble and complain as they go about their work. They need to be taught that giving, sharing, and serving brings joy.
Look for ways to teach this foundational concept to your children. For example, let’s say older brother has been out sweating in the garden. Send little Johnny out with a glass of cold water. Let him experience the joy of giving! When you give your child a pack of “Smarties,” show them how it brings joy to share with others. We need to repeat this lesson until our children learn to do this on their own accord. When your child begins to learn this concept, pour on the praise. Instill in him a desire to serve. explain to him that we are happy because God is happy. Teach him that he is “laying up treasures in heaven” when he gives them away down here. Explain that when we hoard our treasures to ourselves, they only make us more miserable.
As our children get older, we should take them along with us when we have opportunities to serve. CAM projects, school cleaning, mowing the church yard, and helping a neighbor start their car are all wonderful opportunities to serve. Don’t leave your teenagers behind to get the work done at home. Take them along so they can experience the joy of service. When you go along to work projects, keep your children involved in the work. They won’t learn this if you let them run off and play with their friends.
Remember to stay involved yourself. If you go only for the food, fun, and fellowship, your child will do the same. Another pitfall is for parents to send their children off to work projects, children’s ministry, youth chorus, etc., while they stay at home to get the work done or to enjoy a relaxing evening. Go along with your children when you can. Be involved yourself as there is opportunity. Perhaps your child is old enough but not mature enough. Don’t assume that they will learn to be mature away from home if they are not learning it at home. When we send our children away for service opportunities, it should be done as a sacrifice on our part, not as a way to have a break from parenting. Depending on our child’s level of maturity, we may need to make sure that there is an older person along that they are accountable to. This should be clearly communicated to your child as well as their “guardian.” As parents we should regularly stay in touch with our children when they are away from us by calling, emailing, or texting.
At some point, we will need to give up our children to whatever service God is calling them to. This should be our goal as parents and should be done willingly, even though it may be the most painful sacrifice we have ever made. God will reward us as He did Hannah of old.
Last of all, pray for your children (Php 1:9; 2Th 1:11). Pray that God would instill in your children the desire to serve. Pray that he would convert them from a life of selfishness. Intercede for them in your “prayer closet” as well as in their hearing. I remember my parents regularly praying for each of us children by name in family worship. There is only so much that we as parents can do to influence our children’s decisions. God must perform His work in their hearts, and they must personally choose to respond to His work (Psa 127:1). May God add His blessing as we endeavor to raise our children for His service.
~ Seminole, AL