In Mark 10:13–16, Jesus rebukes his disciples when they hinder children from coming to him because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mk 10:14). Surely we would have never made such a foolish mistake if we were in the disciples’ shoes, right? Well we may not find ourselves in the same situation as the disciples, but we can hinder our children from coming to Jesus in other ways. How so? Let me give you six to consider:
We hinder children from coming to Jesus by neglecting to teach them about God’s plan of salvation revealed in the Bible. God has given parents the task to teach their children the Word of God. Fathers, in particular, have been commissioned by God to instruct their children in the oracles of God (Eph 6:4). We hinder our children from coming to Jesus if we think they are to learn the truths of the Bible from the “professionals” (children’s ministry workers, youth pastors, etc.). As parents, we must be diligent to teach our children the Bible’s grand story of redemption and how this story culminates in Christ. Our children must learn that the Bible is not primarily about them or about how to be a good little boy or girl. They must understand that the Bible is primarily about Jesus and how to have a relationship with him.
We hinder children from coming to Jesus by failing to model true Christian discipleship in our own lives. I am amazed at how much my children absorb from my wife and I just by watching our example and listening to our conversations—for better or worse! My desire is that my children would follow me as I follow Christ. How many young people grew up unimpressed with Christianity because Jesus was a Sunday only guest in their home. Children will determine their perception of Christianity based on the example of their parents. We want our children to see that knowing Christ and walking with Christ is the most precious thing in the world to us. We want them to catch a glimpse of us praying in private and hear us asking forgiveness when we have wronged them or our spouse. We want them to take part in our prayers for other people and witness our daily fight for personal holiness. We want them to see us rejoice in suffering and remain faithful in in the midst of trials. We want our children to be compelled by our example of Christian faithfulness to want nothing more than to worship the risen and reigning Christ. If you want to bring your children to Jesus, you would do well to care for your own soul.
We hinder our children from coming to Jesus, Dads, by failing to model loving fatherhood. If my fatherhood is meant to be a reflection (albeit imperfect) of the nature of God as Father, then my children will transfer their perception of my fatherhood onto the Father in heaven. It is an interesting fact that many atheists had a father that did not care for them or love them. We would hinder our children from coming to the Father through the Son if we give them a perception of fatherhood that is merciless, unloving, heartless, unforgiving, disinterested, unengaged, impatient, and joyless. If that’s what fatherhood is like, then why would they want to submit to a God who identifies himself as Father? Of course the God of the Bible is nothing like that. He is a Father who lavishes his children with love, care, protection, extravagant mercy, and grace (1 Jn 3:1; Eph 1:3–14). God is the prototypical Father and we want to model his characteristics to our children so that they will have a healthy perception of what it means for God to be Father.
I like to tell my kids before they go to bed that I’m always watching them. Obviously I’m not omnipresent like God, but I want them to know that even when they fall asleep I’m probably going to be in their room once or twice before I go to bed and at least once during the night. When they wake up, I often remind them that I had to put their blankets back on them in the middle of the night. My children, of course, don’t remember me doing this because they were fast asleep. Nevertheless, the thought of a father who is always watching them and caring for them, even when they are sleeping, might give them a framework for understanding the love of the Father in heaven who never slumbers or sleeps but cares for his people personally, individually, and relentlessly. As the Psalmists said:
Psalm 121:4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalm 139:3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
We hinder children from coming to Jesus when we do not teach them to submit to authority. The 5th commandment of the Decalogue is contained in Exodus 20:12:
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Children must learn to submit to the authority of their parents so that they learn how to submit to God and how to flourish as citizens in society. Uncontrollable behavior in schools and overcrowded prisons are the symptoms of a society whose citizens do not learn to submit to authority in the home. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov 22:15). If left to go their own way, children will be on the road to destruction as the flame of foolishness is fanned in their hearts. Parents must drive this folly out of their child’s heart by teaching them to submit to their counsel and instruction. A child who learns to surrender his will to his parents’ instruction will be ready to surrender his life to the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). We would hinder our children from coming to Jesus if we do not teach them to submit to authority because the call of discipleship is a call of glad submission to the Savior who always has our best interests in mind.
We hinder children from coming to Jesus by failing to give them grace.
Our children will never perfectly obey God’s law or our rules. They need the gospel of grace just as much as we do. We must, therefore, temper our discipline with grace. I am not denying the fact that we should expect proper behavior from our children and administer discipline when necessary. But when they fail to live up to our law, we must constantly point them to the grace of God and, at times, temper our discipline with grace. To fail to do so is to exasperate them. We must show them grace and teach them about the grace of God so that their hearts might be transformed to become doers of the law empowered by the Spirit of Christ. God does not deal with us as our sins deserve and we would do well to be gracious to our children when they don’t measure up to the standard.
We hinder children from coming to Jesus by thinking that we are good at doing the five things I just mentioned.
Praise God that our children’s souls do not ultimately depend on our performance. If you think you have this parenting thing all figured out, then you might not actually be in a good place. In fact, the one who thinks he is the expert father or quintessential mother is probably blind to his or her own gross faults.
We would hinder our children from coming to Jesus if we think, “I’ll just plug in the formula and my children will turn out just fine!” Better yet are the mother and father who are aware of their own weaknesses if their weakness drive them to pray for the souls of their children. If we find ourselves depending too much on our methodology, we may also find ourselves depending less upon God. Good parenting requires a healthy sense of desperation. Without it we are in danger of hindering our children from coming to Jesus because we might have replaced the true Savior with a false one, namely ourselves.
If we are honest, we know that we have all failed our children in many ways. But God is gracious and he deals with us as a loving Father even when we do not do the same for our children. Jesus said in Luke 11:13:
Luke 11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We cannot give the Holy Spirit to our children, but our heavenly Father can. So we ask in faith, “Father draw the hearts of our children to Jesus, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”