You are no doubt familiar with the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
Sometimes, our children are like that horse when it comes to spiritual things. They may not be as enthusiastic about Jesus as we would like them to be. Perhaps you have tried teaching them to pray. You have read the Bible to them and encouraged them to read it for themselves. But you see in their eyes and their body language that they really could not care less.
It is worrisome, isn’t it? What is a parent to do? Maybe you have given up trying. Don’t do that. Or, if you already have given up, try again. Continue to “lead them to water,” so to speak — the water of God’s Word, the water of His Presence. Give the opportunity, time and again, whether they respond in their hearts or not. Because, if you keep on presenting the water to them, the day may come when they will suddenly want to drink. But if you give up on leading them to the watering trough too quickly, it may not happen.
I don’t mean browbeat them, or try to force them to say the sinner’s prayer. Don’t nag at them about their spiritual coldness. None of that will do any good. It’s not up to you to save them; only the Holy Spirit can work the needed change in their hearts. Your job is to bring them to the water, and that’s all.
Do make it part of your daily routine to pray and read the Bible aloud together with them. This is important, even if they don’t seem hugely interested. If they refuse to actively participate, they should still know that they are expected to be present with you in it. Just don’t stop giving the opportunity.
For prayer, ask them questions which may engage them, such as, “Do you want me to pray for you about anything?” “Do you know of anyone who might be in need of prayer?” Even if they don’t wish to pray themselves, they may still appreciate your offer to pray for them or the things they are concerned about.
When you read the Bible, try to draw them into discussion.
- “What did you think about the story we read today?”
- “Did you have a favorite character?”
- “What thoughts or pictures came to mind as we read?”
- “What would you have done in that Bible character’s shoes?”
If they don’t respond very much, volunteer what you got out of the story, or your favorite character, or how you think you would have felt in that character’s place. Keep their thinking wheels engaged.
Don’t stop talking to your children about Jesus. Keep expressing to them throughout the day how good Jesus is. You might have to practice at first to make this a natural habit, but after a while, it will become second nature. Tell them about answers to prayer you have received. Frequently share with them what the Lord has spoken to you about, or things He is currently showing you personally for your life. These are informal ways you can keep leading them to Jesus, the living water.
Talk about Jesus more than church life. It is easy to expend more of our speech on our horizontal relationships with people in the church than on the Lord. If our children hear us saying negative things about church or church people, it can harden their hearts toward God. Refrain from gossip and critical comments. Avoid speaking in front of them about how people have offended you. This is hard to do consistently, so when you realize you have failed at it, be transparent and humble before your children. Tell them you messed up, and ask them to forgive you for speaking wrongly.
Respect their thoughts and feelings. With good reason the apostle Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Our children’s hearts can become hardened if we are harsh or too authoritarian with them, or if we do not ask their forgiveness for hurting them. Asking their forgiveness goes a long way toward healing wounds and softening their hearts toward the Lord.
If you have failed in these and other areas in the past, all is not lost. Ask the Lord to repair the damage already done, and He will certainly do that for you. He is a God of restoration, redemption, and miracles. Bringing the broken pieces to Him is all He requires in order to begin the process of restoring that which has been marred.
Keep praying for your children, that God will open their hearts toward Him. The prayers of a parent for that wayward child are powerful. In fact, prayer is the most powerful tool we have for getting our children in right relationship with the Lord and keeping them there. God hears and eagerly responds to your prayers for your children. You will have to wait patiently for Him to work in His perfect timing, but be expectant that He will.
The bottom line is to persevere — in prayer for them and in leading them gently back to the water. If you will do that, you will see the day come when they are ready to drink.
River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus,
by Lee Ann Rubsam