Recently, I received the following question from Venus:
So I just have to ask your thoughts on the promise that God said train a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart and the story of the prodigal son, in comparison to the 88% that never return ... can that be true??!
Let me try and answer her question! First, I don't believe we are "losing" 50-88% of the youth from church. In most cases, we never had them!
I hear complaints all the time about what the government or the public schools are doing (or not doing) that is causing children to rebel and get into all kinds of trouble. And we might even want to blame the church, saying they aren't doing their job. But the ultimate responsibility for changing problematic behavior of children does not start in the White House, or in the schoolhouse, or even in the church house. Change has to start in our house.
We have to quit blaming everybody else and do something about it. There needs to be change, and we need to cry out ... Lord, let it start with me.
Fathers we are given a very specific command: "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
With love, we are to be involved with raising our children to love the Lord and walk in His ways. In our busy world, that will require making sacrifices ... but our children are worth it.
A friend once told me, "Carl, our children are like a bank account" ... and he explained:
If you open a bank account and put nothing in it for eighteen years, and then come back to take out a withdrawal, don't expect to get much out. If we don't invest in our children their entire lives, we'll never get much of a "withdrawal" from them. If you've poured into them, trained them, and loved them, when the teenage years come and the peers start to have influence on them, you'll still, Lord willing, be able to see fruit in their lives, because you've invested spiritually and physically in their lives!
Let's look again at Proverbs 22:6.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Does that promise our children won't walk away if we teach them while they're young?
Something we need to remember -- proverbs are not promises. Proverbs are short sayings based on long experiences. Proverbs offer wisdom and guidelines for how we should live.
We have no problem with the first part of this proverb, it's the last part of this proverb that creates problems... "and when he is old, he will not depart from it [the ways in which they were trained]." We know that is not always the case.
In fact, there are many examples in the Bible. A good example is Samuel's sons. An even better example is God's children. Israel was chosen and "trained up" very well by God ... and yet they departed.
Let's close with some insights from The Pulpit Commentary in 1891:
Not the very best training of the very wisest parents in the world can positively secure goodness and wisdom in their children. For when they have done everything in their power, there must remain that element of individuality which will choose its own course and form its own character. Our children may choose to reject the truth we teach them, and to slight the example we set them, and to despise the counsel we give them. In the will of every child there is a power which cannot be forced, which can only be won. Therefore:
(1) Let all parents seek, beside training their children in good habits, to win their hearts to that Divine Wisdom in whose friendship and service alone will they be safe. Where sagacity [discernment] may fail, affection will triumph....
(2) Let all children understand that for their character and their destiny they must themselves be responsible....
The parent may lead his child up to it, but the child must pass through it of its own accord.
Train up your children, praying for them always. And most importantly, trust the Lord!
Merry Christmas and Stay Bold!