We are now old and full of years. It is different than we supposed. Our souls—who we are—haven’t aged at all, and we are not alone in that. All my life I have heard the elderly speak of their aging bodies as a contradiction to the vibrancy they feel in their souls. The years are so compressed now. Events, feelings, fears, thrills, and even foods I ate when young still evoke the same responses they did two-thirds of a century ago.
But the passing of time has sharpened my perspective and provided wisdom. It is the understanding that comes from seeing generation after generation making wise choices or, more often, making the same mistakes and suffering the same fate. There are a few who reap a bitter crop early. They are thrown to the wolves quickly with disease, accident, evil men’s tampering, or intermingling with bitter souls. But the majority amble along carelessly, vaguely aware that the path they are taking has been known to end rather poorly. They keep smiling and going on in the futile hope that they will somehow escape the consequences of their choices.
So if by some supernatural, rhetorical gift I could cause you who have not yet reached the moment of reckoning to clearly see your end, what would I say? I would give you seven absolute Dos and Don’ts that, if obeyed, would spare you a lot of suffering and, more importantly, spare your children.
1. Good health is a choice.
The first and most important choices are made by Mother. Is your 22-month-old baby fat? Up until the age of twenty, fat cells multiply in number according to the need to store more fat. After twenty, the fixed number of fat cells either swell larger with overindulgence or shrink with healthy eating. The number of fat cells generated in your youth stays with you the rest of your life, and the more you have, the more you tend toward obesity.
To say it plainly, we steal our children’s health by how much food and what kinds of food we provide. Mother lays the foundation for vibrant health or for a lifetime of sickliness and early death. Gluttony is a deadly sin against our own body and those entrusted to us. It saddens me greatly to see a fat child, knowing the suffering ahead and knowing Mother could have prevented it.
2. Thanksgiving is rewarded.
Unthankfulness is found near the top of God’s list of sins (Romans 1:21). Thankfulness has nothing to do with saying the words. Real thankfulness is a fountain that springs from the soul. It is a belief, an underlying conviction, a worldview, a feeling, and it is manifested in everyday conversation. Our children are showered with it and thrive in its healing waters. Without thankfulness it is impossible to have real joy and deep satisfaction in life. It is life. When a mother and father purpose in their hearts to live and speak thankfulness, it makes an indelible impression on the children’s souls. Thankfulness feeds the mind and spirit with energy and optimism. Children bathed in thankfulness see life as a canvas and their gifts as brushes enabling them to create and build. Less gifted, less attractive, and less intellectual children living in the sunlight of thankfulness will outperform their gifted peers ten to one. A pretty face on a talented, intelligent person oozing unthankfulness is a failure from the start.
3. Mockery is found in the Bible 39 times (the number of stripes Jesus received on his back).
It is never represented as other than showing contempt. Job described mocking as “laughed to scorn” (Job 12:4). When Sarah saw the son of Hagar mocking her younger son, she resolved to have Ishmael and his mother exiled from the tribe (Genesis 21:9). When little children mocked the prophet, no doubt mimicking their parents, God sent bears to “tear” them—42 children in all (2 Kings 2:23–24). When Jesus spoke of his coming suffering, at the top of the list was “And they shall mock him…” (Mark 10:34). In the list of things believers suffered, the Scriptures speak of “trial of cruel mockings” (Hebrews 11:36). There are many other examples in Scripture concerning the consequences of mocking. Mocking in the home becomes a form of entertainment, as if it is funny to see “how stupid” other people are.
Mocking is a mark of the lower class. It comes from a feeling of inadequacy and a need to climb upon the ruins of lost reputations. It is a generation-to-generation culture, a learned worldview—us against them.
But in my many years, I have observed that children raised in an atmosphere of mocking others, rather than feeling superior, develop poor self-images and lack social confidence. They were amused as they heard their parents making fun of the words, dress, talents, social skills, education, etc. of friends and acquaintances, but, while they adopted the mocking habits, somehow their words turned back on them. The insecurity that comes from being raised in a mocking home doesn’t seem to show up until the teen years. You will notice a lack of confidence spilling over into many areas. It can bring depression, a desire to hide away, and a feeling that everyone is judging them. Mockery steals confidence in those that are raised hearing it. This I have observed like it is a law of nature.
4. Bitterness not only points the blame elsewhere, it carries a torch of revenge.
It is so destructive to the one that carries the bitterness that medical science has recognized it as a source of degenerative diseases. Professor Carsten Wrosch of Concordia University in Montreal says, “When harboured for a long time, bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease.” Bitterness, like envy, brings “rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). I am convinced that many bone diseases are caused by a life of bitterness.
Psalm 64:3–8 speaks of the marks of bitterness:
- Bitter people prepare their tongue to use bitter words.
- They speak in secret.
- They privately plot how to lay a snare.
- They seek to discover iniquities in the person against whom they are bitter.
- But their bitterness will turn back on them,
- And people will flee from being in their presence.
The book of Hebrews speaks of bitterness as a root that grows underground but then springs up suddenly to trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:14–15). Paul links bitterness with wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking (Ephesians 4:31). He tells husbands not to be bitter against their wives (Colossians 3:19). Speaking with bitterness is like fermenting yeast: it foams up, rotting both the speaker and the hearers as it grows. Children raised in a household with bitterness are living in toxic waste. Perhaps you have seen entire households that seem exemplary, yet upon reaching adulthood every child seems to hit a wall of misery and disappointment. The children are marked by a readiness to blame someone else for their failure. Bitterness destroys a part of the soul that makes it hard to go forward in anything worthwhile.
5. Laziness destroys success.
The Scriptures call it slothfulness. Teaching a child to love working is one of the greatest gifts you can impart. I have spent over 2,000 hours ministering in the prisons, and I have seen men released only to return six months later. I have also met other released inmates at the work place years after they did their time. Without doubt, the thing that most determines whether or not a man will make it in the outside world or be recycled through the system again and again is whether or not he is lazy. The hard worker gets a job and stays busy with no time to hang out and idle away at home or on the street. He has self-respect, a vision, and goals, and he is happy succeeding. The lazy man is self-loathing and bored, seeking meaning in things that will land him back in prison. Furthermore, a hard worker is admired and liked, whereas a lazy man is scorned and despised by his peers. There is no such thing as a successful lazy man.
Only parents can instill a love of work in their children, and it has to begin as soon as they can understand language and toddle around. Once a child’s soul has tasted the wonderful satisfaction that comes with a job well done, it becomes an addiction he will never get over. Just a little reminder to stop playing and do your duty can get the little one back to being resourceful. But if this is not engrained in their extreme youth—by three years old—then the child resents having to work. As an adult, they expect others to provide for them and are offended when they don’t get their “fair share.”
In the last generation, we have become a society of lazy takers rather than a nation of entrepreneurs. It demands patience to teach a child to work. You must put aside your propensity to do it yourself, and allow your child to make a mess of working beside you. You have to see the child’s effort rather than the quality of the job. Learning to enjoy work will result in a good man and a successful lady. See my DVD, Teaching Responsibility, where I speak on the subject of how to train children to work and be responsible (pg. 11).
6. Justice and judgment…
…are the reasons God chose Abraham to be the father of the nation that would produce our Savior (Genesis 18:19). The pinnacle of fatherhood is to engrain in your children justice and judgment.
Justice is doing right toward everyone in all areas of finance, business, law, social settings, etc. Selling a car without revealing its hidden problems is injustice. Committing to sell an item at a certain price and then changing the terms of the agreement is injustice. Any false or deceptive practice that is gain to you and loss to another is injustice. When children see their parents acting unjustly, it normalizes that practice, but it doesn’t relieve them of the guilt that comes with hurting other people. If parental example erodes the natural propensity to justice, the child is morally crippled the rest of his life. Injustice is an evil that solicits God’s judgment, in this life and in the next.
Judgment is the wisdom and will to take a stand for justice and call it like it is. Justice can be passive; judgment must be active. We live in a society that decries judgment as a hostile act springing from bigotry. The most popular verse quoted by people who never saw the inside of a Bible is “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Of course, they ignore the context and the many other passages that urge us to “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24).
The very essence of being a person is the ability to judge between right and wrong, proper and improper, good and evil. It is impossible to be human and not judge. Even those who claim to not judge do indeed judge those who judge.
The question is, do we utilize our judgments to advance truth and mercy in support of the words of God, or do we judge people to advance our personal convictions and preferences? When one stoops to the low road of judging people instead of promoting principle, he is misusing his duty to judge righteously. Paul told us to “judge ourselves,” not others (1 Corinthians 11:31).
Righteous judgment is approving of and valuing what God values and hating what he hates, as is clearly spelled out in the pages of Scripture. We hear people making judgments based on their “conscience” or “personal conviction.” Your conscience is nothing other than your state of consciousness regarding what you think. It is not a holy entity. It is just your honest moral view, which says nothing of its accuracy. One’s conscience should be amended by the words of God.
The problem is our tendency to ascend the throne with our book of judgments and start pointing our finger at friends and family, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). Such things as “(Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:21–22). So Paul, knowing us all too well asks, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Romans 14:10, 13).
The spirit of control and manipulation lurks inside each of us—a desire to judge others, a trait to be resisted. But we must also resist the lazy spirit that would withdraw from making righteous judgments out of fear of being labeled.
7. An eternal vision is the most breathtaking wonder you can pass on to your children.
A vision of eternity labors for that which will not pass away. We “are of the earth, earthy,” but we should lead our children to set their “affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” An eternal perspective will change the way we spend our time, money, and energies. It makes giving to others easy. It makes our hearts beat faster when we hear of an opportunity to advance the gospel anywhere in the world. This eternal vision changes marriage, for it causes a wife to see her eternal place before God when she is dealing with an unworthy husband. And an eternal vision will cause a husband to eschew the filth of the world that swallows up most men. It causes a couple to function as a team, seeing something far bigger than the family. Having eternity in your eyes is big, worthy, accelerating, and thrilling. It honors God and makes everyone feel that their life matters, every day, all day long. It makes hard times easy to bear, and when things are easy we do not become indifferent, but stay focused on things that really matter. It is the difference between being just human and being a child of the KING. It has driven us to function outside our comfort zones and to enjoy doing so, and it will do the same for your children. It is icing on the cake of life. We highly recommend an eternal vision.