“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
For many years I have heard this verse quoted and preached. Now that I am about to have a teenager it is beginning to mean more to me personally. Recently, I told a friend that I have been preaching to teens for years but I never had to take one home at night! I think the scary thing is not so much taking them home as realizing that soon enough they will be leaving home. (Suddenly I think I am sounding like my dad.)
This proverb has both a principle and a promise. Like so many other verses of Scripture we are quick to claim the promise but give little attention to the principle. We see it in our children but it has become a part of all of our thinking – everyone wants the product; few want the process.
The hard work is done when our sons and daughters are children. Never in my life have I prayed for my kids like I do now. Never have I felt so inadequate. When I began preaching as a young man I was given the wise counsel that I should not preach on what I did not know. Simple, but profound. And so, I am not writing to give parenting advice. In fact, if you have some I would be glad to hear it. I am writing to point out a part of this verse that could revolutionize the life of every young person we influence.
Does this verse mean, as so many have taught, that if we teach our children the right things they will never get away from them? I have lived long enough to know that is not the case. Good parents, godly people, have often done the best they could to raise their children right, only to see them choose another path. Nothing can substitute for personal responsibility. Our children are real people. (I know that is hard to believe.) They have a conscience. At some point, they must choose for themselves.
All we can do is consistently teach them the truth, live an example, and pray that God works deeply in their heart. I do believe that God’s Word placed in the heart will not return void. Interesting, it is the only thing in the Bible that God promises will not return void. It is the greatest thing we can give our children. I have said for years that the most wonderful thing my mom and dad gave to my sister and me was a home that was thoroughly Christian and happy. They modeled the joy of following Christ. How I hope that my children can say that someday!
So what does this proverb mean? A few years ago I was preaching for a friend in Puerto Rico and he made an off-handed comment to me about this verse. I have thought about it so many times. Now at this stage in my life, ministry, and family it means more than ever.
“Train up a child in THE WAY HE SHOULD GO…” God has a way for every life, a path for every person. My job is to help young people find that path. Not every child is to go the same way. Certainly all should be on the path of righteousness. But each has a definite and distinct purpose.
It is so easy to try to make every young person fit in the same box. Often our goal becomes to force them into our mold. Is it any wonder then that so many rebel? The life God saved them for brings true fulfillment. Each child is born with certain God-given abilities. Each child of God is given spiritual gifts when they are born again. God has a plan for every life. It is not my job to design the plan. It is my job to guide my children to God and His plan for their life.
God called me to preach as a twelve-year-old boy. Today I had the joy of seeing a thirteen-year-old young man respond in a youth meeting and announce that God had called him to be a preacher. What a joy! Yet I must acknowledge that it is not God’s will that every boy be a preacher, and whatever God has for anther young man’s life will be perfect in every way. Why? Because it will be “the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Find a man or woman who has faithfully served in their place and are finishing the journey well. That is a person who early on found the way they should go. They don’t want to depart from it. They have discovered why God created them and Jesus saved them. They have realized why God has put them on this earth. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Isn’t that what our Heavenly Father wants for all of us?
I have heard my pastor say for years that the greatest thing we can teach our children is their own personal accountability to Jesus Christ. Our world is consumed with individualism. “Let them express themselves” has become the standard. The only way to deal with individuals is to bring them face to face with their individual accountability to God.
Our children are special. They have individual gifts. As every parent can testify, they have individual personalities. They must realize their individual responsibility to Jesus Christ. It has been often said that a young person is just “trying to find their way.” That will never do. They must find God’s way for them. And we must help.
I am glad so many have done that for me. Now, it is my turn.