Jack Graham - Training Days
We're calling this message "Training Days" because it speaks of our need to train up our children, to teach our children so that they can face the challenges of a new generation; the generation that is now and next to come. And Psalm 127 is a psalm for the family as we fight together and as we are promised victory in Christ-no foe shall defeat us; we know that we win in Christ, but along the way there are battles to be fought. So verse 1 of Psalm 127 given to us by Solomon himself. King Solomon: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain".
Solomon wrote in another passage of Scripture, Ecclesiastes, of all those things in life that we pursue that end up in vain. It's a word which means nothing, zero. And so he says unless the Lord builds the house then what we do is a labor that adds up to nothing. "Unless the Lord watches over the city". Here again, is warfare conversation. "Unless the Lord watches over the city", and protects the city. What is the city but a community of families? "Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain". In other words, we are helpless to defend ourselves unless God is our Defender! Verse 2: "It is vain (that is, it adds up to zero) that you would rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives his beloved sleep".
How many are sleepless today because of their schedule that pushes them from dawn till dark and all that is in-between? This is a warning against materialism; burning the candle at both ends, wasting your life, wasting your opportunity own the things that matter really nothing as compared to what matters most. It is vain to pursue these endless activities that do not strengthen your life and especially your children. Because it moves then to verse 3, the blessing of children: "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord", that's a word which means gift. This is your life; this is your legacy; the children are a gift from God, "the fruit of the womb a reward". And here's, again, the battle: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame, will not be defeated when he speaks with his enemies in the gate".
Now most of us would claim our families are our priority, and many times they are, but in the real world we know that we struggle with really keeping our families first. I talk to parents of all ages all the time and they say things to me like: "Why do we struggle with this issue of time? And why do we have to work so hard to spend time with our children? And why is everyone in our family seeming to go in different directions"? And then when parents say, you know, "My children have abandoned their faith. My children are wayward in someway", and then the heartbreak of that. In fact, when you read this passage, when it speaks of getting up early and staying up late, it probably sounds like your schedule! Just the eating of dust everyday, trying to make ends meet, trying to get through your day!
So the Bible tells us, therefore, in this context, unless the Lord builds your house then everything is empty. If we say that Jesus is in our hearts then why isn't He more in our homes? Maybe you're wondering, "Can my family find fulfillment when it is under such extreme duress and even danger"? Some of you are new parents and it may look that the road uphill is daunting if not dangerous. And others of you feel like you failed. You failed as a mom or you failed as a dad because your children are not living God's way, and because you didn't train your children and discipline and direct your children and you're taking a lot of heat for that. I'm going to talk about that in a minute. And I don't want this to be a downer for you; I want it to be a new beginning for you if you have failed as a parent.
It's never too late as a new beginning. But I'm speaking to some of you that you're in the middle of this road and you're wondering what happened! I promise you that God is in the business of building families, even some miraculous makeovers! But Christian homes do not just happen. You cannot microwave your children. There are no gimmicks and quick fixes. It takes effort; most of all, extreme dedication because of the extreme times in which we live. Building the house, that's God's business; training the children, that's our business. And this is not a business for someone else. Too often today a parent, especially in affluent cultures like ours, we often hand our children over to so-called professionals to raise our children. But you can't hand your kids off. You may not be professional but you're their parent. You're the only mom, you're the only dad that your children have, and it's our responsibility! And the bottom line is that we would be disciple-makers of our children and what is the effect of that discipleship?
The sentence that Jesus gave us is really wrapping it all up Mark 12:30, "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, you're strength; and your neighbor as yourself". And if we as a family can worship God by loving Him, body, mind, soul and strength, and train and teach our children to do likewise, then we are successful! That's what a win looks like in the family; to raise up a new generation of children that will love God and love people, and show it by serving and sharing Jesus! That's what this message is about. It is a call, first, to consecrate, to dedicate your own life to Christ, and therefore, your family who follows you; that you would be a role model to your children; that you could say with the Apostle Paul, "Follow me, children, as I follow Christ". Imitate my life in Christ. Can you say that? It's said that character is who you are when no one is looking, when no one is watching you. But I guarantee you if you're a parent, someone is always watching you. Someone is always listening to you, and it's your children.
So this is a call to consecrate. In the face of far flung battles, in the face of an uncertain future for our children, dedicate them to Christ! And then it's also a call to celebrate. Now, this spins it on the other side, the idea of facing battles and fighting battles and dedicating your children to the Lord; it's also a call to celebrate. And here's what I mean by that. It says (verse 3): "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb", the womb a reward. "Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them". Happy is the one, it's a call to celebrate. It means that we are to celebrate our families and celebrate our children. Children are not a burden; they are a blessing! They are a reward from God. And if you have been blessed with children, in the midst of all those hassles and all the struggles and when you're tired, and when you're worn out and you don't think, moms, you can do it another day, remember that God has given you this precious stewardship of life.
The third thing is, is to calibrate. It's a call to calibrate your children. I wanted to use a word like that because it's right in the text really when it talks about... It's a contemporary word, but it talks about something that is very ancient and that is "Like arrows", verse 4, "in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth". It's a picture of a warrior shaping and sharpening, seasoning and sending an arrow against the enemy. And just as a mighty warrior, and it starts with you and me, moms and dads! Just as a warrior is mighty strong and skilled, we must be strong and skillfully shaping and sharpening and seasoning and sending our children into the world like arrows.
We are to prepare them. We are to point them and to propel them into the world! How we going to do that? Well, children are born not arrows, but crooked sticks. They come out of the womb speaking lies. Yes, your little darling. And deceit is in their mouths and the seeds of sin is their soul and they're bent. Your baby is bent and broken, even at birth! And so it becomes the responsibility of a parent to shape that crooked stick and to prepare that stick and make it an arrow. How do you do that? I came up with six ways that Deb and I tried to do this over the years, and I want to share them with you. This is how you can raise children that will be launched and unleashed upon the world, and make a difference in the world.
Number one, lead your children to Jesus early; introduce them to Christ; influence them early, as early as possible. It speaks here of children. "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb". These are babies; these are children. It speaks, verse 4, "the children of one's youth". Proverbs 22, verse 6 says, "Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will walk in it". That is, train up a child and start early.
The best time your children can receive Jesus is right now, as soon as they can understand who He is and why He came. We have programs here at the church to assist us in that as parents. We have a new children's class and it's always a beautiful time when parents come in with their young children who are responding to the work of the Holy Spirit, and they're taking steps toward salvation and they receive Christ, and then they're baptized. It's beautiful. But the point is, start early. Lead your children, get them to church, lead them to church! Are your children saved? Do your children know and love Jesus? And are they growing in that faith? We are to teach them! The church can help, the school can help! The children are pliable; they're like little sponges. They're trustworthy, they're humble, and the very best time is not when they're teenagers or later, but when they are young!
Secondly, be consistent. There are no perfect parents. I'm not and you're not. And your children do not expect perfection, but they do expect and should expect from us consistency. That we are real and genuine and that we are consistently making the effort to teach them and train them. You know, there's a difference in teaching and training. Teaching sometimes it's not just "You sit down, you be still while I instill". But it's training them and developing them; coaching, if you will, and guiding them to make good decisions according to God's Word. And the best way that I can put it is really from the Jewish Shema, the great statement of the Jews that is given to us in Deuteronomy chapter 6:4-9.
Here's what training your children looks like. It's right there: "The Lord our God, the Lord is one, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (This is on you, parents) and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart". In other words, it's real. These are not words spoken, but these are words lived. "You shall teach them diligently to your children", and how should you do that? "Talk of them when you sit down in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates".
In other words, in the normal, daily traffic pattern of your life, train your children. It's wonderful to have specific scheduled devotion times. I would encourage you to do that. It's wonderful to pray at the table and have the family together. But best of all is to be able to, in the normal conversation, in your day, when you put your kids down at night, when you get them up in the morning. It's in the atmosphere of the home. It's in the attitude of the parent, it is training them and developing them to know that the Christian life isn't just something we do at church, when we get in the car and go to church, but the Christian life is, that's who we are. That's what we're about at our house. You hear what I'm saying? That your own children aren't surprised when they find out you're a Christian! That they know you love God! That they know you're following Jesus! This is consistency!
Sure, you're going to fail; sure, you're going to blow it; sure, you're going to lose your temper at times; sure, you're going to be a bad parent somedays! But in your daily walk, if you do your best God's way, asking Him to fill you with His Spirit, then your job is done! I know there are a lot of parents who beat themselves up because their kids grow up and go haywire. They don't fly right. And some of you are, you know, you're really beaten down by the fact that you think it's your fault, even though you taught your children, you trained your children, you taught your children, you trained your children, you loved your children, you lead your children, you walk with Jesus. You're kids aren't right with God and you're thinking, "That's all on me". Well, there's a high-end accountability for all of us on that. We get that. Right? But at the same time it's your own kid's responsibility.
God created some children, put them in the Garden of Eden and they fell and disobeyed Him. the most famous story that Jesus ever told was about a father whose son was a rebel and he used that story to speak of the father's unconditional love and unfailing love for his children. But the point I want to make here is that it's not your job that your kids are successful, it's your job that you be successful as a parent, and leave the results to Him.
So kids, children, teenagers, it's on you! If your parents gave you every opportunity. You know, it's like a coach. You hear a coach say a lot, say, "It's my responsibility as a coach to get those players in the right position, to get them in the right place so that they can succeed". Well, that's my job and your job as a parent, to get our kids in the right place spiritually, the right position, so that they can win in life as they follow Christ. So, if you do that, well done! I know it breaks our hearts when our children don't do the right thing. You keep trusting God, you keep praying, you keep believing that God will bring your children home to Him.
Thirdly, train your children for character. And this is what we need in America, right? Is character! Not characters! We got enough characters! But character. This is what we need in leadership in our government, in the media! And wouldn't you agree that what we need most in this country is integrity? So strive to develop character in your kids.
I wrote down a few character traits that we wanted to see developed in our children, like purity and morality, and truthfulness and tactfulness, and kindness and courtesy, and humility and generosity and gratitude and self-control. These are the kinds of qualities that we should train our children to develop. These are the disciplines and the directions that we lead our children. Work on their character. And when you compliment them, it's fine to compliment them when they do something great, when they bring home that great report card. That's good. Maybe that's complimenting their character perhaps, because of their diligence or their faithfulness, or their hard work. But when you compliment your children, concentrate on complimenting and applauding their character traits. Not just the good things that they do, but the good people they are.
Fourthly, set limits! Discipline your children! We were just down in the Dominican Republic. I'll tell you about that in a minute. We were just down in the Dominican Republic, and they have really very loose traffic laws down there. They've got these little motorbikes and cars driving in every direction, and you're basically on your own! Cars are coming down the wrong side. You say, "Look, there's a car coming on the wrong side of the road"! "Yeah, we do that here". Traffic without rules is dangerous! Life without rules is dangerous! And when you give your children limits, you give the Bible, you give them boundaries. Hey, start with the Ten Commandments. That would probably get it done. Those are God's rules. And in the context of a relationship that you have with your children give them rules so that life doesn't become chaos for your children; so they don't get hurt. And remember this: if you don't discipline your children somebody else will have to!
Next, have fun at your house. Now I know I've been talking about war and fighting and battles and all that, but, look, we take all of that seriously but we don't take ourselves seriously at our house. There's a lot of laughter. One of the things I remember about my parents, especially my mother, Emogene, was the laughter. I can still hear her laughter echoing in my head after all these years. My parents had in many ways a hard life. They got married very, very young and never had much money. My dad probably never made more than $500 in a month in his life. We were always just, I remember, our parents were always just trying to pay the bills and get by. That's the way I grew up and that was fine.
I got a lot of other good things from my parents besides money. And one of those was the laughter, the joy that was in our house because of Christ. And in spite of tough times and sad days along the way, my mother filled our house with laughter. We've tried to reproduce that in our home, the laughter, the love of God. Nehemiah 8:10, "The joy of the Lord is your strength". Proverbs 15:13. "A merry heart does good like a medicine". The best prescription for many of your households is to start enjoying life again. Start laughing and make your home a celebration place so your children will want to bring their friends over to your house not because you're the cool parents, but because you're the Christian parents full of the joy of Jesus.
And finally, let them see God at work in your life. If you don't pray, how are your children going learn to pray? If you don't worship, how will your children learn to worship? You want somebody else to teach them these things? If you don't give, if you're not generous, if you don't tithe, how will your children ever learn to support God's work God's way? They know what's important to us. Is God at work in our lives?
You say, "Well, I'm not good at the prayer thing". Learn how to pray for your children! Sing over your children when they're little. You probably shouldn't sing to your teenager; that freaks them out a little bit. But sing over your children and love them and put the Word of God in them! Help them to memorize scripture. I could go on and on. But we're going to keep doing what God has called us to do! It is a call to consecrate; it is a call to celebrate and a call to calibrate our children to connect them to the world as a hope and a future in Christ.