There is no magic formula which will guarantee spiritually minded children. Spiritual-mindedness is the result of allowing the Spirit rather than the flesh to control one's life. It involves spiritual values, spiritual goals, spiritual attitudes and spiritual conduct in all relationships. The decision to "walk in the Spirit" is one that each individual must make for himself; parents cannot make it for their children. "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12).
This is not to say, however, that parents are without influence in determining the choice their children will make. Theirs is the opportunity to be the greatest influence of all, but this opportunity must be seized and guarded or it will be lost.
Parents Must Be Spiritually Minded
Children are much more likely to become what their parents are than what they claim to be. Children see behind the facades that parents erect for the outside world to see. They know what their parents really are – their real motivations, their real affections, their real attitudes, their real goals. When parents are seen to be truly spiritual in these things, their teaching will be effective; but when parents try to teach children to be what they are not, their teaching is not only ineffective, it is repulsive and repelling.
Children do not expect spiritual perfection in their parents but they do (and have a right to) expect sincerity in pureuit of perfection. When spiritually minded parents do fail,. they humbly confess their failure rather than rationalizing their mistakes. Rationalizing carnality, under any circumstances destroys respect for spirituality and sets a precedent for rationalization by the child when he is carnal.
Parents Must Purpose Spiritual-Mindedness
Spiritually minded parents understand that spiritual-mindedness is the only truly essential goal to be achieved in the rearing of their children. Since God's purpose in creating them is that they might "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29), this alone will determine their success or failure in life; and this alone will determine their eternal destiny.
Rather than harboring a pessimistic faithless resignation to the probability that a child will be overwhelmed by the godless influences of this generation, parents must determine before the child is born, even as did Hannah, that "I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life" (1 Sam. 1:11). Though humbly stated, theirs must be the sentiment of Joshua: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).
Such a goal must remain before parents constantly. It is not enough to write it on the front page of a Bible or to display it as a plaque on the nursery wall. It must govern every decision that will affect the child.
This goal is not easy to maintain. Our children are under constant pressure from their peers to conform to "this world" and they in turn put pressure on us for decisions that will permit it. We do not like to deny them any pleasure and we do not want to see them suffer embarrassment. Furthermore, our own pride may so delight to see them popular or successful in the eyes of the world that our decisions regarding their dress, their entertainment or their companionships will be affected by it. We may cherish so highly the reflected glory of their performances on the athletic field or on the stage that we will agree to their participation in activities and groups (and even finance their education in colleges) where spiritual influences are almost nonexistent and negative influences prevail. It is easy to think that just one decision will not make that much difference, but rearing children is a day-to-day and decision-by-decision process. We cannot afford to make even one choice that does not reflect our goal of spiritual-mindedness. We may not always be able to determine what our children do, but we can determine what they do with our approval.
Parents Must Train for Spiritual-Mindedness
It is important that children know from their very infancy what goals their parents have in mind for them. They must know that they are sanctified to a special role in life – the service of God. They learn this, not simply by being told, but by seeing this purpose in their parents' decisions and by seeing the reactions of parents to their conduct. In early life especially, children look to their parents for approval and they learn quickly what pleases them most. When they see that parents are more pleased with accomplishments of a spiritual nature than with those of an academic, social, or athletic nature, they know what their parents really value. Parents cannot and should not make all the decisions for their children. Mature individuals are "those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). Parents must oversee and guide the use of those senses. This means very early helping the child to face decisions with the question, "What would God want me to do?" More often than we would expect, the child comes to a right conclusion. This is the time to praise the child for his decision and to encourage implementation of it. Then when the child does what is right, commend him heartily. It is urgent that we give the child full credit for making the decision and let his reward be the favor of God. If the child makes a wrong decision, of course, we may have to veto his choice and tell him that there are some things in God's word that he doesn't yet understand, but that someday he will understand and be glad he let his parents guide him, since that is also God's will. This is far better than shouting at a child, "You do it because I said to!"
Parents Must Control Influences
If spiritual-mindedness is control of the mind by the spirit rather than by the flesh, then parents must control the influeces that mold the thinking of their children – "as he thinketh in his heart so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Such control must be both negative and positive. There must be a careful effort to prevent the child from absorbing carnality through television, movies, music, books, magazines, and, above all things, companions. This will demand self-discipline in parents and constant vigilance and even some "policing" of the children. We must not suppose, however, that this alone will secure our children against carnality. – We must surround them with spiritual influences so that there will never be a vacuum calling for fleshly satisfaction.
First and foremost must be the Holy Spirit's influence through the word. It is not incidental that Paul could write to so fine a young man as Timothy and say to him, "From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 3:15). Reading Bible stories to children is a good beginning. Then as they grow older, parents need to read and discuss the Scriptures with them. If you begin early enough, they will love the attention and later treasure the memories.
If there is to be a television in the home, it should be in a family room where parents know what is being watched at 0 times. Wholesome educational and entertaining programs can be watched together as a family; other use should be severely limited. See that good reading material is available in the form of good books and wholesome magazines for children. From infancy, let them hear good records and tapes of hymns, Bible reading, and good sermons being played in the home, as well as good wholesome secular music. Any parent who considers these suggestions burdensome, needs to go back and read the earlier discussion of the necessity of being spiritual ourselves.
Teaching done by the church can be a significant help to parents. Parents should use their influence in the church to encourage good Bible teaching and then support it by seeing that the children are present and that lessons are well prepared. In addition to what they learn from classes, children can learn from sermons. Enroute home, parents can pass the time by asking children about the preacher's sermon. Commend them highly for every right answer. Take advantage, too, of gospel meetings in neighboring congregations. At an early age when children like to go with their parents, a tradition of attending gospel meetings can be formed. What a joy it is to see whole families even taking journeys of several miles to hear the gospel and meet with brethren!
Good friends are a major factor in spirituality. Parents should make whatever sacrifice is necessary to see that their children visit and entertain other children from spiritually oriented homes. You can even share your own Christian friends with your children. When you have gospel preachers or other spiritually minded Christians in your home for dinner, include the children at the table and in conversations. Christlike men and women have time for children, but the relationship must be formed while they are small. Our children consider several gospel preachers and their wives among their closest friends. When they are a little uncertain about advice their parents are giving them and turn to such friends for counsel, how can we object? And how can we express fully to such men and women, our gratitude for their help?
Parents Must Pray
Finally, if our children are to be spiritually minded, prayer must be offered daily for the help which God alone can give. Let the children hear you pray, asking this above all things. Teach them to pray for it. It will affect your own attitudes; it will keep this goal before the children; but most of all, it is the means by which you can obtain the help God has promised. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas. 1:5).