To Force…or Not To Force

September 14, 2010 at 7:11 am (Magazine Assignments, More than Mediocre) (, , )

Spiritual Disciplines in Children

Most of us are somewhat familiar with the Bible story of young Samuel.  Unable to have children, his mother, Hannah, begged the Lord for a son and promised to commit that child back to the Lord’s service for his whole life.   This morning as I re-read the story that I’ve heard so many times over the years, I was pleasantly surprised to find an ‘answer’ to an inner struggle I’ve been dealing with lately. 

 Two of our three older children have come to the point in life where they understand that they are a sinner and need God’s forgiveness.  They’ve turned away from their sinful ways, accepted Jesus into their hearts as the atonement for that sin, and have given their lives to Him as Lord.  Our third child knows the truth and appears to understand but has stated that she is not ready to enter into relationship with her Creator.  While it is heart-breaking to watch our child turn away from God, this must be her choice.  It is not ours to make.  We can only pray that the Lord will begin to tug at her heart and that she will one day be ready to respond to His unfailing and unconditional love.  Scary?  Yes!  What if that day never comes?     

 Despite all the ‘what if’s’ that swirl around in my head, I know that if we force her…if we scare her… if we guilt her into saying a sinner’s prayer, she’ll never experience God the way He intended her to.  If it’s not one hundred percent her choice to turn away from sin, die to self, and commit everything that she is to Him, then she’ll never truly know Him and will be commanded to depart from Him for all of eternity.

 As Christian parents we really struggle with how to approach this kind of situation.  Where do we draw the line?  Do we force our children to attend church?  To pray with us?  To worship?  To read and memorize the Bible?  To use the obvious giftings the Lord has given them?  If we do, will it actually work…or will it backfire?  Will they defiantly go the opposite direction when they get out on their own?  Will they leave the church altogether as soon as they have the opportunity?  Should we just back off entirely and let them find their own way to God?

 The story of Samuel holds great truth for parents searching for the right balance.  Just like many physical disciplines, spiritual disciplines are not an option but an absolute necessity in our children’s lives.  We don’t give them an option when it comes to brushing their teeth or taking a bath.  Like it or not, it’s going to happen…for their own good.  Good parents train (by force if necessary) their children in proper hygiene to ensure a healthy lifestyle.  With time and understanding, these habits that we instill will no longer be approached reluctantly.  They will be embraced.  Christian disciplines are the same.  While kids may not like sitting through a church service, it IS for their own good.  It WILL prove to be beneficial in their future.  How do I know?  It’s right there in our instruction manual for life.   The Bible tells us that Samuel’s mother weaned him and then took him to the temple and presented him to the Lord  – for life.  She didn’t drop him off now and then for a quick lesson.  She didn’t even ask if he wanted to go to the temple or if he might enjoy learning the duties of the priests.  He had no choice in the matter – for his mother had wisely resolved that he was to be raised entirely under the Lord’s instruction and influence. 

 In doing this, did Hannah ‘force’ her child to trust in the Lord and come into relationship with Him?  That’s the best part!  She didn’t have to!  Samuel chose to enter into relationship with the Lord all by himself. 

 1 Samuel 3:1 tells us that the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord under the priest Eli’s direction.  As a very young child, Samuel was set apart and trained in the ways of the Lord.  He learned by example and did exactly as the priests did.  When we read down a little further, verse 7 says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him.”   Though he did not even know the Lord, he was already doing the work of God.  Before a relationship even existed, the child was submissive and obediently serving his Maker.  And when the time was right…the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel and SPOKE to him!  Samuel then responded in obedience and scripture tells us that the Lord God Himself was with Samuel as he grew up.

 This brings me great comfort!  If Samuel’s parents had let him have a say in his upbringing -if they had raised him at home under worldly influences and away from the presence of the Lord -would he have heard from the Lord at such a young age?  Would he have even heard the voice of God in his lifetime?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But his parents weren’t willing to take that chance.  They chose to get Him as close as they possibly could to the manifest presence of God.  Samuel slept in the Sanctuary where the holy ark of God was!  How much easier it must have been for the child to hear God’s voice being so close to Him.  This child knew and understood the way man was to relate to God.  He observed it every day as a youngster and it became a lifestyle that cultivated a heart ready to receive the Lord followed by a lifetime commitment to doing His work.

 No longer will I worry about whether or not to ‘force’ my daughter to do what is right.  As for me and my house, we WILL serve the Lord.  God has a plan and a purpose for this precious child.  And my job as her parent is to get her as close as I possibly can to His presence at any cost- for it is there in the midst of the spiritual training that she will one day hear His voice and won’t think twice about moving forward into relationship and ministry with Him.

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

~Proverbs 22:6



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