Every time I write about parenting, people email me asking for more. I understand.
Parenting is hard work.
Most people who follow my ministry closely know this is one area of my life I have taken very serious. One specific desire Cheryl and I had in raising our boys was encouraging them to love Christ and display His character.
It's great to teach our children how to play sports or to do well in school, and I think we should, but our greatest goal should be to help them be people who aspire to have good character—specifically the character of Christ.
Recognizing the Bible is a great guide to do this, I once developed a model for parenting called Olive Tree Parenting.
This model is based upon a couple verses of Scripture.
- Psalm 128:3 says, "Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table."
- Psalm 144:12 says, "Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants."
Here are a few facts I've read about olive trees:
- They were a symbol of peace and happiness to Hebrews.
- It takes some varieties 8-10 years to even bear fruit.
- It takes 20-50 years for an olive tree to be mature and really productive.
- No one knows for sure how long they grow; but estimate is at least 300-600 years, with some estimates up to 2,000 years.
- When the tree trunk of an olive tree dies new sprouts come out keeping the tree alive.
- Olive trees are evergreens.
Do you see any parallels there in raising children—or your desires for them in life?
I firmly believe we are more likely to get out of life what we actually aim for, so our goal became to raise children to be adults that bear righteous fruit for generations. We began to think strategically how to develop biblical characteristics of fruit in our two boys.
The Bible also gives us some clear indication of what righteous fruit looks like.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
Here are some suggestions to encourage each of these fruits to grow:
Love is the first fruit mentioned and perhaps the most important. Jesus said "love" was the greatest command for us all. I don't believe we can teach our child to love. We must model it for them.
Here are some actions you can take, however, to instill this fruit in their heart:
- Ask your children questions about their life. Get to know your child and what they are thinking.
- Do everything in love—even discipline (They will know when you are not acting in love. You will too.).
- Discipline. Don't neglect discipline in "the name of love". Discipline should actually be an indication you love them enough to train them to do the right thing.
- Watch how you treat other groups of people—including other races and ethnic groups.
- Watch your child's attitude—always recognize attitudes over actions (1 Sam. 16:24) and respond accordingly.
- Love your children's friends.
- Be kind to your neighbors, friends and family. They are watching.
- Get involved in church and community not out of compulsion, but because you love other people.
The goal of producing joy is not to make your children happy—even though most parents rightly want that for their children. The Bible makes a distinction between joy and happiness (Psalm 68:3).
Here are some actions you can take to instill the fruit of joy in your child's heart:
- Don't reward everything. Life should not be a big celebration. Life shouldn't revolve around the next big event.
- Have a sense of humor. Have fun parenting. Let them see you enjoying life.
- Be positive. Children can't take the pressure and stress of life that an adult has to handle.
- Allow your children to enjoy life at the age they are – without trying to make them someone they are not.
- Life is difficult and there will be trials, but let your children see you use trials as something you learn from and have faith during; trusting that God will work all things for good.
- Remind yourself Scripture says to "be joyful always". Model it for them.
Peace is a foundation for other great character traits you will want your children to have. The Bible says we can have peace that is there regardless of the storms of life. I know many adults who would like this kind of peace themselves. You would certainly want it for your children.
Here are some actions you can take to model peace for your children:
- Pray for your children daily in their presence. This shows them the importance of prayer and relying on God for daily strength.
- Teach them to pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Help your children understand they can talk with God anytime. They will catch on quickly. Faith comes much easier when built as a child.
- Let them see you read your Bible regularly. Truth can ground us when we are afraid or stressed.
- Talk about your faith. Peace is found in a relationship and they need to see that modeled for them.
- Remain cool in stressful situations—as best as you can. It's OK that they see you emotional, but they should quickly see you display a peace that surpasses understanding.
This is a tough one for me, because it is one of my weak points, but it is a part of the fruit of the Spirit God has encouraged us to have. And, our children need it greatly.
Here are some actions to help your children have this trait:
- Let them see you waiting patiently. (If my boys or my wife reads this, they will be wondering when they will see this in me. Still, I have had to wait for many big picture things in my life many times. I've attempted to do so patiently.)
- Make children wait sometimes. Yes, I said it. Children shouldn't get everything right away and they certainly shouldn't be able to demand it with temper-tantrums or tears. One statistic I read says that children today get 90% of everything they want, yet as adults they will get less than 25%. We are setting them up for failure when we give them everything.
- Don't be a complainer. Do everything without complaining or arguing. (Phil. 2:14)
- Don't let your children think they are the center of the universe. They are not—actually God is. Encourage them, but don't crown them kings.
Kindness could be defined as "genuine friendliness, helpfulness and generosity".
Here are some ways to instill kindness in your children:
- Be a giver and not a taker. Let your children see you giving to others regularly.
- Never let children see you being unkind to the cashier or waitress.
- Know your neighbors and actually have concern for them.
- Never allow degrading comments to be made to other family members.
- Care for the hurting people of the world.
- Be a regular giver/servant at church and in the community.
Jesus said "well done good and faithful servant" and "a good tree produces good fruit". This is the opposite of bad. (Makes sense, huh?)
Here are some suggestions to instill goodness in your children:
- Reward good acts towards others.
- Give extra praise to your children for doing good things. (This can be done verbally and doesn't always mean buying something.)
- Never let them see their parents argue and fight.
- Demand respect always. They don't always have to agree, but they should always have to respect.
- Always declare truthfulness. Never let them see you telling lies; even "little white lies."
- Teach prompt obedience. Don't let them "think about" obeying you. This is especially true for younger children.
Children will be as faithful as you are, so in order to see them grow into faithful individuals you will have to model it for them.
Here are some action steps to help the process:
- Be faithful early in their life to what you want them committed to later in life. If you want them to go to church as adults, then take them faithfully as children.
- If you commit to doing something, then do it. Let your Yes be yes and your No be no.
Be an anchor in their life in whom they can always depend upon.
- Be faithful in all relationships. They are watching.
- Be consistent. If it is morally wrong today—it is tomorrow.
- Let them know they can depend on you to do what you said you would do for and with them.
- Let them find you in your devotion and quiet time on a consistent basis.
The word means "not harsh." It doesn't mean to be a "mealy mouse" and it doesn't mean to avoid discipline. It means to be gentle—even in your anger. In John 2, when Jesus went into temple to drive out the moneychangers, He first made a whip. It was a definite and determined response, but it was "gently" planned.
Here are some steps you can take to instill this character trait in your children:
- Grant forgiveness easily. Don't hold grudges against those who have wronged you.
- Don't let your children fear coming to you about anything, because of the way you may react.
- Get down to the children's level when trying to explain something or in the way you respond to them.
- Always be available to talk with your children.
- Talk gently to your spouse.
- When there is a disagreement in public, such as in a restaurant, it is OK to protect your interests, but it should always be done with gentleness and respect for the other person. There is never an excuse to be rude or obnoxious.
The opposite here is being undisciplined. This is an important trait, because it affects all the others.
Here are some action steps to help build self-control into your children:
- Don't allow temper tantrums. "Expressing themselves" is not an excuse for unruliness.
- Learn personal disciplines and model them—things such as daily Bible reading, exercise and tithing.
- Know sin has consequences and teach this principle to your children. (Unfortunately you may have to model it also.)
- Use appropriate discipline for each child. All children are different.
- Determine the motive behind the action before disciplining your children.
- Provide appropriate tests for them as they mature to see if they can handle a situation. As they get older grant them more and more trust.
There is a final step in the Olive Tree Parenting Model. You must teach your children to abide!
In John 15:5 Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." If our children can learn this skill, all these others will become and remain a part of who they are. They will learn this best as they see you doing so.
I'm praying for your parenting.
I need to remind you that this is a "model"—and I wasn't perfect at doing this. Some I did better than others. The fact is, however, we seldom hit a target we aren't aiming for—so make this your goal and you will find it easier to achieve than with no plan at all.
Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.
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