The following is an excerpt from Jeannie Cunnion’s new study, Mom Set Free. Order your copy or see a free sample today at LifeWay.com/MomSetFree. You can also pick up a copy at your local LifeWay Store!
When I first became a mom, I was given the wonderful advice to choose a Bible verse that would serve as our family mission statement—a verse that would reflect what’s most important to us and would guide us in our decision-making as a family.
I loved the idea, and I didn’t have to think long about which verse to choose because I had a very clear picture of what I wanted to create—a home with God-loving and God-obeying kids. Therefore, the greatest commandment was my obvious and immediate choice. Our family mission statement would be to love the Lord our God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).
To accompany our family mission statement, I made a long list of house rules for godly growth—which was essentially a list of Christlike virtues. I posted it on our refrigerator and got busy trying to produce the fruit of the Spirit in my kids’ lives. Along with each virtue, I listed a Bible verse or two, so I could refer to God’s Word when instructing them.
But here’s the thing. What I didn’t understand back then is that Bible verses posted on bulletin boards wouldn’t produce in my kid’s hearts a love for God and a desire to obey His Word. Only gratitude for God’s grace does that! And it was only as I began to understand this truth that I stopped worrying my kids would take advantage of grace. In fact, grace became the very thing on which I hung all my hope.
Therefore, our family mission statement is still the greatest commandment. But it’s not my starting place with my kids. Here’s my starting place:
“I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).
This is the verse I pray with my kids every single morning. Because they need to know His love before they will desire to obey His law.
Let’s look at three practical ways we can nurture gratitude for God’s grace in our kid’s hearts on a daily basis using these three words: remember, rely, and recognize.
- REMEMBER WHAT JESUS HAS ALREADY DONE FOR THEM.
Before asking our children to respond as Jesus would, let’s first help them remember what Jesus has already done.
Now, if you’re anything like me, reminding your children of what Jesus has done wouldn’t necessarily be your natural response. Instead, your first instinct might be to point out what your children did wrong and then throw in a Bible verse, for good measure, to show them how to do it right, right? (And sometimes that’s all we can do with the time or bandwidth we’ve got, and that’s OK, too.) But let’s also take a look at a few examples of how we can help our children to first remember what Jesus has already done, and then instruct them how to respond as He would.
When our children are being unkind to one another, we can:
- Take a moment to remember how Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of kindness in laying down His life for us while we were still sinners. Read Romans 5:8.
- To bring home Jesus’ love for sinners, we can point our children to stories where Jesus showed kindness to even the most unkind people, like Zacchaeus. Read Luke 19.
- Then we can turn to Scripture that instructs our kids in living out Christlike kindness. Read Colossians 3:12.
When our children don’t want to seek or grant forgiveness, we can:
- First, take a moment to remember that God has already forgiven every sin we have ever or will ever commit because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Read Psalm 103:8-13.
- To bring home the forgiveness of Christ, we can point our children to stories where Jesus forgave others. For example, He forgave even Peter—who dis- owned and betrayed Him before His death. Read John 21:15-25.
- Then we can turn to Scripture that instructs our children in Christlike forgiveness. Read Ephesians 4:32.
When our children don’t want to obey us or submit to our authority, we can:
- First, take a moment to remember how Jesus humbly submitted to His Father and obeyed Him, even unto death. Read Luke 22:39-44.
- Then we can turn to Scripture that instructs our children in obeying us and, ultimately, God. Read Ephesians 6:1.
- RELY ON THE POWER HE GIVES THEM
In John 15:1-8, Jesus taught that we grow in holiness to the degree that we allow Jesus to take up residence in our hearts. Apart from Him, we can do no good thing. He doesn’t say we can do some good without Him. It’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit of the Spirit in our children’s lives (Gal. 5:22-23). We can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit on our own, and neither can our kids.
How often do I try to live in the likeness of Christ without relying on the power of Christ? Too often. But reminding my boys reminds me.
Apart from a living union with and utter dependence on God, we can do no good thing. We might be productive, but we won’t be fruitful—and there is a profound difference in the two. God produces the fruit, for the glory and praise of His grace. Have no doubt: part of God’s purpose for us is to produce fruit from us—fruit that will point others to the nature of God. And this fruit is produced in us only when we abide in and rely on Him.
- RECOGNIZE HIS FAITHFULNESS TO GROW THEM
And then finally, as we teach them to remember Jesus and rely on Jesus, we can help our children recognize Jesus’ work in their lives and His faithfulness to grow them. I all too easily get stuck in a pattern of instructing and correcting, when I need to also be actively looking for, acknowledging, and affirming the fruit of God’s grace in their lives. It’s amazing how the countenance of my children changes when I recognize the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and point out that fruit specifically.
Praise that recognizes the fruit of their salvation and points our kids back to Christ at work in their lives is always a good thing. It reminds them that it’s Christ’s work to save, sanctify, and strengthen us.
If we can keep remember, rely, and recognize in the forefront of our minds, then we will be set free from the pressure to control our children’s behavior and transform their hearts. How freeing it is to know that as we seek to make the gospel central in our homes, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work alone to lead them in heartfelt trust and obedience!