Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Preparing the soil of our children's hearts to receive God's Word part 3: Giving them deep roots!

Am I the only one who starts a series, writes two posts and then forgets about it for 9 months?  Just checking.  I'm in the gospels again this week and was reminded of the parable of the sower and the implications it has for Christian parenting.

In parts one and two (which I wrote last April) I talked about cultivating tender, responsive hearts in our children and delighting in God's Word.  Tonight I want to talk about giving our children deep roots.

"Other seed fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away."  Mathew 13:5-6

And Christ's explanation:  "As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away."  Mathew 13:20-21

What does Jesus mean when He says, "they had no root"?  What kind of root is He talking about?  We know what it means in gardening.  A plant without roots will not receive the nourishment it needs from the soil.  A plant without roots will be blown about by the wind, rather than staying anchored to the life-giving soil.  The plant may appear healthy on the surface temporarily, but it will not grow and bear fruit once its root has been severed.  In the same way, a person who seems to receive the Word of God, but doesn't have a root, will not persevere.

This is the part of the post where I give you a disclaimer.  I am not a theologian.  I have not read any commentaries so I could be completely out there.  Read on at your own risk!

I think the "root" in question here refers to faith.  Well, not just any faith, but faith in God's promises, faith in the person and work of Christ.  Saving faith.  The kind of faith Abraham had that was counted as righteousness.  I'll give you two reasons.  First, according to the parable of the sower, the root is essential for the plant to bear fruit.  Second, according to the parable of the sower, the root is what anchors the plant so that it perseveres when conditions get harsh.

1.  Just as the root of a plant is essential for the plant's growth and nourishment that allows for it to bear fruit, so genuine faith in God's promises is essential for bearing spiritual fruit.  In both cases, no root equals no fruit.  And what is the fruit of faith?  Obedience.  Hebrews 11 repeats this testimony over and over again. 

"By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain...By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household... By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.... By faith he went to live in the land of promise... By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac... "  Hebrews 11: selected verses(emphasis mine)

Faith results in obedience.  Disobedience is in essence due to a lack of faith, a failure to believe that God's promises are true and better than the lure of sin.  (John Piper's books Faith in Future Grace and Battling Unbelief  Bible study caused a paradigm shift for me on this subject.)

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."  Hebrews 11:6

Some might argue from Romans 11 that our "root" is Israel or the patriarchs.  They might be right.  I read a good book along the lines of our Hebrew roots.  I would counter that in Romans 11 Gentiles are the wild olive branch, Israel is the domesticated olive branch and the common root of both is faith.  Paul says in Galations that "those who are of faith are sons of Abraham."  (Galations 3:7) 

A better argument might be made that the root is actually Christ.  I can see this.  There are several verses in Isaiah that contrast the root of Jesse with the root of Satan.  (I did a word study on root.)  And then we have the vinedresser analogy that Christ uses to show that abiding in Him enables us to produce fruit.  Even so, without faith it is impossible to abide in Christ.  So maybe the distinction isn't too important for the purposes of applying this parable to Christian parenting. 

2.  The root supplies water to the plant which prevents it from whithering in the hot sun.  The root is also what enables the plant to stay fixed in place when winds blow.  So without the root, a plant cannot make it in harsh conditions.  In the same way, without faith in God, we cannot weather times of testing and tribulation.  

"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."  James 1:6-7

It is a lack of faith which makes a person unstable.  In this analogy, faith is what allows a person to stay the course in the midst of a storm, rather than being driven one way by one wave and the other direction by the next wave.  I think this is like being rooted in the parable of the sower.  It is faith in God that enables us to persevere under harsh conditions.  Faith is our lifeline when the sun scorches and the wind blows. 

Now, for the application.  If I'm right about faith being the root, the bad news is that we can't actually give our children a root of faith any more than we can give our children an arm or a leg.  But, the good news is we can give them the means of acquiring a life-giving root.  You know what's coming, don't you?  It always comes back to this.

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."  Romans 10:17

I have to constantly remind myself that our homeschool will amount to nothing if we neglect time in God's Word.  Bible is not a "subject" in our homeschool.  We have to give our children God's Word when we're driving along in the car (CDs can help with this), as we're doing chores, at mealtime, when they get up in the morning, when they go to bed at night, at church, at home, during science, while correcting them, etc.  (Deut 6:5 my paraphrase)

And more good news is that we can also help strengthen or deepen our children's faith.  Many of us have children who already believe, but they are young in the faith.  We can help deepen those roots by discipling them in the Word and by praying for and with them.  This is not the job of our church staff or Sunday school teachers.  It's our job as parents.  Thankfully, there are many tools that exist to help us with this, but ultimately it comes down to making the committment (I'm talking to myself again).   

To get back to the parable of the sower- we plant the seeds and we water the seeds (give them the gospel).  I think we can also influence the type of soil the seeds fall on to some degree- how hard or soft our children's hearts are.  Only God can cause genuine faith to grow.  But certainly there are many ways a gardener continues to care for his plants, once they've begun to grow.  A good gardener may cover his plants when it's freezing or give shade when the sun bears down.  Parents protect and shelter the faith of their children so that it won't be damaged by the elements of our culture. 

"And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea."  Mark 9:42

Pretty serious stuff.  God wants us to give Him godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).  We all know there's more to that than just giving birth.  We give birth to depraved sinners, granted they're cute, depraved sinners.  We must daily work in the garden of our children's hearts.  Fertilizing, hoeing, planting, watering, tending.  And pray that God will give the increase.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.