A verse that we often quote, especially when our kids are going astray, is Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (nkjv).
We think the way to do that is to raise our kids, basically from birth, in a Christian environment. So, from their very early days, we send them off to Sunday School. We send them to Christian camps. We enroll them in Christian schools. We only let them listen to Christian music, and we try to make sure they have Christian friends. We seem to be doing all of the right things.
Even so, when they get a little older, they go into rebellion in some cases. We think, Wait a second! Where did I go wrong?
But maybe it’s a failure to understand what it really means to train up a child in the way that he or she should go.
The phrase “train up” in the original Hebrew speaks of the actions of a midwife who would dip her finger into crushed dates and then put it in the mouth of a newborn child. The purpose of this was to stimulate the infant’s thirst for milk. So drawing from this concept, we see that to “train up” a child means to create a thirst within him or her.
Also, the word “child” used in Proverbs 22:6 is used in different ways in various passages. In one passage, the word relates to an infant. In another, it speaks of a young boy. In another, it references Joseph at age 17. In another, it is associated with a young man ready for marriage.
So this verse is really speaking of training children from their infant stages all the way into young adulthood. So, to put it all together, the verse is saying, “Create a thirst in and also give your child external boundaries from the beginning to the end, from infancy to young adulthood.”
That is what God has called us to do. We are establishing external boundaries for our children’s protection, but we are also seeking to develop within them an internal motivation to know and love the Lord.
What is the best way to create thirst? The same way you stir an appetite.
Imagine going out with friends who want to go get something to eat, but you aren’t all that hungry. You go to the restaurant with them anyway, where they order big hamburgers, fries, and shakes.
When the food arrives, it smells so good. So you ask, “Mind if I have one of those fries?” The next thing you know, you’ve ordered your own meal. What happened? Their food came. You smelled it. You tasted it. And then you wanted your own.
In the same way, the best thing we can do to create a hunger and thirst for Jesus Christ in others is to live it ourselves. It is to be what God has called us to be.
If we are being the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13), then we will create a thirst for spiritual things in others, and they will see something in us that they will admire. So, in leading our children and training our children, the most important thing we must do is to live it first.
Moses said to the people of Israel, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 nkjv).
Moses is saying that what you teach your children must be real to you first of all. Faith in Jesus Christ is something that permeates every area of our lives, and it is something that we should be talking about — not just at church or at a set time, such as family devotions.
It should be all of the time, when you sit down...when you rise up...when you are walking on the way. It is a part of our lives, and we need to teach our kids that Jesus Christ is to be a part of everything that we do.As we model that for them and teach it to them, it will create a thirst in them as well. But first, we must be good examples.
The story of Johnny Cash’s life and spiritual struggles offers hope to anyone who has had trouble staying on the straight and narrow path—and reminds us that God redeems broken lives and makes them whole again. My new book, Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon is a fascinating look at a unique and talented musician and follower of Christ!