How could I ever forget the birth of our first child? It was early in the morning and I was rather groggy, but even through the fog of the years I can still project on the screen of my mind some vivid scenes from my memory bank. I remember telling Mary to go back to sleep. The baby wasn’t due yet. She wouldn’t cooperate! I can still see the doctor walking toward me in the hallway of the hospital, looking like a giant pea pod in his surgical greens, announcing with a note of happy triumph, “It’s a boy!” He knew what I was rooting for.
Little did I realize it at the moment, but I would hear that very same announcement three more times, each with a little less of the happy triumph. After all, variety is the spice of life, and what father in his right mind doesn’t want a little girl to put her arms around his neck and say, “I love you, Daddy.” I have learned, however, that God knows far better than I do what my needs are. Since he gave me those boys, and since they are exactly what I need for my own spiritual growth and blessing, no human being could make me give any one of them up of my own volition. Next to the wonderful wife the Lord has given me, they are the most precious things in this world to me. Those beautiful words of the ancient poet of Israel have taken on new meaning:
Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them (Psalm 127:3-5a, KJV).
It is quite obvious that somebody wrote that a long time ago. There are not many people in twentieth-century America with the Psalmist’s viewpoint on children. A modern version might sound more like this:
Lo, children are a burden from the Lord; and the fruit of the womb must be his way of testing us.
As the source of endless work and continual aggravation, so are the children of one’s youth.
Unhappy is the man who hears his neighbor ask, “Do all those kids belong to you?”
We can understand why folks might feel that way. Many children are rebellious, disobedient, disrespectful, and unmannerly--not very pleasant to be around. It’s no wonder that some people have decided not to have any at all. What has gone wrong? Where did we lose God’s perspective? The first verse of Psalm 127 may provide us with a clue. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Stable and successful homes are built by God. He is the architect and the general contractor. He has drawn the blueprint, and he wants to provide the direction and give the orders. All he needs are some laborers--husbands, wives and children--who will study the blueprint provided in his Word, then follow his directions. Any other procedure is going to result in frustration and failure.
The basic problem in many homes is that we have departed from God’s blueprint and have substituted man’s. God is no longer the architect and builder. We are following instead the blueprint drawn by psychiatrists, psychologists, modern educators, doctors, and even syndicated columnists. Much of the advice we get from these sources is good. But if some parts of a blueprint are good and other parts are faulty, the result is going to be a weak building. The Bible is still the best textbook ever written on rearing children. We need to find out what it says and obey it. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
It is gratifying to note an increasing alarm about the situation. Newspaper and magazine articles, along with a growing number of books on the subject, are warning people of the dangers of an unhappy home and are trying to help them repair the damage. The information may be helpful, but unless people are willing to turn their hearts and homes over to the Lord, it may be too little too late. Listen to the Psalmist again. “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” No ancient city was safe from attack no matter how thick its walls nor alert its guards unless God was protecting it. Likewise, no home is safe from the attack of Satan unless it has been consciously committed to the Lord, unless he has been put in charge. The homes where Jesus Christ reigns as Lord in the lives of every family member are the homes that will tower above the rest in love, serenity, happiness, mutual concern one for another, and the ability to adjust to people outside the home.
Some folks think there are other ways to produce a happy home. For example, “Work, work, work, as hard as you can. Provide all the material things of this world for your children. Maybe that will make them happy.” If dad doesn’t make enough money to do it, mom goes to work too. Read on in Psalm 127. “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” The bread of sorrows is simply bread secured through toil and trouble. Food is essential, but God can provide it without taking fathers and mothers away from their children day and night to pursue that elusive and almighty dollar. God has no time for laziness. He blesses honest work, but he can supply the things we need without anxious efforts and ceaseless self-activity. The Psalmist says God provides for his beloved ones, literally, “in sleep,” the idea being in calm, restful, confident trust in him.
The society in which we live has perverted our perspective. We have been sold a bill of goods, the false theory that we owe our children all the things they want. We hear parents say, “But we want them to have all the things we never had.” So they have things, but they don’t know who they are, or why they are here, or what they ought to accomplish in life. The most incorrigible rebels in our society are not necessarily the underprivileged. They are kids who have had all that money can buy but were never loved, appreciated, and accepted. They are empty and lonely on the inside because nobody has ever really cared for them or tried to understand them. They never had a warm and loving relationship with their parents. Many of them don’t really know their parents, and furthermore they don’t care to. Their parents don’t know them either. They were too busy making money and having fun to listen to what their kids were saying. And so, we’re told, the younger generation is facing an identity crisis. They’re crying for attention, groping for some sort of significant relationship with somebody who cares. The saddest thing is that this is happening in professing Christian homes as well as in unbelieving homes. What is the answer?
The answer begins with believing what God says right here in this Psalm and acting on the basis of it. “Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord.” The word heritage signifies an inheritance given, not according to hereditary right, but according to the willing desire of the giver. Every new child born into a Christian home is a gracious gift from God, a lovely legacy from the Lord entrusted to our care to be loved, cherished, provided for and properly molded for his glory. “The fruit of the womb is his reward.” Again, the word reword does not mean something earned or deserved, but something freely given through the generous decision of the giver. The inability to have children is no stigma, therefore. It doesn’t mean God is angry with us or isn’t smiling on us. It simply means that he knows best what we need. And he also knows there are the masses of unloved children whom childless couples can pour their lives into with great spiritual profit for all concerned. He always gives what is best.
But when he allows us to have children, they are a gracious gift from him. There is no question about that when we stand over the crib and stare down at our beautiful bundle of joy, peacefully sleeping or contentedly cooing. We may begin to wonder a little about it during those first 2:00 a.m. feedings. And the doubts may really balloon if that little bundle of joy becomes a threatening intruder who upsets our schedule, restricts our freedom to do as we please, monopolizes our time, or seems to alienate the affections of our mate. That’s when we need to flee to the Word, and to the Lord of the Word, to have our spirits encouraged and our perspective adjusted. Children are a heritage from the Lord.
Maybe you are well on your way down the precarious path of parenthood. When you look at your child, what do you see? A nerve-shattering machine, or a heritage from the Lord? A house-wrecker, or a heritage from the Lord? A work-maker, or a heritage from the Lord? A source of embarrassment before your friends, or a heritage from the Lord? A competitor for your spouse’s attention, or a heritage from the Lord? Will you ask God to help you get your perspective straight? “Lord, help me see my children as a blessed gift from your gracious hand.” You may need to pray it many times a day for awhile, but that could become the beginning of some exciting new changes in your home, the gateway to genuine joy in your relationship with your children.
Children are much more sensitive to our attitude toward them than we imagine. And they often respond with the same sort of attitudes they receive. They act as they sense we are acting toward them, and that’s where most of our discipline problems begin. Oh, we love them, but they make so many demands on us that inconvenience us and bother us. So our old natures rebel and we let them know in subtle little ways that they are a bother. And they become more of a bother. They won’t get much love and affection that way, but at least they’ll get attention, and that’s better than nothing. But they will grow up with hostilities, complexes, and resentments that defy description.
One day sooner than we think they’ll be gone, and we won’t remember the muddy shoes, the messy rooms, the embarrassing moments they caused us or the encroachments they made on our time. We’ll only remember the happy times we spent together. And we’ll wish there had been many more. There could have been if we had looked on them as a blessing from the Lord rather than a burden or a bother.
Children are not only a precious inheritance, however. They are also likened to arrows. There is a difference of opinion as to what this scriptural metaphor is intended to teach. Arrows are a source of protection, and maybe the Psalmist was referring to the care and protection which children can give their parents in later years. But arrows, unlike swords, could go where the warrior himself could not reach. Such is the case with our children. From many a godly home arrows have reached to the ends of the earth, carrying the gospel message to sin-darkened hearts.
While I was pastoring in Fort Worth, Texas, it was my privilege to get to know an old warrior of the cross named W. E. Hawkins. He had founded the church I was serving, and was at that time engaged in a radio ministry in Dallas. Many lives were being affected for the Savior through his efforts, but he was restricted primarily to the Southwest United States. W. E. Hawkins and his wife had three sons, all of whom went to the mission field. Through the ministry of those boys, primitive South American Indians whom their father could never reach came to know Jesus Christ. They were like arrows in their father’s hand.
But arrows have to be made. They don’t just happen. God gives us a child like a raw piece of wood, and asks us to shape him. So we whittle, sand, and polish, fashioning that stick into an arrow, straight and strong. Children are not just an inheritance, you see; they are a sacred trust. God loans them to us for awhile to prepare them for his use. They really belong to him, and the sooner we acknowledge that, the more willing we shall become to get on with the shaping process. One dramatic way of acknowledging it is to dedicate them to God. If they belong to him anyway, then let us decisively acknowledge that by consecrating them to his use for his glory just as Hannah and Elkanah did with their son, Samuel (1 Sam. 1:9-28). Let us promise God that with his help we will mold their young lives into the kind of people he wants them to be.
A husband and wife ought to give their child to God even before he is born. And they should pray together after the birth of the child, willingly dedicating themselves to train him as God directs. Some churches conduct public child dedication services. In others, the pastor participates in a quiet act of dedication in the home. The important thing is that the parents themselves covenant with God to handle their children as a sacred trust, arrows to be shaped for God’s glory.
Raising children is obviously a serious responsibility. And isn’t it strange--for almost any other job we are required to take some specialized training first. But for the most important business in life, the shaping of young lives for God’s glory, we can get away with none at all if we want to. For that reason some people have drawn the erroneous conclusion that being a good parent comes naturally. On the contrary, it takes a great deal of study and continuous attention to the assignment. But God’s guidebook is available, and we are going to search it for the help we need. Since this is one job we can’t quit, we might as well press on together and learn what God has to say about being a better parent.
Before we do, though, will you note the last verse in this great Psalm? “Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” How many children constitute a full quiver? That may vary with each couple depending on how many children God wants you to have. My quiver is full at four, but yours is between you and the Lord. It isn’t clear in the verse exactly who will not be ashamed, the parents or the children. But in a Christ-controlled home where God is the builder and parents are laboring for him, neither the parents nor the children will be ashamed of each other. But Satan, the enemy of God’s people, will be subdued and God will thus be glorified. Isn’t that what you desire for your family? Dedicate yourself and your children to God. Ask him to help you view them as a precious inheritance, arrows to be shaped, lives to be molded. Ask him to keep your eyes on the potential rather than the problems and to give you the wisdom you need for the great task ahead.