The Best Way to Teach Your Kids the Best Thing

I had great parents. They weren’t perfect (who is?) but they gave us secure and fun childhoods. They launched us pretty well into adulthood. What I’m most grateful for, though, is what they taught us about priorities and how they taught it. The life lesson I think sums up our years living at home is this:

The best thing you can do with your life is live it for Jesus.

What were the things they said and did that makes that the over-arching life lesson I remember?

They said it.

My parents were not “in ministry.” My dad wasn’t a pastor; they weren’t missionaries. My dad was a personnel manager for Nabisco (yum, oreos!); my mom worked as a bookkeeper for an ophthalmologist. But they talked about the privilege of serving Jesus with their lives. They talked of what a privilege it would be in our lives.

If God called us to full-time ministry, that would be awesome. (They probably didn’t use that word—was awesome even a thing in the 1960s and ’70s?) But if we worked “secular” jobs, living out the talents God gave us, we could (and should) still see as our priority to serve God in and through and around those jobs.

They lived it.

My folks didn’t just talk Jesus talk; they walked Jesus’s walk. They used their gifts in the church. They both sang in the choir, my dad was on the board, my mom helped plan all sorts of the events and taught Sunday school. But they didn’t just “live for Jesus” at church. They lived Jesus’s love in our neighborhood, knowing their neighbors and caring for them. My mom served as a Cub Scouts den mother. They lived a life of love and engagement at their workplaces, speaking about Jesus where and when it was appropriate.

Two of my treasured possessions are these pocket Bibles, Bibles my parents carried with them so they were always prepared if their well-lived love and faith opened up the opportunity to tell someone how Jesus made a difference in their lives. Can you see how well-worn those Bibles are? My folks loved God’s Word and they knew how to use it.

And they cultivated a love for God’s Word in each of us. We read it together as a family, sometimes successfully, often not. But we also talked about what we learned in Sunday school and church over Sunday dinner; as we got older, we argued about the meaning of certain passages. We learned memory verses—yes, it was one of the way we earned scholarships toward camp, but it was also because my parents believed Psalm 119:11—”I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Knowing God’s Word would help us live holier, healthier lives—lives of service for God—and so they helped us learn it.

They invited into our lives others who lived it.

When you believe the most important thing you can do with your life is live it for Jesus, you want your kids to believe that too. But sometimes teenagers don’t take in what parents are dishing up. So my parents made sure we got to know other people living lives sold out for Jesus.

Coplands and Blockers, a few of my parents’ friends who loved Jesus and influenced us

They encouraged our friendships with other adults in our church. They did everything they could to support our involvement in whatever church activities and Bible studies we expressed interested in. They invited people whose Christian faith they respected over for dinner or games or took trips together so we would get to know other adults who lived varied lives but all for Jesus.

When missionaries our church supported were back in the States and visited our church, my parents volunteered to host them for a meal. They wanted us to know missionaries, to understand they were ordinary people doing extraordinary things for God. They wanted us to consider missions as a career. When my brother Carl thought he wanted to be a doctor, they ensured the missionary doctor serving in Bangladesh came to our house for Sunday dinner. (My mom also brought home an extra eyeball from the ophthalmologist’s office for my brother to examine, but that’s another story.)

My parents never, ever pushed us to be in full-time Christian work. But it’s interesting to me that we have all been full-time Christian work. Carl, who in high school wanted to be a doctor, became a pastor. Bob spent two years in Bangladesh as a missionary, and recently, in his 60s, became ordained, after voluntarily “pastoring” multiple churches while his paycheck came from elsewhere. I’ve served as a pastor’s wife for more than 30 years, 13 of them in church planting, which is full-time ministry without the paycheck.

Do you believe that the best thing you can do with your life is live it for Jesus?

Do your words and your life and your friendships convince your kids that you believe it so that they want that life too?

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