Rethinking Common Advice/Encouragement

There are some sayings that have just become second nature. I have heard them all of my life. I find myself sometimes blurting these sayings out, especially to my kids, without thinking twice. Sometimes I am struck just after such an outburst by the fact that I have never really thought about what that saying actually says. Sometimes I quickly realize that although what I just said reveals the common ideals adopted by my culture, it doesn’t quite convey the ideals that should comprise a properly and biblically-shaped Christian worldview. Let me give you one such example.

If you put your mind to it, you can do anything or be anything you want to be!

How many of us have parroted this line to a young person? Emma asked me several weeks ago if she could be some sort of profession when she grows up. I can’t remember exactly what profession since she seems to change her mind about what she wants to be on a weekly basis. But, I found the above statement on the tip of my tongue when, on this rare occasion, I actually caught myself before offering it to her. It struck me in that moment just how un-biblical that statement actually is! Allow me to explain.

First, that statement is just false to begin with. Being a Christian, I believe that God has created us all as incredibly unique image-bearers. He has gifted us all differently, meaning that we do not all share the same talents and natural abilities. So, if my daughter asks me if she can be a professional soccer player when she grows up, it would be wrong for me to just tell her that it is a matter of how hard she is willing to work to achieve that goal. If she were to ask me if she could be a doctor when she grows up, how am I to know if she will have the intellectual abilities (and bent toward subjects like biology and anatomy) and passion for that field to do that?

Second, the statement conveys the idea to young people that their lives and ‘destinies’ are theirs to determine. In making that statement to my child, or to any young person for that matter, it permits them to see their future as a self-satisfying, self-empowered, self-made reality.

Third, the statement communicates a false source of satisfaction and fulfillment. It makes them begin to believe that satisfaction can only be found in the realization of a dream. It suggests that only certain dreams and goals bring an appropriate amount of fulfillment.

I want my children to be dreamers, but I want them to be biblical with their dreams and the way they see their lives and futures. I want them to understand that God is good, and that in his goodness he has created them for specific purpose. I want them to grasp the fact that they were created for God’s glory, not their own. I want them to see that fulfillment and satisfaction in life can only be found in Jesus and the abundant life he alone offers. I want them to gain a vision of the God who has uniquely created them to express worship to him through all he has equipped them and called them to do. As they dream, I want them to understand that Jesus is the end, not the means to their end.

Yes, they need to understand that hard work and dedication are needed. They need to be encouraged in their activities and dreams. But most of all, they need to treasure Jesus above all else. They need to learn to trust God above all else. They need to learn from a very early age what it means to be a worshipper in all they do. Our greatest need is not for our children to be filled with dream-driven motivation, captivated by images of success and grandeur; our greatest need is for our children to be filled with awe-inspired worship, captivated by their Creator God. Our greatest need is for a generation who are committed and faithful to God and his mission, trusting him to direct every next step they take. Our greatest need is for young people to be identified as “his” and “in Christ” before that identity begins to be shaped by a dream, career, or ability.

So, how did I answer my daughter’s question? I simply told her how much God loved her. I began to tell her that only he knows what is in store for her future. I told her how beautiful, talented and smart she was, and how God had uniquely created her. I told her that if she trusted God, in his time he would reveal to her what his plan for her life would be. As long as she lived for his glory, God would be faithful to lead her in his plan. I told her in the meantime she should work hard and give her very best in anything she did, such as school, gymnastics, etc. I told her that no matter how big a dream we have or even achieve, we will never be satisfied or fulfilled unless Jesus is our greatest treasure.

Tonight, as I am discussing a book that Erin and I are reading by Paul Tripp, she shared this statement that she had highlighted:

God didn’t give us his grace to make our kingdoms work; he gave us his grace to invite us to a much, much better kingdom.

Wow! I guess the purpose of this post is a warning to parents to begin to instill this truth into children from a very young age. Emma’s greatest need is not attaining a great dream or even self-esteem, as most would suggest. Her greatest need is God’s grace. Her greatest need is to be rescued by Jesus and reconciled to the Father. Only then will she begin to discover who she was created to be. I have to be careful as her father not to make her think that her future is her’s alone to chart.

The heart of a man plans his way, but The Lord establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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