I knew I was in trouble the day my daughter learned how to shop. She was about 18 months old at the time, and we were in the toy section at Babies R Us. Up to that point, she hadn’t paid much attention to the toys on the shelves unless I pulled something down to show it to her.
That day, however, something clicked, and she realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of fun. One-by-one, she began pulling toys off the shelves and bringing them to the cart. She wasn’t fussing for them, just delighting in each item and doing what she’d seen her parents do in stores time and time again. Throw things in the cart.
She had a such a sweet attitude about it that I was ready to hand over my wallet. At that moment I realized that if I had the money, I just might buy her every toy in the store. I really would have. There was something deep in my heart that wanted to give her everything. I wanted to give her an abundant life.
Then, a thought emerged in my head as clear as day. “You have the power to absolutely ruin her.” God revealed to me in that moment how easy it would be to invest in my daughter in all the wrong ways.
As I processed this kairos later, I realized that what I had experienced was my natural impulse to reflect the Father’s heart. In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Because we are made in the Father’s image, it’s the nature of parents to want to provide for our kids. We want our kids to flourish. However, our Father in heaven doesn’t just provide, but also protects. That means God doesn’t just give us things. He gives us the best things, the experiences and spiritual resources that will lead to true life.
From our limited vantage point, though, it’s easy to get confused about what exactly are the best things for our kids. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”
That day in the toy aisle taught me, that without God’s direction, my parenting impulse to give my kids the best could destroy them. If I focused on giving them abundant life, I would end up giving them no life at all. However, if I focused on giving them Jesus, the abundant life would follow. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
What Matters Most
When Jesus commands us to “seek first,” he is clearly telling us to prioritize our lives. He is saying that some things in our lives are simply more valuable than others. To help our children follow Jesus, and as a result, experience the best God has to offer, we have to get our priorities straight as parents. Because we have a finite amount of resources to invest in our kids, we have to make sure we’re focusing on the most important things.
The trick to managing these resources well is to realize that, though they are all valuable commodities, some are more valuable than others. Our spiritual capital is the most valuable while financial is the least.
A friend of mine told me about a mom in his huddle who was wrestling with these priorities. She said, “I’ve been parenting with the five capitals in reverse.” In other words, her natural priorities as a parent were the opposite of God’s.
She’s not alone.
The world tells us the most important thing as parents is to raise successful, happy children and, as a result, we may prioritize our parenting like this:
● We throw money, toys and new clothes at our kids to make them happy (financial).
● We push our kids to get good grades (intellectual).
● We sign our kids up for a million extra-curricular activities (physical).
● We arrange play dates and Pinterest-worthy parties to make our kids popular (relational).
● If time allows, we squeeze in church on Sundays (spiritual).
There’s nothing inherently wrong with toys, good grades, extracurricular activities and play dates. It’s just easy to forget what’s most important when it comes to raising our kids. Jesus says that if we go after kingdom stuff first, He’ll take care of the rest.
You Had One Job
If you’ve spent much time online at all, you’ve probably stumbled onto the phrase, “You had one job.” It’s an internet meme used to describe epic fails in the workplace and beyond. The pictures frequently include misspelled signs, products with the wrong labels or people generally fouling up the simplest of tasks.
I’m convinced, that if I don’t keep my priorities straight as a parent, some day I’m going to look back on my kids’ childhood with regret and say to myself, “You had one job.” Jesus told me to go into the world and make disciples, and the two disciples I have the most influence with are my daughters. When it comes to parenting, I have one job. It’s not to raise smart kids, popular kids, or athletic kids. It’s to raise kids who imitate Jesus.
Again, it’s not that being smart, popular or athletic are bad things. They’re just not the most important things. Our job as disciples, and as people who are discipling our kids, is to learn how to leverage the less valuable capitals in our children’s lives for what matters most.
In the economy of the Bible, it’s all about trading up. Jesus illustrated this by telling us about a merchant looking for fine pearls. He said, “When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:46). The merchant made a great deal, and we can teach our kids to make great deals too.
For example, if your kids are into sports (physical capital), you can help them to use that opportunity to build friendships with their teammates (relational capital) and potentially discover people of peace who they might be able to invest in spiritually. In that scenario you’ve just shown them how they can take something less important, sports, and trade it for something more important, friendship, to get something of eternal value, the growth of God’s kingdom.
Of course, the best way to teach our kids what matters most is by modeling it ourselves. Our kids learn their priorities by watching us in action, whether we want them to or not. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
This is the essence of great spiritual parenting. Follow Jesus and invite our kids along for the ride.
As we learn to prioritize the five capitals in our parenting, we’ll begin to see spiritual fruit in our kids’ lives that we never dreamed was possible. They really will begin to experience the best that God has to offer. While we may be tempted to settle for buying them every toy in store, God has something far better, the abundant treasure of a kingdom that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This is a guest post from Jason Byerly. Jason is a husband, dad, and Children’s Pastor. You can read more from Jason on his blog.