A Parent’s Greatest Joy
By Dennis Gundersen
Many of you who know my wife Naomi and I, and have met us at home education conventions, are aware that we have four sons. Two are now college graduates; the third is currently studying at a Christian university; the fourth is in his final year of homeschooling. We are truly at a joyful time of beholding God’s blessing in our lives, seeing our sons becoming what we always longed for them to become: men of character, men of zeal for righteousness and serving the Lord, men equipped with so much more than I ever had at their age!
What we feel, as we see our sons advancing in righteousness, could not be better said than the Apostle John puts it:
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
I believe it was Norm Wakefield (another frequent home education convention speaker) whom I first heard say that, when my children are married, I really doubt that one of their spouses will ever approach me, greatly moved in heart with deep gratitude to us, for so diligently teaching our dear sons how to diagram a sentence. Do you think so? It doesn’t strike me as likely. Nor am I holding my breath waiting for a young wife to one day tell us, with tears in her eyes, how it’s made all the difference in their home that we made our boys press on through their studies in trigonometry.
But I do think this likely: it’s not at all improbable that a day will come when a grateful wife will thank us profusely for having focused on character-building! Now we didn’t do it so we could revel in that “one shining moment”; we don’t live for that, but for the smile of God on our life and labor, not the smile or praise of men. But does not this truth bring vividly to our attention, where a parent’s highest joy truly lies? I hope to inspire you to passionately seek that which will bring you one of the best blessings you can enjoy on earth: children in hot pursuit of righteousness.
“The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you. Give me your heart, my son, and let your heart delight in my ways!” Proverbs 23:24-26
By “a wise son”, this Proverb does not mean a good boy or an intelligent son, or one who merely makes out well in the world or who becomes a person of skill. For surely we know that a nation full of highly skilled, competent, and successful people who are not good and faithful can be a monstrosity. Rather, the exalted joy of the parents of the righteous is rooted in children who pursue the ways of godly wisdom and who share the parents’ delight in serving Christ first.
According to the proverb, here is something to greatly rejoice about! Solomon speaks of an enthusiastic delight, a deep gladness. After all, our greatest joys usually arise from good results where we have made our greatest investment. Godly parents have made an immense investment of time and love into the lives of their children. When something that costs us much comes out well, we don’t just rejoice; we greatly rejoice! When someone we love more than our own lives turns out blest, we don’t just rejoice; we greatly rejoice! To know that such a son is among the righteous is as good as it gets!
For all the good we wish for our children, nothing compares in scope to this. What has a man gained if he obtains the whole world but loses his soul? What will he give in exchange for his soul? Take just one area: If your child becomes a righteous man or woman, then this is true: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His ears attend to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (I Peter 3:12). What can your sons or daughters gain if God is against them? And, in fact, anything they do gain, God can use against them, to their ruin! Just as we see that people who resist God often gain a lot of “things,” a young person who gains talents can become self-sufficient and arrogant. His material gains can transform him into an idolater, attaining to great honor and advancement and becoming self-destructively proud. To have God [against] our children is the most horrendous thought conceivable.
But if God is [for] your children, and His ears hear their prayers, who can be against them effectively? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) Do you realize that the [us] in that verse does not apply to everyone? It applies only to the people God is for. And you want your child to be one of those. What can effectively harm those whom God is committed to bless? So all our wishes for their safety and blessing are fulfilled when they are wise. What could compare to the gladness for the parents of such a one?! The joy any parents have over their child, no matter how great that joy is already, is multiplied beyond comprehension when the child is living in pursuit of righteousness as a disciple of the Lord Jesus! And a tie of eternal fellowship in Christ is added to the natural ties of family unity – a tie which is never to be severed.
If your child’s eternal safety would make you glad, dear parent, then invest in that which will give you that fruit! Why fill their minds only with tools to equip them to succeed in life, in the very same departments that the world invests in its children, if what we really want is righteousness? Paul wrote in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” – the worthiest goals in life, under God’s rule, are much grander in scope than having enough to eat and drink and wear. It’s having the righteousness of God, peace with God, and joy from God!
Succeeding economically in life doesn’t compare. Your child’s having enough to take care of you financially in old age doesn’t compare. Giving us good-looking and healthy grandchildren doesn’t compare. Nothing compares! And so it is natural that, in the proverb, Solomon would next say, “Give me your heart, my son, and let your heart delight in my ways!” This is the lofty calling for which a godly parent appeals to his children!
Many forces clamor for the heart. Heaven and hell contend constantly for it. But the passion and affection of this language – “give me your heart, my son” – is the tone of a father who longs that his children never withdraw into secrecy from him, that the doors of communication remain open, so father and mother always have access to steadily urge them to be seeking Christ first, without that feeling of being “locked out” of their hearts but welcomed there. We should never allow an emotional wall to be built up against us. We should be working at creating an atmosphere at home in which they know it is welcome, even desirable, to ask us about God’s ways.
We should urge our children to come to Christ without delay, to recognize it as a temptation from the pit of hell to put spiritual needs out of mind for the moment and think about that “some other time.” It’s one of Satan’s best tricks. We must warn our children that it becomes increasingly difficult to turn to the Lord with passing years, as sin has a hardening effect and tightens its grip on a life each day that the truth is spurned.
We should appeal to our children’s consciences, to allow resistance to God no space in their hearts. Show them how it breaks your heart, unimaginably, that they would not live for God and would lose the blessing! Like Paul, who said in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!” Tell them, as Paul did, “Now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord” (1 Thes. 3:8). In other words, be earnest with your children! Urge, appeal, compassionately exhort them to not halt between two opinions, but to choose this moment who they will serve. Let no parent hold back from urging your children to now make the right decision to come to Christ, to bow the knee, to make no delay but repent today. The way Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:20, “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” is the same spirit as we find in the proverb, “My son, give me your heart, and let your heart delight in my ways.”
If Paul were to say that to any child, he or she would know what his “ways” are – Paul’s ways were clearly and decisively paths of pursuing Christ. So, to the parent reading this article, I pose the question: What are your “ways”? What would your child tell us Dad’s ways or Mom’s ways are, if we asked him or her to inform us?
Does your child know more about your opinions on sports than about the gospel from you? Does he or she understand more about your political preferences than about the word of God from you? Are your children better informed about dad’s opinions about good investments or the value of a good education, or a dozen other things, than on what Paul could call “my gospel”? It was abundantly clear to all who knew Paul that this gospel was what he really loved and stood for. It should be clear to our children that this is what you most live for as well.
If you want your child’s heart to delight in the gospel, does yours? No one can stir a passion for something he is not seen to be passionate about himself. Make that delight evident to him, as your great passion – for if you are a burning and shining light to your children, they will have reason to follow the path of that light.
Dennis Gundersen and his wife Naomi own and operate the ministry of Grace & Truth, providing seminars and re-publications of literature from past centuries. They have homeschooled four sons over the last 15 years.