The sign reads, “Touch the future – teach children.” There can be no greater joy than having the opportunity to form lives at the headwater of life as molding the hearts of children. As a blank canvas awaiting the deep pigments of character so a child’s mind absorbs the teaching of those who craft their work in teaching children the wonderful story of God’s love. The wise man declares that children taught early in life will find security in old age. “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Unprepared, novice, innocent and filled with hope children enter life with smiles and joy that brighten the hearts of time worn adults who have endured many challenges.
“A child is a man in a small letter, yet the best copy of Adam before he tasted of Eve, or the Apple; … He is nature’s fresh picture newly drawn in oil, which time and much handling dims and defaces. His soul is yet a white paper unscribbled with observations of the world, wherewith at length it becomes a blurred notebook. He is purely happy because he knows no evil” (John Earle, Micro-Cosmographie, 1628). It is that time of childhood that the greatest work of molding a life takes place. In the soft clay of adolescence an enduring character will be formed. Training a child is knowing that a child needs training while a child. “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). The formative years of the child is the “NOW” time. Children must not be discouraged but rather encouraged.
The act of encouragement is to give a child hope and confidence. It is to motivate them with courage offering praise for who they are and what they can become with God’s help. Training a child in the way that he should go is knowing the right way to go – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Children must be taught to know Jesus Christ. This knowledge is not a cursory knowledge but a deep and abiding love for who Jesus is. Luke records the training of young Jesus in Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” This four-fold plan is vital to every child.
Children need to be encouraged by the love of parents. “The first, the most fundamental right of childhood is the right to be loved. They child comes into the world alone, defenseless, without resource. Only love can stand between his infant helplessness and the savagery of harsh world” (Paul Hanly Furfey, The Church and the Child, 1933). This love is not dissimilar to how Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13. Parents show love to their children by being patient with the growing nature of youth. Parenting is not a competition of envy nor a superior feeling of adulthood over the child. Love does not allow the parent to fly off the handle at a child for a character of adolescence. One of the great tenets of love is that it is not about me but rather “we” or “us.” Children learn best when they see that parents make mistakes also.
Love is not easily provoked or irritated. A child will learn best in love when a parent is patient without losing their temper with yelling and screaming. Remembering the past slights does not endure a child to a loving relationship nor the revelry at past mistakes mold the heart of a child with love. Love does not rejoice in the failings of an imperfect young man or woman but rather believes all things in youth and hopes all things in youth. Children must be encouraged with the best construction put upon everything with faith not suspicion.
Finally love is shown to a child when the parent endures all things for the sake of the child and gives love no matter what. When the storms come love is given. Paul’s use of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is the measure of how we show our love for children; not in word but rather in deed.
Children are encouraged when they are given the chance to use their talents for God. Not everyone will have an ability to excel in certain areas of life but every child has an ability to excel in their life according to their talent. Sometimes the idea is given that “young people are the church of tomorrow.” In fact our young people are the church of today. They have so much to offer and there are so many lessons we can learn from them. Timothy was a young man who was commended by the brethren to Paul (Acts 16:2). The result is evident by two epistles written and preserved for the ages by Paul to this young man (1 & 2 Timothy). They will stumble and mumble when they give their first talk but in a short time through practice and encouragement they will become polished speakers of God’s word. How wonderful to see young people spend time with older folk. Children are encouraged when they find the joy of sitting with older folk during worship services or visiting in their homes. Teaching children to help others is teaching children the need for helping others.
Children are encouraged when they are shown the way of righteousness. The wise man says, “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). The joy of older age is the knowledge that youth was spent in learning about the right way and living life lessened by the pains of regret. Parents must show the path of righteousness to their children by their daily example of prayer, mediation on God’s word and hands of benevolence to others. Fathers are not to provoke their children to wrath but “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This speaks to the encouragement of children to be trained in the knowledge of God and to be admonished by His word.
Jane Brooks has said, “Our children are like library books on loan with a due date that remains unknown.” We must make the most of every moment with our children to prepare them for the ravaging storms of time. Childhood only happens once and unlike in golf – there are no mulligans or do-overs. Who are children will be tomorrow they are already becoming today. The encouragement given today will be the barrier walls of tomorrow to shield them from the darts of the devil. “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).