As a mother, it has been my biggest concern. How do I ensure that my children have made the Christian faith their own? How can I encourage them to claim Christ as their personal savior rather than as a impersonal family tradition? Have I prayed enough? Instructed enough? Been a good enough example?
Recently I spent some time studying the life of Jacob. I saw the story of a man who cheated his brother...twice. And not over a trivial snack treat either, but rather over life-altering choices. I saw a man who had to flee from his parents' home and fear his brother because of his deceitful deeds. I saw a man who even tried to make a deal with God. And although he experienced a supernatural visitation at Bethel, Jacob still referred to this God as the God of his parents rather than claiming Him for his own.
Doesn't this sound like some of our children? Running off into the world, making bargains with the God of their parents and grandparents. When does it get personal for them? When will they claim God as theirs?
But God isn't nervous. He meets us and our children right where we are. God met Jacob right where he was, and even answered his seemingly selfish prayer (Genesis 28:20-22). Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
It seems half-baked. God if you do this, if you get me out of this mess, then I will serve you. How often do we say this kind of thing only to let God down by forgetting his faithfulness after he has upheld his end of the bargain? The less we feel we need God, the more our willingness to commit to him disappears.
Jacob is no different: he is a man who keeps his word, but only just enough. The real difference is that God won't let him go. God does answer Jacob's prayer, in spite of Jacob's maneuvers. Jacob knows he must face his past, travel back to his father's land, and meet his estranged brother. But first, he breaks his caravan into groups to avoid being attacked. He puts his family in front of himself so his brother will meet him last. And then Jacob wrestles with God. Or better said, God comes to wrestle with Jacob. At some point, we all have to grapple with God for ourselves. Who is this God? Is He the God of our parents, or is He the God who has showed Himself real on our behalf? Is He the God Who has answered prayer and with Whom we have wrestled with hard questions?
Jacob met God for himself and claimed him for his own. And in the end, God prospered him wildly and Jacob kept his promise to God, although after that encounter Jacob always walked with a limp as a reminder of his stubbornness.
Sometimes we have to seek God's hand before we learn to seek His face. It is His goodness that leads to repentance. God has planned our days, He is not surprised by the choices that we make. Trust that He who began a good work in your children will be faithful to complete it. There may be a painful progression before your children make their faith their own, but trust the process. God is in the process. They may need to try things on their own. They may grapple with God over hard questions. In the end, we pray that they return to the place where they first encountered God and declare Him a personal God rather than an impersonal family tradition.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Travis Jamieson