Our children are God's reward and our heritage. Our descendants have the potential to take God's mission into future generations—and to a higher and more effective level. They're our arrows, our most strategic weapons to aim toward the future.
Our goal is not to raise kids to be popular, famous, or wealthy. The goal is not to somehow get our teenagers to "survive" their youth without tasting a drop of alcohol, puffing on a cigarette, or experimenting with illegal drugs. It's not enough to "hope" that each child will turn out okay or "trust" that they won't be "too bad." As we influence tomorrow's world changers, our vision must be infinitely higher.
Can you imagine an archer distracted by his surroundings and pledging, "Okay, in today's competition I'll try not to hit that tree, and I won't shoot any arrows into the river; I'll work at aiming higher than the grass and try not to skewer my opponent"?
This contestant will likely miss even the outer rings of his target!
Instead of focusing on the "NO" side of human legalism (emphasizing our never-ending rules), it's much more fulfilling and productive to challenge young people to live on the "YES" side of God's life (emphasizing his eternal plans).
For example, if a daughter keeps focused on her desire to have a happy family with a godly, mission-minded husband, she will be self-motivated to make pure and wholesome relationship decisions throughout her childhood and young adult years.
If a son is attentive to a specific calling on his life toward a particular ministry, he will realize the importance of developing his personal prayer life, he will want to faithfully study the Bible, and, in God's timing, he will begin to step out in areas of Christian leadership.
As we keep each of our children focused on God's long-term goals, today's short-term decisions will make sense. And today's temptations, by God's grace, will be easier to withstand. Why would our kids want to smoke or take drugs? They'll want to set nations "on fire" for God! Why would our teens seek satisfaction in ungodly relationships? Their hearts will be burning with the fear of God and will be focused on his passion for the lost! (And if that attitude is not a reality in our kids' lives today, let's pray for it—in faith!)
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, according to The Amplified Bible, "Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it." This instruction goes beyond training a child merely to "believe" in God. Our responsibility as mission-minded parents is to train each child to "know" Jesus personally, to hear his voice, and to follow God's direction for his or her life.
In a mission-minded family, there's a God-infused energy. There's a focus on God's worldwide purpose. There's a passion for the lost. There's a spiritual depth and hunger that reaches beyond the maintenance mode of cultural Christianity. A mission-minded family emphasizes leadership, calling, and destiny. There's a prevailing attitude of self-sacrifice and an emphasis on total submission to God's will. And there's an unmistakable and contagious joy.
So, mission-minded families have a focused purpose for life. But what is this target? What is our "mission" or our final destination?
In the secular motivational book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey presents a challenge to "begin with the end in mind." He encourages his readers to evaluate their priorities in life by envisioning their own funeral, three years from today:
As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended—children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you've been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, brother, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?
This is an interesting thought. As I've glanced over newspaper obituaries or attended a funeral service, I've often wondered how my life—along with the lives of each member of my family—would someday be summarized. I have heard about a goal-setting project of writing your own obituary, then living your life to fulfill it.
It's good to consider the godly legacy we will leave for the next generation and important to realize that our day-to-day decisions can leave a lasting example, for good or for evil. But as Christians, and as members of mission-minded families, our funeral, or even our godly legacy, is not the end. Our ultimate life evaluation will not be determined by the opinions of those we leave behind. Instead, our life will be judged by the One we go to meet—our almighty God in heaven.
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our salvation by grace and through faith in Him, the question of whether our destiny is in heaven or hell is answered. However, the Bible speaks of a time in heaven when God will judge us for our obedience to his purposes and we will be rewarded accordingly (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about the importance of laying up "treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20). God has rewards in heaven for giving alms (Matthew 6:4), for prayer (Matthew 6:6), for fasting (Matthew 6:18), and even for being "persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matthew 5:10). The Bible also speaks of special crowns in heaven: an "imperishable crown" for running God's race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), a "crown of rejoicing" for seeing those we've won to Christ in heaven (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20), a "crown of righteousness" for obedience (2 Timothy 4:7-8), a "crown of glory" for shepherding God's people (1 Peter 5:1-4), and "the crown of life" for Christian martyrdom (Revelation 2:10). And someday, in heaven, there will be a time of casting down crowns as an ultimate act of worship before the throne of God (Revelation 4:9-11).
As we stand before our almighty, holy, and awesome Lord, we will be totally aware of the fact that our self-efforts are nothing but filthy rags (see Isaiah 64:6). Any self-made "crowns" of human efforts in missions or ministry—achieved with wrong motivations, with selfish ambitions, with family or spiritual priorities out of whack, or perhaps accomplished through direct disobedience—will be worth absolutely nothing in God's sight.
I have pictured myself entering heaven with some of these self-made crowns. As I see myself entering the awesome presence of God, all of my own crowns or achievements instantly disintegrate and evaporate into nothing.
God sees our hearts, and he can't be fooled. He sees the big picture, and he wants what's best for the long term. God has a big heart for the whole world; but he also desires a deep and personal relationship with each one of us. God wants our families to reach individuals and to touch nations; but he also wants us to reflect his love and his compassion to the people within our own home.
A mission-minded family keeps God's focus in mind. A powerful dynamic is present when you raise your children to walk daily in the fear of the Lord. It's not about preparing kids to be successful, or to get into a good college, or to make a lot of money to give to missions, or even to do something "famous" for God. Our mission is to love and please God—to live every day in complete obedience.
How this plays out for each mission-minded family will be different. God has unique purposes and callings. But we begin with the end in mind. As we're raising each of our children—from cuddling our babies, to disciplining our toddlers, to teaching and training our school-age children, to encouraging and motivating our teens, to aiming and releasing our young adults to God's call for their lives—we keep the target in focus.
It's all about worshiping God and living our lives for his glory. What we "accomplish" on earth is only a byproduct. As we draw close to God—individually and as a family unit—we will know more of his heart. We will want to follow him. It's not about works or achievement. It's simply about loving God and doing what he wants. No matter the cost. No matter what.
For us, the "end" that we need to be concerned about is that moment when we enter heaven and appear before the presence of God. Our lives on earth are merely the preparation for our eternal life, which will continue forever. When a family lives with this focus, the dynamic is powerful. You become a family on a mission. And it's not even your own mission; you're on God's mission.
Excerpted and adapted from The Mission-Minded Family by Ann Dunagan. Copyright 2007 by Ann Dunagan. Used with permission from Biblica Publishing. All rights reserved.