I’ll confess to you I don’t love parenting books. They often make me feel rather helpless. So why on earth am I digging one up from the nineteenth century? In short, because it’s pure gold!
This simple booklet, 'The Training of Children' by J C Ryle centres around one clear promise from the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
As Christian parents we have the unique opportunity to bless our children by training them to love and trust the Lord Jesus. But how exactly?
Here are Ryle’s top training tips and some of the ways they’ve spoken to me:
It’s a team effort.
Did you notice the duty in that verse isn’t just for parents? Grandparents, nannies, teachers, godparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, friends of the family - all have a part to play. Contained in that verse is a reminder to help the children we know grow up to walk with God. I have a friend who takes her brother’s children to Sunday School every week. She is doing what she can to see her nephew and niece walk with God.
We all fall short.
Ryle understands that we have a bias: “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) That includes me and that includes our kids. We are sinful to the core. The fighting, backchat and parental stuff ups that go on at my place certainly testify to that. Only grace can overturn the strongholds of Satan. Ryle writes, “Train them in the way they should go, not in the way that they would.”
For some people this is natural. For others, it’s not. Ryle writes, “Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct.” Pray for more grace. How we train our children is very important.
You will influence your children.
Did you hear that? I think sometimes we think that if we don’t try too hard we’ll just have a neutral effect. Not so. For better or worse, we will influence our children. Ryle writes encouragingly that God doesn’t lay commands on us without giving us grace to perform them. How are you going as a parent at living out the gospel?
Know the Bible for yourself.
I think this is something we really need to hear. We can so easily focus on providing the best ‘stuff’ or experiences for our kids as the pinnacle of parenting well. But are we putting a high pricetag on things that don’t matter and forgetting the treasure we have in God’s word? Ryle tells us “that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered.” My own mum watched her lovely teenage son suffer through a shock cancer diagnosis, followed by gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and a failed bone marrow transplant. She watched him die at just nineteen. Dreams of watching him marry and have a family or play cricket for Australia slipped away in two short, harrowing years. But she saw the salvation that was in his heart grow strong and develop before he went to be with the Lord. My mother knew and loved the Bible for herself. The first thing my brother said to me on the phone after his diagnosis was, “Don’t worry, mum’s sorting me out with all the Bible things I need.” She sat by his bedside praying and reading the Bible with him every single day. She did all she could to ensure her son had a rich and deep relationship with Jesus before he went to meet him. What she did for him will stay with me all my life. By God’s grace, she did an amazing thing. Know the Bible for yourself so you can share it with your children. Nothing matters more.
Train your child to a knowledge of the Bible.
As well as the evening routine of reading the Bible with your children they will copy your habits. I have a habit of journaling. When I was cleaning up my daughters’ bedroom recently I found two exercise books that they had made for devotionals. One was called a ‘Jesus Book’ and had scripture copied out in it. The other was called, “My Midnight Book’ and contained the flamboyant colourful hand writing of a six year old paraphrasing the Genesis story. It brought tears to my eyes.
Train your child to a habit of prayer.
Ryle points out that prayer is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. Right from Genesis chapter 4, when people begin to call on the name of the Lord. Every night, no matter how fraught the bedtime saga, my husband will read a Bible story and do a ‘teaspoon’ prayer (“Thankyou...Sorry...Please…) with our daughters, aged nine and six. Meanwhile in another bunk I do a simple prayer with our two and a half year old son where we pray for our immediate family members by name and include the names of people we have seen that day. We ask the Lord to bless them and keep them. One day I had the privilege of my small son offering to pray for me in the daytime when I’d hurt myself. A soft warm hand rested on my shoulder and he said simply, “Dear God, we pray for mummy, Amen.”
Go to church as a family.
Being a Christian is an ‘all of life experience’. Part of that experience is regular church attendance. If you want to explore this further, check out Ephesians - we are a body and we need each other! Ryle is really big on making use of the means God has put before us to get blessed and be a blessing to others. Your church might look small and aging. It might look shiny and new. It might be full to bursting or scattered with empty pews. Regardless, it is God’s gift to us and we are called to love the church. What a blessing it is to be able to gather with other Christians. Train the next generation of Christians in your family to love God’s family by showing up to church each Sunday. Show them that it matters to you. It is a huge encouragement to others to be together. Pray about Sundays and be ready to serve the Lord.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Teach your kids to tell the truth all the time and especially when it costs them something. Our Father in Heaven is a God of truth.
Train your child remembering how God trains His children.
God doesn’t give us everything we want but he gives us all we need. He does discipline us. He says no. He says wait. We need to say no to our children and there needs to be consequences when they disobey. “Your boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6). Boundaries keep kids safe. Without them we destroy ourselves.
Remember the promises of scripture.
Where you are with your child right now might look totally inscrutable. Take heart. Persevere with tenderness. Pray. “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33) Ryle says, “You may not see with your own eyes the result of careful training - but who knows what blessed fruits may spring from it long after you’re dead and gone.” None of it is a waste. My own mum turned back to God after her Christian dad had passed away. Be comforted by God’s promises. Claim them for yourself by faith. And persevere! He will do it. He is faithful.