By Leslie Diestelkamp
When Joshua challenged the people to “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” he punctuated that challenge with a strong declaration of his own determination when he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Judging from the response of the people (see Josh. 24:15,16) they obviously recognized that Joshua had the leadership capability to not only lead their armies in battle, but to also lead his own household in devotion to God.
In an altogether different circumstance, we read of a “great woman” who prevailed upon her husband to assist a prophet of God. Wherein her husband did not recognize and appreciate the need, she did not hesitate to plead for cooperation with the servant of the Lord. Her zeal for spiritual matters was such that the very expression “that Shunammite” came to mean devotion to God (see 2 Kings 4:8-25).
Today, even in these modern times, fathers and mothers to that of Joshua an the Shunammite woman. We cannot relinquish our responsibility to the government, the school or even the church. Success in the family cannot be attributed to others, and likewise, failure cannot be blamed upon them.
In leading the family in religious activities, and in producing proper religious attitudes in the whole family, certain very deliberate and definite steps must be taken and some principles must be pursued steadfastly and aggressively.
1. Spiritual values must predominate in the activities of the home. The Bible must be respected. Children must learn to read it, and parents must read it with the children. Their questions should be answered and their inquisitive minds should be encouraged to search for its truth.
2. The Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ must be honored in every family circumstance. Their names must be held in reverence and the parents must demonstrate love for God and for the Savior.
3. Children must learn from the parents to have due respect for the church. (Too many times about all the children hear their parents say about the church is criticism. They hear mothers and fathers say, “The church is unfriendly” or “I don’t like the way they do things,” etc. (And then those same parents wonder why their children do not want to “go to church.”)
4. Attendance at services of the church, and active participation in those activities should be regular and steadfast. Under the best conditions, attendance will become almost habitual. Under ideal circumstances the question, “Are we going today” will not even be asked (when the church is assembling).
When I am discussing these matters, some parent is sure to ask, “What shall I do if Junior refuses to go to services?” Well, that depends. If Junior is yet a lad, he should be given no choice. But if Junior is almost a man, I do not know how to answer the question. I am sure there must be much prayer, much reasoning with him, patient perseverance and genuine devotion. If he is a reasonable young man, it will probably be wise to confess to him the mistakes you have made and to try to help him see the better judgment you are now expressing.
But we must remember that once a twig is bent it may be very difficult to straighten it. This is not written as a mere criticism of those who have failed, but it is intended as a constructive suggestion to those who still have opportunity. Undoubtedly the only real cure for rebellion is to prevent it. By that I mean, bend that twig in the proper way to begin with — do not let it get bent in the wrong way.
It has always been true that we cannot force religion upon anyone. There is no way you can force your children to love God or to obey His Word. Success is accomplished, not by force, but by teaching, by example, by guiding, by leading. And success is assured when parents begin to train and guide that tender plant even the very first day you take it home from the hospital. If you wait one week the child may be a spoiled baby and become a spoiled brat! If you wait a year you have imposed a much more difficult task upon yourself. If you wait five years, you have probably lost the fight already.
Character is formed and life-long attitudes are developed very early in life. A few exceptional people voluntarily make a radical change in their character and their attitude in later life, but most people become and remain basically what they have been trained to be in childhood (as far as character and attitude is concerned).
I would like to make a fervent appeal to parents, especially to young parents. You are naturally careful that you do not neglect your children in physical things, because you love them and even because you know that child neglect is a violation of the law of the land. But, with even much greater care you should make sure you do-not neglect the spiritual welfare of your children because you love them so much and because you know that such neglect is a violation of the law of Christ (Eph. 6:4).
If your baby is old enough to be taken to the doctor’s office it is old enough to be taken to church services. Do not fail to take it then, and take it every time the church meets through all those formative years. You say you have a headache, a stomach ache, a toothache? Go anyway, and take the child! For your own good, and for his good, go, and never excuse yourself from going if you can possibly go, for the child will remember your excuses and imitate them. If you will go, and go joyfully, and if you will go regularly through those impressionable years, and then if you will practice the same fidelity in daily life, your child will not refuse to go in later life. “When he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Truth Magazine XXII: 39, pp. 631-632
October 5, 1978