Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Eternal Significance of Parenting

Leslie Basham: When children are making big life decisions, here's what they need to hear from their parents, according to Bill Elliff.

Bill Elliff: God wants you to know His will more than you want to know it, because His reputation is at stake. And so, if you'll pursue Him, that's going to happen.

Now, God has put in your life some counselors, and the first two are Mom and Dad, and we're your protectors, and we're responsible. So we're going to be in this thing. We're going to laugh with you about it. We're going to cry with you about it. We're going to pray with you about it.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Wednesday, July 4, 2018.

All week, Nancy's been talking with Bill and Holly Elliff. They're no strangers to most of our listeners. Bill is a teaching pastor at the Summit Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and Holly are parents of eight children, and Holly is a regular contributor to Revive Our Hearts.

We've been hearing a practical discussion on parenting this week, and we're going to jump back in. Here's Nancy.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Let's talk about leading your children to Christ, because I know Christian parents want for their children to know Christ. How have you handled evangelizing your children? How are you presenting the gospel to them? Can little ones come to faith in Christ? How have you approached that?

Bill: Well, in our home, and as a pastor . . . and in, honestly, most good followers of the Lord who get their kids around the right environments, they're hearing the gospel. They know how to parrot back the statements.

Nancy: Right.

Bill: They know Jesus died for my sins; they may not understand what that means.

I think there has to be a basic understanding that we're pouring into the life of our kids. We're answering their questions. We're talking when things come up. I think we're proactively teaching the gospel to our kids and referring to the gospel. So we're laying that seed bed of biblical truth in there all the time.

The difficulty comes in committed Christian homes in knowing when is that child really ready? This really goes to your theology of salvation. Holly and I believe that only Christ can save anybody and that He draws us to Himself. And so it's initiated, really, with the Lord.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: So we look for that. My kids, since they were really small, could tell you everything about Jesus, and they loved Jesus. What was there not to love about Jesus? They wanted Jesus. I could have had them pray and ask Jesus to come into their heart. I could also have had them pray and ask Santa Claus to come into their hearts.

Nancy: Right.

Bill: So how do we know? Well, you look for two things, I think. Number one: You look for conviction of sin. A person has to realize they're lost before they can be saved. And that can be over a minor issue, some disobedience to my parents. Then suddenly there's this difference. There's this spirit wrought, conviction that comes into the heart of a child, and they realize, "You know what? I'm a sinner, and it has consequences to me."

Nancy: And not just that, "I've disobeyed my parents, but that sin is against God."

Bill: Exactly. This is one of the reasons that good discipline in the home is so important, because it's establishing that there's right behavior, there's wrong behavior, there's consequences for our sin. It's a tool that God uses to help us realize our sinfulness and our need. So that's an important part of the whole salvation process.

So I think, looking for that genuine conviction of sin. And then faith is a gift. Looking for that genuine, Spirit-brought faith to believe, "You know what? I'm separated from Christ. He did something for me on the cross, but I can be saved. He will save me. I really believe this will happen."

And I think, kind of discerning that in our children as much as we can is important.

Holly Elliff: I can remember especially with a couple of our kids, with one of our daughters, I went into her room, and she was just weeping uncontrollably. She could not talk. She was distraught.

Nancy: Like, how old?

Holly: She was probably seven or so. I finally got her to tell me what was wrong, and she was brokenhearted because she had a fight with her best friend, and she recognized that it was wrong, that she had responded in a wrong way. She was brokenhearted over her hardness of heart. She couldn't have said it in those words, but God used that moment to show her her own sin. And she just cried out. She said, "Mom, I just need Jesus to save me so I won't do this anymore."

It was just a very natural progression from that recognition in her life to the moment when she understood that Christ was the answer to that issue in her life.

Another one of our daughters was pretty selfish. Her toys were her things, and she didn't want anyone touching them. She was very territorial about them. And the Lord started prompting her heart about sharing one of her dolls with her sister, and she kept saying, "No."

But there was a moment when God showed her the groundwork of her heart where she recognized that she needed to give that doll to her sister. It opened up a tender place in her heart where God could then move in, convict her of sin, and then bring her to an understanding of the fact that Christ was so unselfish that He gave His whole life for us.

So again, your kids are different. It's going to be different with every child. The way they respond to Christ is going to be different. So don't expect that it's all going to look the same.

Your church may have an invitation where the kids walk an aisle, and that's great. But you need personal conversation with them (it could be with your pastor or a leader in the church) to make sure that God is calling them. It's not a rote action, but that God is calling their heart to obedience to Him.

Bill: I think another thing that could alleviate our fears a little bit. Sometimes we think, I'm going to ruin my child if I don't manage this moment well. God is not playing games with our children. I think, as parents, really going to the Lord and saying, "God, help me. Help me to discern this. Help me to manage this well."

Holly: We've prayed for our kids' salvation and their mates from the moment that they were tiny.

Bill: Yes. We had one of our children who wanted to get saved real bad. Our tendency was to put them off, put them off, until finally they would come to us and say . . . I think it was one of our kids that said, "Dad, if you don't let me get saved, I'm going to die and go to hell, and it's your fault."

So I think, we would kind of delay that until we saw the Lord's activity in their life. One of these girls just wanted to get saved. And finally, honestly, against my best judgment . . . I just didn't quite feel right about it, but she pestered us for so long that we finally prayed with her and took the steps. She was baptized, but I still felt uneasy. So what am I to do?

So I went to the Lord, and Holly and I prayed, and we said, "Look, Lord, You love her more than we do. And so we're asking You, if this has not been legitimate here, would You save her? Would you save her?"

Two years later, in a Life Action crusade in our church, she came down at tweleve o'clock one night, weeping, and said, "I'm not saved." And she had a genuine account with the Lord. She is one of our most profoundly committed children now with deep convictions in her heart.

So I think God wants to help us in parenting. He is available if we'll just ask Him. Just say, "Lord, I don't know how to do this. Help me lead my child to Christ, initially and continually." And He'll give you the grace you need.

Nancy: Because it isn't just a one-time point in time. There are certainly points along the way, and there's a point at which we step from darkness into light. But walking in that grace and walking in Christ is a lifetime. And you want to be leading your children in that whole process.

In fact, I remember the family devotional that my parents were using in our family when I was a little girl. I was the oldest of six children at the age of five. And early on, my parents were using this book called, Leading Little Ones to God. And what I love about that book (it's still in print, by the way, and we have that available in our resource center if some of our listeners would like that) is it goes through the Bible, the Bible story with a doctrinal grid to it, so that you're really being . . .

Bill: Catechized.

Nancy: Yes, catechized, that's the word I want. But that's really what parents are wanting to do, is to lead their little ones to God, but realizing that the Great Shepherd, the one who leads us leads them, too, and draws them to Himself. So what an important thing to be praying that God would open their hearts, draw their hearts, reveal Christ to them, because otherwise we're raising little Pharisees, little self-righteous, good kids, but not necessarily godly kids who really know Christ.

Bill: There have been a million parenting mistakes that have been overcome by somebody who prayed.

My mother was a simple, country woman who loved Jesus with all of her heart and prayed. She read the Bible, tried to do what it said, under the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Holly: She believed that Jesus was going to be there when she prayed and He hear her.

Bill: She believed, and so we talk about this, honestly. But the sad reality is that most people don't pray very much.

A study was done of pastors and discovered that pastors, years ago, were only spending seven minutes a day in the study of the Word of God and in prayer. I don't mean that has to be for a busy mom that she sits down and spends three hours every morning. It could be the Susanna Wesley method of throwing your apron over your head, but just praying, just living in an atmosphere all day long where—you get a phone call from your kid, and you're breathing a prayer, or you're praying with them over the phone, and you're just all day long.

But we are living in this atmosphere of prayer and communion, which is an atmosphere of dependency that God honors because He's going to get the glory. We're going to say, "Well, I prayed about that, and He did something. And we can illustrate that to our children, and they learn, "Hey, there's a prayer hearing and a prayer answering God."

Holly: Well, I don't think I ever understood Paul saying that we're to pray without ceasing until I had several children.

Nancy: Yes. Because then you can't stop praying.

Holly: If we are with our kids, and our heart is to see God's heart grown up in them, then we will find ourselves praying without ceasing while we're doing a million tasks throughout the day. We can pray wherever we are. We can pray no matter what we are doing. God is still listening, and while we're driving carpool, or doing laundry, or cooking dinner, or taking care of ailing parents. Whatever we're trying to accomplish that day, God can be right there in the midst.

And as we do that, we are modeling for our children, "Here's how you do life. God is there, and you invite Him in."

Nancy: So what are the things you find yourselves praying for your children? Now you have teenagers and young adult children. What are some of the things you pray for them?

Bill: Well, I think we pray prayers of protection a lot. Years ago, when my kids were out, away from me, at an event or something, and they came to mind quickly, I came to realize the Spirit of God is calling me to prayer. I can't wait to get to heaven and see what transactions occurred in that moment.

Nancy: What God could see and knew that you had no way of knowing.

Bill: He knew, and He alerted the one person that He knew was more deeply concerned about that child than anybody. So, when your child comes to mind, pray. Instantly pray. That's a divine call from the Spirit of God.

So, I think prayer is a protection. We have prayed tons of prayers just for their wisdom.

Holly: I pray for discernment a lot for my children so that they will be able to recognize the difference between good and evil, between truth and falsehood. And so, if our kids grow up with discernment, even if I'm not there to shepherd them . . .

Nancy: Which at some point you won't be.

Holly: Which I won't, and I shouldn't be. Those reins need to be gradually turned over to our children as they get older. But if they have the quality of discernment, then even if it's in a situation they've never encountered before, God's Spirit can give them direction. And that is far more important than even my ability to direct them. If they know they can hear from God, then in that moment, they can pray, and God will say to them, "This is the way. Walk ye in it." And they will listen to it, and they will respond to it. So I think discernment is a huge quality.

Bill: I think praying that our kids will experience Christ. We want them to know about it, but we want the experiential knowledge of Christ.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: We want them to fall in love with Jesus. To really have a passionate, genuine, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ is a critical prayer to pray for them.

And in that regard, too, that they would see every moment of life as this call to dependency, the call to His side, the call into the inner closet with the Lord to experience Him.

I think about this a lot, in particular with our older kids, that they would get it, that the purpose of the exercise is: God is giving you a moment. It's not a problem about your car. It's not that you don't have enough money to buy a wedding ring. It's not that you don't know how to discipline your children here.

It's that all of these are about faith. All of these are about dependency and experiencing the Lord and to see it in that context.

Nancy: I love that prayer in Psalm chapter 90, verse 16. It's a prayer of Moses, the man of God, and what a great prayer for families. It says, "Let your work be seen by your servants (That's us. We want to see the work of God.) and your splendor by their children."

We've done this in our own ministry. We've prayed for our staff families, for the children of our staff, that we would see the works of God, but that our children and children of our other staff would see the splendor of God, that they would have their own firsthand, intimate, experiential knowledge of God.

Bill, you've studied this . . . about the rate at which young people are graduating from Christian homes, Christian school, home school, Christian churches, youth groups, going to college and leaving their faith.

Bill: Right.

Holly: And now even earlier than college.

Nancy: And now even earlier. And we have to ask ourselves a question: "What is it they've not seen? What have they missed?"

And we know God has to turn the light on, but I wonder if we're praying intentionally, "Lord, let them see You so that they will desire You more than anything or anyone else."

Bill: Nancy, you're pointing out something that is so critical. There is a dramatic difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: There's a dramatic difference between, "Well, I took him to church. He got the stories. Is that enough?" No!

Nancy: Took him or sent him to youth group.

Bill: I want my children to experience the Lord and to know that He is real, that it's about every moment of the common day, that worship happens 24/7. All those things. It is woven into the tapestry of their life, with every thread.

Nancy: But that means it has to be woven into the tapestry of your life.

Bill: My life. Yes.

Holly: Right.

Nancy: It can't just be a category of your life.

Bill: No.

Holly: And I think, too, allowing our children to grow up with a big-picture perspective on their own life, that the choices they make are not just about themselves, their lives will affect future generations. It's Psalm 78, saying, "We're going to tell these things to the next generation so that they can tell it to the next generation, so that God will be glorified."

So if my kids grow up with eternal perspective in the sense of recognizing that what happens in their lifetime will go beyond their lifetime; it's affecting those who are coming behind them.

They can grasp that at an early age. So it's very helpful when they hit those teenage years of drama, that they do not really believe that life is just about them if they have grown up seeing that it's a bigger picture than just their lifetime.

Bill: I do not know how my mother did this, but my mother made me think through Christ I could do anything. She instilled a sense of God-developed destiny in me that, as a child, thinking, God's going to use me to change the world. Now, He may do that as a brick layer or a preacher, or whatever, but He has big things planned for my life.

And when you think that every one of your children is going to be a point through which streams of generations are going to come, that one person can change the world and does change the world in one direction or another.

Holly: That's right.

Bill: So I think praying for this: That our kids would have a vision for their life that's big, that's huge, that drives them to say, "I'm not going to tamper with some of the things that are over here."

There's a lot of things I thought in my life, "I can't do that because it's going to mess up the trajectory that God has for me." There was a calling, a sense of calling on my life, and I think a lot of it came from my mother's and my dad's prayers.

Nancy: Have there been any moments with some of your children where they just weren't getting it, didn't have that heart, you couldn't make them have it. Were there moments you found yourselves just really feeling desperate for God to turn on the light in that child's life?

Holly: I can think about a moment in one of our daughter's lives where she was dating a guy that she really liked but we did not feel right about, and we were really concerned. Even though he was a believer, we were really concerned that he was not the right fit for her.

Finally, after really praying about it, we sat down with her and said to her, "We really are not feeling good about this, and let's talk about this." She did not really want to talk about that at that moment. She was not really open to doing anything about that at that moment. But we kept praying and kept pursuing that conversation.

There was a moment about three months later where she came back to us and said, "I am so sorry I didn't listen to you because I couldn't see it then, but I can see it now. And I know that it's not right."

Now, it was still hard for her to break off that relationship because she had pursued it and wanted to pursue it, but God gave her the grace to do that.

Bill: Well, the enemy kept kind of pulling her back into that.

Holly: Right. The guy kept pursuing her, so it was very hard.

Bill: It wasn't just an overnight conversation. This was a pretty long pilgrimage.

Holly: Yes.

Nancy: How did you talk with your children about preparing for marriage and choice of a mate?

Holly: Well, we've prayed for them since they were little bitty that when God brought the right man or woman into their life, they would know that they know that they know—kind of the same way Scripture says that you know that you're saved because the Holy Spirit bears witness with your spirit. And so we've prayed that they would recognize that in their mate and know that that was God's person for them.

Again, if there's a lifestyle commitment toward pursuing Christ in everything you do, then it's only natural that, as you pursue relationships, that will be the sounding board for it. That will be what sets your course. Even as you pursue your mate, you will be pursuing the Lord first and asking for direction.

Now, nobody does that perfectly, but . . .

Bill: Here's another huge area for prayer. It's not only just about a mate, but about every relationship. I think we prayed about that as much as anything . . . about their friends and . . .

Holly: Roommates in college.

Bill: Roommates in college, because all of those are influencers on their life and people that they want to influence. So there's a lot of praying that has to happen there.

I think another thing about their eventual mate is establishing kind of the ground rule that, "Hey, your parents are responsible before God for you until you get married." All of our kids know that. It's just through conversations that we've had all along the way.

When one of my daughters is dating somebody or wants to date somebody, there's a little process about that. She knows that, and our boys know that God is going to speak to us, too, about that. This is not a heavy-handed, legalistic kind of thing. It's, hopefully, a joyful thing, and they get it that this is God's protection for their life.

Sometimes they don't want to hear that, in the case that we talked about just a moment ago, as a kind of illustration. I think all of our children understand that we're deeply involved in this process of helping them as we think through together and pray through together about their future mate.

Holly: And giving them perspective on God's sovereignty in their life, that, if they will just pursue God in this step and in the next step and the next step, chances are, if there's a mate out there that they're supposed to find, in the pursuit of God's sovereignty in their life, they will encounter that person.

So if early on they believe that's how you make decisions, that's how you make choices—to pursue allowing God to be sovereign in your life over every area—then God being sovereign over your mate is just the next progressive step.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: I've said a lot of times to my kids, "God doesn't play games with us. He's not trying to withhold things from us. He says, 'If you seek Me, you'll find Me if you search for Me with all your heart.'" He's not capricious.

Holly: Or flippant.

Bill: Or flippant . . . or toying with you. God wants you to know His will more than you want to know it because His reputation is at stake. So if you'll pursue Him, that's going to happen.

Now, God has put in your life some counselors, and the first two are Mom and Dad, and we're your protectors, and we're responsible. So we're going to be in this thing. We're going to laugh with you about it. We're going to cry with you about it. We're going to pray with you about it.

Nancy: And you're going to have siblings weighing in on it, too.

Bill: Oh my, yes, that's true.

Nancy: I've been around when that was going on at your house.

Holly: Right.

Bill: There are stories there.

Nancy: It's a family affair, right?

Bill: It is a family affair, absolutely. So they have to sign off on this new guy or new girl pretty much, too.

Leslie: Your kids need your involvement when they are young, and that involvement never stops through the transition into adulthood.

Bill and Holly Elliff have been talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about walking with children through various seasons of life.

Staying involved in your children's lives is a huge commitment, but it's also a huge privilege. Bill and Holly know what it's like to walk with children through ups and downs of life, and they consider all of it as a gift from God.

They write about children being a gift in their book, Turning the Tide. They'll challenge you to think through what you believe about children. Are they a blessing from God or a burden? I hope you'll think about this important question for yourself and get a copy of the booklet.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any size, we'll say, "Thanks," by sending you a copy. Your gift means a lot to us here in the summer when donations usually drop. Your support will help us keep calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

When you call with your support, ask for, Turning the Tide. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We'll send one booklet per household for your donation this week.

Well, do you know that your relationship with Christ affects your kids? Bill and Holly will be back tomorrow to show why your intimacy with Christ makes such a big difference. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is encouraging you to invest in your children. It is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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