Are We Training Our Children to Gain the World But Lose Their Souls?
You’re a good mom. You’re a good dad. You want what’s best for your kids. You sacrifice to provide for them. You forego vacations and skimp on retirement savings to give them good gifts.
In the affluent West in 2018, those good gifts often take the form of youth sports. In fact, 63% of American families spend $100 to $500 per month, per kid, on youth sports (USA Today). There’s an unspoken rule among us that says, The more we invest in our kids’ sports, the better childhood they will have, and the more successful adults they will be.
We sign them up for t-ball, baseball, and softball as early as allowed. We shop around for the best soccer team, and then drive across town multiple nights a week for practice. And we commit every summer weekend to swim meets.
We want them to be good teammates, to have a good work ethic, to get good exercise. We want them to be socialized, and not indoors in front of screens. We even see the opportunity for a future college scholarship.
The youth sports season forms the rhythm of life for good American parents who are doing their best.
We Want to Give Good Gifts
Our hearts are in the right place. Even though we are fallen, we are still like our Father in heaven, so it’s our intuition as moms and dads to give good gifts to our children. That has always been true across cultures and throughout time.
Jesus referenced this in the Sermon on the Mount when he asked, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?…If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9, 11).
But what if, in our effort to equip our children for a lifetime of success, we’re actually setting them up to hear the final, terrible words, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23)?
As we strive to be good parents and give good gifts to our kids, is it possible that we’re instead showing them how to gain the whole world and lose their souls?
The Best Gift
We can’t miss Jesus’ words on this. He said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
If we want our children to find life, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. He is actually the best gift. He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Indeed, traveling with the hockey team will impart lifelong lessons. And rising through the ranks of youth tennis will yield great confidence. These gifts are not sinful, or immoral, or even necessarily unwise. But Jesus calls us to put them in their proper place. They are good gifts, but they are not the best gift—and they might even have to be lost for the sake of gaining Christ.
Taking Jesus’ warning to heart, we moms and dads must ask ourselves if we’re exerting as much enthusiasm and effort and energy on our kids’ spiritual lives as we are on their athletic achievements.
If we are truly dedicated to giving our kids good gifts, we must give them the good news about Jesus.
How to Present the Best Gift
A recent survey asked Christian adults who were raised in Christian homes about the spiritual disciplines present in their homes while growing up (Lifeway Research). Researchers wanted to find out what their parents had done to raise kids who continued to follow Christ long after they left home.
Here are the five most common activities reported as being practiced in the homes of these Christian adults:
- The child regularly read the Bible.
- The child regularly spent time in prayer.
- The child regularly spent time serving in the church.
- The child regularly listened to Christian music.
- The child participated in church mission trips or projects.
Rather than shaping our lives around youth sports, let’s consider shaping our lives around these abundant-life-giving activities. Let’s consider, as families, how we might be in the Word, pray, serve, worship through music, and pursue missions. These practices will lead all of us into a deeper and more joyful walk with Jesus (John 15:10-11).
Of course, we know that our salvation and our children’s salvation from the penalty, power, and (one day) presence of sin is not dependent on us. Only God can reconcile each of us to himself. Paul says in Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (2:8-9)
Though Christ alone accomplished the work of salvation—through his suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection—we still toil with all his energy that his Spirit powerfully works in us to proclaim Jesus to our kids (Colossians 1:29). May we obediently present Jesus over and over to them (Matthew 28:19), and then trust in him alone to do his good and perfect will.
Is Presenting This Gift Your Priority?
Parents, let’s ask ourselves: Do we really believe that Jesus is the best gift we can present to our kids? Do our schedules and homes reflect these values? Do our words and lives and hearts profess that he alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)?
For what will it profit a child if he gains the traveling team and forfeits his soul? Or if she gains Junior Olympics and forfeits her soul?
As we strive and sacrifice to give our children the good gifts of this world, may we not lead them to forfeit their souls. May we teach them to lose their lives for Jesus’ sake. May we show them abundant life in him.
We want to be the best parents we can be, so let’s present our kids the best gift we can offer.
Author's Note: The article first appeared here, at Unlocking the Bible, where I am grateful to contribute.