Someone recently asked me, “What led you to the mission field?” It’s a hard question to answer succinctly because God used lots of things to direct me to overseas service. But if I were to point to one primary means that God used, it would be my parents, Mark and Nancy. Through their faithful discipleship, God formed in me a desire to see the gospel spread around the world.
Now, as a parent of two boys myself, I feel the privilege and weight of my responsibility before God to raise my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). I want my boys to know God, to love Christ, and to earnestly desire that Christ’s name be exalted among the nations. If you have kids, I’m sure you have these same desires.
So how do we do this? How do we disciple our kids in such a way that their hearts long for Jesus to be known in this lost world?
There are several answers to these questions. None of them are flashy or exciting. If anything, they’re ordinary and mundane. But I’m convinced that God will use these means to cultivate a heart for the nations in our kids because they’re the means by which he will mature their faith in Christ.
1. Prioritize the Word
My parents centered our family around Scripture. They faithfully read the Bible and helped me develop habits to do the same. They guided me in Scripture memorization. Most nights after dinner, my dad would say, “Alright everyone, go get your Bibles,” and then we would have family devotions.
They did this because they knew one of the primary ways Christians grow in spiritual maturity is through abiding in the Word of God (Col 3:15, 1 Pet 2:1-3). That’s true for children just as much as for adults. In order to develop mature Christian faith and character in our kids, we must get them into the Bible. And a big part of that is prioritizing Scripture in our own lives.
Moms, do your kids ever see you reading the Bible? Dads, do you ever practice saying memory verses to your children? When you prioritize things like personal and family devotions and Scripture memorization, you demonstrate for your kids that you value God and his Word. These habits will plant in them a desire to know this God, too. And the more they know God, the more they will desire for Him to be known by others.
2. Pray for the Lost
Each morning before school, my mom gathered me and my siblings to pray. One of our constant prayers was for the salvation of the unbelievers we knew.
As I think back on these prayer times, I see how God used them to shape my heart in caring about the lost. It’s so important for us to pray for unbelievers with our kids because God uses our prayers to our affections.
I love the way John Paton, a 19th-century missionary to the New Hebrides Islands, described the way his father’s evangelistic prayers impacted him. He writes,
How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world. . . . We all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend. As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face, and wish I were like him in spirit—hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed Gospel to some portion of the Heathen World.
Parents, one of the best ways you can foster a heart for the nations in the lives of your kids is to earnestly pray in their presence for the salvation of the lost.
3. Participate in the Local Church
The communities you join and love will guide the direction of your heart. That’s why it’s so essential to envelop our kids in the community of the local church. Meaningful participation in the body of Christ cultivates love for the people of God and the things the people of God do. In the church, we begin to see the importance of the community of faith, as well as the glory of calling others into this community. It’s also where we are equipped for the work of taking the gospel to the lost.
I’m so thankful that even in the midst of many difficult seasons of ministry, my dad and mom did not withdraw from the body of Christ. Instead, they continued to lead us in meaningful participation in the local church. These commitments shaped both the affections of my heart and the direction of my life.
Parents, if you want your kids to have a heart for the nations, cultivate in them a heart for the church.
4. Provide Godly Examples
Among God’s greatest gifts to the church are the examples of His people throughout history (Heb. 12:1). By looking to the past, we receive instruction and inspiration for how to live in the present. What an opportunity parents have to introduce their kids to faithful men and women throughout Church history.
That is what my parents did for me. I remember reading books about Hudson Taylor, George Whitfield, and Nate Saint as a teenager. These stories had a profound impact on me. I saw in them something worth giving my life for: the glory of Christ. Their lives stirred my heart and fueled my desire to exalt Jesus. Once again, it began with my parents providing me with examples of God’s people living for Christ’s glory.
Do you want to give your kids a gift that will last their entire lifetime? Then introduce them to men and women like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Elisabeth Elliot. Provide them with godly examples of others who loved and served Jesus.
The longer I live, the more clearly I see how God delights to use ordinary means to accomplish His glorious purposes. For parents discipling their kids, these four practices may be ordinary, but I believe God will use them in significant ways to shape our children in Christian maturity. I see how He used them to shape my life. Never underestimate the great impact of these ordinary means of grace in directing the hearts of your children to love God’s cause.
Suggested reading list
For young readers:
- Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte
- Lightkeepers Series for boys and girls by Irene Howat
For grade school children:
- Christian Heroes: Then and Now Series by Janet and Geoff Benge (includes stories of missionaries like William Carey, Eric Liddell, Elisabeth Elliot, and Nate Saint)
For middle/high schoolers:
- To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
- John Paton: an Autobiography by John Paton
- Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes by Iain Murray
- Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador by Elisabeth Elliot
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot