Help for Families Who Are Facing a Spiritual Crisis with a Child
November 19, 2015
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
A study from James 4

When a believing husband and wife find themselves faced with a spiritual emergency in the lives of their children, the tendency is to despair, even to throw up the hands and quit the battle. To do this is the position of doubt rather than faith. It is to surrender to the enemy. See Hebrews 12:12-13.

Christian parents must think soberly about what God has and has not promised. The Christian life is a spiritual battle, and there is no promise of smooth sailing. In fact, the more zealous we are for the Lord and the things of the Lord, the more severe will be the spiritual battle. This is true in all areas of life.

God hasn’t promised that believing parents will face no crises in raising their children. Each child has its own will and must make his or her own choice in spiritual matters. Every child must face the reality of his own lost, rebellious heart and must chose to repent and put his faith in Christ and thus come to a salvation experience. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It takes time, and it can be a very difficult process for all concerned. After salvation, he or she must still chose to surrender to Christ day by day.

Proverbs 22:6 does not promise that there will be no serious problems along the path of training children. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and WHEN HE IS OLD, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). “Old” is a variable term in the context of child training. It depends on the individual child.

My wife and I have had to deal with spiritual crises with our children, as have countless other parents. In fact, the family that hasn’t had a spiritual crisis in child training is probably non-existent.

When parents have a spiritual crisis with a child, it is not time to pretend that everything is fine. We want to hide the problem so that we can maintain the facade of spiritual perfection, but this isn’t honest and it doesn’t help others. Christian parents, including pastors and teachers and church workers, can help others by bringing a crisis into the open and showing how do handle difficult situations. Anyway, if our children are going through a crisis, it isn’t something that can be hidden. Oftentimes, others know about it before the parents.

James 4 provides a guideline for victory in time of spiritual crises. Even the best of families can benefit from following this plan. Though some parts of it will apply more specifically to some families than to others, there is something here for every Christian family that is encountering a spiritual crisis.

The main thing that must be done in the time of a spiritual crisis is to focus on the problem like a laser beam until there is victory and healing, regardless of how long it takes, and this is what the passage in James emphasizes.

I know of a large number of difficult situations involving rebellion on the part of children in believing homes, and in a great many of the cases, the story turned out happy, with the child repenting and going on to serve the Lord. This is true for situations that seemed almost hopeless, such as a broken home where custody of a child was shared with an unbeliever. All of the happy endings involved parents who focused like a laser beam on the problem until it was healed. 

We must be like the Canaanite woman who wanted Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter and would not take no for an answer! Her persistence was evidence of her faith. Not only did she get what she asked for, she was publicly commended by the Lord Himself. See Matthew 15:22-28.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is faithful, and His promises are true. 

Just keep on keeping on in the path of God's will, Christian parent! 

1. Put away the love of the world (Jam. 4:3-4).

- Purify the home from the things of the world. Purge out anything that is spiritually harmful, such as things pertaining to literature, television, movies, music, education, the Internet, video games. Follow the high standard of Ephesians 5:11 and Romans 14:23.
- Put up every possible wall of protection. We deal with this in the sections of
The Mobile Phone and the Christian Home and Church on “The Parents” and “The Youth.”
- The husband and wife should read these things together and discuss it and write a list of things that must be removed and protections that must be put in place.

2. Purify your life by spiritual revival (Jam. 4:6-10).

- God’s grace and power are available for those who humble themselves and purify themselves before Him; “he giveth more grace” (Jam. 4:6); “he shall lift you up” (Jam. 4:10).
- Obey God and resist the devil (Jam. 4:7). Spiritual warfare must be active and aggressive and purposeful. By God’s power, chase the devil out of your home!
- Draw nigh to God (Jam. 4:8). Seek the Lord passionately after the fashion of Psalm 119. (1) Drawing nigh to God refers to the Bible. This is the source of the wisdom and power for seeking. This is how the mind is trained to focus on God. It requires doubling down on filling one’s life and home with the Scriptures. This is the sword of the Spirit and the living power of God (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12). It will work! Find a way to spend more time reading it, studying it, memorizing it, hearing it read, not only individually but also as a family. (2) Drawing nigh to God refers to prayer. Engage in much earnest prayer; pray privately in your daily prayer closet; pray without ceasing; pray with your spouse; seek prayer partners; attend every prayer meeting and passionately ask for prayer for your problem; pray with fasting (Mat. 17:21).
- Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts (Jam. 4:8). Read the Bible with the prayer that it will reveal your sins and failings, and then confess those sins as they are revealed. Remove anything from your life that is polluting your heart.
- Be singleminded for Christ and His will (Jam. 4:8). This is the heart and soul of spiritual revival. It is to cease to be double minded or half-hearted. Compare Mat. 6:22-24.
- Be afflicted and mourn (Jam. 4:9). Stop spending so much of the time playing and partying and get more serious about your relationship with God. In the midst of a spiritual crisis, it is not time to laugh; it is time to weep.
- Again, the husband and wife should sit down together and discuss these things and decide on what they need to do to bring spiritual revival to the home.

3. Put spiritual things before business and economics (Jam. 4:13-17).

- Putting the spiritual before work and finances is the key to things such as the commitment to faithfulness to church services, the mother being a keeper at home, and the father not allowing his job to interfere with his responsibilities as a father and husband.
- Putting the spiritual before work and finances is done by standing on God’s promises and trusting God to supply (e.g., Mat. 6:33). Faith comes by God’s Word (Rom. 10:17).

4. Focus on winning the child’s heart

This point isn’t from the text in James 4, but it is an essential part of child training and discipleship, and it is an essential thing that needs to be focused on when there are signs of rebellion.

No amount of training and discipline will work if the parents do not capture and keep the children’s hearts. If their hearts become estranged, the children will experience spiritual shipwreck.

The heart is the center of the individual’s life. It is mentioned 833 times in Scripture!

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

The wise parent says, “My son, give me thine heart...” (Prov. 23:26). When children are young, they naturally give their hearts to their parents, and a parent can keep that child’s heart if he deals with him or her in love and godly wisdom.

Pastor Terry Coomer observes,

“Let me ask you a most serious and sobering question. Do you have your child’s heart? You as a parent have to get the child’s heart. Not only must you get the heart of the child, you must keep the heart of the child. ... I can hear someone say, ‘Pastor, I knew a Christian family where there were three children and two of the kids grew up to serve the Lord and one was a horrible rebel.’ The answer is here; the parent did not have the heart of the rebel or he did not keep the heart of the rebel. ... You have to get the child’s heart! The problem in every spiritual problem is the heart! Parents, rebellion begins in the heart. Children’s lives wander because their heart wanders. ... The one who has the child’s heart will eventually have his life and his loyalty” (Rearing Spiritual Children, pp. 70, 72).

Following are some of the ways that a child’s heart is stolen from the parent. (These are from our book
Keeping the Kids: How to Keep the Children from Falling Prey to the World, which is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature.)

* The heart can be stolen by parental hypocrisy.

When parents are hypocritical and do not walk sincerely with the Lord in the home, the children become discouraged and frustrated and they are easy targets for the devil. We deal with this in the chapter of
Keeping the Kids on “The Home: Consistent Christian Living.”

* The heart can be stolen by an unwholesome husband-wife relationship.

As we have said, one of the most important things a father can do for his children is to love his wife, and one of the most important things a mother can do for her children is to love her husband. One respondent observed,

“Having a loving relationship that is ongoing with your wife helps keep the children’s hearts. When the children see that, they know they have a place of security. Giving your spouse love and affection in front of the children is a positive as well.”

* The heart can be stolen when a father provokes his children to wrath (Eph. 6:4).

When this happens, the father loses the hearts of his children and they are easy prey for the world. We deal with this in a later section of the chapter of
Keeping the Kids on “Child Discipline.”

* The heart can be stolen by parental neglect and letting the children live largely in their own worlds.

The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15).

One missionary who has visited many churches and has observed how that a great many of the young people turn out to be rebels observed,

“I think the most important thing would be to keep close relationships with the children. Lots of parents are too busy with other things instead of being spiritually close to the family. Children grow up in their own world with the video games, movies, music, headphones, Internet, etc., which causes great rebellion. Once they are old enough to choose for themselves, they will go their own way and not listen to their parents.”

* The heart can be stolen by lack of patience and love, by carnal criticism.

Parents must be very patient and kind with their children. They are delicate. We must have rules and the rules must be enforced and there must be discipline, but we must never forget that they are children and that learning godly character habits and spiritual growth does not happen overnight. It is a long process. The parents must not forget the long and probably arduous process it took them to get where they are.

Many of the respondents mentioned the necessity of showing genuine love to the children. Following are a few examples:

“Give lots of hugs and tell your children frequently that you love them. Even if this gets a bit syrupy do it anyway. Children want this even if they pretend not to. And really mean it.”

“It is important as a parent to show your love and acceptance of them consistently from the beginning. Saying ‘I love you,’ hugs, and actions that support these words are constantly needed to reassure them.”

“Young people don’t need good teachers as much as they need ministers with a pastor’s heart. They need to know that they are cared for before anything else.”

* The heart can be stolen by a lack of close communication and involvement.

Consider the following testimonies from parents:

“Listen to your kids. Really listen and try to understand what they are going through. Take an interest in the things that concern them, even if they seem very trivial to you.”

“When they come to you and want to talk, it is important that you listen and don’t jump all over them or belittle their concerns. Then they feel safe to confide in you or bring their questions to you, and you have opportunities to teach and instruct their open hearts.”

“I’d like to share a piece of advice that someone gave me when we adopted our twin daughters in 1990, and that is, ‘You can’t spend too much time with your kids.’ That’s it. Spend time with them every chance you get, even if you are just in the room, doing something else; be there. Be a presence in their lives. And talk at every opportunity. Always welcome their point of view in family decisions. If they know they are being listened to, they ride along. Be genuine about this. When big blow-ups arise, get everybody to sit around the table and work something out.”

“Winning children’s hearts is something that needs to be done when they are young, by spending time with them, teaching them, and developing interests together with them. Do not put them aside for work, or for your hobbies that do not allow them to be around. Do not think that you will be able to win their hearts after you have allowed someone else to win them.”

“I believe that parents can reach the hearts of their children by having a relationship with them. That is, after all, how God reaches us and gets our hearts for Him. Parents in today’s society have too little time for their children. Even when kids are homeschooled, my experience is that the majority of the homeschooled kids are teaching themselves. My nine-year-old son is always coming up to me and asking to do something with me. Now, I can’t always, but if I never took the time to say, ‘Ok, let’s sit down and play a game,’ then he would want nothing to do with me because he would see that I want nothing to do with him. We must make time to put down what we are doing and sit down with the kids. We parents have to take the time to raise our children. That means spending time with them in God’s Word and out of God’s Word.”

“We believe that one thing that has worked for us has been just staying very, very involved in the child’s life, showing an interest in her, talking to her, making sure she knows that she is the most important earthly thing we have, loving her. We have always wanted her to feel that we are open and can discuss anything with her. As a result, she feels completely comfortable talking to us about just about anything, or, for really embarrassing stuff, to her mother.”

* The heart can be stolen by lack of involvement by the father.

We have mentioned the necessity of involvement by the parents, but here we want to emphasize the importance of the father’s role. One of the most important ways to keep the children’s hearts is for the father to be involved in their lives and to be fulfilling his responsibility to be the spiritual head of the house. Malachi 4:6 says that Elijah will “
turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Thus, we see that when the father’s heart is turned to the children, their hearts are turned to him. If a father has been unengaged with his children, he must repent of this sin and confess it to his family and set out to make things right.

“We reach and keep the hearts of the children because of our relationship with them. It is their love for us, just as it is our love for our Lord and Savior, which will cause them to continue to respect us and listen to us. I think back to my own experiences growing up. My earliest memories are of my dad reading me the Bible when I was very young. He cared about our neighbors. I’ll never forget him sending my brothers and me out to rake our 90-year-old neighbor’s yard. Alongside my dad, we would also shovel his walkway in the winter. Dad made sure we never accepted money for helping out the neighbors. He always had us looking for ways to help those around us. Dad always took the time to sit and talk to me about everything and anything. He was my best friend when I was a teenager. I always felt I could go to him and talk to him about anything. He was very clear about what was sin, and as a result of his teaching me, I also knew very clearly what was displeasing or pleasing to God. Because of my love and respect for my dad as well as for God, I didn’t stray into sinful practices which were prevalent in the seventies. I didn’t want to disappoint either my dad or my Heavenly Father. Even while at a secular college (Brown University), I devoted myself to my studies, not participating in the darker side of campus life.”

One pastor told me that no matter what he is doing with his son, even watching a movie, they discuss what is going on. The father points out things that he sees that are spiritually dangerous, and he encourages his son to state his opinions freely. He is teaching his son how to exercise moral and spiritual discernment. The Bible says that spiritual growth comes when the senses are “exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). This pastor and his wife are working to maintain the type of relationship with their children that will encourage them to discuss their struggles and temptations freely. This father encourages his children to share their hearts during family devotions. The kids have grown up from a young age conversing with their parents about their inmost concerns. It has become a natural thing, and this has carried over as they have gotten older.

If this communication is jealously guarded and maintained, when the children reach adolescence they will still share their hearts with the parents and the worldly “generation gap” will be bridged. The parents will be able to guide their teenage youth through the great pitfalls that characterize this particular time of life.

Some fathers take their children on regular “dates.” One man told me that few things thrill his young daughters more than their “dates” with Dad. He observes that this has helped him keep their hearts. The same man has a close relationship with his son and plans activities that they can do together that will allow them to talk one on one. He testifies that his son’s heart is always tender toward his authority when he makes the effort to stay close to him and to communicate with him.

Following are two other testimonies about fathers “dating” their children:

“When [my oldest daughter] was sixteen, the Lord laid on my heart to spend more time with her. For the next two years, every Sunday after church we would go get a Coke and take a drive. Sometimes we would drive for hours and just talk about the Lord. She would ask spiritual questions and we would talk about them. No subject was out of bounds. We talked about developing our relationship with the Lord. We talked about how to really pray and what she was learning from her Bible. What was God speaking to her about? We would talk about what she was looking for in a young man for a godly husband. I made sure she understood that she needed a young man who would not be led by his emotions, but one who would be led by the Word of God. I explained that a young man who is led by his emotions would eventually lead her into sin. We prayed together and became closer as a father and a daughter. I made sure she understood what her mother and I expected from her when she left our home. The key here was it took time. I had to make the time. To this day she still talks about her drives with Dad. This time spent with our daughter on the Lord’s day helped her at a time when she was preparing to leave our home to understand the importance we and the Lord placed on our spiritual lives. Parents, spiritual communication is the first key to rearing godly children” (Terry Coomer, Rearing Spiritual Children, p. 45).

“Communication has been one of our big things. When you have a lot of children they get lost in the group, so we have made a point of individual days and times. I might take one of the children out to breakfast before school or for a coffee and chat, and that is that child’s time. I think we have kept communication going that way. We feel that communication between the parent and child is tantamount to being able to mould their lives for the Lord. Many times when children reach teenage years they don’t want to have anything to do with their parents, but I think a lot of time the problem is that communication links weren’t set up early in life. So even when they were four and five years old, we were taking them on dates, one on one, so that we could be connected and involved. That’s been one of my venues for discipleship. We’ve sat at McDonalds and done Bible studies” (Missionary Tony Evans).

* The heart can be stolen when there is a lack of candor and confession and humility on the part of the parents.

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21).

* The heart can be stolen when there are rules without a clear biblical basis and the children are not taught the reason for the rules.

Some of the respondents emphasized this as follows:

“Don’t just have rules, have biblically-based convictions. When a child questions them, thank him for asking and give the scriptural reasons. Reassure the children that it is always good to come to the parent with questions, no matter how tough.”

“Always be willing to listen to them. Give honest answers to their questions. Show them respect; respect their opinions. If there is a standard they need to follow because it’s biblical, explain why. Teach them to have a love for the Lord that is separate from yours, to cultivate a relationship with the Lord of their own. Don’t always hammer at them about right and wrong but also explain to them WHY some things are right and WHY some things are wrong, how that God wants to protect us from the consequences of bad choices if we will be wise enough to choose the right way.”

* The heart can be stolen when the children are not saved and grounded in God’s Word and when they do not know how to apply God’s Word to their daily lives.

Children that do not have a real personal relationship with Christ and are not grounded in God’s Word are prime candidates to have their hearts stolen by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We have dealt with this in the chapter on “Discipleship.”

* The heart can be stolen when there is a lack of prayer.

Fervent, effectual prayer is one of the most important ways that the hearts of children are kept for the Lord and protected from being stolen by the enemy.

* The heart can be stolen by a worldly friend, relative, or teacher.

Parents must jealously and lovingly guard against unwholesome relationships that draw the children’s hearts away from them and toward evil. We previously gave the sad story of a girl whose heart was stolen by a worldly boy friend.

* The heart can be stolen by the world’s pop music and its self-centered, rebellious philosophy.

I have repeated this often, because it bears repeating. Few things have the power to steal a child’s heart to the world more than pop music.

* The heart can be stolen by a worldly school environment, whether Christian or secular.

* The heart can be stolen by an evil influence that comes through literature or video games.

* The heart can be stolen by a carnal affection for sports, which becomes a bridge to the world.

There are a few of the ways that the hearts of children can be stolen from the way of righteousness and truth.

Consider the Bible example of how David lost the heart of his son Absalom. We read this sad story in 2 Samuel 11-15. First, David sinned grievously in the matter of Bathsheba and lost his testimony before his family (2 Samuel 11-12). Second, David fell for Amnon’s lie and sent Tamar, Absalom’s sister, to his room. After Amnon raped Tamar, David was angry but he did not apologize to Absalom or exercise discipline or deal with the problem in any practical way, as far as we know from Scripture (2 Sam. 13:1-7, 21). Third, after Absalom murdered Amnon and fled away, David longed for him but he did not send for him and deal personally with him (2 Sam. 13:37-39). Fourth, even when David let Absalom return, he refused to talk with him (2 Sam. 14:21-24). Fifth, after Absalom burned Joab’s barley field, Joab convinced David to see Absalom, but it was too late; by that point Absolom’s heart was totally estranged from his father and filled with hatred and he had determined to steal his throne (2 Sam. 14:28 - 15:6).

How did David lose his son’s heart? He lost it through at least six of the ways listed previously: through hypocrisy, neglect, poor husband-wife relationship (it is doubtful that David’s polygamy would have provided the climate for a quality husband-wife relationship), lack of confession and humility, lack of communication, and lack of discipline.

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