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One generation shall praise Your works to another,
and shall declare Your mighty acts.
It was several years ago, while I flew across the Atlantic toward Africa where I was scheduled to speak to a group of church leaders, that I began to read a book concerning planning for the future. One of the foremost decisions borne of that reading was that it motivated my wife, Anna, and me to do the one thing it said we should do immediately if we hadn't already done so-prepare a will. With the help of one of the attorneys in our church, we began to work through the details of our children's inheritance.
An Inheritance for Your Children
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children.
The matter of inheritance-both spiritual and material-is addressed throughout the Old and New Testaments. Depending upon a man's godly wisdom (or his foolishness), his descendants might inherit anything from prosperity to folly. Our spiritual inheritance, "willed" to us as adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ, is described in Matthew 25:34 as "the kingdom [of God] prepared for [us] from the foundation of the world." While the book you arenow holding in your hands and the one I read on the plane are very different, they are similar in more ways than one might think, because they parallel the matter of establishing a will and transmitting an inheritance.
The will Anna and I prepared to make, with the help of our attorney, was a conscious judgment that would state how the inheritance of what we have will someday be distributed to those we love. Since the combined value of all a person's assets is referred to as his or her net worth, I remember thinking it especially gracious of the attorney that, as he totaled what Anna and I owned, he didn't refer to it as our "net worthlessness." As a couple, at that time in our late forties, we were not in debt; but the amalgamate sum of our earthly possessions reflected the fact that we had pursued the path of pastoral ministry-one seldom known for an accumulation of wealth.
As we looked over the paperwork together, the attorney-highly respected in his profession and also a man of deep commitment to Jesus Christ-made such a gentle, touching observation. Rather than make a condescending remark about our small estate, he simply said, "Well, Pastor Hayford, just studying these figures, it's clear to see where you have set your priorities." It might have been a nice way of exclaiming, "Wow, this is pathetic. A guy your age ought to have a lot more money than this." But I don't believe that's what he meant. He knew enough of Anna's and my life to know how gracious the Lord has been to us. He knew of the multitudinous ways we've been blessed-in our marriage, in our family, in our ministry and in the privilege of seeing so many lives touched, changed and enriched over the years. And while being in ministry for our whole life together has certainly not made us financially wealthy, Anna and I have no complaints. At that moment, and even to this hour, if we could start all over again, we would do it exactly the same way.
After the will had finally been drawn up, Anna and I were able to arrange a setting in which we could review the will with our kids. Of course, we had few assets and no idea of what a future date would afford them as their inheritance, but we nonetheless went over the details, explaining the formula by which anything we had would one day be passed on to them.
That day in our living room offers a genuine and practical spiritual parallel to this book's subject of blessing your children, for learning and planning how to transmit blessing to them involves as real a decision as arranging their inheritance of material things via a will.
I thought of that as I began writing. Just as that attorney was a spokesperson for what human law requires, I wondered if Father God would let me be a spokesman for His laws-His "ways that work for human benefit" (see Rom. 8:28). That's what God's laws are about-all of them. And I'm hoping to help parents and others think about and plan how they can pass life's greatest inheritance to the children in their lives. More precious than any material sum, the values of love, understanding, enriched relationship and spiritual blessing can and should be transmitted. In much the same way as that family meeting in our living room, our heavenly Father God is ready to show us His will designed not only to bless us with the inheritance of His goodness in our lives but also to pass on as blessings to our kids.
And incidentally, it's worth noting that there's a distinctive beauty in the difference between God's will and the will Anna and I reviewed with our children. A human will can wind up being mishandled by a shyster attorney. When someone dies and thus is obviously not there to govern the administration of or give explanation concerning the will, confusion and misdistribution can occur. But when we seek to live in God's will and relay it to our children, we enter another arena-one of great certainty that what we are seeking to pass on can succeed in being realized for and in the next generation. Why? First, because Jesus died to make God's will possible for each of us-you, me, our children. We don't need to die to transmit the inheritance; He has already done it. And Jesus not only died on the cross to release the possibilities of God's will to us (and through us, as we influence our kids), but He also rose again and now has become the attorney executing God's will for our lives. Jesus is our "Advocate with the Father" (1 John 2:1)-the ultimate probate attorney-and having risen From the dead, He is at the Father's right hard, ministering for us and to us in order to assure our success when we seek to experience the Father's will, relay it to our children and let it shape their lives.
The Heritage of Solomon
Few places in the Bible are as rich as the book of Proverbs in illustrating the parameters of blessing our children. Solomon described his expectation of passing along to his own son the inheritance of wisdom and godly counsel he had received from his father, David:
When I was my father's son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, He also taught me, and said to me: "Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live" (Prov. 4:3-4).
This legacy was intended to be passed from generation to generation-including yours and mine. It is a legacy that contains the values, principles and formulas for successful, happy living and also the warnings regarding those things that bring misery and failure. In Proverbs, Solomon was seeking to relay instruction in God's wisdom and, with the teaching, explain the reason why it works. Connected to this wisdom is the warning of dire consequences if the foundations are not firmly laid in child rearing by establishing and applying the principle of godly discipline and correction of children. Solomon advises his son:
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).
As parents, we can gain a measure of comfort in noting that neither David nor Solomon was perfect. In fact, both men experienced severe failure by reason of violating their own counsel. Nonetheless, through their repentance they were restored and, beyond their human failure, the Psalms (most written by David's hand) and Proverbs (most written by Solomon's hand) remain today as evidence of their commitment and devotion to God and His ways.
David and Solomon's fallibility as human beings did not prevent them from handing down a spiritual and moral legacy to their children. The message? Whenever you or I may be tempted to doubt our capacity to bring a lasting, worthy influence on the children whose lives we touch, or feel intimidated by our own sense of inadequacy or by our past, we have these vivid examples from Scripture to encourage us. Through God's grace and forgiveness and by our willingness to confront our shortcomings and failures as parents, as well as by our earnest desire and devotion to bless our children by relating to them on God's terms and with His wisdom, we can succeed in blessing our children.
There is no reason for any adult believer reading this book to think that you are disqualified from the possibility of becoming a true "blesser" of your kids. Let me share with you from my own experience.
The Example of My Parents
September is a milestone in the history of my family, for on the twenty-eighth day of that month, over a half century ago, a young couple discovered the love of God in Jesus Christ: Jack and Dolores Hayford, my parents, gave their lives to Him. Two weeks later, according to the Word of God, they presented me, their one-year-old firstborn, in dedication to the Lord at a worship service in Long Beach, California. They were already beginning to discover how to establish their lives and their home in God's order. In accordance with the timeless biblical tradition-from the Old Testament into the New-they brought their child for presentation to the Lord.
In the years to follow, I was reared in the ways of the Lord, but it is important to point out something that may seem curiously contradictory. Simply put, our home was not a "religious" home. Oh, to be sure, it was a very vital and loving family environment. Spiritual values governed our lives. But while the principles of Christian discipleship were common to our household, the rigidity, legalism or austere mood often imagined or depicted when a religious home is described were very absent. In fact, notwithstanding the positive qualities I remember, let me add to what may already seem quite peculiar. There were actually a few years when my father, struggling with his own walk with God, refused to go to church. Yet even then, my dad always respected the ways of the Lord, making sure that prayer was reverent and meaningful at table times and that we kids regularly attended Sunday School. We learned to tithe-just as Daddy and Mamma did, even in the years when Dad was backslidden.
The blessing of being raised in a home that is established according to God's ways is an immeasurable gift-one that I received along with my younger sister and brother. My parents read the Bible and taught us to do the same. They would teach us what they were learning of God's grace and truth with a practical approach that made His ways seem desirable-something we would want to do. This was so much the case that, at the time, we didn't even realize we were being taught godly principles. Instead, spirituality was simply made a natural part of a warm reality-the practical, livable lifestyle that made up the fabric of our home. Because of our lifestyle, people often called us church people; but church was never a substitute for what was taking place in our home. Church never is.
The Stewardship of Potential
The earliest blessing a child can receive from those influencing his or her life is to answer the question, How can I cultivate an atmosphere of God's order and love in our home and form an understanding mind-set that life is not to be lived for oneself but in the interest of others?
This mind-set, of course, requires that those who will potentially bless the child be open to the Holy Spirit's application of God's Word and Jesus' ways in their lives, as well as to becoming people who, being shaped by the Savior, are equipped to pass God's life on to the next generation. Admittedly, this way of living doesn't suit the tastes of the flesh. It runs contrary to the world's me-centered lifestyle; but it is the Lord's way, and it works. Put into practice, it will continue to work effectively from generation to generation.
This concept is as old as God's covenant with Abraham-a promise He made to bless Abraham personally; better still, God promised that through this blessing Abraham would bless innumerable others in generations to come. "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Gen. 22:18). It is in the light of this truth and Abraham's model that we now approach the potential that you and I seek to realize in our lives.
The theme before us addresses blessing your children, but it's not only a book for parents and grandparents or even solely for people who have a child in their immediate home. The blessing of children is within the grasp of almost every adult, a fact that holds the possibility of transforming the future of millions of kids who will otherwise experience the deficiencies or the trauma of an "unblessed" life.
Virtually every one of us has been given, in one way or another, the stewardship of a potential-the possibility of providing good, positive, spiritual, healthy and worthy blessings upon the children whom the Lord has placed in our lives. Our own healthy view of this opportunity will also help us to see how it is every believer's responsibility to bless our children. Our failure to bless the children in our lives holds significant and serious consequences for them now, in their ongoing future and, ultimately, for our whole world. To shape a child For tomorrow is to shape tomorrow's world, and to shape a child in God's wholesome order of blessing is to multiply the same to that child's entire realm of future influence. It is the same thing as bequeathing an inheritance to the next generation.
God's Heart as a Parent
While the Bible makes clear that "God is not a man, that He should lie" (Num. 23:19), it doesn't ever present God as distant from emotions that we feel ourselves. There are limits to paralleling God's feelings with ours, for there is a vast distance between the essence of His being and the nature of our own. Still, it is not unbiblical to see God's parental heart of passionate concern for His beloved creature, man.
For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exod. 20:5-6).
Make no mistake: those are not vindictive words but words of commitment. God declares His passion, His jealousy the emotion that exhibits a refusal to allow the violation of what properly belongs to a person. He indicates that His penalties for sin are not merely punitive but are also intended to alert and awaken those who wander: He wants them back.
Excerpted from BLESSING Your CHILDREN by JACK W. HAYFORD Copyright © 2002 by Jack Hayford
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.