I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (NKJV)
Have you ever asked people about their faith only to listen to their pedigree? I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about their great grandfather who was a circuit-rider preacher. Then his son was a preacher or daughter who was a missionary. But they say nothing about their own faith. They seem to feel confident that their entrance into heaven will be based on their ancestors’ faith.They may also tie their faith to their infant baptism. Their “faithful” parents were careful to make sure they were baptized soon after they were born. Their names were registered in the church and that proves that they are saved even though their parents never took them to church after that and they barely believe in the existence of God. Even Mafia gangsters do that.
I came from a long line of Catholics. I can look at pictures of our family on my dad’s side and see several women who were nuns. Church attendance was a ritual, catechisms were drilled into us, and we were told that salvation started with baptism. However, I lived in fear of dying with a mortal sin before going to confession so it could be absolved. I can relate to the Pharisees.
Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don't just say to each other, “We're safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.” That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. (Luke 3:8 NLT)
This isn’t something that is new to our generation. The concept that salvation comes from being in a long line of faithful religious people was the same problem John the Baptist confronted. The religious Jews believed that they were saved simply because they were born into the Jewish race. The idea that their faith had to be based on a relationship with God was foreign to them. Like most Catholics of my time, they believed that if they obeyed all the external rules and were of the correct pedigree, they were OK. The need to repent from sinful hearts and seek a relationship with God didn’t register on their spiritual thermometers.
Does this mean that godly parents are of no value? Absolutely not! Paul speaks of his ancestors and his clear conscience in serving God. He also speaks of the sincere faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. If our faith is sincere, if we have a clear conscience, then we will teach the truth to our families as they grow up. If we are teaching a dead religion by rote and not showing in our lives the kind of faith that saves, then our religion will be of no value to our children.
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them … (Ps 78:5-6 KJV)
It’s really quite simple. We are to teach our children about God. We are to demonstrate in our lives our devotion to God. This will show up not only in our speech but also in our actions. This is personal and not an intellectual exercise out of a book. Our children will see our faith as well as hear about it. This is the whole concept of Deut 6:5-7 where we talk about our faith (and demonstrate it) when we are at home (how we treat one another), on the road (no room for road rage or cheating at work), when we get up to the time we go to bed (all that we do in our daily lives).
Even if we follow this command it will not guarantee that our children will have faith and walk with the Lord. One day my pre-teen daughter admitted to me that she wasn’t sure she believed in God. We had a good conversation about that. I explained to her, that up to that time she believed in God because I had. Like most children, she believed whatever her parents told her. But now it was time for her to make up her own mind and believe not just because I did. Some time later, she did make up her mind and was baptized. Like many, she had a time of falling away but now, she is teaching her children about Jesus.
I just finished reading a book that addresses why so many young people abandon their faith in high school or shortly afterwards. It is the same issue that I discussed with my daughter. It’s the same problem the Pharisees had. They called it secondhand faith.
Pray for Your Kids
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6 KJV)
I know that some believe that Prov 22:6 is a guarantee that any child who has been trained in a Christian home will eventually return if he or she wanders from the faith for a period of time. Unfortunately, proverbs are usually generalizations, not promises. They are used to teach us the best way to go but are not hard and fast rules.
That’s where prayer comes in. Timothy was constantly in Paul’s prayers even though he was walking with the Lord. How much more should we keep our children in our prayers throughout their lives? Paul prayed day and night. He didn’t offer up one prayer and let it suffice for the day.
What do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night? Do you lie there as your brain starts going over the day or what you need to do when you eventually get up? As you lie there, do you ever become frustrated that you are becoming more awake and know that you really need to bet back to sleep? That only keeps you awake. How often do you use that time to pray for your children or others who need God’s work in their lives?
I think everyone should have a midnight prayer list. For me, it started as a list of the kids of friends who had wandered from the faith. I prayed that they would not get a good night’s sleep until they repented and turned back to the Lord or were saved. I had to add my own children to that list and they have returned.
Stir up the Gift
What was Timothy’s gift that needed to be stirred up? 1 Tim 4:14 says that the council of elders also laid hands on him, probably at the same time that Paul did. But it isn’t until 2 Tim 4:2 that we see Paul admonishing Timothy to preach the Word. It is very possible that this was his gift. However, Timothy’s gift isn’t as important for us to know as it is to see that Paul admonished him to fan it into flame or stir it up.
Many people believe that once you have a gift, that’s it. You are like the Incredible Hulk who suddenly becomes super strong whenever there is a need. Preachers who believe this often step into the pulpit without preparation.
And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Col 1:29 NASB)
Stirring up our gifts or fanning them to flame requires work on our behalf. Paul put all his energy and life into proclaiming the Gospel. Even though he acknowledged that God used his weakness, he didn’t sit back and expect God to make up for his laziness. Paul encouraged Timothy to be prepared or ready to preach in season or out of season (2 Tim 4:2). That means that he had to be ready when he spoke during scheduled meetings or whether he had a chance meeting with another person. While the Holy Spirit certainly guides and directs us, He also usually guides and directs us in the work and efforts of preparation.
As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10 RSV)
I like the way Peter described our responsibility. We are to be good stewards of God’s grace, the gift that we have received. A good steward doesn’t sit back and wait for the spirit to use his gift miraculously. He is vigilant to see what needs to be done. He actively pursues improving the things in his care. This is what the good stewards of the talents did in Matt 25:15-17.
Let’s not be negligent in using our gifts, especially when we are using our gifts to teach our own children. Let’s leave them a legacy of godly parents so that they can see how God works and make their faith firsthand. I pray that they will be able to pass it on to their children and others as they use their gifts for God’s glory.
 Shook, Ryan, and Josh Shook. Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. Colorado Springs: Watterbrook, 2013. Print.
 As an example, look at Prov 22:11. He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend (NIV). Try to tell the prophets who were killed or mistreated by kings that this was a promise that would always hold true.
 See http://ray-ruppert.blogspot.com/2011/11/using-your-gift-1-tim-414.html for my previous comments about laying on of hands.