Not too long ago, over a steamy cup of joe, I noticed a mother and her young son as they walked past me. They caught my attention because the boy had on one of those fun hats that has animal ears poking out the top. A minute later they walked past me again, but this time in the other direction. Evidently, this young mother and her son had walked across the parking lot to meet another young mother with a little boy in tow. The two mothers led their two boys into a sandwich shop to have lunch together.
Those two young mothers were friends. Maybe they met in college, in a dorm. Perhaps they’d been friends much longer, having met in elementary school or at a neighborhood park. It’s even possible that they had become friends in the same way as their children had. But, how are their sons friends, again? The boys are friends, in the first place, because their moms are friends. These two moms probably had their sons at about the same time (as the sons looked to be about the same age), so it was quite natural that the moms got together for play dates from very early on after they had their boys. Thus, these two boys were friends well before they knew what being friends meant. They simply were what they could not express. They didn’t know they were friends; they just were. They will look back (supposing their friendship continues) and always remember one another as friends.
My wife had this experience growing up in a wonderful neighborhood in Kaneohe, Hawaii. She had many friends in this neighborhood, many of them from early in her life. But she and Nalani were “first friends.” They were simply friends from the beginning. My wife has no concept of life without her first friend; Nalani was always there.
Now, I recognize that our relationship with God is wildly different that our earthly friendships. The relationship between humans and God, in the first place, is damaged and soiled by sin (both our own and Adam’s). Humans are (by nature) enemies of God and are under his wrath. God, however, has made covenant with his people including their children (Genesis 17:7ff.; Exodus 20:12; Acts 2:39; Eph. 6:1-3; & Psalm 115:14-5), and I think that the experience of many children in Christian families is analogous to the two little boys mentioned above. They grow up, from the beginning, hearing God’s word, worshiping him, gathering with his people, praying to him, seeking forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, and endeavoring after increased obedience. Why do they do this? Because their faithful Christian parents train them to do this. These children are beneficiaries of what we call covenant nurture. Covenant children (that is, children of at least one believing parent – 1 Cor 7:14) are reared in the nurture and admonition of Christ (Eph 6:4). This means that they have been taught taught, from the beginning, that Yahweh is their God, that they are his children, and that they must trust and obey their God, as Christ has shed his blood for them.
Now, please pay attention: would Maile and Nalani have been first friends if their parents never got together? If Maile and Nalani had not sat together on the carpet, drooling over the same toys, would they have had their unique “first-friends” relationship? Of course not. Similarly, if Christian parents don’t actively bring their children along into their worship, prayer, faith and repentance, the children (humanly speaking) will not learn those things. This means that our parenting is CRUCIAL to our children’s spiritual well-being. If the earth-shattering weight of that doesn’t drive you in tears to your knees, nothing will.
Praise our God that he’s promised to be a God to us and to our children. Praise God that, by his covenant, he regards our children as his children. We can bear up under the weight of covenant responsibility of parenthood only as we rest in our sovereign God who is pleased to make use of us. Who is sufficient for these things?! Let us, therefore, beg him that we could be faithful parents. Let us beg our God that the covenant nurture in which we rear our children will, by his grace, bear fruit — 30-, 60-, 100-fold! — in the lives of our children. May God show himself gracious and faithful to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.