My husband reads a chapter of Proverbs with our family every night during family worship. Many of the Proverbs make our boys laugh. “Go to the ant, O sluggard” from Proverbs 6:6 is a favorite. But there are many that are more sobering.
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 6:9
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1
We live these verses in our family. I was 29 years old with four children–the youngest was 2–when I came down with bronchitis that wouldn’t clear. By 30, I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. A month later, the severity of the diagnosis was changed. Nothing’s been the same since.
Those pieces of wisdom from Proverbs are hard to digest, aren’t they? To be honest, they’re pretty counter-cultural. We live in an age of positive thinking and monumental goal-setting. The idea that our dreams may be out-of-line with God’s plans can cause some confusion. How can we help our children develop a healthy understanding of that special place where God’s will lines up with the desires of their heart?
Let’s take a look at five concepts you can teach them early and often that will help.
1) God is sovereign
This winter I spent a good deal of time confined to my couch during two bouts of influenza. It was in the midst of the seemingly-endless days that one of my boys threw himself next to me on the couch in emotional turmoil. “I want a healthy mom. Why didn’t God give me that?”
I prayed silently and said, “You mean you want me to be healthy.”
“No!” he said. “I want a mom who has always been healthy.”
Ouch. He wanted a do-over. His dreams weren’t lining up with reality.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. Psalm 135:6
The story of God’s sovereign rule is all over the Bible. Even the youngest of children can learn that Jesus is King. We don’t always know why God moves the course of our lives in one direction or another, but we do know He is in control, and we can trust Him.
I gently reminded my boy that while we can humbly request different circumstances, we bow our knee to our King. He is in control. An army always follows the King into battle–they don’t ride off in random directions. When we forget that, all kinds of problems occur.
2) All things will be to the good of a believer
We live in the Pacific Northwest, where the best of God’s creation is available in every direction. Our family loves hiking, bike riding, swimming, boating, and just hanging out in nature. That’s not always possible under our current circumstances. In fact, it’s possible on rare occasions.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
We may not understand why God’s plans are different than our dreams. But we can trust that if we love the King, and we’ve been called to serve Him (saved), we know that His plans are good. They’re good even when they hurt.
I remind my kids (and myself) that God is using our time at home creatively for His good purpose. Our younger boys (our older kids have graduated into adult life) have developed skills and talents in our home they may not have otherwise. I’ve committed large chunks of time to writing about the Bible and Christian history. God has blessed us in spite of our change in circumstances. I tell my kids He’s blessed us as a result of our change in circumstances. We serve a good King. He loves his people.
3) God will be glorified
I’ll be honest: sometimes I have no idea how God’s plans for my life will glorify Him. After all, the story’s not over yet, and my perspective is limited. His Word tells me, though, that He will be glorified–and I believe Him.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
In all things, God will be glorified–because He is the King. We can rejoice even in uncertainty, hardship, and doubt, knowing that our King will shine brighter than the brightest star.
To help my kids understand this, I explain that sometimes a knight or princess can become great–so great that he or she forgets to talk about the King. People forget to look at the King. Instead, they see the knight or princess as a hero. When we remember the King is strong, and we are weak, the attention is on Him. The King is worshiped.
4) God will grow my character
Living with a chronic and unpredictable illness for the last decade has been hard. It’s been hard on me, and hard on my kids. Because it’s been ten years, I can look back and see the ways the Lord has produced fruit in my life and in the lives of my family members. We’ve grown and changed as a result of relying on Him.
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:9-11
Sometimes our dreams don’t line up with God’s plans because His plans involve training us for His service. No knight serves a king without first learning to joust or ride a horse. No princess judges the affairs of a kingdom without first studying politics and learning about diplomacy. God is training us so we will be a part of His kingdom. That’s how progressive sanctification works.
I remind my boys that God is training us for our good. He’s fitting us to be of service to Him and to His kingdom. We can praise Him for that because it’s a privilege to be chosen for duty to the King.
5) Trust God for His will
God’s plans are always better than my plans and dreams. Always.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:3-5
The King is the King no matter what. It’s so much easier to serve our King if we want to do what He’s planned for us. We can learn to ask God to make His will the desire of our heart. After all, why would we want to serve the King by doing our own thing? We want to do what’s good for the kingdom.
This is where the boys and I stop talking about the King, and we go to Him in prayer. Together, we ask Him for His will in our lives. We thank Him for growing our character and for enlisting us for duty. We ask Him to change our hearts to look like His. I usually cry through the prayer. Friends, my heart is still resistant. Little by little, though, I see Him changing me completely. I see Him working in my family as well.
It can be so difficult to realize God’s plans for us don’t seem to include our dreams and desires. When we understand God’s nature and our role, life gets a lot easier. We can rest in the knowledge that we serve the King of all Kings, that He loves us and is training us, and that He will be glorified. We can pray for His dreams to occupy our hearts and minds, for the good of the kingdom.
Danika Cooley’s dreams have been stripped away, and she’s been given new ones, in service to her King. Danika is the author of When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015) and Wonderfully Made (Christian Focus 4 Kids, 2016). Her three-year Bible survey curriculum for preschool to high school, Bible Road Trip, is used around the world. Danika is married, a mother of four, and a grandmother to one. You can find her ruminating about discipleship, the Bible, Christian history, and other great kids’ resources at Thinking Kids.