By Dennis Rainey
The Great Wall of China is one of the great wonders of the world, a true masterpiece of engineering. I’m told that six horses could trot side-by-side on top of it. I’ve walked on it, and I was amazed to see this massive structure snake its way through the mountains in China.
China built the wall to protect it from invasion. But the story is told that in the first 100 years after the wall was completed, enemies invaded the country three times.
Do you know how?
The invaders didn’t go over the wall. They didn’t dig under the wall. They didn’t smash holes through it or burn it down.
Instead, they bribed the gatekeepers!
While China was building this amazing defense system, it neglected its children by failing to build character in their lives—the type of character that could withstand temptation.
Is there a modern equivalent in our country? Or, if you don’t live in America, in your country?
I think of that story whenever I hear parents talk of the dreams and goals they have for their children. Many parents today are vitally concerned with the education their kids receive and the skills they develop. They shuttle their kids to school to the finest schools and to various extracurricular activities. They look forward to the day when their children will enter the working world and establish successful and lucrative careers.
One thing is often missing in these dreams and plans, however: Character development.
A foundation for life
Too many parents today are more concerned with their children’s IQ than with their CQ—character quotient. But in the end your child’s character will provide the foundation for his life.
Think with me for a moment …
What happens when a children excel in school and are just downright smart and have a high IQ, but a weak CQ? They can become really smart fools. Or highly educated geniuses who are devious and manipulative at work. They might make a lot of money and achieve greatness at work, but in the process they destroy a lot of lives, including their own.
I believe the leadership crisis we are facing in our government, in our businesses, and in the church are all traced back to this issue of character. As Omar Bradley, the famous World War II general, said, “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
Do you realize the power you have as a parent? When you help raise children with godly character—children who will follow Christ and withstand the pressures of the world—you are helping shape the world in the next generation.
Building character into a child means building patterns of behavior to respond properly to authority and to life’s circumstances. As 1 Timothy 1:5 tells us, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Why does character matter?
Responding to authority is important because we all under the authority of Christ. A child must learn how to submit to God in every area of his life. A proper response to life’s circumstances means showing your children how to walk with God so he will display the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience—no matter what they face.
Character is what will help your children keep within their budget as an adult.
Character is what will lead them to turn to God in a time of hardship and pain.
Character is what will help them pursue their spouse to resolve a major conflict in a loving manner.
Character is what will strengthen them to stand strong against a colleague or employer who pressures them to do something immoral or unethical.
Character is what will embolden them to speak the truth in love, rather than embrace a lie.
Character is what will enable them to make that extra phone call or work that extra hour to do their job right.
Character is what will help them decide to set aside their pride and selfishness and do what’s best for others rather than for themselves.
Character is what will direct them in times of material prosperity and in a financial crisis.
Character is what empowers them to ask for forgiveness when they’ve hurt another person.
And character is what will give them the strength to keep their mind and body pure when everyone in the world and everything within them says, “Just give in to that temptation. It won’t hurt you.”
Your child’s IQ may deliver higher paying jobs, but his CQ will result in a life well-lived, one that impacts a generation now and future generations that follow.
Let me suggest two essentials in building this type of character in your children:
1. Make a commitment to be involved in teaching your children character through personal instruction.
This means actively teaching the Scriptures, establishing limits and boundaries in their lives, affirming right choices, and correcting them when they make mistakes. Read carefully how powerful the Scripture is in our lives: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It means continually showing them how to treat others with the love of Christ—how to communicate, how to forgive, how to encourage.
It also means contrasting what the world says with what the Bible teaches. I remember one morning when I was taking my daughters to school. I took the opportunity to interact with my daughters about the culture we live in, the lies the culture promotes and the growing acceptance of immorality. We talked about how to love people but still be clear-headed about wrong choices that are a rejection from how God made us and commands us to live.
Then I unpacked what it means to love people who don’t think and live as we try to. I explained that we live in a broken world that is producing broken people who don’t need us to hurl insults at them, but who need to see and experience the love of Christ in our lives.
Our conversation only lasted 10 minutes, but I believe I laid another stone upon the foundation of their character.
2. Make a commitment to modeling the character traits you are teaching your child.
You will never take your child beyond what is evident in your own life.
A seminary professor told me a story about taking his 13-year-old daughter to the state fair. As they drove up to the entrance, he noticed a sign reading, “Free Admission to Children 12 and Under.” He whispered to his daughter, “Scoot down and look small.” She did, and he avoided paying her ticket.
A few seconds later this professor—with two seminary degrees—heard a small voice from the back seat: “Daddy, you know I’m 13.” Convicted of his sin and of his bad example, he put the car into reverse and backed up. He apologized to the attendant and paid the full amount. That dad learned a painful but important lesson: Our lives must model what we teach.
One thing I learned from my own failures was to use some of my failures to teach our children how to respond to our failures. On more than one occasion, for example, I confessed my sin and asked them to forgive me.
One such time was when all eight of us were living in two-bedroom apartment. I arrived home from work to find my favorite fly fishing rod had been run over by the driver of a Big Wheel, a tricycle for small kids.
When I found that fly-rod broken, I was really angry. With all the kids watching, I began breaking the pieces over my knee, resulting in even smaller pieces. I was ticked off!
As I was pitching my adult-sized tantrum, God convicted me that I was acting like a fool. I laid those pieces of my fly rod down and turned to our kids and Barbara, confessing my sin and asked them to forgive me.
Just like us, all of our kids made various mistakes as they were growing up—some of them lied, others cheated, they disobeyed, made wrong choices, and they suffered the consequences of their errors. But through their mistakes and training, they grew and learned to stand strong.
I remember when Rebecca was 15 years old, she withstood the temptation to join eight other friends who slipped out of a decent movie and into an R-rated film. As she told us her story, the grin on her face was a big payoff. She made the right choice, and her character grew. And we applauded and cheered her on for her courage.
As I think about you and your assignment as a parent, I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture that reminds us of the need to persevere: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Yes, they do get it!
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