You know, of all the gifts that God has given us, two of the most precious come from the Garden of Eden: the Sabbath and the family. These special gifts center on relationships—with God, and with the people closest to us.
It’s interesting that Satan concentrates some of his most vicious attacks on these two special gifts. What God has meant for our greatest happiness, Satan attempts to turn into misery. Today in our brief time together, we will be looking specifically at the family.
When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t just create two individuals to co-exist side by side. He created a beautiful blending of the two into one special unit—the world’s first family! We gain a glimpse of this creation in Genesis 2:23 when Adam exclaims:
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” And continuing in verse 24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
What a beautiful, loving picture! How God longed for this closeness, this love, to exist in every family since the beginning. But as we are painfully aware, sin reared its ugly head, bringing misery and sorrow.
But all is not lost. Our Creator is the almighty Helper, Restorer and Keeper of all things committed to Him. God can still help families today experience the warmth, love, and closeness that He intended. Inspiration promises that
“The presence of Christ alone can make men and women happy. All the common waters of life Christ can turn into the wine of heaven. The home then becomes as an Eden of bliss; the family, a beautiful symbol of the family in heaven” (Adventist Home, p. 28).
What are some practical things we can do to strengthen families? Here are six recommendations I would like to share with you:
1. Take time each day for family worship
Have a daily family worship that is short and uplifting. When our girls were young, we did a lot of reading. When they were very small, we used pocket-sized Bible stories called “Little Fish” books. Later we read My Bible Friends, followed by The Bible Story by Arthur S. Maxwell. The girls sometimes did Bible charades, and of course, we read from the Bible itself. Then we prayed together—and the children would pray. Prayer was very much a central part of worship, and we wanted the children to feel comfortable with prayer. I encourage you to pray with your children and your spouse. Let the family be sent off in the morning with prayer and at night conclude with prayer.
Now that our children are grown, Nancy and I focus on various ways of family worship, including Bible readings, yearly devotional books, exchanging an impressive quotation from the Spirit of Prophecy, and always making prayer together a focal point in the morning and at night. For both of us, our daily personal devotional time reading the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy is an absolute.
When I was a university student, my father sent me a handwritten note with the following quotation: “Consecrate yourself to God in the morning; make this your very first work. Let your prayer be, ‘Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee. . . .’” (Steps to Christ, p. 70). I’ve never forgotten that act of kindness and I try to consecrate myself every morning.
2. Talk with and pray for your children.
Parents, it’s vital that you talk with your children. Ask them about school, their social lives, their spiritual development. Talk with them. Even as they grow older, you can still call or text them—or write them a letter. Don’t badger or annoy them, but make contact. Engage them in conversation and bring in spiritual thoughts—but not in a demeaning or condemnatory way. Bring in words of encouragement. Tell them you’re praying for them. Pray with them on the phone, or in person. Prayer helps your children know that you rely on God, and by modeling prayer, it tells them that they, too, need to rely on God.
3. Affirm and value your children.
Show your children that you appreciate them, and that they are unique individuals. Give them direction and encouragement toward something of eternal worth—both personally and for their life work.
A huge factor in affirming and valuing our children is telling them that you believe in them. So many people have a lack of self worth today, so tell your children that you believe in them and that you’re proud of them. Take every opportunity to find a reason to affirm them—It’s so important to encourage and affirm them all the way through life. And kindly point them to the Lord as the source of all good things and encourage them in this direction.
4. Plan special times together.
Plan far in advance for special family activities—whether it’s a picnic, a family night at home, or taking your spouse to dinner. If you’re not intentional about creating activities, you’ll go through life without much interaction with your family. Plan family vacations together, allowing everyone to help plan a happy time, rather than stress-filled events with no time to enjoy each other.
Plan some spiritual outreach activities together—such as giving out literature, or singing in nursing homes or hospitals. Doing something together for others is a great inoculation against the temptations of the devil.
5. Be the change you wish to see.
Families were instituted by God himself, and they are to be a protection against the inroads of cynicism, skepticism, and discouragement. Families were meant to encourage, not to discourage.
Think back on a recent family gathering. Were you annoyed by certain family members? Did you get disgruntled by comments made? Realize that in the family there is great love, but unfortunately there can be great animosity. Learn to forgive, embrace, and encourage your family, even if they are discouraging to you. Reach out to them in the spirit of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). Intentionally reach out to your family members, whether they are near or far away.
6. Be your brother’s keeper.
Families are under enormous attack, and this often results in fractured homes with single parents. To those who find themselves in this situation—take courage from the Lord. He promises, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in loving kindness and mercy” (Hosea 2:19).
The question that Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is answered by Christ as He showed an interest in everyone. This also extends to the church family. We are part of a global family of more than 20 million brothers and sisters—each with a responsibility to help nurture this wonderful, worldwide family.
I would also like to share a special word of encouragement to parents whose children have left the Lord: Never lose hope. Never stop praying for your children. Rethink your approach to them, making sure you don’t appear condemnatory. Portray the lovingkindness of our Heavenly Father, who, through the Holy Spirit, is always wooing us to Him. Recognize that through small efforts and a long-term, continuous demonstration of your interest and love in your children, there will be, by God’s grace, some changes in their attitudes. Pick up on every opportunity to make a positive comment. Take every opportunity to show them that you care.
If you are currently facing challenges within the family, don’t stop talking with each other, but talk in quiet tones. Too often we only hear what we want to say, and not hear what the other person is saying.
Follow the biblical counsel of Galatians 6:2, to “bear one another’s burdens.” Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to be at peace, rather than having a fortress mentality of always sticking up for your opinion. Let the Holy Spirit melt your heart and in doing so He will melt the heart of your spouse and children. Let there be a sweet spirit in the home, claiming the promise that
“Every home should be a place of love, a place where the angels of God abide, working with softening, subduing influence upon the hearts of parents and children.”[i] The Adventist Home, p. 18.6 (Ellen Gould White)
In the end, let’s keep our eyes set on eternal realities. When we get to heaven, God won’t ask us about how much work we did in the church, or how many pamphlets we handed out—as good as those things are, that won’t be the primary focus. Instead He will ask, “What did you do with your family? Where is your little flock?”
A great resource that we have is the Family Ministries department of the General Conference creates resources to help strengthen families. I invite you to visit their website and download their Revival and Reformation e-book titled, Building Family Memories, edited by Family Life Directors, Willie and Elaine Oliver. This book is a great resource for anyone interested in strengthening their own family, as well as families in the church and the community.
Let me pray with you. Father in Heaven, please be with the families around the world, families within the church and families that are not part of our church family. Lord, please come close to each individual, help them to realize that as they focus upon you, you can bring a sweet spirit into the family. The voice can be lowered, the thoughts and intentions can be purified through the connection with heaven.
We know you want families to be the outstanding foundation of society. So please Lord, especially be with our Seventh-day Adventist families worldwide, help them to be marvelous witnesses for you in the home, in the community and in the nation.
Lord, the last thing we ask also, is the most important. We know we're saved as individuals, but Lord be with our families, save every one of them so that we can be together in heaven, all through your grace and through your love and through your power. Bless our families in Jesus name we ask it, Amen.