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.
China built the wall to protect it from invasion. But 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 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.
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 spend hours shuttling them to school 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 are more concerned with IQ than with CQ—character quotient.
In the end, your child's character will provide the foundation for his life. 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, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."
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 child how to walk with God so he will display the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience—no matter what he faces.
Character is what will help your child keep within his budget as an adult.
Character is what will lead him to turn to God in a time of hardship and pain.
Character is what will help him pursue his mate to resolve a major conflict in a loving manner.
Character is what will enable him to make that extra phone call or work that extra hour to do his job right.
Character is what will direct him in times of material prosperity and in a financial crisis.
And character is what will give him the strength to keep his mind and body pure when everyone in the world and everything within him says, "Just give in to that temptation. It won't hurt you."
Let me suggest two essentials in building this type of character in your child:
First, make a commitment to be involved in teaching your child character through personal instruction. This means actively teaching the Scriptures, establishing limits in his life, affirming right choices, and correcting him when he makes mistakes. It means continually showing him 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. Just the other day I took the opportunity on the way to school to interact with my girls about homosexuality. We talked about the culture we live in, and the growing public acceptance of gays. I spoke of our need to love people but still be clear-headed about wrong choices that are a perversion of how God made us.
Our conversation only lasted 10 minutes, but I believe I laid another stone upon the foundation of their character.
Second, make a commitment to modeling the character traits you are teaching your child. For 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 sinand 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.
The six Rainey children have made their own set of errors—they've lied, they've cheated, they've disobeyed, they've made wrong choices, and they've suffered through massive doses of sibling rivalry. But, one by one, they are learning to stand strong.
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 me her story, the grin on her face was a big payoff to Barbara and me. Her character grew.
Yes, they do get it!
Copyright © 2005 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.
1. Read Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s article, “7 Priorities for Great Parenting.”
2. Listen to Dennis Rainey and Gary Thomas in a FamilyLife Today series about “Sacred Parenting.”
3. Help your preteen build the type of character he needs to negotiate adolescence by using FamilyLife’s resource, Passport2Purity.