Making a Difference in the Life of a Child

by Andy Wood on November 16, 2011

in Ability, Allocating Your Resources, Esteem, Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy

Cohen and Me on a Trash Run

It’s a familiar old friend, comfortable as a favorite pair of shoes.  Brokenhearted parents cling to it, and eager young parents rise to it.  It’s a friendly reminder to us all that there’s a higher purpose in the midst of our most frustrating and confusing days.  And yet it can say so much more to us than we ever dreamed possible:

“Train up a child in the way he should go,

And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

We all know what that means, right?  It means when you have children, if you get them involved in church, discipline them properly, and teach them how to behave, then when they become adults, they will live consistently with the things you tried to teach them.  If you teach them to have high moral values as children, they will have high moral values as adults.


Wait a minute.  How do you respond to the mom or dad who doesn’t understand why their adult children don’t go to church like they do?  What do you say to the parent whose children have rebelled against their high moral standards and have rejected their values?

I’m convinced that many of us have missed some exciting possibilities because of the limited way we have interpreted this verse.

A Child

For starters, who says this verse is limited to your own children?  It doesn’t say, “Train up your child,” but “Train up a child…”

Some of the most significant training you do may well be with a kid who goes home with somebody else.  In a world that’s desperate for mentors, father figures, and real life coaches, your greatest influence may well come after your own children are grown.

Picture this.  I’m sitting in my office doing important adult work.  Suddenly, I hear the sound of little feet – lots of ‘em – coming down the hall.  As a mom takes care of business, I have a chance to help train up a child in the way he should go.  I can be for those little children a two-minute commercial for the love of God!  I can show them that Jesus still loves the little children of the world – that they are precious in His sight.  I can let them know in some small way that they are more important than the endless details of my adult world.  And these aren’t even my kids!  I can’t spend as much time with them as their parents and their television, but I can still touch their lives.  So can you.


Who says training refers just to teaching values and giving discipline?  There’s a big difference between teaching and training.  Teaching imparts concepts.  Training imparts skills.  Teaching is, well, taught.  Training is caught.  You only teach during certain limited times.  You’re training all the time.  Teaching provides important information.  Training provides an environment to use that information.

Sometimes that means giving kids an environment where they can get it wrong until they get it right.  Like the time Carrie, my daughter, was teaching a group of 2-and-3-year-olds about putting on the whole armor of God, using sound effects and motions.

First, the Belt of truth (click click).

Then, the Breastplate of rightousness (whoom!)

What comes next? The boots of readiness!

Then the Shield of faith (swish)…

The Helmet of salvation (whoosh)…

And the Sword of the Spirit (zing).

So one night she was going through the armor of God with them…

First, the Belt of truth (click click).

Then, the Breastplate of righteousness (whoom!)

And what comes next?

That’s when little “John” hollers – “The boobs!  The boobs!”

Training, friends.  Let ‘em get wrong until they get it right.  And try not to laugh too hard when they do.


There’s a difference between training down and training up.  When you train down, you’re raising children.  When you train up, you’re raising adults.  I’m trying to avoid a soapbox here (no, really!), but one of the challenges with being a “helicopter parent”  is that it produces overgrown children, not confident, competent adults.

Training down talks to children as if they’re babies or idiots.  The assumption is that children constantly need entertaining.  It leaves them dependent on others for what to think, with the expectation that the child must be the center of attention or popular.  When you train down, the child always needs someone to make choices for them or (worse) to fix their bad choices.  The focus is on instant gratification because children never understand the concept of waiting.  And love is a need or a feeling.

Training up produces a completely different kind of human – an adult.  Training up talks to children as if they are people – adults-in-the-making.  It teaches children to entertain themselves and think for themselves.  When you train up, children learn to work with others or stand alone.  They learn to choose for themselves and accept responsibility for their choices.  They learn to focus on long-term vision and develop patience.  And love is a choice and an action – not just a feeling.

The Way

Who says you wait until your children are born before you start training up your child in the way he should go?  You’ve seen it happen – suddenly the new mom and dad decide they need to “start back in church” and have little Junior dedicated so they can “train him up in the way he should go.”  My question is, if they haven’t created a godly environment before Junior was born, where do they get the audacity to assume they can show him how to live now?

“The way” literally means “according to his individual bent.”  The focus is on his or her unique way – which means, parents, that if your goal is to raise all your kids alike, you’re going to swing and miss.  Yes, a lot of what we teach – kindness, love, fairness – applies to every child or adult.  But there comes a time when in each of the children we touch, we recognize that each one is uniquely gifted and called by God.  And they have their own unique ways of showing it.

Like the time “Danny” was sitting with a group of kids and volunteers at church getting ready to hear a Bible story.  He was sitting next to one of our adult volunteers, and proceeded to get up and start walking out of the room.

“Where are you going?” the leader wanted to know.

Danny pointed to the volunteer and said, “His breath stinks.”

A prophet in the making?  Who knows?

And When He is Old…

The biggest challenge in working with children is that it’s long-term fruit, and you don’t often get to see the consequences of your effort.  So you’d better get your encouragement from somewhere other than immediate feedback. [1 Cor. 15:58]

Just think what potential you have!  One whole hour on a Sunday or Wednesday to train up a child in the way he should go.  All day in a classroom or five minutes standing in a line somewhere to model patience or express unconditional love.

Just remember that whether you are training up your own children or being one of God’s short-term influences on them, your influence is an outgrowth of who you are.  When you spend time with God daily, you are training up a child.  When you avoid temptation, you are training up a child.  When you share your faith or serve a fellow believer – even a Christian adult – you are training up a child.

Those children in your life – whether your own or somebody else’s – may not remember your profound teachings.  But they will always carry the image of the life of God as you expressed it.

“And when he is old…”

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