Except for the most abusive or negligent parents, we all want our children to be safe. When they are babies, we check their breathing at night. We buy outlet covers and baby gates in the early years, helmets and knee pads a few years later. We try to incorporate enough stranger danger warnings to make them alert without causing fear of everyone they don’t know. As much as we wish we could protect them from every physical harm, we wish we could bubble wrap their souls even more.
So I can understand the Israelites’ concern for their children in Numbers 13-14. After being miraculously led from Egypt, seeing God’s provision of food and water in the wilderness, receiving God’s law, and constructing the tabernacle, they were finally at the outskirts of the land long-promised to them by God.
But they didn’t want to go in.
A man from each tribe was sent to spy out the land. They came back with a mixed report. The land was good and fruitful. But the people in it were bigger, stronger, and more numerous than Israel.
Then the people “wept that night” and “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” They feared they would be killed and their wives and children would become prey. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to go forward and trust God, who had already told them He’d given them the land. But the people responded by threatening to stone them.
God had enough. He is longsuffering and merciful. But these people had tried Him and refused to believe and obey Him ever since they left Egypt. God wanted to obliterate the people and start over with Moses.
Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned them. But forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. All the generation that complained and would not enter the promised land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Only Joshua, Caleb, their families, and the children of the current generation would enter in. “Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness.” But, ultimately, the children would be the recipients of the promise that the adults rejected.
In our church’s Bible study time in the passage last Sunday, my husband pointed out something I had never thought of. The population of Israel would have numbered over a million by this time—some say over two million. If you subtract an estimated number of children, that still leaves tens of thousands of people to die in the next forty years. Forty years of wilderness wandering, no promised land, just death and destruction ahead. How depressing! My husband commented that the weight of this may have fueled some of the rebellions that occurred in the next few chapters.
But rebellion would only make a bad situation worse. Suppose you’re a parent in this situation. You realize you failed big time in not believing God and obeying Him. But your children that you were so afraid for will go in. The best thing repentant parents could do would be to pour everything into the time they have left with their children, teach them God’s ways, and teach them how to some day get along without their parents.
In some ways, that’s what we all have to do, isn’t it? Pour our lives into our children, teach them God’s ways, teach them to be responsible adults and to stand on their own two feet without us.
In our early married days, I remember a woman sharing during prayer meeting a need for her children and how God answered. She commented, “It’s one thing to trust God for my needs—it’s another thing to trust Him for my children’s.” It’s true: we’d much rather struggle with a need or loss or illness ourselves than see our children do so. But it’s through such things that we all grow and learn dependence on God.
When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth ministered as missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese were intensely suspicious of what they called “foreign devils”—basically anyone who was not Chinese. Plus sanitation was nearly unknown and disease ran rampant. So when Jonathan proposed to Rosalind that they take their children on a ministry tour around the country, Rosalind refused. Four of her children had died already. She could maintain a level of cleanliness in her own home. But out there, not knowing where they would be staying or where they could get food from village to village? It was too risky, especially adding the possibility of persecution.
Jonathan begged Rosalind to reconsider:
Rose, I am so sure this plan is of God, that I fear for the children if you refuse to obey His call. The safest place for you and the children is the path of duty. You think you can keep your children safe in our comfortable home in Changte, but God may have to show you you cannot. But He can and will keep the children if you trust Him and step out in faith (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 157).
But she refused. So he left, alone.
The next day, their one-year-old baby became ill with dysentery, with no hope of recovery. She died a short while later.
Was God being vindictive? I don’t think so. In fact, Rosalind writes that as the baby was passing, Rosalind “seemed to apprehend in a strange and utterly new way the love of God—as a Father” (p. 159).
Humbled and softened, Rosalind determined to go with her husband. Years later, at a conference of women missionaries, some wives with similar fears to hers asked publicly if her children suffered as a result of their touring. She responded that none of them had picked up any infectious diseases or come to any harm while they toured. In fact, they’d had two more children during that time. She found she had more time to give them since she didn’t have her regular housework. “And, best of all, God has set His seal upon this plan of work by giving a harvest of souls everywhere we have gone” (Rosalind Goforth, Climbing, pp. 150-151).
Of course, we’re not guaranteed that our children won’t get sick or die while we’re following God. We all know of children who have died of cancer after years of prayer and treatment or teens who had died suddenly in car accidents or of unknown causes even though their parents were faithful followers. Sometimes God delivers by taking children on home to heaven. From our human perspective, that’s a loss. But from God’s viewpoint, He’s lovingly welcoming them home.
Missionary Timothy McKeown takes issue with the statement that the safest place is in God’s will:
After studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But it is not necessarily the safest.
It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often—not occasionally—being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. . . .
Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his—and, of course, our—enemies. . . .
I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible “risk taking.” . . . However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.
I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly “health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel” to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”—not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be (Peace, If Not Safety).
Missionaries from one of our former church’s were once accused of child abuse for raising their kids in a primitive jungle setting. I loved their oldest daughter’s response here. “A mud hut does not an abusive environment make. . . . Yes, we missed out on many of the materialistic things this world has to offer. And for that we thank God often.”
God doesn’t promote recklessness. Parents and grandparents are supposed to try to keep children safe. But we have to admit that we are limited. We can’t lock them away in a tower for protection. We can’t raise them to be fearful of going forward. We can’t avoid God’s will due to possible risks. We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.
(I often link up with some of these bloggers)
I really appreciate this analysis of the impact of following God — not only for missionary families, but for our own in every day life in the pew!
Yes–I had enough worries in everyday life, I don’t know what I would have done parenting in the jungle or other perilous places.
Barbara, I so agree – walking with the Lord may not always be the “safest” place to be but it is the best place to be. Praying my children and grandchildren will trust and obey Him as well for all of their lives. May we be faithful to pray for the future generations in our families. Blessings!
Amen and amen, Joanne. Praying the same for my children and grandchildren.
Great reminder scripture of true meaning for following Jesus, and his refuge. Happy Sunday.
I can testify that it was only after I released my child into God’s loving care that my relationship with my child grew deeper. God literally told me I had to get out of the way so He could work with my child. Are things perfect now? Nope. But, they are better. Yes, God is a far better parent than I could ever be.
That’s true–sometimes our desire to keep them safe or rescue them from every hardship can hinder God’s working in their lives. We need such wisdom to watch over them reasonably without becoming neurotic helicopter parents, a temptation for me
Pingback: A La Carte (May 17) | BiblicalCounselor.com
Pingback: A La Carte (May 17) – christian-99.com
Helpful thoughts. It’s so hard to remove our hands from our kids’ lives — although I’ve been greatly aided in that by having my oldest move basically across the country, where I really have only a very small glimpse into her life. I have a bookmark with each day of the month and a character attribute to pray for our kids; many days I do that. It helps me feel connected in some way, and yes, praying for our kids and talking to God about them is probably one of the best things we can do for our adult kids.
That bookmark list is a good idea. It does ramp up the need for faith when they move out.
So many good thoughts in this post, Barbara. Timothy McKeown is right – the most joyful and satisfying place to be is following God’s will, but from a human perspective, it is not necessarily the safest. We parents may be willing to take risks ourselves that we would not subject our children to, but ultimately, the best thing we can teach our children is to follow God wherever He leads.
Yes–I hope they come to know His character so well that they can trust Him in any circumstance.
I enjoyed your thoughts here. I had never really considered the impact on the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness in terms of what they would learn from their mistake and how they would teach their children. And your post reminds me of something a man in my church said when we were about to begin our new church plant. It meant taking his family away from a church with a large, thriving children’s ministry to a begin a new church with very few children and someone asked if he wasn’t worried about the impact on his children’s faith. I loved the confidence with which he said that he thought the very best thing for his children’s faith was having parents who modelled obedience to God and the willingness to step out in faith.
I love that, Lesley. So often people feel the church has to have a program for every group within the church. Those can be great, but walking with each other and doing life together can be so impactful.
We can definitely feel torn to release our children into their calling when it feels so dangerous to us. Our view of danger is often limited to only what we see. I’m glad my children have often had bigger visions for their lives than I have. More grace, Lord.
Amen. Such precious great thoughts on life with God. It was difficult when my beloved Kristin Renee went to be with Jesus almost two years ago but God in his mercy took her home to heal her. For that I am grateful and for the 33 years we had her. Right now, I feel that my second born and I are in the center of God’s will. Sometimes I feel like we do not belong anywhere, when we recently found out that we do not live in a city or town. We do not know where we live; our address is unreal, made up. Yet, God has a place for us. We just have to have faith in him. He has a city for us.
There’s nothing like being in the center of God’s will!
Thank you for oinking up at Legacy Link-up
Thank you, Mandy!
I’m not a parent but this is powerful even thinking about other loved ones. Thank you!
That’s true–there are concerns for all of our loved ones that we need to trust God for.
Pingback: Around the Horn (May 20) | Prince on Preaching
Barbara, my younger girl just got her driver’s license and very soon will drive off by herself for the first time. She’s ready. I’m thankful that we haven’t raised her “to be fearful going forward” as you say. It’s still a bit nerve-wracking, but you’re right–God is the one who numbers our days. I’m hoping I can trust and obey as both my daughters make their way in the world, and I hope they do as well.
I remember my concerns as each of mine passed that milestone–and the temptation to follow them as they drove to school for the first time, and prayers and concerns for the first time they drove in the rain, and then the snow. Now they are young adults on their own, and the things to be concerned about don’t seem to be lessening. May we and they keep trusting and obeying.
Amen Barbara. I appreciate you sharing this study. Great lessons to be had within. Blessings.
Thank you, Paula.
I needed this today!
It is a struggle for me to truly let God handle things without me stepping in especially when it comes to my kids.
I am working on it!
It seems to be a continual struggle, and no matter how old they get, there are always things to be concerned about. I guess in one way that keeps us dependent on God–a good place to be.
Thanks for sharing these insights, Barbara, “We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.”
Wow, Barbara – I loved these missionary stories! They’re powerful. How amazing to truly follow the calling of God no matter the cost.
Barbara, trust is my word for the year. And trusting God with my children is one of my biggest challenges. I really appreciate your perspective here and will be featuring this post on grace and truth this week. Thank you.
Thanks so much, Lauren. I’m honored.
Pingback: Monday InLinkz Join us at 164 Senior Salon • Esme Salon
Pingback: May Reflections | Stray Thoughts