Ambitious for Your Children?
The message of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah in the temple was that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son, that this son was to be called John, and that he would be ‘great in the sight of the Lord’ (Luke 1:13-15). There is a right use and a wrong use to which these words can be put.
We begin with the wrong. In early February 1744, the four-month-old son of the Rev. George Whitefield suddenly and unexpectedly died. The pain was accentuated for Whitefield by the things he had believed and publicly said about this child. ‘Many things’, he writes,
had occurred to make me believe he was, not only to be continued to me, but, to be a preacher of the everlasting gospel. Pleased with the thought, and being ambitious of having a son of my own so divinely employed, Satan was permitted to give me some wrong impressions, whereby, as I now find, I misapplied several texts of Scripture. Upon these grounds, I made no scruple of declaring ‘that I should have a son, and that his name was to be John.’ I mentioned the very time of his birth, and fondly hoped that he was to be great in the sight of the Lord.
Apparently the words of the angel concerning John the Baptist had made a deep impression on Whitefield. He had gone so far as to take them as a promise from God to him concerning his own son and had made no secret of what he believed the boy would be and do. And now, after only four months, he was dead. The lesson? A promise of Scripture that, by its very nature, can have only one fulfilment, in one historical set of circumstances, it is misguided and perilous to take as a kind of parallel promise of God to ourselves.
But if there is a wrong use to which the angel’s words can be put there is also a right use. Whitefield’s word ‘ambitious’ provides us with the clue.
There are lots of things that as parents we may properly desire for our children. That they should enjoy good health, be preserved from harm, be spared to live a long and full life, not be in want, be successful at what they do, make an enriching contribution to others’ lives; who can question the legitimacy of such ambitions? These are all good things! But there is nothing greater that we can wish for our children than that, like John, they be ‘great in the sight of the Lord’.
In John’s case, the promised greatness may be traced in his personal godliness, his faithfulness to his God-given task, his courage in doing the hard thing (reproving Herod for his sin), and his humility before Christ. Not the kind of things, it has to be said, that enter into the world’s estimation of greatness. But very precious in the eyes of God.
Our children, it is true to say, may have no great part to play in the unfolding history of the kingdom of God. No-one may write a biography of them after they are gone. They may never serve on the mission-field, never hold office in the church, they may have no outstanding gifts. But if they have a heart for God, serve him faithfully, have the courage to do the right, and are clothed in godly humility, they will be great in the Lord’s sight. And nothing counts for more than that!
Let this, then, be our chief ambition for our children. As we pray for them, let these be the things we ask the Lord for above everything else. Unbelievers may not think very much of our children for having them. God, for his part, will think the world of them.
David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
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