Your children badly need to see your faith making your life unpleasant.
You see, real things make demands upon us. A puppy is not the same as a stuffed animal, and even a little child can feel the difference when a play date is cut short to go home and take Fido out for a walk. When my wife was a little girl she had a paper cutout “husband” with whom she played at times, and then at other times she would pack him away in a drawer. That’s not an option with her real husband–I may need to talk, or need dinner, or need a hug, even when she’s tired and out of sorts. Even something as basic as gravity tells us it’s there by restricting what we can do. Real things disrupt your life.
In some parts of the world, Christian children hear their parents telling them God is real by hand-writing copies of the one village Bible, or gathering in hidden rooms to worship, or being carted off to prison or death because they will not deny their Lord. In America, we tell our children God is real by having an Easter egg hunt.
We all know that children learn far more from what they see in us than what they hear from us. As our children look at the adults in their church, are they going to see faith in a real God disrupting the comfortable trajectory of their lives? If they see your new puppy inconveniencing your family more than God does, is it really surprising if they grow up to discover they have more faith in the puppy than in God?
It’s tempting to think there’s little we can do about this. Different circumstances bring different struggles for the church, and perhaps our unique challenge is being so well insulated from the realness of God by the blubber of American comfort. In fact, it’s become almost a cliché to half-seriously wish for the renewed faith that persecution and suffering would bring. Yet Paul says in I Timothy that we ought to pray for our government “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” That sounds pretty comfortable, but Paul says it’s a good thing. Apparently life in a prosperous and comfortable society doesn’t have to deaden our sense of the nearness of God.
In general, we–and our children–are most aware of God when we are most in conflict with the world. One way for that to happen is for the world to press in on us through persecution and suffering. Another way is for us to press out against the world; to, as Christ commands, deny ourselves and each take up our cross and follow Him.
When your children see you make time to visit your grandmother in the nursing home instead of golfing; when they notice your car is older than their friends’ and you explain that is because it’s more important to support the work of the church; when they see you asking your wife for forgiveness even though she started the fight; when they see her forgiving you even though you really hurt her feelings; when they see you refusing to see a popular movie because of the sex scene; they see that you believe that God is real. When you’re a sinner, holiness hurts, and children take things that hurt their parents very seriously.
Don’t serve God in difficult ways just so your children can see you do it. (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”) But serve God because He is God. Serve Him the way He commands; count the cost and take up your cross and follow Him, always “higher up and further in,” and while you’re doing it, know that you are showing your children the most compelling testimony you can offer that their God is God.