This last week I have been haunted by some Bible verses that warn against betraying our children. In Psalm 73 Asaph speaks candidly about how he almost stumbled because he envied the prosperity of the wicked. He describes how they mock God and boast that God doesn’t see anything they do while he is stricken “all day long.” He wonders (v. 13) if it was for nothing that he kept his heart pure.
However, in verse 15 the psalmist steps back and looks as what he has been saying:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of the God; then I perceived their end. (NASB)
When he contemplates the final judgment of the wicked by God, the psalmist realizes how foolish it is to envy the wicked. However, what has dogged me is word “betrayed” and the possibility that I could speak in ways that betray the next generation of God’s children.
From this Psalm, it is clear that bitterness is one way the old and gray betray the next generation. If we have grown disappointed in life and bitter about our failures or the unkindness of others, we teach the next generation God cannot be trusted. There is often no difference between anger at life and anger at God. Many who are old have had hopes dashed and hearts wounded and been infected with bitterness that poisons those around them.
However, our testimony must always be that we who hope in God will not be disappointed no matter how many ways the world and life lets us down. We can be honest about how others have wounded us, but we must have a clear testimony of how God has healed us. Every scar on our heart must testify to how God gave us grace to forgive those who hurt us.
A related way we can betray the next generation is through bitterness toward God’s people—the Church. I have seen this betrayal in action when parents criticize pastors and gossip about others in the church constantly. They then act surprised when their teens drift away from God and eventually start families where God has no place. The love and unity of God’s people is supposed to be the evidence that will convince the world that Jesus really was the Messiah sent by God (John 17:21). Complaining and criticizing others in the church is a sustained argument against the truth of the gospel. It is betrayal of our children. Like the Pharisees, not only did we not enter into the joy of God’s kingdom, we kept our children and grandchildren from entering too.
A third kind of betrayal is subtler. It is simply silence. It could be that we never mention what God has done because we have compartmentalized our life and shoved God into a religious box that has little to do with our actual life. It could be that social pressures have made mentioning God impolite or a sensitive issue. Or maybe we are silenced by the fear of sounding preachy or the knowledge that our own walk with God has been erratic and imperfect. But certainly, being silent about a source of strength, hope, love, and eternal life is just as much a betrayal as the bitter words we might speak.
The last kind of betrayal has, I think, hit epidemic proportions. It is kind of betrayal that even now is trying to seduce my heart. It is simply settling—settling for a faith that is tame and discipleship that is safe. It is being content to talk about the great things God did in the past, but having no expectation He will do them today. It is telling stories about how we took risks for God in the past, but playing it safe today. It is shifting my focus from God’s purposes to my comfort. It is abandoning a holy discontent that cries out for more of God’s power, more of His presence, and more of his holiness.
So what should we be doing and saying to avoid betraying our children and grandchildren? Other Psalms help answer this. In Psalm 71:17 the psalmist speaks as one who is aging:
O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; and I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come. (NASB)
The psalmist asks that he not die until he can tell the next generation about the mighty things God has done. This declaring is not just what we say, but also what we allow God to do through us as we yield to him. We want God’s strength and power to be revealed in us. I want the things I choose, the risks I take, and sacrifices I make to reveal God’s power to my children and grandchildren. So I need to live full of the Holy Spirit and daily go deeper in God so that his goodness and power is revealed in me.
Psalm 78:5-7 is even more specific about how one generation should speak to the next:
For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments. (NASB)
I know the phrase “testimony in Jacob” refers to all God did for Israel, but the story of my life is also a story of God’s faithfulness. I am asking God to establish a testimony in Mark. I believe that in the story arc of my life, God and I have not yet written the climax together. I am not sure why this happens as we age, but we can easily become full of fear. Certainly, failing health can bring fear. It may be we have seen more and therefore have more to fear. Whatever the case, God calls us to continue to live fearlessly and let our life declare that God can be trusted. We are called to be the reason the next generations have confidence in God.
I have been blessed with a mother and father who did not betray me. During the summer before he died of cancer, Dad sat across the kitchen table from me and said the thing he regretted most was not seeing a genuine revival—an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He was still praying for one. Although wounded, almost mortally it seemed, by the church, Mom and Dad never poisoned their children against God’s people. They never betrayed us with any bitterness.
After Dad died, Mom lived another 23 years faithfully serving in the church, praying for her children and grandchildren, interceding for revival. I had a pastor, Wayne Harmon, who died of a heart attack before he could retire a second time. He never stopped seeking for a way to reach the city for Christ. My older brother, Larry, is still loving the church and seeking more of God’s kingdom. I know many more, like my friends Wes Adams and John David Hicks, who are still seeking more of God and an outpouring of His Spirit on Church. Although old and gray, they have not betrayed this generation. They have not been silent. Nor have they settled. Neither will I.