Even at the risk of sounding pious, I feel compelled to begin by expressing gratitude for a rich Christian heritage. I find great affinity with a Timothy who preceded me by 2,000 years. He is mentioned in the New Testament, mentored by the apostle Paul who acknowledged his believing heritage. The apostle commended Timothy with this observation, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV). This is a cogent expression of the generational blessing of a living faith.
I can never remember a time when my parents were not believers. Both of my parents, Arnold and Marjorie Harper, are licensed ministers in the Church of God of Prophecy, having served as pastors for 46 plus years. At the time of this writing, Dad is nearing what appears to be the end of a long and harrowing five-year battle with cancer. My parents have not only demonstrated their faith in good times; they have also modeled to our family the simplistic beauty of faithful living and trust in God during seasons of suffering and pain.
Yet, there was a time when my father was not a believer. It was decades ago, and as previously stated, my sisters and I only remember him as a believer. However, I have heard the stories of his unbelieving days and of my praying grandmother, Hazel Harper, who covered him in prayer during his wayward years. At eighteen, Dad left the family farm and joined the US Navy. Although Dad sailed half-way around the world, he could not outrun the influence of my grandmother’s prayers. While in the Navy, Dad became a believer.
In recent years, much has been written, preached, and taught about the impact of sin being revisited in generation after generation of family living. It is often referred to as a generational curse. There is theological, biblical, and psychological data to support the reality of a generational curse. Often, Exodus 20:5 is cited as proof of a generational curse. As the Israelites journeyed toward the Promised Land, God unequivocally warned them about sinful lifestyles that would leave a residual impact and legacy for future generations when He stated that He would visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (NKJV). However, we should not forget that generational curses can be broken by the grace of God! Ezekiel 18 clearly teaches that under the new economy of God, children are not judged for their parents’ sinful lifestyles.
It seems to me that the antithesis of the curse is clearly indicated in Scripture. There are generational blessings! The apostle made this affirmation, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20 KJV). Indeed, generational curses can be reversed.
When my grandmother was praying for my dad, by proxy she was also praying for me, for my children, and for my grandchildren yet to be born. I am a product of my grandmother’s prayers and my parents’ faithful living. Today, all of my parents’ children are believers, as well as all of their grandchildren and their spouses. I do not share this as a pious braggart, but as a living testimony and with a heart full of gratitude. Unfortunately, I realize this not the testimony of many other faithful parents whose hearts are broken as they daily pray for the return of prodigals. The good news is: prodigals do return! (Luke 15).
Raising believing children in the light of a generational blessing comes through lifestyle choices. Just as a lifestyle of sin can be modeled and caught, so also a lifestyle of faith and righteous living. I would be remiss to suggest that there is a simple formula to raising believing children. There is not! To be sure, there are days when one wonders if it is being done correctly and if it is clicking. Sometimes, you are not even sure who those children belong to! However, I have received great counsel for the parenting of my children from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4–9. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (NIV).
Tim Elmore, in his book titled, Nurturing the Leader within Your Child, points out that the Shema provides a context of four daily opportunities to both teach and model believing faith to our children. They are:
- Mealtime: when you sit at home
- Travel time: when you walk along the road
- Bed time: when you lie down
- Morning time: when you get up (Elmore 2001, 133)
Taking advantage of these daily opportunities to share our faith is a biblically valid training module that will make an eternal impact. My wife, Karen, and I are blessed with three great children who are believers: Brittany Harper Stone—she and her husband, Stephen, pastor the Noblesville, Indiana, COGOP; Chandler Harper, who is a certified Lay Minister; and, Stetson Harper who is a student at Lee University majoring in Pastoral Studies.
Neal Postman has observed that “Children are the living messages we send into a time we will not see.” Thanks Dad, Mom and Grandma. Your faith lives on.
—Dr. Timothy Harper
Great Lakes Regional Overseer