When our children were younger, we were in the business of telling them what to think. What to think about everything, in fact. And most of the time, this “telling” was accepted without much discussion. We told them what to think about their vegetables. About their entertainment. About their school. About all their habits. The burden for us, as parents, was to be able to clearly articulate what to think in a way that was understandable to a child.
This is how it should be; this is how it needs to be. That’s because at the beginning of a child’s life, one of the primary purposes – if not the primary purpose – of a parent is to protect them. But times change for parents, and as the kids start to grow, we also ought to grow in the way we relate to them. I’ve learned over the relatively short time we’ve been parents that though we start out as protectors, as our kids grow our primary role changes. That’s not to say we still don’t function in a protective kind of role, but the more years go by the more freedom our children have and the more they are out from under our proverbial wing.
One of those shifts happens when we start to help our children not just know what to think, but start helping them know how to think. This is vitally important because our kids are and will find themselves in more and more real-life situations, with real-life human beings, and they need much more than just a rote answer to give about life, faith, and God. They don’t just need to know what to think; they need a framework that teaches them how to think.
That’s true in parenting, but perhaps it’s also true from a broader perspective. Even though knowing how to think is more complicated, nuanced, and difficult, this is actually what discipleship is. Discipleship is not just learning the answers; it’s having your mind renewed by the Word of God so that you know how to think biblically in real time in real situations:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
The truth is that most everyday situations are seemingly complex. That’s because they involve people with varying backgrounds, perspectives, and presuppositions. Because they are complicated, it’s pretty rare to be able to open up the Bible and find that it specifically addresses the situation in which you find yourself. As a result, many Christians find themselves at a loss in how to navigate all these situations on a daily basis. They can’t find the quick answer, and so they either just avoid the question entirely or they lose their temper in frustration.
But that’s precisely why we need to know how to think – it’s why we need our entire mindset renewed. Another example to help here –
A foundation is infinitely important in any structure. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at, nor is it the quickest part of a building to be built. It’s slow, careful, painstaking work. But that foundation forms the basis on which everything else rests. This is the “how to think” mentality. It’s understanding that we must have the right mindset over and above having the right answers, because even the “prettiest” answers will crumble if set on a less than stable foundation.
Discipleship, then, must not be spoon feeding answers to questions; it must go deeper. It must be rooted and established inside of us at a deep level so when we encounter that myriad of situations which require “what to think” at a moment’s notice, we will at last be thinking in the right way.