When I was a boy, I once told my dad I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He replied that he was glad I wanted to be like him, but he actually wanted to help me become an even better man than him, just like his dad had done for him. He said every generation of parents should help their children become better than they were. Decades later, I reflected on my dad’s statement and thought that this was a biblical principle.


Later I will devote three chapters to studying specific examples of this principle in scripture. But for now, consider the concept of parents giving their children an inheritance, which is found throughout the Old Testament (ex. Number 26:55, 33:54, Proverbs 13:22, 19:14). Overtly, such passages usually refer to land, homes, silver, gold, livestock, or businesses. However, much of what we see in the Old Testament is a picture of a spiritual principle. Inheritances are no exception. The fact that scripture consistently places a high value on physical inheritances is a sign of how much God esteems spiritual inheritances.


Consider how inheritance works. Parents spend many years laboring and accumulating. Then, when the inheritance is passed, the children reap the benefits. The parent’s finishing point is the child’s starting point. Then, if the child stewards it wisely, it will increase even more before being passed to the grandchildren.


The inheritance principle applies both to overcoming evil strongholds and to establishing righteous ones. A parent’s role is to pass on what he or she learned through years of spiritual growth and labor. This way, it will be natural for their sons and daughters to walk in that same victory from an earlier age and they will be poised to go on and take even more ground as an inheritance for the next generation.


God Requires Humility from Both Sides

Whenever two groups relate to one another, the only way for them to receive the full blessing that God wants to impart is for both to exercise humility. This is true of two nations, two ethnic groups, two genders, or two generations. Let’s talk about what this looks like with two generations.


Sometimes members of an older generation must have the humility to recognize members of a younger generation are building on the foundation they laid and celebrate it. If God entrusts them with wisdom or influence, the older generation should cheer them on rather than becoming critical or resentful. At the same time, the younger generation must recognize that their success would not be possible if the older generation had not laid the foundation for it. They also must recognize they will not be able to steward their gifts wisely without honoring the older generation, submitting to their authority, and acknowledging their need for shepherding.


Spiritual gifts do not equal character. Anointing does not equal maturity. Biblical insight does not equal faithfulness. No matter how much of these things God entrusts to a younger generation, they will still desperately need the character, faithfulness, and maturity that is modeled and passed down from spiritual fathers and mothers. 


Psalms 145:4 says, One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” Notice it doesn’t say one generation shall praise God’s works to the next – it says “another”. It goes both ways. Both parents and children declare what God has done or is doing in their generation and both are edified.


One of the most well-loved Christian books of the Baby-Boomer generation is The Mystery of Marriage. The author, Mike Mason, was a recent seminary graduate and had been married only a short time when he wrote the book. His mentor, renowned theologian J.I. Packer, stated in the book’s forward that he would have counseled Mike against writing it since there were already many marriage books written by much more qualified and experienced individuals. He went on to thank God that Mason never asked his advice because it would have been to the detriment of the entire body of Christ if he had.


Here is a picture that comes to my mind when I think about my job as a father. There is a plateau in front of me that is too high for me to reach. Instead, I help my children climb up onto my shoulders and stand up so that they can reach the edge and climb onto it. Then they reach down and pull me up. First they need me. Then I need them. Together, we reach the place God is calling us to.  


Satanic Opposition

Satan hates spiritual inheritances and does everything in his power to destroy them. One way he does this is by tempting parents and children to take offense or become resentful of one another.


If one generation begins to build, the enemy tries to sow pride or criticism in both sides. He entices Christian parents and leaders to believe they are the standard of biblical Christianity and their children would do well to become just like them. He entices younger believers to think the older generation is stuck in their ways, rigid, and unwilling to receive what God is doing in the present. If Satan creates a generational divide, it can greatly undermine the power and longevity of what God is doing.


Parents Initiate Reconciliation

Malachi 4:6 says, He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Notice the order. The parents’ hearts shift first, then the children’s.


Whenever there is a relational rift, those who are more mature are the first to initiate reconciliation. They are the first to humble themselves, ask forgiveness, and extend forgiveness. Since parents are older and wiser than their children, they should be the first to take responsibility for their part.


No matter how pure our intentions are as parents, we are not perfect. We have all misrepresented God many times. Here’s my encouragement to parents of embittered adult children: If you knew everything back then that you know now, you would have done some things differently, right? Then tell your children. Explain to them what you wish you would have done better, even if you didn’t have the capacity at the time. Apologize if it’s appropriate. It doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed, nor does it absolve them from their contribution to the divide. But it may validate some of what they are feeling and begin to bridge the gap. It may also help them begin to see their part. It may help them see where they had unrealistic expectations of you. In any event, let reconciliation start with you.


Seeing Our Parents’ Blind Spots

One way God gives a new generation grace to build is by allowing them to see the blind spots and shortcomings of the previous generation. This is because He wants them to learn from their parents’ mistakes. But with this vision comes a choice.  Will we respond with humility or pride? Will we choose honor or criticism?


If children admit they could fall prey to similar vices and seek God’s grace to overcome them, then He will give them the grace they need. However, if they believe they are better than their parents and could never repeat their mistakes, God’s grace will not be available to them. They will either fall in similar ways or become ensnared in self-righteousness, distancing themselves from Christ.


Likewise, if children choose to honor what their parents did right, God will help them build upon the good parts of the foundation they received. However, if children criticize their parents for what they did wrong, they invite the accuser’s presence into their lives and bring a curse on themselves. (This will be discussed more in the next chapter.)


There is a difference between criticism and acknowledgment. We should certainly acknowledge what our parents did wrong and how it affected us (potentially a long process). This way we can forgive them, experience healing through God and his people, and learn from their mistakes. However, we should not criticize them because criticism is rooted in pride. At the heart of criticism is the false belief that I could never do the same things my parents did because I am better than them. This is a deception. The truth is that we are all far more dependent on God’s grace than we realize. The perfect combination of wounds, weaknesses, and temptations is all that stands between us and the sins we think we could never commit.


Even though seeing our parents’ shortcomings can help us to do better for our children, we should always keep three things in mind:


1)      Many of our parents did the best they could with what they received from their parents.


2)      One day our children will experience the same thing with us. They will see all the ways we fell desperately short. Therefore, we should give our parents all the grace and understanding we hope to one day receive from our children. We will reap what we sow.


3)      Even though we begin to see our parents’ blind spots as we move into adulthood, they still see ours too. They are familiar with our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. When we were growing up, God gave them grace to shepherd us and it did not suddenly disappear when we became adults. Their input is still valuable and could save us from costly mistakes.


When parents spend their whole lives laboring for a spiritual inheritance to pass on to their children, it’s easy for children to take it for granted since they haven’t known anything different. But God sees the years of struggle that went into laying that foundation. He does not forget their labor when they stand before His judgment seat and are assigned their eternal rewards.


My Testimony

Sometimes younger Christians think they are building when they are really just falling into deception. Younger Christians should recognize that older Christians have seen many different churches, leaders, movements, and doctrines come and go over the course of their lives. They’ve seen the pitfalls. They’ve seen people go after all kinds of deception and heresy. They’ve seen people chase after spiritual gifts and experiences only to abandon simple devotion to Christ. They’ve seen people zealously accumulate Bible knowledge only to become proud and self-righteous. They’ve seen people start out white hot, gradually become lukewarm, and then fall away completely. If they know anything, they know this: Long-term faithfulness is rare indeed.


In my early adult years, I became involved in a ministry unlike anything I had grown up around. All the head knowledge I accumulated growing up in my local church seemed to become real for the first time. I read the Bible voraciously for hours. I worshipped for hours and wept much of the time. I prayed for hours about everyone and everything I could think of. I went downtown and witnessed to people in my free time because I felt such a burden for the lost. I could not imagine wanting to do anything but serve the Lord for the rest of my life.


This season in my life lasted for about a year. Although it was largely positive, it was not perfect, and some of the seeds that were sown into my heart paved the way for me to later become involved in another ministry that was “off” in very serious ways. Many people in my life tried to warn me of the red flags they saw, including my wife, my parents, my in-laws, my pastor, friends, and parents of friends. However, because I did not think they understood what I had experienced at the first ministry, I did not consider their advice valuable. My unwillingness to listen to them led me down a path that nearly destroyed my marriage, my calling, and possibly my soul. The only thing that saved me was the prayers, longsuffering, and forgiveness of the very people whose counsel I confidently rejected.


How We Define Normal

When we are born into a family, whatever our parents are like, that is our definition of normal. As we get older we are gradually exposed to other views and values, but still mostly see them as different and ourselves as normal. Finally, when we get older still, we realize there is no single standard of normalcy. Every family is different.


We also start to realize our parents made many mistakes. This can be painful and shocking since we once accepted everything they did and said as truth. We can feel misled and find it difficult to forgive them.


It is the same with our spiritual family. When we first get saved our perspective of normal Christianity (including doctrines, worship style, preaching style, culture of fellowship, outreach, etc…) is formed by our first experiences. The culture of our home church is normal and other churches and denominations are different. As we mature, we may begin to recognize blind spots, imbalances, and shortcomings of our home church. We may see areas where our church values its own traditions more than what the Bible teaches.


When those in authority disappoint us we can either become bitter or grow stronger. If we forgive them, remain humble about our own potential for mistakes, and depend on God for help, we can grow stronger. We can take the good we got, reject the bad, and seek out other influences. We can look for other mentors or ministries to supplement what we received from our parents or home church. If it is appropriate, we can humbly offer to help those over us course-correct.


A Dream

Once I had a dream in which I was praying for help to be a godly parent. I suddenly had an overwhelming sense of how far they could go if I gave them a good foundation and they were faithful to build on it. It was much farther than I realized. I felt like I was standing at the base of a mountain, looking up at them.


At the same time, I felt the greatest plateau I could hope to reach was feeble compared to what was possible for them. This made me so sorrowful I began to weep. Through my tears, I added to my prayer, saying, “…I also pray that I could at least be great in my own generation.” When I said this, I heard the Lord’s voice reply, “Whoever wants to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first shall be your slave.”


When He said this, I realized that the honor of serving the next generation so they could build on the foundation I gave them was the very greatness I was asking for. I also remembered God judges us according to how faithfully we steward what we were given, including the foundations we received from our parents and early influences.



The command to honor our parents is one of the most repeated commands of scripture, yet it is one of the most underemphasized today. As we will find out, even our very lives and the survival of our nation depend on our response to it.