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Honoring Parents

Obeying Your Parents and the Great Commission at the Same Time

By David M. Howard

Editor's Note: See also Apprehensive Parents: What if my mom doesn't want me to go?

He was my best friend in college. Living together in the dorm, we often spent time in prayer and Bible study together. He was a missionary candidate who had godly parent and whose vision was burning and contagious.

One day when we were about to pray, he said, “Dave, I have no doubt that God wants me overseas. But my parents think I would be wasting my talents to go to some remote tribe when I could be more effectively used among youth here at home.” He went on to tell me how he loved and respected his parents and didn’t want to displease or dishonor them. He wondered how he could honor them and still be obedient to God’s call.

This was a major dilemma. We prayed about it, and one day he sat down and wrote these lines to his parents:

“Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you; but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them (Psalm 127:3-5). And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arm of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly—all of them, straight at the enemy’s host.”

His parents got the point. They placed their son in the bow of prayer pulled back the bowstring, and prayed him out to a remote Indian tribe in Ecuador. He never came back. He was murdered by the Indians he’d gone to reach, but the testimony of his life and witness goes on to this day. His name was Jim Elliot.

Not all of you have parents who will agree to pray you out in obedience to God’s call. Some of you, like Jim, have Christian parents who don’t understand why you’re considering overseas service, even on a short-term basis. Others have parents, Christian or non-Christian, who will oppose such an idea. How do you handle this? May I venture a few practical suggestions?

Pray with Your Parents

As Jim prayed about how to reconcile obedience to God with honor to his parents, the Lord led him to a scripture to answer the dilemma both for him and for them. God may not choose to answer your prayer in the same way, but the first and most basic step in any problem is to spread it out before you Lord.

If your parents are Christians, why not ask them to pray with you about this decision? In this way, they become involved in the decision-making process and will be more likely to understand and support you.

Honor Your Parents

Paul reminds us that the fifth commandment—“Honor your father and mother”—is also “the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2). The promise is “so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

No other aspect of your relationship with your parents is more important than honoring them. It’s so important that God includes it in the very limited list of ten simple commandments that form the basis of our relationship to God and to the world.

The rest of this article will be nothing more than an elaboration on how to honor your parents, especially as you venture into a new “land” that the Lord may be “giving you.”

Show Love to Your Parents

Whether or not your parents are Christians is irrelevant to whether or not you honor them. And there’s no greater way to honor your parents than to show them that you love them. Parents need love just as much (and sometimes more) than children do. Children are often unaware of how much their parents crave their love. They may feel that their parents “have it all together” and that they have no deep emotional needs, especially those relating to their children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Children play a very key role in this area. I remember when our youngest son, with whom I’d had some difficulty in relating during his teenage years, said after his first year in college, “Dad, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this before, but I think you’re a great dad, and I love you.” Surprise and gratitude overwhelmed me. Don’t be hesitant to tell your parents—verbally and in actions—that you love them. You say they already know this? They may be plagued with doubts, so tell them this all-important truth.

Spend Time with Your Parents

Demonstrate your love to your parents by spending time with them. Parents want time with their children. My elderly mother lived with us during part of her final years. Her body was weak and her mind was confused, but she knew me clearly. One afternoon I went into her room to talk with her. She seemed unsettled. I said, “Mother, is there anything I can do for you, or is there something you want?” She replied, “I want you.” I realized that in the loneliness of her confined and confused life, she wanted the presence of her son more than anything else.

Although your parents may not be at that stage yet, there’s probably nothing they want or enjoy more than having their children with them. Demonstrating your love to them by spending quality time with them is one of the greatest things you can do to prepare for the inevitable separation when you go overseas.

Involve Your Parents

As you prepare for an overseas assignment, whether short- or long-term, you need to learn all you can about the country to which you’re going. Why not involve your parents in learning, too? Help them feel the excitement and anticipation of what it will mean to live and work in a new culture. Help them understand what a broadening and educational experience this will be.

Perhaps you can persuade them to read one or more of the books you should be reading in preparing for your overseas service. This will help them to understand better what you’re thinking and what you will be facing. It may also help alleviate some of the fears or questions they will have. Fear is often based on ignorance, and anything that will clear up ignorance will help remove fears.

Perhaps someone from that country—missionary or national—could visit your parents to help them understand what your life will be like. Personal contact, especially if it’s with someone with whom you might be working, will alleviate fears and strengthen your parents’ understanding.

Keep in Touch with Your Parents

When you go overseas, be careful to keep in touch with your parents. I know how easy it is to become so bogged down in the pressures of work that you feel you have no time for correspondence. But few things are more important than maintaining that lifeline with your parents. Most areas of the world today have good, direct-dial telephone communications. The investment of an occasional phone call will pay rich dividends in strengthening the all-important relationship with your parents.

Why not invite them to visit you on location? Nothing can take the place of a visit in helping your parents to understand and appreciate life in another culture.

Demonstrate Your Commitment to the Call of God

Finally, be certain that your commitment to God and to his claims on your life isn’t hidden. Even if your parents are non-Christians, you shouldn’t hide the fact that Jesus takes first place in your life. Your desire to go overseas is primarily a response to his lasting commission to take the gospel to every people and nation.

Your parents may not fully understand—much less sympathize with—this desire of yours. But they can’t help but respect your commitment to the person who means more to you than anyone or anything else. If they oppose your going, they must see that this is based on your obedience to the commands of the one who is now Lord of your life.

Remember the Lord said: “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

Reprinted with permission from Stepping Out: A Guide to Short-Term Missions. Copyright 1992, 2010 by Short-Term Missions Advocates, Inc. Updated and Expanded edition 2010. Published by YWAM Publishing.

Dr. David M. Howard served fifteen years in Columbia and Costa Rica with Latin America Mission, led several Urbana Student Mission Conventions, and served as International Director of World Evangelical Fellowship in Singapore.