For the past seven years that I have been a parent, I have asked God to give me wisdom in my parenting. If you’re a parent, you understand the dilemma of leading and discipling your children in a godly way. God gives us these children and we have about 18 years to train them into adulthood, hoping they will be able to survive—and even thrive—on their own. It’s obviously more than just providing for their physical needs, though. I want to encourage and enable my children to walk with purpose. But how do I do that?

Along with providing purpose in our children, God is also asking us to live with purpose and to train other believers to walk in their purpose. The second part of this article will address ways we can do this in our own lives and also encourage others to do the same.

Recently, God revealed to me three specific requirements for pursuing purpose in life: true identity, a perfect example, and help. As I thought about these, it occurred to me that we find all three within the Trinity.

We receive our identity from the Father as being sons and daughters of the King. We have our perfect example in Jesus Christ as we learn to live as he did. And we have the deposit of the Holy Spirit as our help and our Counselor.

Are we providing these three aspects for our children? When children are in their younger years, we are, in a way, “God” to our kids. Are we mirroring Him effectively? Of course, we cannot model this perfectly, so we continually repent and allow our children to see our need of a Savior.

As parents, though, we can affirm our children in their identity. Let them know who they are in God’s Kingdom. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

Let your children know who they are within your family. This means we accept them unconditionally for who they are, just as God has accepted us before we deserved it. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Be aware of how conditional love and acceptance may unintentionally be communicated. Our words and actions ought to communicate: Even if you disobey, I still love you. Even if you irritate me, I still love you. Even if you make a decision I disagree with, I still love you. Even if you choose a career path I don’t like, I still love you. No matter what you do, you are always my child and I love you very much. This is the heart of the Father.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Calling out our children’s identities also means affirming them in their giftings and talents. See the good in them and encourage them to live out their identity. Giving our children an extraordinary identity that remains unchangeable (because it is God’s work, not our own) sets a standard for them to walk in. When we set the bar low (“You’re stupid. You’ll never amount to anything.”), our children will have difficulty attaining beyond this.

Although we are not a perfect example of Jesus, we can model to our children what it means to live humbly surrendered to the Father as Jesus did. This doesn’t mean we try to appear perfect (as only Jesus is perfect), but that we “we walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7).

If you see a sin issue in your child, ask God to show you if you led by example or hindered your child in any way. God has shown me multiple sins that I unintentionally passed down to my oldest child. But as God began to refine me, I also started seeing changes in my son. I realize more and more that good parenting starts with my own heart.

Author and researcher Brene Brown puts it this way: “The question isn’t so much, “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is, “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?” Are we setting the example that we want our children to follow? Brown also notes that our actions are a much stronger indicator than our words when it comes to predicting our children’s behavior.

We are also called to come alongside our children and offer our help. Oftentimes, we are tempted to merely boss our children around, pointing our finger and shouting, “Go do that!” Just as the Holy Spirit was sent to be our help, we have been called to humbly assist our children. They need our constant support and encouragement. Self-discipline is not something we are born with; we need the continual guidance of a parental figure until the discipline becomes internalized. Thank God we have 18 years of training with our children!

Problems arise when at least one of these three aspects is missing. If a child is raised with help and affirmation but not a godly example, he can grow up feeling as though he’s on top of a lonely pedestal. His parents say his potential is limitless, but he’s confused because he has not seen what this kind of life looks like.

If a child does not have a solid identity or if he has a wrong identity, he will have a difficult time setting goals and accomplishing God’s ultimate purpose in his life. He will most likely spend many years being unsure of himself and floundering from one false identity to another. “For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).

If a child has identity and an example without help and discipline, he may end up having a difficult time understanding the steps to take in order to live according to his purpose. He may end up feeling discouraged as he sets lofty goals but is unable to take the steps to reach them.

When we as parents begin to offer these three aspects to our children—true identity, an example, and help—we will see our children stepping into freedom in Christ, which draws them into purpose. Instead of parenting being a means to control behavior, it becomes a method of encouraging our children to become all that God has called them to be.

These tools can also be implemented in discipling new believers. After all, when we are “born again”, we essentially become like infants who need continual love, nurturing, and guidance. Part 2 will discuss practical ways in which we can disciple others or receive discipling using these ideas.