The Birth Pains of Raising Disciples

My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)

Jesus gets the credit for giving Nayana the idea.

Our kids were in the same preschool class that year, but we hadn’t met each other until the teacher connected us. Prompted by the Lord, Nayana had raised this topic with the teacher: spiritual conversations with children. And prompted by the Lord, the teacher then introduced me and Nayana to each another.

We soon met for coffee at a playground while my toddler toddled. I was refreshed to hear Nayana’s testimony, and my heart leaped as she described how she was teaching her daughters about Jesus. “If I have spent so much time waiting to have a friend to talk about these things,” she reasoned, “then how many more mothers are in the same position?” I agreed.

Now, a few years on, a small group of moms have been meeting in my living room to read the Bible and pray for each other, our kids, and the community. The Lord has so knit our hearts together that when we pray for each others’ kids, it is as though we’re in anguished prayer over our own children.

Last week one mother shared an update on her college-aged son and another mom was beaming when she exclaimed, “Oh, I just love him!” Later, another mom piped in as still another mom asked for prayer for her college-aged son: “I still haven’t met him yet, but I love him, too!” My soul is encouraged each week I meet with this gathering of moms who rejoice with moms who rejoice and weep with moms who weep.

It’s easier to press on in parenting when you have like-minded mothers who are with you. If our labor in raising our kids was just a matter of diaper-changing and food-cooking, we could simply hire a staff for domestic work and the burden would be lifted. We sometimes talk that way, but is extra hands to help really all we need?

There is so much more to our mothering work than meets the eye. Our hope is not merely that our children would be fed, clothed, and educated, but our desire is that they would be nourished by God’s Word, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and taught to fear the Lord. Even after we give birth, we are still in labor.

THE ONGOING WRITHING OF MAKING DISCIPLES

Paul spoke of his ministry to the Galatians as being in birth pain to see Christ formed in them. He sacrificed and suffered to see the Galatians grow into spiritual maturity. Similarly, our aim is that our children would be children of God, and we should press on daily to see Christ formed in our children. Laboring for our children didn’t end when they were born.

Our hope is not merely that our children would be fed, clothed, and educated, but our desire is that they would be nourished by God’s Word, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and taught to fear the Lord.

The birth language Paul uses here gives us the picture of spiritual agony. Painful contractions are ongoing until birth is accomplished. He addresses them as “my little children,” not my unborn children who have yet to be born again, but my little children. These disciples of Jesus were already born again, but Paul feels like he is again in anguish over their birth as he combats dangerous false teaching. For him to use such dramatic terms is not exaggerating the case at hand because eternal life and death truly are at stake.

But even if Paul labors for them unto his own death, can Paul save these people finally? No, it is Jesus’s death that produces spiritual offspring. Paul knows this well, for it is the gospel he clearly preaches. His labor, then, is his sacrificial life of suffering to see the Galatians grow into maturity.

So can we, as mothers, save our children by our labors? What if we give our own bodies, as many mothers have throughout the years, in order that our child may live? Will this ultimate sacrifice be enough?

SPIRITUAL FORMATION IS A COMMUNITY PROJECT

You might be familiar with the promise of God recorded in Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

What an incredible thought! Grab ahold of this truth and cling to it for dear life—it will hold your heart steady when you wonder if “all things” includes the things you are currently facing or will someday face. And in your promise-clinging, do not forget the purpose—God’s purpose for which he is working. It’s right there in the next verse:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

If we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we want our own custom-made, hand-picked sanctification plan (for us and for our kids). We’re willing to identify one or two areas of our lives that have yet to be conformed to Christ. We’re willing to settle for some faith-testing trials (but not too fiery), lots of edifying relationships (but not too intense), and maybe even one humbling thorn in the flesh (but not too deep or sharp).

But God is after the complete transformation of his children, and praise the Lord that he will not stop until we are conformed to the image of his Son.

God is after godly offspring because Jesus is destined to be the firstborn among many brothers who love like he loves, think like he thinks, and serve like he serves.

God is after godly offspring because Jesus is destined to be the firstborn among many brothers who love like he loves, think like he thinks, and serve like he serves. This is God’s goal for you, dear Christian sister, and for all whom he has predestined. The church is one great, big family of brothers and sisters. We are alive together with Christ even as we die to ourselves every day, and will one day be physically raised from death like Jesus was raised.

Our heavenly Father has lovingly appointed for us the way he brings about this character-conforming in each of our lives. Our place is not to criticize him, but to gratefully submit to him.

And we do this together! “Mature manhood” is a synonym Paul uses for the end goal of the Christian life (Eph. 4:13). This is no individual man growing up into manhood, but the new humanity (“we all”) that will one day attain to the stature of the fullness of Christ. That’s what Paul wants for the church—Christ formed in us.

By grace we cling to the gospel every day, and by grace we hold out this same gospel to our kids. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life—every day we beat that drum and live according to it by faith. Discipleship is a painful labor—both for us and the women who disciple us and make disciples alongside us—but we know the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Tim. 1:15).


Content taken from Labor with Hope by Gloria Furman, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional Motherhood; Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full; and Glimpses of Grace.