Blogroll: Children Desiring God
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 15 posts from the blog 'Children Desiring God.'
Disclaimer: Reproducing an article here need not necessarily imply agreement or endorsement!
(with Jill Nelson)
The first time I heard our young grade school-aged sons say they spent some of the Sunday school hour doing “sword drills,” I wondered if maybe they’d had a guest speaker from the Army. I’m only half kidding. Not having grown up in churches that had Sunday school, I had to ask them what they meant by the term. They explained that the teacher would announce an “address” (chapter and verse) for a Bible passage, and then all the kids would hold their closed Bibles over their heads, and once the teacher said “Go!”, they’d race to see who could find it first.
“How did you do?” I asked, doubtful if they knew the location of all but a few of the 66 books of the Bible. Thankfully their classmates were willing to lend a hand to these newbies who likely weren’t sure which Testament Zephaniah was in or the difference between an epistle and an apostle.
Fast-forward a handful of years and now our younger sons are among those leaning over to help newcomers at the sound of “Go.” As a teacher in the fourth grade Sunday school class, I’ve realized that growing up in Sunday school is no guarantee that children know where the books of the Bible are located or the difference between “chapter” and “verse.” We have students in our class who have been in church from birth, who still struggle to know their way around Scripture. And I’m more convinced than ever of the importance of knowing.
Years ago, when Jill was teaching 2nd-grade Sunday school, she ran into some push-back when she tried to make the case for Sword Drills. She says, “We were just beginning to strategically and intentionally present our children with a God-centered, Bible-saturated focus in our Sunday school classes. In order to maximize our classroom time toward that goal, we began moving away from the regular and time-consuming crafts to which the children had grown accustomed.”
“Some of the teachers were concerned that this wasn’t the best thing to do. ‘Won’t the children be upset?’ they wondered. ‘Won’t they grow bored if we don’t have some fun, hands-on crafts each Sunday?’”
Instead of eliminating crafts, they proposed an experiment: doing crafts every other week, then, on “no crafts week,” working on Bible skills during what would have been craft time. “I taught the children how to do Sword Drills,” she said. “We even had Sword Drill competitions with boys versus girls or teachers versus the children.”
Over time, guess what happened? The children started to complain, about the crafts. “Mrs. Nelson,” they pleaded, “can we do Sword Drills instead of crafts?”
Yes, it is possible to get children really excited about doing Bible skills activities in the classroom. That’s not to say that doing crafts is never an option—especially with younger children. Even older children can benefit from a craft that is geared toward helping them visualize and better understand a particular spiritual truth. However, craft or no craft, knowing God’s Word is essential for the Christian life. And knowing how to navigate it—to find what you’re looking for, is among the most foundational lessons a child can, and must, learn.
Are you giving precious, limited minutes to crafting on Sunday morning? Consider how you might maximize your classroom time toward things that will have a lasting, eternal, impact on your student’s lives. Taking class time to teach children basic Bible skills can be as fun, interactive, and “hands-on” as any craft. It’s certainly more important. It may even prove more exciting. Just ask those second graders.
Want some ideas to get you started? Here is a list of Bible and Memory Verse Activities, as well as detailed instructions for leading Sword Drills, you can use in your classroom or home.
Late summer is a busy time for children’s and youth ministry as church staff and volunteers gear up for the beginning of a new school year. And, increasingly, there are new and exciting resource options out there to consider—resources that claim to engage students in ways that are “relevant” to their particular age group, along with teaching methods and class resources that will keep students eagerly coming back week after week. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily.
Wanting your ministry and materials to be engaging and magnetic is understandable. But holding students’ attention should be the result, not the goal, of what you’re teaching.
In “Recovering the Priority of Personal Holiness,” Alistair Begg issued a challenge that applies to the popular notion that Sunday School should be primarily about giving kids fun things to do so they’ll be excited to come back.
…Let’s consider whether we have allowed contemporary culture to infiltrate our minds and hearts. Have we inverted Christ’s desire that the church be in the world by bringing the world into the church instead? If we take an honest look, perhaps we’ll discover that we are contributing to this trend. Rather than relying solely on the sufficiency of God’s Word, are we employing counselors in our churches who apply worldly methods of psychological analysis to address felt needs? Have we adopted worldly means to reach the seekers [or possibly some teens you know] who sit skeptically in the back pews rather than offering them the truths of the Gospel and the Christian life? Faithful teaching of God’s Word is vanishing. Are we among the number that have replaced preaching with elaborate drama productions aimed at entertaining?
Begg cites Puritan pastor John Owen who wrote, “If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us” (The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, page 76). Begg says, “…what gave John Owen success in ministry was not so much his oratory skill, nor his evangelistic zeal, nor even his love for the people he shepherded. John Owen was used mightily by God in all these ways because he was a man characterized by personal holiness.” He writes,
…Rather than devoting much time to developing innovative amusements for the worship hour, Owen made private communion with God a top priority…The Word of God is the means employed by the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ, so if preaching and evangelism are to be effective, private communion with God in His Word must be more important than discovering the latest ministry technique.
Begg’s excellent article challenged me, as a teacher, to ask myself, How do I prepare for the upcoming Sunday school hour?
- Do I prioritize private communion with God over and above time spent developing innovative amusements for the Sunday school hour?
- Do I meditate on the Word of God as the means the Holy Spirit employs to transform me into the image of Christ?
It is only through God’s transforming work that our teaching will flow out of personal holiness. And such is the teaching that will penetrate the hearts of young sinners in need of grace; something no ministry technique can ever do.
It is the power of God’s Word, not a popular curriculum or new-fangled teaching approach, that will change the hearts of your students. What might God be pleased to do this coming year if we were to recover the priority of personal holiness in our ministry to children and youth?
How are you praying for the next generation?
Over the past several months we are concentrating our prayers on the larger purposes of God for our children, our grandchildren, the children in our church, and the children we have the opportunity to teach–the kind of prayers that we are confident align with the will of God and can be assured of His answers. For example, right now, the church where I serve needs about 90 more workers to volunteer in the next two weeks. Certainly we should not hesitate to ask God for those 90 workers, but we want to concentrate our prayers on larger purposes for which those workers are needed. The challenge for us has been to “seek first” these larger purposes for our children and trust God that all the other things (like the 90 workers) will be provided.
In my prayer at the Truth78 inauguration event this past April, I attempted to pray a “big and bold” prayer for the next generation. We are passing that prayer on to you in the hope that it will encourage you in your prayer for the children the Lord has brought into your life as well as children in your community and in communities around the world.
Lord, I pray that the truth that has been entrusted to us and the lessons we have learned will not be hidden from the next generation. Would you grant us every grace we need to make known to our children, even the children yet unborn, the path that leads to life?
Make us a generation of parents and educators and pastors and resource developers and publishers and writers and translators and supporters and partners who will teach them your ways and how to walk according to the truth, so that they might set their hope and confidence in you and not forget your works.
Give to our children, and to their children, souls that are anchored in heaven. Sustain in them a deep and substantial assurance of things hoped for like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and the prophets and all the saints who, through faith, obtained the promise.
Turn the hearts of the next generations away from the deceptive promises of sin toward the all-satisfying promises of God, who swears by himself, that they might be strong and confident and secure and ready and bold to lay down their lives for the sake of the ministry and the glory of God.
May our children live as sojourners who desire you, and all that you have promised, more than they desire money, more than sex, more than power, more than popularity, more than anything else. Give them faith to be strong and faith to be weak. Faith to be married and faith to be single. Faith to have children and faith to be childless. Faith to be wealthy and faith to be poor. Give them faith—that can stand even when crisis comes and when tragedy strikes.
May they never lose sight of the reality that You are better than what life can give them now, and better than what death can take from them later. Give them faith to suffer willingly as they await something better than what this earth can offer. May their hunger for the superior worth of our glorious God be so great that bridges are burned to a hundred sins and a hundred fears.
May they yield to you as a father who disciplines those He loves and who comes to us painfully and mysteriously through the hostility of sinful adversaries and the natural disasters of a fallen world. Make them submissive to your sovereign, fatherly care and may they not grow weary or lose heart.
Help them lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles so that they can run the race that you have set before them, holding fast to hope—and holding firm their confidence until that day when your Kingdom comes in all its glory, and truth once and for all triumphs over sin and death and mourning and tears and all that hinders the everlasting joy that is ours through Jesus Christ.Photo by ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels
Much has been said in recent years about teaching the Old Testament from a distinctly Christian perspective — seeing Jesus and the Gospel in all of Scripture. But in this video, John Piper raises an important concern about turning this perspective into a type of simplistic interpretative formula. He says,
… the danger in making a beeline to the cross too quickly and too methodically and regularly is, number one, it’ll start to sound artificial. It’ll start to sound monotonous. It’ll start to be fanciful, because you’ll come up with really clever ways of doing things that aren’t really there and it’ll keep you from seeing important things that are there.
I believe Pastor John’s concern needs thoughtful consideration. I fully share his appreciation for the renewal of Gospel-focused preaching and teaching in the church. As a Sunday school teacher and parent, I experienced firsthand the gospel-less, deadly moralism that characterized so much of children’s Bible curriculum. But with this wonderful renewed focus on Christ and the Gospel, comes a new pitfall we need to avoid when teaching children.
Piper’s example of Elisha and Naaman serves as an excellent example. We need to give our children and students the proper Bible study tools so that they can dig deep into the text — mining it for its treasures. This takes time. It takes step-by-step training. But by doing so, we are giving our children a priceless gift; a gift that will serve them for a lifetime and will provide a wonderfully rich foundation for making them wise for salvation through faith in Christ.
At Truth78, we structure our lessons to foster these essential Bible study tools. We slowly and carefully lead children to discover the meaning of the text — asking questions, looking at context, drawing conclusions, etc. Once we’ve done that, we then point the students toward Christian application. In a lesson on Elisha and Naaman we might ask: What does this story tell us about God’s character? What do we learn about man’s heart? How does the text apply to your own heart and life? Do you ever have a proud spirit? What does this look like? Is this pleasing to God? Why not? Has God provided us with an even greater blessing than physical healing? What is it? What does God call us to do in order to receive salvation through Jesus? etc.
This approach is more time-consuming in the classroom. And it requires teachers and parents to take the long view: We’re introducing children to the God of the Bible — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’re helping build a solid Gospel foundation beneath them. We’re helping them learn to mine the immeasurable riches of the Word of God for a lifetime. We’re doing this because we want them to be able to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
We may not be making a beeline to Jesus and the cross in every lesson, but we are diligently training children as we acquaint them “with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
As we teach the whole Bible, we pray the children in our classrooms and in our family rooms will be made wise for salvation so that they may, like Timothy, be faithful to continue in faith.
To learn more about our approach to teaching the whole Bible, please see these resource:
The Great Story and the Single Verse by John Piper
Video Transcript (lightly edited)
You asked whether every lesson needs to be a Jesus lesson. Like if you’re in the Old Testament with Elisha, does it always have to go to the cross? That was the gist of the question. And it’s the same with preaching. I just wrote a book on preaching and I’m concerned about this. The Gospel Coalition is evidence of a renewal of gospel focus in the church and a lot of pastors think you’ve got to get to the gospel even if you’re preaching on tithing or something. I would say the danger in making a beeline to the cross too quickly and too methodically and regularly is, number one, it’ll start to sound artificial. It’ll start to sound monotonous. It’ll start to be fanciful, because you’ll come up with really clever ways of doing things that aren’t really there and it’ll keep you from seeing important things that are there.
Let me give me give a quick illustration right off my front burners. I’m reading through the Bible, and this morning I’m reading in 2nd Kings 4 and 5, the story of Elisha and the leper Naaman, and Gehazi. Here’s the gist of the story. This little servant girl says, “You should go to Israel and get the Prophet Elisha to heal you from your leprosy, Naaman.” And he goes to his king [of Syria], and the king writes a letter to the king [of Israel], and sends Naaman, and the king [of Israel] says, “I’m not God that I can heal this leprosy” – which gives you a clue what the story is about – and Elisha hears that, and he goes to the king and says, “I’ll show him there’s a God in Israel.”
Now that’s the point of the story: “I’ll show him there’s a God in Israel. Tell him to come to me.” He goes to him; Elisha won’t even go out the door. He sends a messenger out to tell this big shot from Syria, “Go wash in the Jordan, see you later.” This guy’s ticked and he will not go. Now I think we ought to teach kids “pride keeps you from getting blessings.” I think that’s in the text and intentional, because his sidekicks argue, “Look, he’s asking you just a little simple thing. Would you just humble yourself and do it?” And when he comes up out of the water, it says his skin is like the skin of a child. This is about childlikeness receiving blessings from God.
So that’s lesson one that you might miss if you say, “He got washed in the Jordan from leprosy; Jesus will wash you from a worse disease,” end of lesson. Not a good way to end the lesson and miss all the points.
Here’s the second point: As soon as he sees he’s clean, Elijah says, “I’m not taking any money for this. We don’t sell good news here.” Now you’re going to talk about gospel preachers on television with these kids, ok? “We don’t sell we don’t sell the gospel. I’m not taking anything from you — you go back and worship the true God.” Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, says, “that’s crazy,” and he runs after him and says, “My master said he did, by the way, want some clothing and some of your silver.” And he says, “Oh sure, give it to him.” And when he goes back, Elisha says to him, “Did you think this was a time for getting silver and clothing?” And Gehazi had leprosy for the rest of his life.
Greed. Greed and pride. The story is about greed and pride. And if we run to the cross from the dipping in the river, before we see the point of the story, and tell these kids, “You’ve got to be childlike, you’ve got to be humble, if you’re gonna know God, you’ve got to not love money, and if you know preachers who preach for money, they’re not real preachers.” You’ve got to say that. Now when you’re done you can say – I mean the three songs you sang at the beginning of Sunday school might have been all about Jesus. That may be all you need. We’re about Jesus every weekend in this room. Nothing comes to you but with Jesus – if you say, “How do you become humble? How do you become free from greed?” Then you dig into sanctification, and the cross, and the blood, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Father.
So my caution with that movement, in preaching on Sunday morning, and in teaching kids is – there’s a real good impulse behind it because we’re not mere Jews and we’re not mere Muslims, therefore we shouldn’t read our Old Testaments and interpret them in a way that a Muslim and a Jew would be happy with our interpretation. Which means we’ve got to be Christian. And so you do get there. But how you get there – please, don’t miss the awesomeness of Deuteronomy or 2nd Kings.
Fall is fast approaching, which means many Sunday School and Midweek children’s programs will launch soon. Besides recruiting volunteers (often a huge task), there are many preparations that should occur well before the first day of class. Don’t lose heart. Some thoughtful pre-planning can go a long way toward a fruitful autumn.
This is a crucial component in all aspects of ministry. We need to pray for qualified, passionate, and caring teachers, small group leaders, and worship leaders. We also should pray for the curriculum implementation – for leader preparation (not only of the lessons but their own hearts), receptive hearts of the students, good communication with parents, etc.
Given time constraints, it’s helpful to know what’s most helpful for launching a successful curriculum cycle.
- Order early to help this process go smoothly. (We work with a print-on-demand warehouse that takes 3-4 business days to print, package, and ship materials; shipping times are in addition to that.)
- Read introductory materials in the Teacher’s Guide or Leader’s Edition to learn how to use and prepare the materials, provide suggested classroom schedules, etc.
- Create a schedule (or spreadsheet) of what lessons will be taught each week, including the lesson title and memory verse. This will help leaders in their preparation, and doubles as a communication tool with parents so they know what to expect, or what was covered in case of an absence. The scope and sequence page in the preface of each curriculum is also a useful guide.
- Think through classroom management before the year begins and share your plan with your teaching team.
Preparing all visuals before the year starts decreases stress on teachers.
- Laminate visuals to make them more durable for years of use.
- Put each lesson’s visuals in a manila folder labeled with the lesson number and store them in a crate or file box. (Remind teachers to return them for future use.)
- For the curricula with electronic display options, be aware of which visuals still need to be printed.
Organize Student Materials (Coloring Books, Workbooks, Notebooks, Student Journals)
These supplemental materials are a key component of the curriculum for moving head knowledge to heart application. They are helpful tools while leaders review, apply, and lead the children to further understand the lesson. (Consider giving leaders a copy of the workbook. At least in older elementary, it’s helpful for the leaders to go through the workbook ahead of time to make sure they know the answers.)
Partner with Parents
Parental involvement is essential for fruitful instruction. Decide on the best way to communicate with parents. You could:
- Print out the Parent Resource Pages for the entire year (available in the resource files in the Classroom Kit). Put them either in the visuals folders mentioned above or use a similar system where they are readily accessible by lesson for the teachers to send home.
- Email the Parent Resources Pages weekly. This is not only a helpful reminder, but ensures that the resource actually gets to parents.
- Email a month’s worth of Parent Resource Pages with a newsletter sharing prayer requests and evidences of God at work in the classroom.
- Send home spiral-bound GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) booklets at the beginning of the year (available for purchase for our revised curricula, and as the GIFT App).
- Encourage parents to use these resources during mealtime discussions. Periodic email reminders about using them might keep the parents on task. Parents of multiple children might focus on a different child’s curriculum each day or each week.
- Invite parents to participate in the classroom. For example, one teacher gave families an opportunity to be the “family of the week” to introduce parents to the class, find out more about the family and their child, and provide an opportunity for the children to pray for this family.
If you have any questions about using the curricula, please contact our Customer Care team. We’re always happy to help (info@Truth78.org; 877-400-1414).
May the Lord bless you as you prepare for the next season of ministry, sharing God’s glorious Word and Gospel with the next generation “so that they should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7).
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4).
This passage instructs us to lay before our children the glorious deeds of the Lord—how strong and powerful He is, and the wonders that He has done. This concept reaches its apex at the Cross; a place where the gloriousness and the powerful reality of God converged, as God willingly sacrificed his son—to the wonderment of the world—and the wonderment of all of the universe. The challenge we face is that this message is either set in the context of a culture that is inclined to reject it, or that the message of God’s glorious deeds is never even heard.
As great as the vision is of telling children the glorious deeds of the Lord, there is a counterbalance in this verse of what must not be done: We must not hide these things from our children. Hide means to conceal. It means to cover. It also means to deny. You can hide something by simply denying its truthfulness. Every child, every adult for that matter, but particularly every child, needs to have the truth of the Scriptures brought to bear on his or her life because there is a false and natural narrative that children embrace from the very beginning of their lives. If nothing is done to alter that, the false narrative natural to children will serve to counteract and to deny the true gospel that can save them.
The truth is a necessity because of the denial that naturally exists within the heart of every child. Following are four of the false beliefs children are born with:
It’s All About Me
Every child is born into the world believing they are the center of the universe. No one had to teach a child how to say the word mine.
I remember one time when I was getting on a bus in Ukraine. I saw a child getting off the bus and his mother put her hand out to stop him, and he slapped it and said something in Ukrainian. I don’t know Ukranian, but I knew exactly what that child was saying. That child was saying in Ukranian, “I do it!”
I Am the Best
The narrative born in the heart of every child is that “you are the best; you are better than others.”
My wife teaches our kindergarten Sunday school class and she comes back on Sundays with the most unbelievable stories, and the most beautiful illustrations of the depravity of man. Part of her lesson involves teaching the Ten Commandments. Her main aim is to help children understand that they’re sinners. This is sometimes a very challenging task. In one lesson she asked some children if they were sinners. One boy raised his hand and said, “No, I’m not. But my sister sure is!”
No one had to teach him to say that. His mom didn’t get in the car and say, “When you’re asked today, tell them your sister’s a sinner, but you’re not.” That is baked into the fabric of our humanity—tragically so.
I Deserve to Be Happy
I remember my children riding in the back of our van telling me, “You don’t make me very happy, Dad.” That created a great teaching moment for me to remind them that my ultimate aim in life is not their happiness.
Nothing Should Stand in My Way
This is prevailing in our culture: whatever you believe that you are, you must be. And don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not who you believe you are on the inside. This false narrative is doing incredible damage as little children are trying to determine their identity and trying to find it inside themselves. How tragic is it, that we would ask a child to define for themselves who they really are?
We’re all born wanting what we want. That’s the problem. Our “want” is broken; so broken we’re willing to do just about anything to get what we want.
One Sunday I asked my wife, “How was Sunday School today?” She said, “It was a little awkward.” I said, “Why?” “We have a contest going to help the kids memorize the Ten Commandments,” she said. “When they do, I give them an award.” I said, “OK, what happened?” She said, “Well, we had a little girl lie about memorizing the Ten Commandments.” That’s challenging.
This brokenness is bound into the heart of our humanity. Whenever I begin to talk about this, I hear a particular song in the back of my head—it’s crazy. Part of the reason I hear this is because when I was growing up, I used to watch Captain Kangaroo. And there was a public service announcement that was often broadcast in the mornings and there was this song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgdFMIk38Ms) I want you to hear the narrative of this song.
The most important person in the whole wide world is you and you hardly even know you.
The most important person in the whole wide world is you come on, we’ll show you.
Let’s find out more about the things you feel and do cause you’re the most important person in the world to you.
They put that in a song and sent it to millions of children in the ‘70s. That’s why I’m so messed up! This is the sort of narrative the gospel comes into.
Why do we need to tell children the glorious deeds of the Lord, and of His might, and of His wonders? Because hiding these truths from them is not just the difference between information and lack of information, or truth and ignorance. It’s the difference between a path that produces life and a path that produces death.
The gospel narrative says you’re not the center of the world, God is the center. It says not that you’re the best, but that God is the one Who is glorious and He is what is truly best. It says true happiness is not found in yourself, but rather, eternal happiness—and happiness even now—is found in your relationship with God. The gospel tells the truth: That God is a gracious, loving creator who loves you, redeems you, and rescues you—from what? From yourself.
We must not hide these truths from our children. We must help them to know that they are not “the most important people in the whole wide world.” But instead, the most important person in the whole wide world is God. Truth78 exists to say, “Come, let me show you. The most important person in the whole universe is God. So gather round. Let me show you.”
This article was adapted from the message Mark Vroegop gave at the Truth78 launch event in April, 2018. You can watch the full event here.
At two years old, David is finding his singing voice. From the backseat he warbles about “The Wheels of the Bus,” and in the bathtub he chirps out “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider.” But yesterday I found him on our bed, thumbing through Daddy’s Bible, singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We got out the ESV Bible my parents gave David when he was born and sat on the bed, looking at the pictures and singing the songs he had learned about God. One of those songs was Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children:
Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love;
Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love.
I’ve sung this many times around a circle of unruly toddlers and over crying babies in the nursery. When David was born, I started singing it to him at home as he sat in his chair and watched me cook, wash dishes, and fold laundry. Singing truth is a great way to redeem the “mundane” time, putting into practice the commands of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 with children while getting ordinary things done. Rhythm and simple melody make truths easier to learn and brings cheerfulness to otherwise boring chores (really boring chores if you’re only three months old and can only sit and watch).
However, as I worked and sang through my small repertoire of baby praise songs, I began to notice what a small picture of God I was painting for David. There is no doubt that God is love—and that it is important for the smallest and most vulnerable people to know that—but God has many other attributes as well. Having spent six years teaching The ABCs of God to first grade students at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, I could think of at least 35 other words about God…Almighty, Creator, Faithful, Holy, Jealous, Righteous, Merciful, Wrathful, Patient, Sovereign, Wise, Incomprehensible (my students’ favorite word), to name only a few. These are also truths David needs to know.
I started to list all of the one-syllable, simple adjectives describing God that I could substitute for “love” in the song: good, wise, just, kind, strong, big, near, great, king, etc. I began to add more verses to Praise Him, Praise Him All Ye Little Children. Even though the song grew much longer, the view of God became much bigger and grander. And that is just what a little child needs. A God who is:
- Good—who always is good, does good, and gives good things like fields full of dandelions, little sisters, puppy kisses, and even medicine and flu vaccines.
- Wise—to send rain to water the grass at the park, to make rules about obeying mommy and daddy, to make it dark for nighttime.
- Strong—who never grows tired or crabby, who cannot be stopped from doing His purposes, who can carry His children through all of life, even when earthly daddies can’t.
- Big—bigger than anything he is afraid of (the dark, owls, mommy leaving, etc.) and bigger than himself, a God who is the boss of everyone, including toddlers.
- Near—who is everywhere all the time, even in the middle of the night when parents are sleeping.
- Just—who is the standard of right and wrong, who judges and disciplines rightly.
- Great—a hero who never fails, never grows boring, and really deserves to be worshiped and followed.
We love to sing about the love of God to children because we so want them to experience His love, to know His tender care, and to see His smile of favor. God is love, and that’s a good place to start. But we must not stop there because the Bible doesn’t stop there. What toddlers don’t need is another warm and fuzzy “god bear” to cuddle for comfort. They need God. When fears, confusion, and rebellion come as threatening storms into his world, David needs the Lion-Lamb God of the Bible, who not only quiets His children with His love, but who vanquishes enemies with a mighty hand. If we truly want our children to truly praise God for His love, we must place His love within the whole counsel of God, including big words that toddlers may not fully understand for a while.
It will be a long time before David can read all the words the Bible uses to describe God, but until then, he can learn to sing them and say them. The words he learns now will prepare his mind and his heart for deeper teaching when he is older. But even now, his little ears are listening, and his young mind can understand more than we imagine. So we sing, and pray that he will come to love and trust the God that all those important words are about.
This article was written by Sarah House who is a Sunday School teacher and mother of four small children. It was first published in 2014.
What is greatness in God’s sight? Too often I wish for my children, (and even for myself), greatness that is praised in the world’s eyes: high grades, academic accolades, advanced degrees, leadership positions, world-shaping achievements, visible fame, etc. This has been a temptation in every age.
George Whitfield had far-ranging, ministry-oriented, ambitions for his son at his birth. But when the baby died at only four months old, Whitfield was jarred into reconsidering his hopes. As David Campbell explains in his article “Ambitious for Your Children?”, Whitfield’s application of a particular promise made by God to Zechariah about his son, John, was misapplied.
Campbell’s helpful lesson from history is a powerful corrective for parents in every age, who are tempted to wish for their children a greatness defined by the world’s standards. John’s greatness was anything but worldly. He says,
In John’s case, the promised greatness may be traced in his personal godliness, his faithfulness to his God-given task, his courage in doing the hard thing (reproving Herod for his sin), and his humility before Christ. Not the kind of things, it has to be said, that enter into the world’s estimation of greatness. But very precious in the eyes of God.
How should we frame this biblical prayer that our children be “great in the sight of the Lord”? Campbell exhorts believing parents saying,
Our children, it is true to say, may have no great part to play in the unfolding history of the kingdom of God. No one may write a biography of them after they are gone. They may never serve on the mission-field, never hold office in the church, they may have no outstanding gifts. But if they have a heart for God, serve him faithfully, have the courage to do the right, and are clothed in godly humility, they will be great in the Lord’s sight. And nothing counts for more than that!
Let this, then, be our chief ambition for our children. As we pray for them, let these be the things we ask the Lord for above everything else. Unbelievers may not think very much of our children for having them. God, for his part, will think the world of them.
Enjoy the surprising account of Whitfield and the greater context of these concluding remarks by reading the entire article here.
Feeling discouraged in your failure to change the world? Here’s encouragement for faithfulness in the ordinary: “To Be a Diaper Changer”
I still remember reading A. W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy, back when I was in my freshman year of college. In the preface of that book, Tozer writes, “The view of God entertained among evangelicals these days is so low, so beneath the dignity of God as to constitute idolatry.”
How important it is to know God rightly.
What is needed for children to see how true and how glorious, how joy producing is the Christian faith? What will produce in the next generation faithfulness, strength of character, willingness to serve sacrificially—a willingness to go anywhere the Lord might want them to go to be witnesses for Him? What will it take to bring this about in them?
There are many answers to that question. But there is one that is of the upmost importance if children are to grow and have the strength of faith and a joy in the Lord. Consider six reasons why we must pass on to the next generation a high view of God.
First, it’s true.
Do we not want our children to grow and to know God as He is? And not present God in barely bigger than human terms? We want them to see his majesty, His glory, His independence. We do not want them growing up thinking, Boy, it’s a good thing that God has me on His side because I know He needs me to get the work done that needs to be done.
We want them to realize from their very earliest years how much they need God, but how He doesn’t need them at all. My goodness, the privilege that it is to be related to this God who loves them so deeply. So, indeed, to know God rightly, is to know Him both as other than us and near to us. Both as transcendent in the glory of His holiness, His Majesty, His power, His dominion, His sovereignty. And, amazingly, to recognize His love and goodness and kindness and mercy, His forgiveness, His tenderness. It’s true that God is great and it’s true that God is majestic and merciful.
Second, a high view of God enhances our understanding of his love and His mercy and His grace.
Here’s what happens if you approach the love of God without understanding the glory and the greatness of God. When the words come to your ears, “God loves you,” what do you think? Well of course He does! Aren’t I worth it? I mean, who wouldn’t love a wonderful person like I am?
We live in a culture that is so filled with a sense of entitlement that we bring it into the Christian faith. We start thinking that we deserve this love of God that we hear about. I think one of the biggest problems we have in our churches, broadly speaking, is we have this rush to the divine immanence. We rush to talk about the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God—all of which are true—all of which are glorious. But because people typically do not have a high view of God, they hear those things and they think in terms of entitlement: Well of course.
But if you realize God is holy, that He is perfectly pure in all of his ways, then you hear the love of God very differently. You hear it the way Isaiah must have understood it in Isaiah 6, after he saw the glory of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, His might, and His purity. Then realized his own sin before God as the basis by which God then came and brought to him forgiveness and grace and mercy.
What a difference that makes! This is not entitled mercy; entitled grace. (That’s an oxymoron, by the way. Grace is unmerited favor.) But you stand in awe and wonder that that great God would deem it good and right to love the likes of me.
Third, it promotes deep and authentic humility.
We do not want our kids growing up thinking, How great I am. We want our kids growing up thinking, How great God is! We all need so much to understand how little we are, how weak we are, how foolish we are. But incredibly, God in His mercy and grace, through His son Jesus, has brought us to the One who is great, who is wise, who is knowledgeable, who is able to provide everything we need out of the infinite fullness of His bounty. A true humility is grounded in a high view of God.
Fourth, it strengthens living and vibrant faith.
One of the most important elements of faith is a confidence that God is able. Nothing could thwart His power. Nothing could hinder Him from accomplishing whatever He chooses to do. This big view of God that sees His strength and His might—His sovereign majesty—is one of the resources that is absolutely necessary to believe in God. If you don’t think that He can do it, you’re going to look elsewhere. You’re going to go horizontal quickly and look for help from this or that other person, this or that other scheme. What will lead us to go vertical is the conviction that God is the one who is able to bring about anything that He chooses to do.
In addition to being certain that God can powerfully bring about what He chooses, faith requires knowing that He always chooses the best. He knows perfectly what needs to be done, and no one can match His wisdom.
The third ingredient necessary for faith in God is a confidence that He is for us; that He really does love and care for His people. Confidence in the power of God, and the wisdom of God, and the love of God is necessary for faith. A high view of God is absolutely critical then for a living and vibrant faith.
Fifth, a high view of God provides the resources necessary for times of suffering and affliction.
I don’t know what people do during times of suffering, whether for themselves or close friends or family members, if they don’t have a confidence that God’s ways are best, and that He is working through the suffering to bring about the good that He has designed to come to pass. That’s everything. I’ve heard so many people say, “When you’re talking to someone going through suffering, don’t bring up Romans 8:28.” And my response is, “Why in the world not?”
Why hide from them one of the most glorious teachings in the Bible that has everything to do with strengthening the faith of suffering Christians? God works everything together for good. Wow. He can do that? Oh yes He can!
A high view of God enables us to believe that God is in our suffering for good. We may not see all He is doing in this life, but we know His character. We know that He will never fail in accomplishing any of the good ends that He has designed. So indeed, we believe God during those times because we know who He is. Like the song says, “When we can’t trace His hand, we trust His heart.”
Sixth and finally, it elicits genuine and sustained worship of the God to whom alone belongs all glory.
To realize why it is that God alone should be worshiped requires a high view of who God is. Otherwise, our tendency is to think that something else out there ought to be receiving our worship, or perhaps, I ought to be receiving it.
Whatever there is that is worthy of worship, is what we ought to worship. Whatever is truly honorable, ought to be honored. Whatever is praiseworthy ought to be praised. The only way we can answer the question, “Who is it that deserves praise, that deserves honor, that deserves worship?” rightly is by knowing who God actually is. He alone is the One worthy of that honor, and glory, and worship. And when we know who God rightly is, and we worship Him, we are changed.
God has so designed us that we instinctively, naturally seek to become like whatever we esteem most highly. Did you know that about yourself? Look at what you love; you adore; you treasure. Guess what you’re looking at? You’re looking at a reflection of what you are becoming. God wants us to see Him as eminently worthy of our deepest affections, our genuine love, our highest worship. In so doing, what happens to us? We long to take on the character of the One we adore.
May God help us to be tools in His hands in the life of the next generation, to see them develop a high view of God; to know Him rightly and to enter into the joy and the truth of the Christian faith, that they might in turn pass that on to the generation that follows.
This post was adapted from the message Bruce Ware gave at the Truth78 launch event in April, 2018. You can watch the full event here.
At our family reunion last week, I overheard one of my sisters saying she gives her kids half-an-hour a day of screen time. My stomach churned, wondering if I’d been too indulgent when I agreed that an hour-a-day on the Wii was the limit for summer. Was I harming our kids? It’s a common topic at the swimming pool and soccer field: How much screen time is good for kids? It’s an important question for parents to ask and answer. But a recent article from The Atlantic exposes an even more urgent, and less asked, question:
Smartphones have by now been implicated in so many crummy outcomes—car fatalities, sleep disturbances, empathy loss, relationship problems, failure to notice a clown on a unicycle—that it almost seems easier to list the things they don’t mess up than the things they do. Our society may be reaching peak criticism of digital devices.
Even so, emerging research suggests that a key problem remains underappreciated. It involves kids’ development, but it’s probably not what you think. More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents. …
Yes, parents now have more face time with their children than did almost any parents in history. Despite a dramatic increase in the percentage of women in the workforce, mothers today astoundingly spend more time caring for their children than mothers did in the 1960s. But the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz. Parents are constantly present in their children’s lives physically, but they are less emotionally attuned. …
Yet for all the talk about children’s screen time, surprisingly little attention is paid to screen use by parents themselves, who now suffer from what the technology expert Linda Stone more than 20 years ago called “continuous partial attention.” This condition is harming not just us, as Stone has argued; it is harming our children. The new parental-interaction style can interrupt an ancient emotional cueing system, whose hallmark is responsive communication, the basis of most human learning. We’re in uncharted territory. …
Occasional parental inattention is not catastrophic (and may even build resilience), but chronic distraction is another story. Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them. A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention. Short, deliberate separations can of course be harmless, even healthy, for parent and child alike (especially as children get older and require more independence). But that sort of separation is different from the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through his or her non-engagement that the child is less valuable than an email.
Secular psychologists are raising the alarm that parents’ distraction is dangerous to their children. How much more should Christian parents be concerned to audit their own tech habits? It’s not enough to limit your kids’ screen time when you’re distracted by beeps and chimes all day long; to take the kilobyte out of your child’s eye when a terabyte of data is clogging your own. Your children may hear you saying too much time on a phone or iPad or computer isn’t good for them. But what are they learning from what you’re doing?
I’ve noticed my own impulse to look at my phone the moment it beeps, even if I’m in the middle of a conversation with one of our kids. Few things approach such rudeness; such disregard for neighbor. But even worse is to consider what my sinful habits are teaching them. I’m chastened by the command to fathers in Ephesians 6 to “not provoke your children to anger.” Some translations say “do not exasperate.” I know the exasperation I feel when someone cuts me off mid-sentence to engage their virtual world. I hate feeling like their online “friends” are more real, and more interesting, than I am. How much more must children feel that when their parents ignore them for something on a hand-held screen?
How many times are you pulled away from kitchen table conversation or drive time chatter to check Facebook posts, text messages, Instagram hearts, or Twitter updates? How can obey the charge to teach our children the commands of God as we sit in our homes, walk by the way, lie down, and rise, (Deuteronomy 6:7) if we’re never without our phones? We need more than a Coke-branded dog relief collar to help us see what we’re missing, and how we’re affecting our children.
Today, while reading aloud to our two younger sons, I found myself needing to ignore my phone when it chimed multiple times. While waiting at the doctor’s office, I resisted the temptation to look at email to pass the time, choosing instead to read another chapter in the book we had started earlier. Later, when I called them in to show them the Coke video, I noticed how distracting the push notifications were. I wanted to look at the emails, the texts, and more. But I wanted to show them that they are more important than what’s on my phone. The alerts on my phone can wait.
No matter what we tell our children, our smart phone habits are teaching our children about our priorities. Parents, we need to pray and ask God to show us our sin, and show us His grace. Moms and Dads, we need to set the example we want our children to follow. Paul’s words to Timothy applies to us as parents: “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12b). This digital generation needs you to help them steward their screen time and that begins with setting before them an example that shows that you need screen time limits and stewardship as much as they do.
Think you may be on your phone too much? Take this helpful quiz from Tim Challies: Are You Addicted to Your Smart Phone? For an in-depth look at how smartphones are reshaping us, see Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.
Truth78 had the privilege of having a Q & A session with John Piper at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in June. One question he answered dealt with Truth78’s first grade curriculum, The ABC’s of God. That curriculum features a lesson on God’s wrath. Listen to the specific question and Pastor John’s answer:
So yes, we must teach children about the wrath of God. They need to be taught early on that God is very angry at sin, and is right to punish sinners. Everyone of us deserves God’s wrath. This is an essential gospel issue. But it is also extremely important that we consider how we teach children about God’s wrath. There is an age-appropriateness in how we explain it and the tone in which we use. Furthermore, God’s wrath should be taught within the context of His other divine attributes.
For example, in The ABC’s of God curriculum, here are some attributes of God that children are taught before the lesson on His wrath,
Eternal, Creator, glorious, wise, almighty, sovereign, provider, self-sufficient, understanding, attentive, faithful, happy, love, omnipresent, refuge, unchanging, omniscient, good, jealous, righteous
And in the lessons that follow, they are taught that God is patient and merciful and sent His Son into the world to deliver His people from His wrath. You can view the lesson on God’s wrath here.
For further reference, here are some previous articles we’ve written on this important topic:
Are There Threats to the Gospel in Our Classroom?
The Gospel Alphabet Series:
Following is part two of Truth78’s interview with Bible teacher, Nancy Guthrie. Nancy and David Guthrie experienced the death of two of their children and now lead respite retreats for parents in similar seasons of suffering.
Steve Watters: How do we help children pray for things and especially pray in the midst of difficult situations?
Nancy Guthrie: This is a very significant and personal question for me because when our son was in second grade, he had a sister who was only going to live a short time. He went to a Christian school and every day at the end of the school day, they prayed. So what do you think all those kids prayed for? They prayed that Hope would live.
I remember picking up Matt from school and waiting in the carpool line. And he hops in the car and immediately he says, “Mom, is there any chance Hope might live?” And I knew why he was asking. I knew they were praying for that every day. And he’s thinking it through, which is great. He’s thinking it through, “Should I expect that?” And I said to him, “Well, Matt, here’s what I know. I know no children have ever lived very long who have this condition that Hope has. But here’s the other thing I know, I know that Hope is in God’s hands. And whether she’s here with us, or she’s home with Him, she’s in God’s hands.”
So I think the challenge for us in helping kids know how to pray through these things is really the challenge we have with adults knowing how to pray for these things. And that is: we are oriented primarily to ask God to take this suffering away, rather than being oriented to pray and ask God to use the suffering in our lives to conform us to His image. That’s His purpose in it. He wants to use it to discipline us, to mature us. He wants to use it to give us the opportunity to live out genuine faith.
There are lots of verses in Scripture that say, “this happened, so that” and those verses are answering the question, “Why?” Both with adults and with children, my plea would be, “Look at what the scriptures say God intends to do in and through suffering, and pray for God to accomplish those things.”
That’s a whole kind of reorientation. I suppose a kid is going to state the request, “pray that this happens.” And sometimes we just ask. Isn’t it great that God is our father and we can just ask Him for what we need? But I love the Westminster Catechism which says that prayer is asking God for what He’s promised to give, not just for what I want. And, and you know what? He has promised to give sufficient grace. He’s promised to give divine power. He’s promised that His holy spirit would work for us. And so those are the things we should ask for.
A child might say, “Teacher, I want you to pray that God will give my family a new house to live in.” That was one that was in a class I was in recently. I said, “Would you give this family a new house? But more than that, Lord, would you give them contentment with what you are providing right now with what you’re providing to them?
In children’s ministry we have the opportunity to train children not to focus on prayer being solely asking God for these things or these situations that we want, but instead for inviting God to work in the situations we don’t want.
When Jesus responded to the disciples’ request to teach them to pray, He gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model. He shows us what should be in the believer’s heart when he comes to his Heavenly Father in prayer. For an in-depth look at how the Jesus teaches us to pray, consider our 13 week study for children and adults, Lord, Teach Us to Pray.
Steve Watters recently caught up with Bill Farley to ask about the need for family discipleship, for dads to take the lead as spiritual example and guide, and the challenges dads can expect to face and what to do about them. Farley is a retired pastor, father, grandfather, and author of Gospel Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.
Steve Watters: What is the significance of a dad’s leadership in family discipleship?
Bill Farley: The big significance of a father is very simple: he is the one who is called by God to do it. The Bible repeatedly commands fathers to raise up children in the way they should go. That command is rarely ever, if at all, given to the wife or the mother. Her role is to be supportive. His role is to take responsibility and to lead the family spiritually. No one can substitute for that. Nothing is as effective as dad taking up his position as the leader of his home.
In Gospel Powered Parenting I cite a Swiss study that looked for any correlation between a father’s devotion to Christ and his children’s devotion to Christ. After studying hundreds of couples and their children, researchers came to the conclusion that the fathers’ involvement in religious activities was crucial.
When a dad attended church regularly along with his wife, 33% of the kids ended up attending church regularly. When the dad was non-practicing, but the mother went to church regularly, only 2% of the kids ended up going to church. When dad went to church irregularly, but his wife was non-practicing (she didn’t go to church at all), 25% of the kids still went to church.
The most interesting finding was that the greatest number of kids—fully 44%—who ended up as churchgoers came from homes where the dad went to church regularly and the mom was not practicing. In other words, when the kids saw their dad pushing through the obstacle of having a wife who did not want to go to church, and he went anyway, that had the biggest impact on the children. Dad’s involvement is crucial.
SW: Are family devotions the full extent of a dad’s responsibility to raise his children in the fear and instruction of the Lord? Is there more to that expectation than just family devotions?
BF: Family devotions are just part of the package. A father’s own spiritual example is crucial. How his kids perceive his relationship with Christ, and whether it’s driven by passion or whether it’s driven by religious duty, is crucial to the kids as they grow up. Kids are watching all the time. The kids are also picking up from mom and dad that religion is for men, or something only for women and children. When kids pick up that it’s also for men, the boys grow up more likely to follow Christ and the young ladies grow up more likely to choose husbands that will be men who will follow Christ. There’s a robustness that comes to the family when the dad is the one who is the spiritual leader in the home. And when dads are the spiritual heads of their homes, everything changes.
SW: What are the core elements of family devotions?
BF: Bible reading and prayer.
In our experience, family devotions don’t need to be long. 15 minutes is fine. When you’re doing family devotions you’re teaching your children the Bible, but you’re also modeling for them, and the modeling is essential. Every time you meet for family devotions, you’re saying to your kids, “This is the most important thing. Our home revolves around Christ—not our children, or our felt needs—and that is a stake that goes in deeply and stays with kids for a lifetime. I’ve never said to any of my grown children, “you need to do family devotions.” But they have all married Christians and they’re all doing family devotions without us ever saying a word. They know it’s important because we set that example for them. It would be hard for you to overestimate the long-term impact of consistent family devotions with your children.
SW: Many dads know they should lead in family discipleship, but studies show there’s a gap between those who know they should lead, and those who are consistently leading in something like the family devotions you describe. What challenges have you seen that are causing that gap?
BF: I think one of the big challenges among men is a feeling of inadequacy. Men look around and think, “You know I’m not perfect, how could I lead my kids?” Or “my wife knows the Bible much better than I do; maybe she should lead the family.”
The other problem is he’s distracted. Dad just doesn’t see the long-term impact of family devotions. Maybe he’s thinking, “Oh, this is just a religious duty and it’s not going to have any big impact. My kids are just going to grow up and they’re going to think, ‘I don’t want to be involved in that same kind of legalism that my parents were involved in.'” But our experience is just the opposite. If it’s a loving home, and you lead by example, and occasionally do things that are fun during family devotions, that will have a long-term impact on your kids and they’ll want to do that when they grow up and have their own families.
I often tell the story of a 70-year-old friend, Tim, whose mother died when he was a boy. He was the youngest child of five kids. After all his older brothers and sisters were grown and gone, his mother died choking to death on a piece of food while she was standing in line at a bank. He was left alone with his father.
His father was a janitor. His father could barely read. But every night his dad got out the old, big King James Bible with his son and they sat at the dinner table and Dad and Tim would read the King James Bible together. It was his father’s example that had a huge impact on Tim for the rest of his life. He raised his kids the same way his dad raised him. It’s not how much you know. It’s that you’re willing to learn as you study along with your kids, and communicating to your kids that God is the center of our family.
SW: Did you run into any practical challenges as you worked to have a consistent devotional time with your family?
BF: Of course! For devotions to work, you need to have a time during the day when your whole family is together. It’s usually going to be dinner, or if dad works the night shift, it’s breakfast. But there needs to be some time when the family’s all together. Our biggest obstacle was when the kids got into junior high and high school: sports, tennis lessons, drill team lessons and on and on and on; music lessons, piano, flute, etc., etc. It was hard for us to gather the family for a dinner hour. Somebody was always gone. So, I put my foot down and said, “We’re not going to be gone during the dinner hour. We’re going to be here. None of this other stuff is nearly as important as our family being together and family devotions.”
I’m sure it’s much worse today than it was when our kids were younger, in terms of distractions. You have to be really committed or it’s never going to happen. If you don’t protect the time, you won’t have a family dinner (or breakfast) hour and if you don’t have a regular family hour, you’re probably not going to have family devotions.
SW: How would you apply a passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:14, to encourage men who say they’re having difficulty leading their family spiritually?
BF: That passage says, “Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient with them all.” That’s a classic example of what it looks like to parent children! Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient will all.
It’s the same thing for dads. You may start out saying, “I’m going to do well at this. I need to do this, I’m going to get on the wagon. I’m going to. I’m going to be faithful.” And you do lead for three or four weeks, and then you wake up one day and realize it’s been two weeks since you’ve done family devotions. One thing after another has happened and there have been distractions, and activities, and on and on. You just need to get back on the wagon. Recognize from the start that this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be two steps forward and one step back.
If you do family devotions three or four nights a week, you’re doing really well. We’re not talking about doing every night of the week because for most families, that’s not sustainable. Aim for at least three or four nights of the week. Meet together as a family around God’s word.
SW: How do you get the kids talking about the passage you read?
BF: I used the Socratic method, which means I’d ask questions. We’d read a paragraph, maybe one of Paul’s epistles, and then I’d say to the kids, “What’s this text about? What was that paragraph about?” You know, I’d get all kinds of blank stares. So I would ask them more questions; draw them out and get them involved in the text. It’s not a matter of you just lecturing your children.
When your children are really little you can use Bible picture books. You can read Bible story books designed for kids at various age groups. Bruce Ware has a good book to help with this: Big Truths for Young Hearts. There are all kinds of aids you can use to help with family devotions. The important thing is, whatever you do, work consistently at it, and together, with mom and dad on the same page together.
SW: Is there a book in the Bible you encourage dads who are new to this to start with?
BF: I might say the book of Mark. It’s simple in its organization into sections with subheadings. Start at the beginning and read one section and talk about it. You don’t need to have all the answers. Your kids may ask you questions you don’t have the answers for. That’s great. Say, “Hey, next time we meet I’ll get the answer to your question and we’ll talk about it.” You don’t have to be a know-it-all. You just need to get the text in front of your children. When you do that, you’re saying to them, “Our family revolves around God, not around our kids, or our kids’ activities. And the Bible is how we connect with God, and the Bible is really, really important.” Your honoring of Scripture, your honoring of God, will have a huge long-term effect.
SW: Any final encouragements?
BF: There are only two texts on parenting in the New Testament and they both say similar things. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, and Colossians 3:21.) Both passages are to fathers. If you read through Proverbs in the Old Testament, you’ll find pretty much the same thing with a few exceptions. In the various places where parenting is discussed in the Bible, it’s assumed that the dad is the chief parent in terms of leading their children’s spiritual instruction.
To every dad reading this, pick up the mantle and your Bible, gather your family, and by faith, go forward.
Our newly-released interactive family devotional, Glorious God, Glorious Gospel, is designed especially for dads who are ready to take the lead in the spiritual formation of their children. The book is divided into 15 chapters that use Scripture to explore God’s character, what God requires of us, God’s solution to our problem of sin, and what it means to follow Him.
Glorious God, Glorious Gospel answers questions like:
- Who is God, and what is He like?
- Why do I exist? How am I to act toward God?
- What is my greatest problem and need?
- What has God done to solve this problem?
- How Can I be saved?
- How should I now live?
It includes suggested schedules for breaking each chapter into smaller units, based on the ages and attention spans of your children.
If I could change just one thing in my parenting, it would be this: I would have prayed more specific and focused prayers for myself, my husband, and our children. What do I mean by specific and focused? Gregory Harris, pastor and Bible professor at Master’s Seminary explains it well in his helpful article, “I Pray This for My Children.” He says,
As with most items related to discipleship—and parenting is definitely a God-ordained and commanded aspect of discipleship (Ephesians 6:1–4)—prayer plays a vital role.
When our children were younger, they would frequently accompany me many places I went, including the seminary where I taught. I was asked dozens of times, “How do you get kids at that age to be so well-behaved and be such a blessing?”Always the answer from the heart would be, “My wife and I are not perfect parents, and our children are not perfect children.” Though we certainly did see God’s blessing on our children, we knew they were still quite young and had not yet faced the teenage and adult years with all the temptations and snares and dangers ahead of them (Proverbs 1–9).
While seeing God’s hand of blessing, I realized the battle was only just beginning for us—and at times it was indeed a battle, and a very intense one at that, as both the world and the evil one actively worked to attract them to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Part of my answer to those who asked me about raising our children [was] that we repeatedly prayed for them and tried to raise them as God would have us do, especially as shown in Scripture. Even then, my wife and I knew we were not in full control; you cannot save your own children; you cannot live their lives for them.
We would stand on the sidelines and actively watch as our children walked with God, or, in one case, did not walk with Him for a prolonged period. I have been both the Prodigal Son and the father of a prodigal—and by the sheer grace of God—I have been the rejoicing father of a prodigal who has returned to the Lord.
As I talked to other parents about raising children, a similar question would repeatedly be raised, especially by younger parents:
“How should I pray for my children?”
The rest of Harris’s article details prayers in categories from prayers for salvation and running from sin; to personal interactions, spiritual growth, and future spouses. To read the full list, go here.
For a verse-by-verse guide to praying the Scriptures for your children, grandchildren, and the children in your church, see Sally Michael’s “Praying for the Next Generation” booklet, as well as Bud Burk’s “Utter Dependency on God, Through Prayer,” a practical guide for leading children in prayer in the classroom, as well as the living room.
It’s a problem that affects millions of teenagers; likely someone you know in your own church or family. What is it? Interior angst. Loneliness. Depression. Fear. Despair. All these and more are part of the emotional roller coaster that goes with the changes and development of adolescence.
This is an age-old problem that should lead to maturity and growth. But teens today are missing key supports that made it less volatile for generations past. So says Dr. Albert Mohler in his commentary last week on a report released by the Centers for Disease Control,
The biggest alarm here has to do with the interior lives of America teenagers . …Words such as fear and despair among American teenagers should grab our attention in a hurry. The official behind the report, Dr. Jonathan Merman of the CDC, gave the bottom line in the research with remarkable clarity. He said, “An adolescent’s world can be bleak.”
…We cannot possibly redefine adolescence so that teenagers not undergo stress and strain and also both happiness and pain. … but what we can do is make certain that they never endure an experience, these trials and passages of life alone, or without the support of parents, or without their family, or without the support of the church…
To one degree or another, in any given situation, young people give evidence of a wide array of emotions: loneliness, love, sorrow, shame, regret, discouragement, gladness, awe, anger, fear, zeal, confidence, delight, pain, and praise. Too often however, these emotions are left unshaped by the reality of God and His Word. In fact, our culture encourages it: Young people are told to “follow your heart” (i.e. your subjective feelings), they are given self-esteem pep talks to alleviate shame, they are encouraged to set their delight in fleeting pleasures, they are told that they are the measure of themselves. All of this is destructive to their souls.
Instead, their feelings need to come under submission to God and His Word. Their feelings need to find their way to their Creator as they pour out their hearts to Him, humbly longing for His life-giving mercy. This is the path to everlasting joy, as well as the way to walk in it.
In his sermon, “Songs That Shape the Heart and Mind—Psalms: Thinking and Feeling with God,”, John Piper said,
One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply loved by so many Christians is that they give expression to an amazing array of emotions…
More explicitly than all the other books in the Bible, the Psalms are designed to awaken and shape our emotions in line with the instruction they give. What happens when you read and sing the Psalms the way they are intended to be read and sung is that your emotions and your mind are shaped by these psalms.
Parents and teachers have a vital opportunity and responsibility to introduce teens to the Psalms so that they might experience the Psalms’ heart- and mind-shaping power. Truth78 has developed a new curriculum for this potentially turbulent season to help churches take their teens to God’s Word, the only place where true hope and help is found. We are excited to introduce our new youth curriculum, “Pour Out Your Heart Before Him—A Study for Youth on Prayer and Praise in the Psalms,” by Sally Michael.
She writes in the preface to the study,
Though God is the Supreme Ruler of the universe, He also dwells with His people in close, intimate fellowship. What we discover through walking in relationship with God through Christ is that He understands every emotion of the human experience, so we can freely pour out our hearts to Him. He will, with Shepherd-like love, comfort and calm our troubled hearts.
The Book of Psalms was written under God’s hand by real people with real problems, who knew that the way to true soul satisfaction comes through pouring out their hearts before God, lifting their eyes to Yahweh, and opening their mouths in praise to Him. The Psalms not only reflect Israel’s story, but our story as well as we walk in a new covenant relationship with the God of Israel.
Not only does God understand every human emotion, but He also resolves every human emotion through His presence and character, making Him worthy of our heartfelt adoration and praise. He turns worry to peace, despair to hope, distress to deliverance, weariness to praise, brokenness to forgiveness, envy to contentment, and anger to justice.
The Psalms lead us to trust in the triune God, the Creator, the unchanging Source of Truth, rather than the worthless idols of the human heart. This is a God we can praise from generation to generation, as we delight in His testimonies and rest in His shepherd-care.
Pour Our Your Hearts Before God is a faithful guide for the season of change and growth that faces every teen. Whatever emotions your youth are juggling, the Psalms are a haven they can run to. Learn more about our new curriculum.