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Lullaby Theology: Singing the Whole Counsel of God

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 Does Godly Ambition Look Like?

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

Whose Screen Time is the Real Problem?

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.

Dad’s Unmatched Spiritual Influence

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.

 

The One Thing I’d Change in My Parenting


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.

Helping Children Prepare for Suffering

Children often grow up believing, on the basis of the cultural messages all around them—as well as the actions of their parents—that God owes them comfort and their “best life now.” But Scripture tells us otherwise. Jesus told us that “in this life you will have tribulation,” Peter said we should not “be surprised when the fiery trial comes upon us to test us, as though something strange were happening to us,” and James commands us to “count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds” (John 16:33, 1 Peter 4:12, James 1:2).

How then should parents talk to their children about suffering? And what, if anything, should they do to prepare them for it? Steve Watters, communications director for Truth78, sat down with Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie to ask how parents can help their children process and prepare for suffering. Nancy and David Guthrie experienced the death of two of their children and now lead respite retreats for parents in similar seasons of suffering.

T78: How do children learn from parents how to face suffering?

Nancy Guthrie: Most of us as parents think that the primary way we teach our children about suffering, or anything else, is by what we say to them. David and I talk with lots of couples where someone in the family has a cancer diagnosis or something like that and they wonder, “how am I going to talk to the kids about this?” I don’t think though, that it’s primarily through what we say to our children that our children learn the most. I think the primary way they learn about suffering, how to think about it, how to feel about it, how to talk about it, is by what they observe in us.

If, when we’re going through a season of suffering, they observe anger, they’re probably going to absorb a sense of “this is not right; somebody out there has wronged us; God has wronged us”–they’re going to absorb that angry response. Also, they’re going to absorb an attitude about how things work in the world, that I deserve something different than to experience the brokenness of this world that is universal to everyone in the world. Kids can absorb a sense of presumption that somehow, I shouldn’t have to experience this, and surprise about suffering.

One thing we do have to say as parents is that the word of God tells us, “don’t be surprised at suffering. This is common to everyone in the world.” The Bible’s message about suffering is expect to suffer. Know that God will be with you in this suffering and your suffering is not meaningless, but purposeful. If you belong to Christ, your suffering is not meaningless, but purposeful. He can and will use it to accomplish in your life, and in the world around you, His good and glorious purposes. As you believe that, you can transmit that to your kids.

T78: What are the consequences when children don’t hear that, when they aren’t prepared for suffering?

NG: When they do experience suffering, they become hard and bitter toward God. They can see themselves as victims, rather than disciples who are living in a broken world, anticipating that part of living in this world that’s under a curse is experiencing the suffering of this world. They need to have a sense that this life is not all there is. Isn’t that something our kids need to understand more than anything else? They’re not going to get that message from the world, television, their friends at school, the culture around us—those are always telling us: this is where life is; this is where you’ve got to make a mark on this world; this is where you’ve got to grab all the Gusto you can get, in the here and now; you can be anything you want to be. People think this is some kind of self-empowerment message for kids.

I think a far better message is, “you can trust that God will work in you, to call you to His purposes, and will equip you to do and be all that He’s called you to do and be.” That’s a God-centered view that sets some expectations for your life in this world, rather than setting this expectation that you’ve got to accomplish your dream; you’ve got to become somebody. That sets kids up for bitterness when all of those things don’t happen, instead of acceptance of the sovereignty of God in their life.

T78: When we face suffering, what does that suffering tend to reveal in our lives?

NG: My husband David and I host weekend retreats for couples who have lost children. We’ve done retreats the last two weekends, and last weekend, there were a number of couples who were verbalizing their anger toward God. One way I pushed back on that is to say, “Whether it’s anger toward God or anger toward any person or situation, anger reveals an expectation—I expected this would be different. If I’m angry at you, it’s because I expected you would do or say something different. You have done something I didn’t want you to do, or you didn’t do something I expected you to do. Our frustration when the car breaks down or when somebody damages something of ours, reveals we have an expectation that these things shouldn’t happen to us.

Similarly, in terms of anger with God, a lot of times that’s based on having expectations of who God is and what He ought to be doing in our lives. We think that if we have been so smart, so spiritual, to choose Him, that now He’s got to do His job and His job should be to protect us from suffering in this life, and to bless us; to fulfill all these things we want to do and be in this world.

We sometimes have this expectation that God is our servant rather than we are His servants; expectations that God’s role is to give us the life that we think will be best for us, that we think that will be more comfortable. When those are our expectations, and suffering comes into our life, it makes complete sense that we’d be angry with God. The anger reveals the assumption and the expectations.

What I challenged those couples to do at our retreat was to say, “Identify what your expectations were, and then ask the question, on what basis did you expect that?” What that reveals, first of all, it kind of forces us to say, “I thought God was going to take care of me so that I wouldn’t have to suffer. I thought all my prayers for my kids were going to mean that I wouldn’t have to bury one of my children.”

Then you go onto the next question, “On what basis was that your expectation?” Then you ask, where do you see this promise in the Scripture? What that actually gets at a lot of times is the errors we make in interpretation; the promises we read in the Scriptures that we misunderstand, or misapply. Once you get to that point, you can deal with it.


Children need the deep, unshakable foundation of God’s sovereignty that is clearly taught in God’s Word. Truth78 has woven the topic of suffering, as well as God’s sovereignty, throughout our scope and sequence. For more help on teaching children about suffering, see:

When Life is Hard God is …

Helping Children Understand the Cost of Following Jesus

Mommy… Daddy… I’m Sad

24 Things Your Children Should Know About God’s Providence


Read Part 2 of our interview with Nancy Guthrie: Helping Children Pray

28 Promises Your Children Can Stand On

One hymn I learned early on was Standing On the Promises by R. Kelso Carter. The hymn included these memorable and reassuring words:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Though I had the words and tune memorized, I don’t remember anyone actually describing and explaining what these promises were. What was I supposed to be standing on?

Here are 28 promises found in the Bible—all given by a faithful God who ALWAYS keeps His promises—that our children should know and can depend upon:

God promises:

  • salvation for everyone who truly repents and believes in Jesus.
  • eternal punishment (hell) for everyone who does not repent and believe in Jesus. (Yes, our children need to know that some promises are dreadful!)

For God’s children, those who trust in Jesus, God’s promises include:

  • God will be with you everywhere, at all times, watching over your life.
  • nothing can separate you from God’s love.
  • complete forgiveness when you confess your sins.
  • God will complete His work in you, making you more and more like Jesus.
  • you will bear fruit (good works).
  • God will hear your prayers.
  • He will guide you to know what is right.
  • God will provide for your needs.
  • He will not withhold any good thing that is good for your life.
  • God will fight for you and act on your behalf.
  • He is slow to anger and is patient with you.
  • God will give you strength.
  • though you may stumble, God will sustain and hold you.
  • God will discipline you for your good because He loves you.
  • He plans good for you, and He brings new mercies every day.
  • God will be with you in hard times.
  • He will not bring any unnecessary suffering into your life.
  • If you remain steadfast under trial, you will be rewarded.
  • God will keep you from ultimate harm and guard your soul and faith.
  • He will deliver you from all your troubles.
  • God will end suffering for His children and turn it to joy.
  • All things will work together for your good.
  • God will never forsake you.
  • He will never forget His promises.
  • God is not slow in keeping His promises—His timing is perfect.
  • eternal life—living forever with Jesus!

We have developed two resources to help your children learn and explore these promises in the Bible, as well as how the promises are meant to be embraced and applied to our lives.

Curriculum:

Faithful to All His Promises: A Study for Children on the Promises of God
Grade Range: 2nd Grade-4th Grade, 40 lessons
Children will not simply learn about some of God’s promises, but rather, they will discover what it means to trust in those promises, which are God’s gift to us, not something we deserve. Faithful to All His Promises begins by teaching children what a promise is, what makes God trustworthy with these promises, and who these promises are for. Then children get to explore some specific promises from God to see how He has been and will be faithful to each of those promises.

Family devotional book:

CPGPGod’s Promises
This book is adapted from the curriculum and is a read-aloud and read-along book for parents with early elementary-age children. Each chapter ends with personal application and activities, and includes full-color illustrations. (120 pages)

The Three Ds of Deuteronomy 6

When it comes to understanding and articulating cultural shifts in light of biblical truth, Dr. Albert Mohler is a welcome source of clarity, exhortation, and encouragement. Joe Eaton wrote a summary of Dr. Mohler’s message Holding Fast to the Whole Counsel of God Under Pressure to Conform from our last National Conference, which pointed to three Ds from Deuteronomy 6 that we, as parents and teachers, can take to heart. 

The dominant culture tends to replicate itself in each new generation. This is why Paul calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). The last thing that should surprise us is that our children are going to grow up to look like the culture around them…unless a great work is done. Deuteronomy 6 tells us how we can influence our children biblically to remain steadfast in an ungodly culture. Three key words guide us through this text.

1. “Doctrine”
What this passage teaches us about how we must teach is that teaching must be inescapably theological and central. Another crucial aspect of teaching is what narrative you are teaching. We need to make sure that we teach our children that we are not here by accident; God did a saving work that brought us into being, and a saving work that brought us into covenant with him. This is the narrative we must teach. If we don’t know that our redemption story is infinitely greater than worldly stories, we will not effectively reach the hearts of our kids.

2. “Discipline”
We are facing a situation in which our children are going to become Canaanites if we don’t impart truth to them in such a way that helps them own it, and sometimes that will mean going against the culture or their own desires. Helping our children learn discipline in this way will serve them always.

3. “Diligence”
Every opportunity is an opportunity to teach your children, whether effectively or ineffectively. Don’t give up; you’re going to have to teach your children the same things very often, because your children don’t always retain things very well.

Cultural Pressure to Conform
The cultural pressure to conform to the evils of our culture is so pervasive that Christians have begun to underestimate the urgency with which we ought to fight it. This pressure has always existed and has grown since the Garden of Eden.

Whole Counsel of God
We need to be teaching our kids that God is God, and his Word is ultimate no matter what our culture says. We need to be diligent to teach our kids the truths that are particularly disputed in our culture right now, because those are the truths that will become hardest for them to believe when they face cultural pressure to conform.

Holding Fast
Don’t spend time lamenting what we believe might have been lost in our culture. Remember that Jesus is going to hold us fast as we seek after him. Let’s hold fast our confession, and teach our children to do the same.


Indestructible JoyThis message is included in the book Indestructible Joy for the Next Generations, which is available for purchase in print or as a free download for anyone who signs up for the “Joy for the Next Generations” e-newsletter.

 

Summer Reading

As school winds down for a longed-for summer break, teachers and librarians everywhere are urging kids to use the less-scheduled days reading books. “Read for fun! Read for retention! Read for prizes!” It seems there’s no shortage of incentives to make the most of free reading time.

As fun and beneficial and wonderful as leisure reading is, it matters what children are reading. A mix of book types: biography, fiction, nature, informative, poetry, and more can make up a healthy well-rounded reading diet. But there is one area that is often overlooked, yet most necessary: books for spiritual formation.

Truth78 is committed to helping parents pursue the God-glorifying vision of leading their children to walk in the truth. As we’ve said, one way parents do this is by carefully prioritizing and maximizing their children’s spiritual instruction. And one of the key ways to do that is to guide children in their book choices.

In addition to teaching your children how to have a regular, daily time reading their Bible, summer is a good time to encourage them to also read devotional books for spiritual growth. Books that work well for family devotions can also be spiritually edifying reading for older children with more time available for reading in the summer. Revisiting a book that you’ve read together, in order to work through it on their own, can be like hearing new stories while visiting with an old friend.

If you’re looking for a gentle way to introduce grade school children to personal devotional reading, consider the Making Him Known series. Each book focuses on what Scripture teaches about one aspect of God’s deeds: God’s Promises, God’s Gospel, God’s Wisdom, etc. Each chapter of each book reveals some aspect of His “glorious deeds, his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4). Each chapter also includes a section, “Learning to Trust God,” which calls children to respond by setting “their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7) through Christ.

To read more about the Making Him Known series, and to order your copies, visit our online resources page.

Keep Your Children in Worship, for Worship

I remember asking my Dad if I needed to tithe on my small allowance when I was very young. How could a dime make a difference to the work of the church? I wondered. “I think I should wait to start tithing until I have more to give,” I said, as he handed me my dollar. “If I had a hundred dollars and could give ten, it would matter more,” I said. “And it would be a lot easier then, because I’d still have 90 left to spend,” I thought.

“If you don’t learn to do it with a small amount,” he said, “you’ll never do it when you have more. It gets harder, not easier.” I never forgot his wise counsel and have often thanked God for giving me my Dad who taught me the importance of gladly giving back to God. But it’s not just generosity God wants from his people, no matter how young.

He wants their attention. And ultimately, their worship.

It’s easy to look at your squirming, squawking, distracting toddlers and young children and think, surely it will be easier to train them to sit still and listen quietly to the sermon when they’re older. But as with early lessons in giving money back to God, so too, early lessons in giving attention to God have the potential to bear much fruit.

We didn’t start taking our little ones into the service with us until our third child was born. By then, we were attending a mega church where a handful of families who kept their children in the service all clustered together in one area of the auditorium. What started as a practical help to us getting to church on time—thereby avoiding the multi-room, even multi-building drop-off—soon became a matter of conviction. I didn’t realize how formative it could be for young ones to sing along with Mom and Dad, to color quietly while the pastor preached, to ask simple questions on the drive home about what they heard, in an effort to encourage their listening. But I was so glad God changed our minds about taking our kids with us into worship. Just a few other families, amidst hundreds, were enough to help us take courage and break out of the status quo of the “children’s church” model.

It may feel like an overwhelming idea: keeping your children of all ages with you in church. But it is not only possible, it is rich with promise; and likely not as hard a transition as you might fear.

Practice Active Listening

We tend to get good at what we practice. This works to our benefit with piano lessons, but also to our harm with vices. If you hand your child your smart phone or tablet for the short-term gains of keeping her quiet, you will set her on the dangerous path of getting very practiced at tuning out the preaching of God’s Word. You may assume she’ll naturally pay attention when she’s older, but paying attention is something we must work at, no matter our age. We all need help to extend our naturally short attention spans. One of the best ways you can do that is by minimizing, not increasing, distractions.

Sitting quietly and listening in church can be learned by even very young children and it is a worthy goal to level earn how; but not merely for the peace of the people around you in church.

Listen for Salvation

God designed us to believe in Christ by way of our ears. Paul says in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Hearing is essential to salvation. But merely being in the room where the salvation message is preached faithfully is not enough.

The high number of children raised in the church who leave when they become teenagers shows that it is not enough to get your children to church. According to R.C. Sproul, “A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church is that they found it boring.” What children do while they are in church matters. How many countless people heard Paul preach but to no saving effect? “In one ear and out the other,” so the saying goes. What made the difference? Luke says in Acts 16:14, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

Two things stand out as necessary for saving faith: the work of the Lord to regenerate the sinner’s heart, and the active listening of paying attention. This is not a passive posture, but one that anticipates receiving something from the speaker. Pray for your children and with your children that God will give them the ability to pay attention. We have made it our habit to pray as a family in the car on the way to church. My husband asks the Lord to bless the preaching of God’s Word, and to give us ears to hear it. It is so important your children know that you need help to pay attention, too!

Model Joyful Listening

Once there, model paying attention for joy, for love to God, and for being built up by the Word preached. Listening to the active, living Word that is sharper than any two-edged sword, with the power to raise the dead to life and transform them into the image of Christ should not be drudgery. Do your children know you love God’s Word? That you look forward to hearing it preached? Do they see you listening to it and loving it, being challenged and convicted by it, and ultimately, being changed by it?

No matter what you say about the centrality of the Word preached, it is how you behave in relation to it that will have the greatest impact on your children. Your kids need to see you being joyful, expectant, convicted, engaged, transformed—everything but bored. At its heart, the reason quiet listening matters is not primarily so you won’t disturb the people around you—the quiet part—but so that you will hear words of life—the listening part—and be transformed by the Word of Life.

Plan Ahead

A little planning ahead of time can help orient your children to the service and know what to expect.

Set Expectations. Tell your children that the worship service isn’t a time to eat, or talk, or play, but to listen, learn, and believe. Help your children by providing quiet activities that help them listen and serve those in the pews or chairs around them. Consider getting them a church notebook and pen or pencil for drawing pictures of what they’re hearing, and when they’re able to write, to take notes.

Practice. Take an order of service, program, or liturgy—whatever your church provides for following along—and go through it at home, explaining when to speak, when to sing, when to sit, when to stand, etc. Let them know that you want them to join in the activities. Consider listening to the songs that will be sung and sing them together.

Prepare. Feed your children a hearty breakfast so they won’t be distracted by a growling stomach. Take them to the bathroom before the service starts with the goal of remaining in the service without interruption.

It is worth every effort you make to train your children to join in the singing, listen to the preaching, and participate in the praying of God’s Word. This is the path to everlasting life.

*For further encouragement and practical help, Truth78 has created a reproducible PDF for parents and churches, “8 Tips for Helping Your Child Worship.”

 

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