Complete the following checklist for your own children or the children in your class:
I want my children to…
- Be attentive listeners
- Act respectfully toward their teachers
- Be honest and compassionate
- Grow up to be responsible men and women
- Have a good job in the future
- Get married and have a family some day
- Be actively involved in a local, Bible-believing church
- Memorize Bible verses
- Be biblically literate
- Be able to recite the Catechism
If you checked all the points, you are probably not alone. What parent and teacher wouldn’t want this for their children? But is anything important missing from this list? Of course, and you probably spotted it—true saving faith, a heart that trusts and treasures Jesus above all. And what is tremendously sobering is that the above checklist can be achieved without sincere, life-transforming faith. Consider Jesus’ words:
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”—Matthew 15:8
These are fearful words from Jesus, full of warning, cutting to the heart and soul. He spoke these words to the highly religious people of His day. Men who had vast amounts of Scripture memorized—men who were the “church” leaders of their day. But they did not really know or honor God. Their hearts were ice cold and hard as stone.
These words are for us to and for our children, too. We should be mindful of these words every time we lead a devotion or teach a Bible lesson to our children. Because if we merely seek to instill more and more Bible knowledge into the mind, without regard to the heart, we may serve to encourage them to become little “Pharisee factories.” That is not to say that the mind does not matter. We should be instilling more and more biblical knowledge into our children. But we should never forget that genuine saving faith and heart-transformation is the goal of that knowledge.
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:10 ESV)
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. (Psalm 13:5 ESV)
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8 ESV)
While it is true that we cannot bring about heart transformation in our children, we can and should encourage a right heart response. How? Here are a few suggestions:
- When teaching a Bible passage or story, challenge the children to personally respond to what they have learned.
Example: Jesus and the Feeding of the 5,000
How has Jesus provided for your needs this week? Do you need anything besides food? What other kinds of needs do you have? Do you believe that He can provide for these other needs? What do you think that your greatest need is? Have you experienced His provision for this need? How has this changed the way in which you live?
Example: Israel Grumbling in the Wilderness
What had God previously done for Israel? How should they have responded toward Him? Do you ever act like Israel? Does your heart ever grumble toward God? Why? How should you respond toward God in a difficult situation?
- Be careful about using inclusive language that assumes belief in the children you are teaching. Inclusive language (“We trust in Jesus”) may inadvertently provide an avenue by which children “opt-out” of personal heart response.
- Help children make connections between biblical truth and their own experiences. Explain to them what it might look like to embrace a particular truth and act on it.
- Share from your own faith experience so that the children will see that God’s Word is effective and transformative and can be applied to real-life situations.
- Look for opportunities to clearly point children to the Gospel, clearly communicating what it truly means to trust Jesus and love Him as your greatest treasure.
Want more inspiration and practical help in teaching toward the heart? Watch David and Sally Michael in their message, “A Vision for Encouraging Faith in the Next Generation.”