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.

Should Children Be Taught the Wrath of God?

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. Every one 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:

What Our Children Need to Know about God’s Wrath

Are There Threats to the Gospel in Our Classroom?
The Gospel Alphabet Series:

Helping Children Pray

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.

 


Read Part 1 of our interview with Nancy Guthrie: Helping Children Prepare for Suffering

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.

Help for Turbulent Teens

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 Heart Before Him 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.

 

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.

 

Teachers: Is This Book on Your Summer Reading List?

Summer is an ideal time for reading to refresh and energize the soul. For anyone who teaches children and youth it’s also an opportunity to become a better teacher. At only 152 pages, Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive  by Dr. Howard Hendricks is filled with practical, biblical, seasoned wisdom that is helpful for both new and experienced teachers alike. At Truth78, we highly recommend this book. Our curricula’s teaching philosophy and methodology closely mirrors the principles found in his book.

Here is a brief summary of the seven principles, or “laws” Dr. Hendricks describes followed by examples of how Truth78 curricula implements each:

The Law of the Teacher— If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow…You cannot communicate out of a vacuum. You cannot impart what you do not possess. If you don’t know it—truly know it—you can’t give it.

Truth78 encourages teachers to take time to prayerfully study each lesson and make your own personal application.

The Law of Education—How people learn determines how you teach.

Truth78 incorporates a teaching philosophy, methodology, and format that is age-appropriate, interactive, and teacher friendly.

The Law of Activity—Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement. That’s true, with one condition. The activity in which the learner is involved must be meaningful.

Truth78 encourages students to interact, first and foremost, with the text of Scripture: questioning, organizing, analyzing, evaluating, drawing conclusions, and applying God’s Word. Interactive illustrations and other activities are also used to help students better grasp biblical truth.

The Law of Communication—To truly impart information requires the building of bridges. All communication has three essential components: intellect, emotion, and volitionin other words, thought, feeling, and action. If I know something thoroughly, feel it deeply, and am doing it consistently, I have great potential for being an excellent communicator.

Each lesson of our curricula includes material that serves to instruct the mind, engage the heart, and influence the will.

The Law of the Heart—Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart. To the Hebrews, heart embraced the totality of human personality—one’s intellect, one’s emotions, one’s will. Teaching happens when one total personality, transformed by the supernatural grace of God, reaches out to transform another personality by the same grace.

Each lesson includes a significant “Small Group Application” section to encourage and challenge students to personally embrace and apply God’s truth to their lives. Spirit-dependent prayer with and for the students is an essential aspect of this time.

The Law of Encouragement—Teaching tends to be more effective when the learner is motivated to learn. As a teacher—a motivator—you want to help people develop into self-starters. You want them to do what they do, not because you ask them or twist their arm, but because they themselves have chosen to do it. One of the best ways to trigger this choice is to help the learner become aware of his need.

Our lessons are written to fuel spiritual desire by giving students a big vision of the greatness of God and His all-surpassing worth. We continually point students to see that eternal, all-satisfying joy is found in God alone, through faith in Christ.

The Law of Readiness—The teaching-learning process will be most effective when both student and teacher are adequately prepared.

Truth78 provides curricula components and other training to help teachers prepare for the lesson. Additionally, we include practical resources and ideas for helping students in preparation for the lesson material.

These descriptions are too brief to do justice to his main points and practical applications. I urge you to read the whole book. And if you’re a ministry leader, consider buying several copies this summer to pass on to your teachers and small group leaders. It is a wonderful training resource.

 

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