Training Principles for Parents, from Deuteronomy 6
The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy introduces what many have called the Magna Carta of the home,a passage of Scripture that summarizes in a few brief statements the great principles of the home, principles later developed in many other places in the Word of God. This passage is found in the midst of Moses' great sermon to a new generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land.
This brief paragraph, beginning with chapter 6, verse 4, very simply states the divisions of our study: The Central Curriculum of Life; The Central Commands of the Teaching Process; The Process of Teaching; and The Proper Signs.
The Central Curriculum of Life—vv. 4-5
The place to focus is our relationships to God. A Christian home is to teach about God and man's relationship to Him. Deut. 6:4—"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." This is the fundamental difference between a Christian and a secular home. In a purely secular home you may find exhibited many of the techniques described in the second part of this passage:
- parental priority stressed over total child focus
- recognition of the need for personal relationships
- and a natural system of imparting truth.
Many secular homes are orderly, moral, and loving, with well-adjusted children who are well able to cope with life.
Many people would say, then, "What's the difference between a Christian and a secular home?" If we investigated a home like the one just described, we would most likely find —just a generation or so back—a deep-seated Christian conviction somewhere in the family.The members of that family are, so to speak, living on the capital of faith which had been invested by a previous generation. They're spending the bank account of spiritual understanding set up by their ancestors.
In truth, this is what our entire nation has been doing: living on the "spiritual bank account" set up by our forefathers. We came to an end of that account many years ago, and now the glue which held us together as a people is disintegrating, or is gone. We no longer reap the blessing of previous generations, but sow seeds of destruction for future generations. Our children in increasing numbers are being raped, beaten, victimized, and neglected.
So we can't come to the second division of this passage without the first. While the Christian home has great potential to be much different from the secular home, it is not automatically different. Our homes are not Christian just because we are. It is certainly possible that instead of being orderly, love-filled, peaceful, and God-honoring, even the Christian home can be a battleground from morning to night. It can be an arena of constant bickering, squabbling, fighting and rebellion.
So, a Christian home that starts with the right foundation and maintains its focus on the central curriculum of life can be a powerful force in this world. Where, then, do we start?
The Lord is one Lord
Interestingly, Moses uses a Hebrew word signifying a compound—not just a single—unity. It implies three elements are put together, obviously referring to the Trinity. This is an important theological statement. Remember, what we think about God is the most important thing about us! This is a call to know who God is: that He is both plural and one; that there is both a plurality of God and a singleness of His character.
This is difficult to compute in our thinking, yet foundational to the home and to the Christian life—to understand and recognize that God is the only God, who sits at the heart of all things, yet is a single, intelligent being existing in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is where we must start: Who God is. The Scripture says, "He that comes to God must first of all believe that He is [exists] and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."
The second principle is almost as necessary as breathing. As we inhale and exhale, so these two principles go together.
The Lord is to be loved totally
v. 5—"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." In other words, love God with your totality.
What does it mean to love God? Most simply, it means trustful obedience, giving yourself to Him totally. What confusion this causes for so many, to whom "loving God" means some kind of tremendous feeling of affection, or an overpowering adoration. There are experiences like that in worship, when we are overwhelmed by the greatness of God and feel the emotion of that understanding. But to truly love God also means trustful obedience. To love Him means we do what He says.
When Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:23-24), He was showing us that love and trustful obedience are one and the same. To love God, then, means we will obey Him wholeheartedly heart, soul and strength.
This, then, is where we start—who God is and our love relationship with Him. It is foundational to everything else. It is the central curriculum of the life we want for our children: to know and to love God.
The Central Commands of the Teaching Process—vv. 6-7a
The first is parental priority.
Parents are to begin with themselves, not with their children. Verse 6 reads, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." (Notice all the references to "you!") This is where so many Christian parents go astray. The moment a child appears in the family, a lot of parents give in to the natural temptation to live for their children, making those children their total focus. This passage, however, tells us us we must not do that. We must make God our priority focus.
Parents should believe and live as if children will follow models, not words. A parent can say "Do this!" or "Do that!" until he/she is blue in the face, but if that parent doesn't do it, the child won't either.
Children will live with us exactly the way we live with them. This is often (not always) true. If we don't like what we see in our children, it may be that the first place to start is with our own behavior—they may be mimicking an attitude or action they see in us. Obviously, a child at some point in time has to make his own decision. Some will, despite the best of parenting, resist their upbringing and go their own way. But in the initial stages in a child's life, it may be that the first place to look is at ourselves: "What's going on in me? Do I love God? Do I know who He is? Am I impressed with the commands of God so that I am lovingly obeying them?"
Unless children see a picture of the adult world as it ought to be in their parents, they will grow into that adult arena with great difficulty. Parents must show their children how to live. They must demonstrate high regard for their own spiritual development and show that they know and love God totally. Parents must also take care to develop their own intellect and talents.
There is nothing more destructive than parents neglecting their mates, themselves, or their relationship with God, because they are so intent on trying to raise their children right. Children need models, not just instruction.
Parents must model a deep and meaningful relationship with each other. Children should see date nights, authentic affection, hugs and kisses, verbal affection and respect between their parents, because children want to know that their parents love each other.
"Marriage occurs in order that two people might learn how to relate to one another and to be persons as God intended persons to be. The key to marriage and to a successful home is that parents must realize that children are only there temporarily, that after they are gone the father and mother remain, and that the factor which heals and... holds that home together is that they themselves become what God wants, that they learn to enjoy the privileges of being whole persons, and that they see to it that they are not robbed of these privileges by a mistaken enslavement to their own children. There is great wisdom in this passage. It teaches us that parents do not exist for their children; they exist to be people before God, first of all."—Ray Stedman
Parents, understand this is not an encouragement to neglect your children; on the contrary, the greatest gifts you can give to your children are love for the Lord, your love for your mate, and developing into the person God wants you to be.
We can conclude then, that parents who live only for their children are destroying those children. We can communicate only what we ourselves have discovered, hence we must discover and develop our own personhood before we can help our children discover and develop theirs. If life is boring, routine or humdrum for us, it is unlikely we will be able to communicate the excitement and joy of living the Christian life.
Now we come to the second command of this section: the parent's responsibility.
Verse 7 tells us to "impress them on your children..." This gives balance to the previous statement, showing that the end result of the parental priority is the children's benefit.
To "impress" means "to have a strong effect on the mind and feelings; to fix in the mind." This second step is not to be done only when a parent has finished the first; it is not a chronological order of priorities. This second step is possible along with, and as a result of, obedience to the first. As we learn to become a whole person, we will simultaneously, in the process, pass this experience on to our children.
Parents must assume responsibility for their children's training and guidance. This doesn't mean that a church gathered has no responsibility, but it is limited to imparting information and providing "practice hits." Only parents can take total responsibility for the instruction and training needs of the child. In fact, parents always have been and, contrary to popular belief, are more than ever the #1 influence on their children. Despite appearances, children crave the guidance and attention of their parents.
Hillcrest takes seriously its own role in the training of your children. This is why, as a church body, we have encouraged parents to pick a service and stay at that service, so your kids can know their teacher, know a peer group and grow up with that peer group. We also think it's important for many of you to take responsibility to be involved with peer group learning times with our kids. We are all a part of the extended family of every immediate family in this church.
Parents, understand you are responsible for your own children. Do not leave the responsibility to someone else. Avail yourself of the helps the church gives, but don't expect it to click out little Christians, apart from your involvement.
Lamentations 2:19 says, "Arise, cry out in the night. As the watches of the night begin, pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street." A particular time and circumstance is being described here: a time when children were so neglected that they were being left in the street hungry. Never in my ministry have I been more concerned about the children of Hillcrest: not because I don't believe we have wonderful parents and children, but because of what's happening in the culture. From toddlerhood to college age, our children, young people, and students are under increasing attack. I believe the only way they will be prepared is that they themselves have a renewal: a personal Chalk Revival. But unless their parents take responsibility to have personal renewal in their lives, I think it's quite unlikely that the children will have it and be prepared for the kind of culture they're facing.
I believe that we as a church have also been called in a unique way to reach children, not only in Bellingham but around the world, and that the implications of what happens in Hillcrest Chapel homes has the potential of literally reaching around the world. So it makes sense to me that the parents of this church begin to take Lamentations as an encouragement, to "cry out in the night as the watches of the night begin, to pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord, and to lift up your hands to Him for the lives of your children..."
But if your children don't see that you love God totally, that you love the fellowship totally, that you're committed on a regular basis to a small group, what are they going to think? They'll think it's not that important, because the message is in the modeling, not in the words.
Mom and Dad, this is the time to get serious, to turn your hearts toward your children so that they would turn their hearts toward you and toward your God. The seeds sown now in your spiritual life have implications far beyond anything we can imagine right now. This is the time for personal renewal in your life.
The Process of Teaching
(How All This is Done)—vv. 7b-9
The place for these things to be taught is clearly in and around the home, not in an institution. It is to be life-related teaching which grows out of normal circumstances, the everyday routines of life.
Parents should be sure to understand their children well. Children have the benefit of very little life experience and maturity, so parents are responsible to communicate with them in a way they will understand. Speak to their level and in terms of their world; you haven't truly spoken until they have heard, taught till they have learned, disciplined till they have self-control.
How should parents impart truth about God and His love? Clearly, they are to talk about it (v. 7b). The parent is to talk—not teach, not lecture, not send the children off to another place. He is to be intentional about home time, but to talk in a natural, normal and unforced way; just as conversation would be about sports, music, or anything else. God must be recognized everywhere in life.
When and where does this happen?
- "...when you sit at home..." (v. 7b). At the dinner table, playing games, watching T.V., as you apply peer group teaching, talk to your children. A 1989 Focus on the Family Bulletin printed the following discouraging statistic: the average American child spent 25 minutes per week with his father and 25 hours in that same week watching TV. Take time, moms and dads, to talk to your children. However, don't project a false image. It is great to tell stories about when we were heroes, but it is necessary that we confess our fears and anger as well as our successes.
- "...and when you walk along the road..."
The phrase to remember is, "teachable moments...". When taking walks together as a family or going on hikes, use the slower pace to enhance communication. Use creation as illustrations. In our culture, trips in a car would also qualify; employ music or story tapes, books, or just conversation.
Don't moralize about everything or constantly tack religious interpretations to every event. Let your teaching be natural and genuine. As you walk and sit at home, use Christ's method of teaching by asking questions that are thought-provoking.
- "..when you lie down..."
This is by far the best kind of casual, unguarded time to relate to children about deeper, more abstract things—the things of God. It's the perfect time to teach your children to be grateful, to be thankful. Teach them how to reflect upon the day, how to handle anger and hate. Listen to their concerns; compliment them, assuring them of your love and God's love for them. Teach them how to pray, e.g., "7 Minutes with God." Read the Bible, reflect and pray about it. Teach your children to confess their sins. Teach them to pray together. Teach them how to go to sleep.
While bedtime is "prime time," this or any other single time should not be isolated as your "religious time." Insisting that the family worship time be at such and such a time every day, and then never mentioning or talking about God at any other time, is damaging. Again, it is important to have a lifestyle of conversations and activities where God is central.
- "..and when you get up..."v. 7.
Give children a sense of security at the beginning of the day. Express affection; offer a kind word. Teach your child how to get up: Stretch, smile, and say/believe, "God loves me." Teach him how to approach the day positively. Let your child "catch" you having your personal time with the Lord; teach him/her to respect that time and to have his/her own eventually.
If your mornings feel too rushed, you might consider adjusting your schedule and rising earlier. How great it would be to even grapple over a bite-size bit of Scripture with your child. Keep in mind, however, that there are morning larks and there are owls. Larks get up bright, sharp and alert—ready to go. Owls get up droopy-eyed and sleepy. Adapt to your children's temperament.
The Proper Signs
(The Visual Reminders)—vv. 8-9
- "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads"v. 8.
These are personal/individual arenas for testimony. Help children memorize Scripture (e.g., Proverbs 1-9), even offering rewards if it helps your children learn. Help them see circumstances as reminders or symbols of truth. Scripture memory is most helpful in the home, because there a parent can easily relate the circumstances of the family to the passages memorized.
- Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates"—v. 9.
These are family/corporate arenas for testimony.
Literal examples: Put up Christian art, symbols, verses on your walls. Display your children's drawings, paintings, or other art projects that relate biblical principles.
Figurative examples:: These words shall be as though they were bound to your hands governing your actions; as though they were on your forehead... guiding your thought life and your intelligence. Parents are expected to show loving, honest, open, forgiving, responsible lives guided by Scripture in the presence of their children.
Note the parallel of our hands and houses (where we see the commands of the Lord) to our foreheads and gates (where others can plainly see them). If we take "the doorframes and gates of your houses" figuratively, it means that when we are in contact with the outside world, it should be obvious that we are governed and controlled by God's wisdom.
A Comment for Singles
Let me pause now to say something to singles, who may think this instruction has nothing to say to them. On the contrary: this passage offers a powerful caution about who you should marry. What has often broken my heart has been the way many singles who have come through our church have thrown away their spiritual lives for the sake of a relationship they thought they couldn't live without. Even though these people may have known the scriptural command not to be yoked together with an unbeliever, they have gotten embroiled emotionally, sometimes physically or sexually, with someone, and disregarded the commands of the Lord, thinking they knew better or that their relationship would be an exception to the rule.
The end result of these types of relationships is that the children grow up double-minded, seeing two entirely different models. What happens to double-minded people? "They're unstable in all their ways" (James 1:8).
So do you love God, single person? Do you love Him with all your heart? Do you know who He is? Are you going to take the commands of God and impress them upon your heart? If you do, it will make a difference in your dating life and relationships from this point on.
Here then is the Magna Carta of the home: The Central Curriculum of Life; the Central Commands of the Teaching Process; the Process of Teaching; and the Proper Signs.
This applies to everyone here. Singles, you are models. Parents and everyone else (because we are members of the family of God), all the children of this church are yours. Find out their names; include them in conversations; show them love. This is the greatest opportunity we have to influence the world—through growing and sending leaders.
What Does It Say To Me?
- Recall two memorable events in your childhood that you spent with your parents. Why were they memorable?
- What practical ways should parents show their priority of knowing God and loving Him?
- Why are tone of voice and naturalness of teaching opportunities important for maximum learning? Explain.
- Which of the processes mentioned in vv. 7-9 had the greatest impact on you as you were growing up (both positive and negative)?
It's very interesting that the last words of the Old Testament speak about parents and children. Malachi 4:5-6—"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." That's the end of the Old Testament—the threat of a curse! The thing that will avoid that curse is that the parents' hearts be turned to the young, and the young to their parents.
Now turn to Luke 1:17—the beginning of the New Testament. Here the same words are basically repeated, but about John the Baptist. "And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
So part of the preparation, and a sign that we're ready for the Lord to do a brand new thing, is when the hearts of parents are turned to their children. It has to do with parents taking responsibility to look anew at their children.
I believe that we as a nation will experience great judgment if we don't. I think it's also a time of preparation for what God wants to do in our nation. I'm not the only one who believes that renewal of hearts and a great evangelistic happening will take place in our nation in years to come. But we parents must understand the importance of children in our lives.
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