Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
Have you ever wondered if a storm as huge as Hurricane Harvey hit your faith, would your faith stand? What if it hit our kids’ faith, will theirs stand?
When our children are young, we help them build the foundation of knowing the Word of God and its importance in our daily lives by reading the Bible with them. We model that, more than any other books in our home, this book is the one we go back to again and again. We front load them with lots of truth from God’s word. This shapes and molds their world view. We want them to know and see that God is at the center of history and our lives.
The Dangers of Knowledge
There is a lot of temptation to stop at having knowledge of God’s Word. We feel comfortable with knowledge acquisition: it is safe, can be fit into a convenient morning or evening time-slot, and it leaves us feeling like we have mastered something.
Knowledge is Safe, Obedience is Risky
Let’s face it, acquiring knowledge is safe. It is a skill we have honed from years of school, and we have been taught to measure ourselves by our mastery of knowledge.
Obedience, on the other hand, is risky. It requires giving up control to put our trust in another. And particularly obedience to Jesus is risky. He tells us to love the unpopular and difficult people, to be transparent about our own sins and failings – to Him and to others, and to give our lives for His cause.
Obeying Jesus takes real faith – you really have to believe His incredible promises to those who follow Him – or it would never be worth it. The activity of pursuing knowledge is safe, and it doesn’t take faith.
Knowledge is Quick, Doing Takes Time
I only have limited time with my kids during the week – especially in the mornings. We usually have a family devotion time for about 15 minutes each morning. We alter the routine periodically, but currently we watch a 5-8 minute Bible video, listen to a chapter of Proverbs read aloud, and then Mom or Dad leads in prayer for everyone in the family. Kids are usually dealing with tiredness, and we’ve had a few falling-back-asleep episodes.
It’s easy to focus on knowledge during these times – “What did your learn?” – rather than obedience – “What does Jesus want us to do?” “Is that hard?” “What is Jesus promising us if we obey Him?” “How do you think He wants you to apply this?”
Talking about doing takes more time. You need to wrestle on a much deeper level with what Jesus means. And even more so, creating contexts where you can do Jesus’ commands together takes time and intentional effort.
Sure our kids see us doing a lot of good things every day, but, frankly most of my life is spent loving the people who are relatively easy to love, and who love me back. I need to make intentional choices to get my family into situations where we are clearly choosing to obey Jesus, trust in His promises, and looking to His Holy Spirit for guidance.
Knowledge Needs to be For Relationship, Not Mastery
Knowledge is important, because we want to know Jesus. But we want to know Him in the relational sense – not in the sense of having a lot of knowledge about Him. Part of knowing Jesus comes from knowledge – we have to believe the right things about Him to know Him. But knowing Jesus is all about experiencing Him. It is about relationship, not activities.
We have to keep our pursuit of knowledge in its proper place of serving our pursuit of knowing Jesus in the relational sense. I know many people who grew up in church whose experiencing of Jesus was primarily acquiring knowledge and behaving in a moral way. I think Nicodemus, a true seeker of God, was like this – and that is why Jesus told Him, “You must be born again!” (John 3:7).
We need to make sure acquiring knowledge is not our children’s primary experience of Jesus. Acquiring knowledge helps them to properly understand their experience of Him. Our kids need real encounters with Jesus, and knowledge so they can understand Him.
The way we are taught to purse knowledge in school makes us the master – master of the subject, and helps us to master our world.
Pursuit of knowledge of God makes us not like the master, but like children. Humble, trusting, dependent, obedient.
In the end, our kids will be able to weather the storms of life, not because they know about God, but because they know God – they understand Him from His word, they know how to hear His voice, and they love and trust Him. Developing all these things has to be our goal!
What Do You Do?
As we build a foundation of reading God’s word together and prayer, what are some ways we can help our kids become doer of God’s word?
Read for Relationship
Read the scriptures through the lens of what it means to relate to God.
Our eight year old son and I have been doing the read through the Bible in a year program. (However, it will take us probably two or three years at the rate we are reading!) Believe me. Sometimes, I am so tired at the end of the day that I just want to read through it as fast as I can and be done. But, when I choose to push through my own tiredness to engage with God and with our son through Bible reading, more often than not, I leave connected to God and our son.
Lately, as we are in the thick of reading through the Old Testament, more often than not, he asks questions that I find difficult to answer. I have found myself say, “That is really puzzling. I don’t know, but let’s ask God for insight and let me see if I can find out.”
But, more than having the right answers for our kids, I have been realizing that he is learning to engage with God over things that are puzzling. He is learning that that he can come to God with anything and everything, even with the things that are puzzling about how God works in history. Furthermore, he is learning to relate to God over puzzling questions. Through these difficult experiences, he is learning what it means to mediate on God’s word for guidance and direction.
Reading for relationship takes just a tad more effort and time. But, the possibility of a great return in our relationship with Jesus is exponential.
Take Risks to Serve Together
Take risks together doing something difficult to serve people who clearly have needs. Explain how this is all about obeying Jesus, being grateful for what we have and giving to others, and trusting the phenomenal promises Jesus has for those will follow Him. Teach that following Jesus means doing the things that Jesus did, not just religious activities and being nicer and kinder than the people around us.
Pray a Lot with Your Kids
Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” teaches us that the essence of the gospel is believing that, with the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is near. Every time we pray with faith we demonstrate to our kids that we believe that this is really true. God is not far off. You don’t have to be some sort of super-person to draw close to Him. God is near. He has given us His Holy Spirit, and he promises to hear our. prayer.
Bring real needs to your kids and teach them to pray. Pray with them in simple forms that are reachable for them, and have contexts where they watch you pray in an adult way. They can understand way more than they can participate, but they will learn different things from watching you pray than they can from you participating with them in age appropriate prayers.
Be Honest about Your Frustrations, Needs and Lacks
- I am frustrated about x. So, I need to go to Jesus.
- Today, I was mad about y, but Jesus did… and now I…
- When I was angry I didn’t respond well and I need to say I’m sorry to z, and to Jesus
This will teach your kids the profound truth of the gospel that being in relationship with Jesus is not about being perfect, or even good. It is about coming to Him honestly and humbly with who we really are and letting Him minister to us.
I pray this prayer for my children regularly in my secret place. “Father, I pray that our son and daughters would know that the sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. You will not despise it. I ask that they would have broken and contrite hearts before you.” (Psalm 51:17)
What good news it is that our heavenly Father does not despise our broken and contrite hearts. How beautiful it is for our kids to see this heart and posture before God in me and in you.
Keep Your focus on Growing Your Relationship with Jesus
Many of us are so concerned about our kids and other responsibilities that we coast in investing in growing closer to Jesus. Remember that our kids need to see us making relationship with Jesus our number one priority. I talk more about this in the first principle. You can go back and read more: principle 1 – we will get what we are!
When You Engage in a Church Activity, Be Explicit about Explaining Why You are Doing It
I remember the time our family decided to participate in our church’s effort to go door-to-door to offer to pray a blessing over the home. I was actually quite humbled by my lack of enthusiasm and my kids shamelessness in going door-to-door. They learned that Jesus actually had done this with his disciples thousands of years ago and that we can still do it today (Luke 10).
Sometimes, we can get so excited about the “doing” that we forget to take the time to show how our doing relates to what the Word of God says. We want to take the time to intentionally articulate for our children God’s larger vision for His redemptive work in our history and how our doing is part of that bigger plan of God. Our actions are not in a vacuum but it is part of Jesus’ bigger plan to make God’s kingdom be known.
So take the time to explain the why’s of your activities. Afterwards, take the time to connect over the activity. It doesn’t have to be long. It can be as you’re driving home together, but you provide the clarity of vision and purpose behind your activities. I love wrapping it all up in a prayer of thanksgiving, giving God the glory for all the good He has done.
Expect Big Things
Expect them to hear the Holy Spirit. Don’t be surprised if you see them wrestle with the question, is Jesus really answering their prayers? Believe that Jesus will answer their prayers to reveal Himself to them. Expect Him to reveal Himself to them in ways that are powerful and age appropriate (sometimes we think these are mutually exclusive).
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)
Our kids are sometimes better at coming to Jesus expecting big things than us! I have at times wanted to make their prayer requests smaller, or more my size, than God-size. But, Jesus tells us not to hinder our children from coming to Him as they are, even if we think they need a little reality check. You can guide them, without killing their heartfelt belief that nothing is impossible for God! Expect Jesus to meet them in big ways as they live out the teachings of Jesus, particularly in prayer.
Putting It All Together
One of the well loved Bible stories for children is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Too often, we leave this profound teaching of Jesus by saying, “Be nice to people. Help those who are hurting.” We think that our children are incapable of understanding the deep truth of this word: Jesus teaches us to love others as we would love ourselves.
It is much easier (and doable) for us to just be nice than to love others as the Samaritan did. If I am honest, sometimes being nice feels hard enough when I am frustrated. Loving others as Jesus defines it seem pretty impossible at times. It is inconvenient, messy, and most of all, it requires that I truly care about the person before me.
Encourage your Kids’ Initiative to Obey
While we were on vacation in northern California, one of our children saw a man lying on the street as we were driving by. My husband and I didn’t see him at all. She saw a man lying on the ground and said, “Mommy, daddy, there is a man lying on the ground. We need to help him.”
We had read this Bible passage recently and had been talking about what it means to love strangers. As much as I wanted to just keep going, I knew we couldn’t. She noticed a stranger in need and she felt a conviction to do something about it.
We made a U-turn and drove back to the area that she thought she had seen a man lying on the ground. But to her surprise (and ours), we saw no one. He had disappeared. We don’t know if she “thought” she saw someone or if the man had gotten up in that short span of time and walked away. But, he was gone. We took additional time looking for this man. Finally, we gave up.
I learned something that day as a parent. When our kids take initiative to put Jesus’s words into practice, we take the time to do it. It even means that it might possibly disrupt our plans for that hour or day. We want our kids to learn that when Jesus shows or convicts us of something, we obey Jesus and respond now. This learning is worth the disruption to our perfectly planned vacation.
As we drove, we noticed another man standing outside panhandling. She asked if we can stop and help him. We did. Our plans for that morning got changed by the Holy Spirit’s work in one of our kids hearts to love a stranger. It was a well spent detour to our plans. My prayer is that we would have more of these kinds of experiences as a family.
Jesus has given us this great privilege and task of raising children who would love Him whole-heartedly. It takes clarity of vision as parents and intentional effort to fulfill this call that He has given us. It is hard work. But, what joy there is to be had in putting our effort in what truly matters in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Our wise investment in doing the hard work of putting God’s word to practice (and teaching our kids to do the same) will reap the return of a house that stands through a great storm.
I think it is worth the work now. What about you?
Share with me your stories of how you are building your (and training your children to build their) house on the rock!