Little Eternal Beings
When God gives us children, He entrusts to our care little eternal beings. Each one of them will spend eternity in either heaven or in hell. There is an unparalleled sobriety that rightly accompanies such delegated responsibility. We often fail to properly prioritize our responsibilities. Our jobs are not eternal; our houses are not eternal; our cars are not eternal; our bank accounts are not eternal; our health is not eternal; but, our children are eternal. The time that we have with them is short. My wife reminded me the other day that we only have so many years left before our oldest will be out of the house. I remember holding him in the hospital right after she delivered him like it was yesterday. God only gives them so many years in our homes. It is for this reason that God charges Christian parents to take seriously His call for us to spiritually instruct, nurture, admonish, discipline, protect, provide for, prepare and bring our children up to be among those who will know, love, fear and follow the Triune God (Eph. 6:1-4). To that end, here are several practices that we can put into place to help ensure that we are moving in the right direction of being faithful stewards of these little eternal beings.
1. Have your children in weekly, Lord's Day worship at a theologically solid church. Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your children is take them to the most biblically faithful church you can find (within close proximity to your home, of course). Have them in weekly Lord's Day worship with you from their earliest of ages. Don't be quick to shove them off to a church that will keep them out of the corporate worship service until they are fifteen. Having them in the weekly worship services, teaches them to love expository preaching, singing praises, public prayer, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, the sacraments, fellowship, church discipline, etc. Having them in the gathered Assembly helps them breath the air of these things on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. If you choose to "do church at home," go golfing on the Lord's Day, lounge around because you need a day to yourself, etc. you can be sure that the little eternal beings God has entrusted to your care will follow suit.
Living the Christian life with your children in the local church is also the best way to teach them where God's Kingdom is primarily manifested in this world. It is in the local church that the kingly rule of Christ is most fully made known. It is in the local church that the men God has called to shepherd the flock will come alongside you in His call to bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. It is in the local church that your children will learn to love other believers as God commands us. It is in the local church that your children will see the glorious work of the Gospel in the lives of new converts, the wayward, those with broken marriages, rebellious children and in the lives of the leadership. Your children will have plenty of opportunities to see how messy lives can be in the local church. They will, however, also see how gracious God is and how powerful the Gospel is in the same situations. It is in the local church that we learn to love and serve others on a daily basis. The church is a community of blood-bought people trying to learn to love one another as we have been loved by God. There are lessons to be learned in a solid local church that your children will not learn anywhere else in the world.
2. Teach your children to know and love God's word. Memorize Scripture with your children. Repetition is everything. Start when they are very young. We underestimate what our 2 and 3 year olds can learn by memorization. I have often heard people say, "But, what good will it do if they don't understand what they are memorizing?" You are teaching them to listen to, love and be filled with the word of God. Don't ever let someone trick you with the devilish response, "Well, I don't want my kids to hate God because we made them memorize His word." Your children already hate God by nature. We all do. We learn to love the Lord by learning about His love for us in Scripture. God says through the prophet Jeremiah, "Is not My word like a fire? And like a hammer that breaks the heart to pieces?" God's word is the seed by which He brings His people to saving faith. God's word is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. During all my years of deep and dark rebellion, the Lord would bring to my mind the Scripture that my parents had faithfully taught me. It was the fact that it was in my mind from my childhood, that enabled it to work in my heart during my time of wandering.
Redeem the time that you have with your children by memorizing chapters of Scripture--not simply verses. Again, it takes days upon days of repetition to help them lastingly memorize. I try to make use of 5 minutes a day on our drives to school. Sometimes, we do it at the dinner table. You don't have to wear your children out in order to help them learn large portions of God's word. Make it fun. Tell them that you will take them to do something special if they reach a goal.
As far as a manageable procedure is concerned, take one verse until they've mastered it. Then, on subsequent days, work on a second and third verse together. Then, go back and work on those first three verses together. Keep working on those verses until they have mastered them. Then, add a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and so on. You will find that within weeks and months, you and your children will have memorized large portions of Scripture. I like to encourage people to start with the first chapters of the New Testament letters (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, 1 John, 1 Peter, etc.). Skip the introductions of the letters and go right into the main content. There is a reason why most of the strongest theology in Scripture is found in the opening chapters of the Epistles. Obviously, the Psalms are also excellent for memorization and instruction.
Family worship is another vital means by which we teach our children God's word. Knowing that many are struggle to know how to carry out family worship, I did a short three part series for our congregation, years ago, that you can find here, here and here.
3. Teach your children to sing God's praises. One of the most discouraging things that I see in the church today is how little people know, love and sing together to the Lord. God commands us to "teach one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." The mighty works of God are almost always accompanied by the singing of His praises. I have the advantage of having grown up in a musical home. I grew up learning the great (as well as the not-so-great) hymns and songs of the faith. I can pick up a guitar and accompany psalms, hymns and spiritual songs--and not everyone has this luxury. However, we live in a day when every single recording of just about every Psalm, hymn and spiritual song in the history of the church is readily available online. Make use of iTunes, Bandcamp and Spotify. Sing along to the great hymns recorded for you on such albums as Together for the Gospel I, II, and III. Hymns are mini-sermons for the soul. Just as the Lord brought the truth of His word to bear on my during the years of my rebellion, there were many times that He brought the words of many of the great hymns to mind.
One of the most precious memories that I will ever have is singing hymns over my mom--together with my dad, sister, wife and sons--as she was dying. We had just taught our sons the first two verses of Guide Me, O, Thou Great Jehovah. I leaned over to my mom--who was in a comma--and said, "Mom, we just taught the boys this hymn. Can we sing it to you? I saw tears well up in her eyes. I truly believe that she heard us sing it together around her. It was an extremely powerful moment for me, as a testimony to God's grace in the way that she and my dad had taught us to sing praises to God.
4. Teach your children to call on God in prayer. There is something beautiful about the prayers of little children. The Psalmist said, "Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, to silence the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2). Matthew noted that this was exemplified in the children singing Jesus' praises in the Temple (Matt. 21:16). Whenever our sons first started praying, they would pray that the Lord would give us "clean hearts." They had listened to what we taught them in family worship and then, spontaneously, incorporated it into their prayers. What better prayer could any of us pray at any age! Fathers should model prayer for the family. The father at the table should teach his children about the Father in heaven, but calling on Him as the Father of the whole family in heaven and on earth. Parents should purposefully and lovingly instruct (not guilt) their children to pray. Mothers should pray with their children when they are alone with them. There is never a time when we should not be praying with and for our children. We will teach them more than we realize with our prayers.
That being said, on a daily basis, I feel my many failures, shortcomings and weaknesses in these areas. I see my complacency and selfishness. I always feel as though I could do better. That is not, in my opinion, a bad thing to acknowledge. Sometimes people will slide into hyper-Calvinism mode and say things like, "Well, don't worry about it so much. God is ultimately in control." There is no doubt about it. God make straight lines with crooked sticks. There is no such thing as perfect parenting. No matter how well we may seek to parent our children, we won't ever have the ability to change their hearts. Changed behavior is not changed hearts. I wholeheartedly agree, defend and promote those parallel truths. The Triune God is Lord of heaven and earth and must change their hearts by His sovereign grace and the free working of His Spirit (John 3). Nevertheless, He has entrusted them to us and commands us to be diligent in using every means that He has appointed to bring them up in His nurture and admonition. May He give us the grace to see our children for what they are--little eternal beings--and faithfully bring them up to be what He would have them be--faithful followers of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.