Raising God-Fearing Children
"But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them." Psalm 103:17-18
The Bible tells us that God seeks "godly offspring." Malachi 2:15. When God established His covenant with Abraham, He said: "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant.you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations." Genesis 17:7-9
A PARENT'S PRIORITY
As a father, one of my greatest desires and priorities is to bring up my children "in the training and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4. I am to "train a child in the way he should go." Proverbs 22:6. My greatest concern is that my children grow up to love the Lord with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength. I pray that my children will grow to love, trust, obey, worship and serve God more consistently and effectively than I have done.
We are to "tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn will tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands. They would not be.stubborn and rebellious.whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to Him." Psalm 78:4-8
"Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God Who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His command-ments." Deuteronomy 7:9
On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter declared: "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptised in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord your God will call." Acts 2:37-39
"For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations." Psalm 100:5
A FATHER'S RESPONSIBILITY
As a father I am responsible to ensure that my sons and daughters are raised to become God-fearing fathers and mothers who will in turn raise God-fearing sons and daughters who will themselves become fathers and mothers who will love, honour, trust and obey God. We are to raise disciples who will raise other disciples so that God's generational blessing is passed down and the chain unbroken.
By God's grace, I have been blessed with four beautiful children, two daughters and two sons. My eldest is almost fourteen. Our youngest will soon be six. For the benefit of younger parents, let me share some of the practical strategies and tactics which I seek to employ in discipling my children. I share these cautiously, because my wife and I are still very much learners, and we have much more learning and improving to do. Nevertheless, we have come a long way, battling medical crisis and developmental challenges while engaged fulltime in missionary work, juggling home schooling and many other commitments. Perhaps some of our experiences and practices will be helpful to other parents.
My first priority is to ensure that my children love God and His Word. Some of this can be taught, but most of it is caught. It is not enough for me to teach my children to love and honour God and His Word, it is vital that they see their parents love God and His Word. Our daily example is in many ways a more important teaching tool than our words. So whatever we teach our children, we need to model by example for them.
SUNDAYS ARE SPECIAL
From the earliest, we have strived to teach our children a love and respect for God's Word, for the Church and for the Lord's Day. Children thrive on routine and rhythm. That is why ensuring that our calendar reflects our faith is most important. Habits and routine are a vital part of discipleship. We make time for those things we deem important. God has decreed that we work six days and give the seventh to rest and worship. It was so important to God that He gave us an example to follow, by resting after creating the universe. Setting aside the first day of the week as a special day is good for our body, mind and soul. We need time set aside for relaxation, reflection and restoration. This is a matter of rhythm and routine, but also a matter of revelation and remembrance of the Lord's great works of Creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and salvation (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
HONOURING THE LORD'S DAY
Any relationship needs quality time and we need to devote at least one day a week to developing and deepening our relationship with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Therefore we should do everything we can to protect the Lord's Day from being encroached upon and desecrated. In our family shopping, sports, homework or worldly entertainment are unacceptable activities for any Sunday.
RESPECTING THE LORD'S DAY
Preparation for worship on Sunday begins the day before ensuring that our children get to bed early enough to be well rested for Sunday worship. We can also encourage our children to respect where we gather for Sunday worship and the Lord's Day by seeing that they wear their best clothes for the Lord's house. And ensuring that we arrive early enough for worship with expectant and teachable hearts and minds.
APPLYING SUNDAY'S SERMON
After church we seek to discuss with the children what they have heard and learned and how best we can apply these principles of Scripture.
Scripture memorisation is also a vital tool in discipleship: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word.I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You." Psalm 119:9-11
"Let the Word of Christ dwell in your heart richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:16-17
If we build our children's lives upon the rock of God's Word, then they will stand in the storms of life that most surely will assail them (Matthew 7:24-27). "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105
A GYM FOR THE MIND
Some of the memorisation projects that we have given priority to, with our young children, have included: The Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments, The Apostle's Creed, and the Evangelism Explosion Gospel presentation. These cover four key areas of life: How we are to pray The Lord's Prayer; How we are to behave The Ten Commandments; What we are to believe The Apostle's Creed; and How we are to be saved the Evangelism Explosion Gospel presentation.
We have found that with repetition even a three-year old can learn to pray the Lord's Prayer. As they grow older a wide variety of key Scripture verses and Psalms are committed to memory. Scripture memorisation is like a gym for the mind. (Those who say that young children cannot memorise Scripture passages are wrong. Young children have a tremendous capacity for memorisation. Those who are not memorising Scripture have often managed to memorise many secular songs, and all kinds of details about pop idols, Hollywood screen idols, sports idols, and other secular obsessions).
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
It is essential that we teach our children respect for authority, starting with their parents and for grandparents, then uncles and aunts, authority in the church and in society. Respect for God, respect for people and respect for property.
HONOURING OUR ELDERS
God's Law declares: "Cursed is the man who dishonours his father or his mother. Then all the people shall say Amen!" Deuteronomy 27:16
"The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, and will be eaten by the vultures." Proverbs 30:17
Our Lord Jesus declared: "Honour your father and mother and anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death." Matthew 15:4
Tragically, respect for parents and elders is becoming increasingly rare, even in Christian circles today. Yet, God's Law makes clear that we are to "rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly" Leviticus 19:32. Proverbs 23:22 instructs us: "Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old."
These are commands not just to young children. No matter what our age, whether we are living under our parent's roof, or running our own household, we are still responsible before God to honour and respect our parents (Exodus 20:12).
"Each of you must revere his mother and father, and you must observe My Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:3
LAYING SOLID FOUNDATIONS
In the light of the overwhelming pressures which assail families, and the relentless temptations that surround young people today, parents must take extra-ordinary steps to ensure that our children are raised in the love and fear of the Lord. We need to lay solid foundations and form good habits, which will discipline, disciple, strengthen and prepare our children for lives of godliness and productive service in their congregations, communities and countries.
Before my children could even walk or talk, I began a routine of reading time. It has been a high priority for us to instil a love of reading, especially a love for the Scriptures in our children. We want to stretch their minds and their muscles, train their hands and their hearts. We want them to love knowledge, and "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". For this reason, reading time has been a daily priority.
INVEST IN BOOKS
We have invested in books. We may not have been able to afford all the technological equipment which is considered essential in many families, we have no DVD, hi-fi, etc. And we only recently aquired a CD player. But we have always had lots of great books. I have regularly made raids on Focus on the Family bookshops, and we've avidly devoured James Dobson and Doug Wilson materials on child rearing and the family. We also obtained and went through the whole tape series on Growing Kids God's Way and the Pearl's No Greater Joy books.
BIBLE BEFORE BED
I firmly believe that one of the most important parts of any Christian family with children should be Bible stories and prayer before bed. This has always been an enjoyable and vibrant time of fellowship, either cuddling up together on the coach or on the bed, using colourful story book pictures where possible and regularly asking questions and involving the younger children in these great stories from God's Word.
SCRIPTURE BEFORE SUPPER
It is essential that we establish Bible centred homes. There are many ways that we can do this. As the evening meal tends to be the most important time of fellowship in our family, we have established the principle of Scripture before supper. Sometimes this has included reading a chapter of the Psalms or Proverbs each night, on other occasions we have worked through some kind of devotional book.
Sometimes we have maintained a practise of devotions first thing in the morning, on other occasions devotions have been held after dinner. The important thing is that Scripture, Psalms and hymns and prayer should be a daily part of every Christian home. This does not mean that these family devotions needs to be long. In fact, particularly in families with small children, we have found it wise to keep family devotions short, cheerful and focused. Children thrive on repetition, and so we can incorporate basic memorisations of the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostle's Creed where even the three or four year old children can have an active part in the devotions.
MAKING TIME FOR PRIORITIES
Many parents will protest that they don't have time for all of this. Well, actually you do have the time if you severely cut down on TV and newspapers. In the light of eternity, what good have all the multiplied hours spent each week in front of the TV set and pouring through the local scandal rags done for either you or your children? Cut out TV and you will have enough time to disciple your children.
I praise God, that by His grace, one of the best choices we ever made in our home, long before we even had children, was dispensing with TV. Before I even married, we had decided that TV would not be part of our lives. We did save up for and invest in a video machine and we have enjoyed selected videos critically viewed. However, I am convinced that I just do not have enough time for TV and newspapers as well as quality reading time and discipling my children. When it is a clear choice between films and books, we choose books!
Time management is a key part of effective child rearing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. We plan our calendars, and we plan our week. Priorities come first. First things must be first. Our spiritual priorities come first, our mental exercise is second, and physical exercise comes third. Hiding God's Word in our hearts through Scripture memorisation, daily devotions, Scripture before supper, Bible stories and prayer before bed, worship, evangelism and service, are given high priority. At the beginning of every year I go through my calendar and write each child's name on their birthdate. That is then an appointment and my schedules are planned around these and other important family commitments. If it is important put it in your diary.
STRENGTHENING MINDS AND MUSCLES
Along with the spiritual exercises and soul searching, comes the mental exercises, stretching our minds: reading, memorisation and testing. Even before our girls were ten we were giving them Bible exams and encouraging them to sit through lectures, sermons and Bible studies at our courses designed for adults.
Physical exercise and discipline is also important. Sunday afternoons have traditionally involved cycling along the canal or walks in the forest. All of our children have, from very early ages, taken part in mountain climbing. Surrounded as we are in Cape Town by magnificent mountain ranges, even at age four Calvin had climbed the whole way up and down Lion's Head without needing to be carried at any point. At age seven Christopher completed a marathon seven-hour hike up across the full length and breadth of Table Mountain. We have included each of our children in regular gym workouts, swimming and various sports. Our 5 year old, Calvin, has recently taken to cycling with me when I go for early morning jogging around the neighbourhood.
What we are trying to instil in our children is self-discipline. We want them to manage their time and resources wisely, to select their priorities in the light of eternity, to have a work ethic, and to enjoy their work.
We also want our children to think critically. We do not want them to just accept anything and be vulnerable to peer pressure. We want our children to be like the Bereans who "were of more noble character.for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11
We pray that our children will not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:1-2). We want our children to be a positive influence on their friends, not to be a people pleaser, following the crowd.
AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
It is also important to us that our children have a positive attitude, to be grateful, first of all to God, and to be thankful to people around them. To count their blessings, to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
As Christians, it is vital that our children learn to take personal responsibility, to admit failure, to seek counsel and advice. Sulking is never acceptable. They need to be quick to repent and quick to forgive others. Some of the most important words our children can ever learn are: please; thank you; no, thank you; what can I do?; and I'm sorry, please forgive me.
I want my children to be able to take initiative, to see needs and to volunteer, to be generous and willing to sacrifice for others.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
I want my children to know their family history, their national heritage, their Protestant Christian heritage and missionary heritage. They need to be inspired by examples of excellence from the past, to strive to serve Christ wholeheartedly in the present and future. So missionary biographies and history books form an important part of our reading. I have also gone out of my way to take my children to museums, battle sites and historical monuments.
WHOLE HEARTED LOVE FOR GOD
God's Word makes clear what our greatest priority is: "These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe.so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.fear the Lord your God, serve Him only." Deuteronomy 6:1-13
The education and discipleship of the next generation is given as the very first application of God's Law and the highest priority of God's people in Deuteronomy 6:1-13. We are not merely to teach a head knowledge, but a wholehearted love for the Lord. Wholeheartedly, with all our soul and with all our strength. Body, mind and spirit, in every aspect of our lives, we are to radiate and reflect our love for the Lord.
The Lord's commandments should be discussed morning, noon and night. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, God's Word is to be such an integral part of our lives that everything we do with our hands and everything that we think with our minds is to be guided and governed by Scripture. Our homes should also reflect the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life and everything within our gates, even our gardens. People should be able to tell the difference Christ makes in our lives. They should see that we love the Lord and that the Bible governs every aspect of our lives.
We are commanded in Scripture "only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." Deuteronomy 4:9. We need to disciple our children by word and deed, by our lives and our lips, by education and by example consistently.
RECOGNISE THE THREATS
In order to do this, we need to be well aware of the threats to our children. There are so many distractions to interfere with the priorities of God, church, family, devotions, home schooling and service to God's people and His creatures. We need to be aware of the dangers of: aimlessness, lack of planning, lack of direction, time wasting and just drifting.
The Scripture warns us: "Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character." 1 Corinthians 15:33. Worldly friends, worldly fashions, worldly music, pagan magazines, TV, newspapers, state schools and the Internet can corrupt and conquer our children.
PROTECTING OUR TIME
Our time is so limited. We need to take great efforts to protect our families' time. We need to schedule family priorities into our diary. We need to focus on God's priorities. "Only one life, it will soon be passed only what's done for Christ will last." The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. We must put most of our efforts into that which really matters the most.
COURAGE TO STAND ALONE
We need to be aware of negative peer pressure and bullies. Our children need to have spiritual backbone and the courage to stand up for their convictions, and to fight for the Faith. They need to be taught to "Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you" James 4:7.
Temptations and traps of the devil surround and press in on young people today demanding their attention and allegiance: Hollywood idols, rock idols, sports idols, political idols, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, hip hop, rap, rebellion and rock 'n roll, gangster-pimp music, fashions and worldly friends. "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong." Exodus 23:2.
DO NOT ALLOW TECHNOLOGY TO ENSLAVE YOU
We also need to be aware of technology (such as cellphones and computers) encroaching on our lives. Technology is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. We need to ensure that technology is a servant in our lives and not the master. Cellphones and telephone calls should never be allowed to interrupt family devotions and church services. Our children need to know that cellphones should be switched off for prayer meetings, family devotions, church services, etc.
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
Far more serious is the rebellious attitude that is so often fuelled by much of the Hollywood films and the noise which masquerades as music. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft" (1 Samuel 15:23). Attitude is everything. Protect your child from influences which war against his or her soul.
EDUCATING BY EXAMPLE
My children need to see that I love God and His Word wholeheartedly. They need to see the priority I place upon our family, and our study of God's Word and worship of the Lord. They need to see how I respect my elders, and how I love God's creatures. They need to see that I do not allow myself to be distracted by phone calls when it is time for family devotions.
I want my children to learn to be brave, to be dependable, faithful, disciplined Christians of integrity. People of their word who can be depended upon to honour their commitments. And they need to learn to be unselfish, to always put personal feelings and interests aside in order to do what is right, to care for the weak and needy and for the lonely. To rescue stray animals, to help those who are in greatest need, and to serve the Lord sacrificially. For me to teach this to my children, they need to see these priorities and principles at work in my life, consistently.
As a father I have a God-given duty to provide for and protect my children, and to be an example to them as I disciple them and train them to be God-fearing Christians who will love and serve God, His people and His creatures wholeheartedly.
"Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments." Deuteronomy 7:9
Peter Hammond is the author of The Discipleship Handbook and The Greatest Century of Missions.