tell your children the story of God

God Said, Tell the Children the Story

16 January 2024

7.3 MINS

How can Christians stay true to their faith, over generations and across cultural boundaries? In the Old Testament, we read of the wise way that God instructed His people – and it includes children as a major focus.

God instructed Moses to pass on his instructions to prepare God’s people for the Promised Land. God’s purpose for these instructions was “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 so you may enjoy a long life.” (Deuteronomy 6:2)

The instructions given are recorded below:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 on 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.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Verse four starts with a reminder of the first commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” God was aware that in the land of Canaan, where they were going, there was a multitude of gods. One could very easily apply that to our children today as they live in a society with a multitude of gods, with humanism possibly being the most dominant.

Jesus quoted verse five and stated that it was the greatest commandment in the Law. This is a reminder that you and I should live as godly role models before our children. As parents, we should take this commandment very seriously: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”; and live it in such a way that we can honestly say, “We do love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and with all our strength”.

If I want my children to become true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, then it would be reckless and futile of me to live contrary to the word of God and expect my children to be any different.

It has been said, our walk with the Lord is more often caught than taught. Children generally will live out and embrace what they see their parents do.

God’s instructions in verse six make the point that this is a commandment to be taken seriously, not be just head knowledge, but a heart-felt conviction and lifestyle.

Scripture highlights who are to be the recipients of this lifestyle and instruction: the children. This is as relevant today for your children as it was for the Jewish nation over 3,000 years ago. The word of God says that there must be an intentionality to impart our faith to the children.

Home is the primary place where children should learn about God and Jesus and how to come to faith, while Sunday school and catechesis provide complementary and supplementary teaching.

The New King James version states in verse seven, “You will teach your children diligently.” To do something “diligently” means to do with “careful attention”, which indicates that this is a very important instruction and should not be taken lightly.

Scripture is clear that these instructions should become an everyday part of our lives. We are to talk about them when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.

This might sound a bit challenging. However, as we ask the Lord for wisdom, he will show us how to carry out this instruction. It could be as simple as when we see a lovely sunset or flower, we make a comment like: “Isn’t it wonderful the way God has made this look.”

The remaining two verses (eight and nine) advise us to look at ways of creating an environment that is conducive to helping our children to embrace your faith. It is much easier to form a healthy habit in a small child, and it will become more difficult as the child grows. This may be as simple as teaching the child to say “grace” (give thanks) before each meal.

I dare suggest that the Jews, while scattered around the world for some two thousand years, adhered to the above instructions, even to this day, and were able to maintain their faith in spite of the separation and the persecution they have suffered through the centuries.

Further exploration of the Scriptures will vindicate the position that parents have a God-given responsibility to teach their children and tell them stories to illustrate the greatness of God and His deeds throughout history. However, there is nothing like telling your children about your own “spiritual” journey and what happened when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

The responsibility of parents being the main source of religious instruction is noted in the first eight verses of Psalm 78, which is not unlike a preamble to the epic story that is told throughout the rest of the Psalm.

The first two verses are instructing and encouraging the parents to listen to what God had to say. Verse three requires the listener to contemplate what they hear and what they should do. “What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation.”

Is it our negligent silence that deprives our own from knowing the precious truths of God, of His power and praiseworthy deeds? When the decrees, the statutes and the law were established in Israel, God commanded our forefathers to teach them to the children, so that the next generation would know them – even the children yet to be born – and they, in turn, will tell their children.

Verse seven sums up what God had in mind if they faithfully adhered to the previous six verses:

“Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget His deeds
but would keep His commands.
They would not be like their forefathers
– a stubborn and rebellious nation,
whose heart was not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to Him.”

If we do not want our children to become stubborn and rebellious, God instructs us to continually tell them the stories of the Bible, to make Jesus and God real in their everyday existence and to be the godly role models we are instructed to be.

I am quick to recognise that it is impossible to be the “perfect” parent. But through God’s grace and being open to the leading of his spirit, I dare to believe God will honour your efforts. What a powerful portion of Scripture and clear instructions for parents.

Could this be a part of the reason why the Jewish nation remained Jewish? Is the modern Church losing the children because we no longer practise what God has told us to do?

In the New Testament, Peter exhorts us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Similar words are written in Deuteronomy 6:20: “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’”

God’s instruction is for the father to tell his children about the Exodus from Egypt and how God’s might and power were demonstrated, and how God gave them the land He had promised under oath to their forefathers.

He would also instruct his children that the Lord commanded them to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God so that we might always prosper.

We will teach our children how to play sports or how to cook and how to sew – but do we teach them how they can live for Jesus?

In Deuteronomy 11, God makes this very important point. Verses two, five and seven remind parents that they were the ones who experienced God at work and why it is crucial for them to share this experience with their children.

In verses two to seven, God says:

“Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: His majesty, His mighty hand, His outstretched arm, the signs He performed and the things He did in the heart of Egypt and to His whole country; what He did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how He overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert until you arrived at this place … But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.”

God is making the point that you have seen these things, but your children have not, and God expects you parents to tell your children. There is a great amount of detail in this instruction, and in verse 19, Scripture instructs parents to “teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit”.

This echoes the instructions recorded in Deuteronomy 6:7. Surely, this must cause us to examine our own lives and to evaluate our response to God’s instructions.

As with all of God’s commands and decrees, they are for the benefit of society now and for the well-being of our children in the future. However, if parents are negligent to do their part, the children and the future society will suffer, as is recorded in the book of Judges (2:10):

“After that whole generation (referring to Joshua) had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done in Israel.”

It seems that Joshua’s generation, who saw and experienced God in a very real way, neglected to impart this knowledge to their children. The first and second generations of Jewish children would have experienced a comfortable and safe lifestyle and felt that they could survive without taking heed of God’s instructions. The sad and devastating result was that they forsook the Lord and followed those around them.

Is this not the situation we are confronted with today? Many of our children are ignoring the instructions of God and, dare I say it, possibly do not know what His instructions are for their life. They are doing their “own thing” to their own detriment often because they have not been properly instructed. Sadly, they too will suffer, but hopefully not as badly as the Jewish children.

We must deal with this immediately if we are to keep our children from going the way of the world. We are told in 1 John 2:17 that “the world and its desires will pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Is not the deepest desire of every Christian parent to have children who follow the Lord and bring up their own children the same way?

Let us all pray that more Christian parents will acknowledge their God-given responsibility to follow the instructions of the Creator and bring their children up in the “nurture and admonition” of the Lord.

___

Originally published in News Weekly. Photo by Anna Shvets.

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One Comment

  1. Ian Moncrieff 16 January 2024 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Wisdom well explained, and a challenge. But Oh, what benefits!

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