OK. Let me say at the outset of this post that I am aware that what I’m talking about isn’t a simple equation where y+z= x and y-z=a. It’s not a simple as that. But if we as parents and churches want to help our young people grasp hold of the gospel for themselves, come to trust God’s goodness for themselves, and wholeheartedly love God for themselves because of Jesus we would do well to listen to God’s word.
I’ve just finished a couple of weeks teaching Deuteronomy 6, that well loved mainstay of the ‘family devotions’ devotees. It’s been helpful and challenging but maybe not in the way I thought. First of all v7 which is so beloved by publishers of family devotional material follows from v6 where I think the heart of the matter literally is; the words Moses has taught are to be in the parents hearts before they repeat them to their children! Our children can spot fakes, and we can’t give them what we don’t have. If we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength then whatever devotions we do will be deficient. Our children are to our love what a geiger counter is to radiation. They spot what we love and how we love and why we love – I dare you to ask them what you love most?
But secondly in this passage there is the encouragement to put God’s word before our eyes and before our families eyes. That may be devotions, either sporadic due to the chaos or more ordered if that’s the way your family roll. I think they’re helpful but I also don’t think they are a burden we should feel weighed down by – we do them but definitely fall more into the sporadic category. What definitely must mark our families is discussion about God’s word and what it means to live as his people – we should be talking about these things wherever we are. This is where we have tried to put more weight and emphasis.
But thirdly is the final part of the chapter, after a warning against three dangers (comfort, idolatry, suffering based doubt) that will cool the Israelites love for God faster than a zero food hygiene rating sticker cools your desire for a kebab, Moses encourages the Israelites to answer their children’s questions about why they live differently not with a because God said so but by telling the story of salvation and explaining how God’s laws lead to the good life.
If you are a parent or grandparent today, or you are just over 25, we simple don’t understand what it’s like to be a child today. We don’t really understand the social media pressures they face everyday, both outside of the home and increasingly due to their mobile phone in the home. We don’t understand the cultural currents they swim in. We probably aren’t totally aware of the values they are being taught and are imbibing in school and from their friends. And all these things, all these pressures mean quite simply we were never there age. “Back in my day” is ancient history in terms of relevance to our young people.
We need to work hard at helping our children not just hear God’s words and commands but in teaching them why they are good. Showing them the community building concern that lies at the heart of them, how God was really showing his people the good life. We need to work hard to draw out what they are learning elsewhere and the assumptions they then make when they hear God’s word about his character and his wisdom and we need to counter it, ask questions of it. In fact its a great chance to ask ‘why?’ To expose the sandy foundations so many of the world’s ideas are built on or the Christian foundation that lies buried deeper than most are prepared to go.
Do our children know the story of our coming to faith in Jesus? Do they know what he has been doing in our lives since, how we can testify to his goodness? If not is it any wonder they question his goodness? Are we explaining why God says what he says? How it is good, the fruit that flowed from his word that we still enjoy today in our society? Are we questioning and unpicking the stories and narratives and ideas they are told and comparing and contrasting them to what God says in his word?
I pray for my boys regularly, aware of my sin, my failure as a parent. Apparently if he was rag coding our parenting my 16 year old tells me I’d get an amber – he was more shocked that I was quite pleased with that. None of these things will produce devoted disciples of Jesus, but it is tilling the ground in which I am praying the Spirit plants and brings a seed to life in all the children in our church.