We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob, and established the Law in Israel, which he commanded out forefathers to teach their children, so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God, and would not forget His deeds, but would keep His commands.
Again and again in the Scriptures we run up against the responsibility God has put in the lives of parents and churches to intentionally and deliberately instruct the children in their midst. ‘He commanded our forefathers to teach their children’. At its most basic level then, this is a matter of obedience. But as with all the commands of the LORD, there is in fact also deep wisdom and joy in our obedience. After all, He teaches us what is best for us (Is.48:17).
There are however, a number of dangers that we need to be aware of as we consider together how best to embed these structures into the life of our families and our Church. Perhaps one of the most pertinent in our context is the risk of reducing this process simply to the intellectual imparting of information. We might find ourselves particularly prone to this mistake because of the way education works in Britain. If we simply transpose models of schooling into the life of a congregation we are falling far short of what the LORD calls us to.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying we don’t need to teach the content and the truth of our faith. One of these articles at least will be exploring why explaining the content of Scripture, and e.g. catechising our children intentionally in the faith is an outstanding practise, and one for which children are uniquely suited! But while this is absolutely critical, it is not in itself sufficient. Obviously we need to know what the commands of the LORD are if we are to keep them, but we need more than simply information if we are to obey them – that is as much true for children as for adults. We need to implement something that is far more comprehensive and that engages children at every level of their being, including, but not restricted to their minds. As Jesus put it so succinctly when questioned: ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mk.12:30).
We are to teach the children in our midst not just to know about our Lord, but to love Him. This is much more challenging than the imparting of information. How do we go about doing it? I want to suggest that as well as imparting knowledge, we must also model what it means to live in the light of that reality, and how to relate to it and rejoice in it. A quote from the immense theologian, Jonathan Edwards, might help to clarify what we’re driving towards: “My grandfather was a man who in the presence of God appeared not only to believe but to delight”. It is one thing to teach the children and young people in our midst about the reality of God’s presence - and it is clearly an important thing. But to show them that we delight in that presence is another thing entirely…
That obviously puts an additional responsibility on us as we gather to worship week by week. Corporate worship is by its very nature didactic. As we worship together we are teaching others what it means to worship the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Take as an example leading intercessions. We all pray. We know what it is to go into our room to close the door and to pray to our Father who is unseen (see Matt.6:6). But when we lead prayers in a public setting, we are doing more than simply praying, or indeed even leading others in prayer. We are inevitably modelling prayer and teaching about prayer in the way that we do it. The same is true of every aspect of our worship together: how we engage with Scripture, how and what we sing etc. We are intrinsically modelling, teaching, and instructing others by our own attitude and example (especially our children). We aren’t just thinking about the content of what is said and sung about who God is and what He has done, but about how we are captivated by that, how we are shaped by it, and how these realities fire in us a devotion to Christ, and a commitment to each other … or not. Either way we are teaching, and either way the children in our midst are learning.
Psalm 78 calls us to instruct our children in such a way that they will in turn be positioned to teach the generation that comes after them. If they are going to be able to do this, they need to learn to be those who don’t just know about God but who delight in Him. Where will they learn that? The Psalm goes on to warn us about a previous generation whose hearts were not loyal to God, and whose spirits were not faithful to Him (v.8). It concludes by celebrating the raising up of David – a man who is characterised by having a heart that is after God (I Sam.13:14 & Acts 13:22). Thus, ‘David shepherded them with integrity of heart…’ (v.72). He modelled the kind of heart-instruction this Psalm is calling us to. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to save and teach them to delight in God. But He has chosen to do it through us, and the example we set, and the instruction we give. That is a responsibility that goes beyond parents, or those who are specifically teaching our Sunday groups week by week. It is a responsibility that rests on the whole Church family.
We’ll have a look at both aspects of this over the next few weeks – teaching both about God and about delighting in God. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to not just teach our children, but to show them how to put their trust in Him, and to keep His commands because we love Him (Jn.14:15).