My six-year-old grandson was running excitedly through his backyard, shouting, not in an alarming voice but as though he wanted everyone to hear and know the most happy and joyous news ever.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!”
I stood transfixed as he continued, never slowing his happy run or quieting his exclaiming voice.
“Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
He is being homeschooled and my daughter interrupted his recitation a moment to explain that she believed he should learn Scripture by putting the proper expression into it. Well, he certainly had, and it was blessing me, causing me to hear not him so much, but the words he was speaking.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.”
And there it was—the LORD is good; his standfast love and faithfulness endure forever, and they have from the time of the first children, right here to my grandson. More recently, I know that three generations back for this grandson, there is a great conversion story involving his great, great grandpa. This particular set of grandparents immigrated to this country around the turn of the 20th Century—although they didn’t know one another at the time. However, they would soon be introduced, marry shortly after, and then become parents of 13 children—ten of whom lived very long lives, the youngest one still living at the ripe old age of 100. The great, great grandfather who professed his traditional Lutheran roots when he arrived in America, would as a young husband and father, have a born-again experience that would shake up his family for generations to come, producing several pastors, teachers, and miscellaneous other servants of the Lord. I suspect that through the years, many of my grandson’s forefathers prayed for him as well as all their descendants to know the Lord.
“ Sometimes in the repetitive reading and telling of this story, we forget that we are also tempted in the same ways Jesus was. ”
I can’t see how this boy will not carry the words of this Psalm with him in that same jubilant frame of reference he has learned for the rest of his life. Praise God for His faithfulness to all generations! I think about the times in my own life that memorized Scripture has spoken to me, challenging, teaching, convicting, and encouraging me. Most of the time, I received these first words of Scripture as they were read by parents, Sunday school teachers, and pastors.
Yesterday’s lesson in my preschool and early elementary Sunday school class was about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Sometimes in the repetitive reading and telling of this story, we forget that we are also tempted in the same ways Jesus was. I tried to explain that to the children. Turn rocks into bread because I’m hungry—my eyes delight in cake and ice cream so give me some right now, God. I know God is powerful and I can actually use that power to benefit myself if I want, so I’m going to show everyone that I can be a super hero and jump unscathed from tall buildings, or accomplish any hard task given to me. Everyone will notice and I will be glorified. Let me just get all the material things I want or control some great business venture, even if I have to skip church for awhile or not spend time in the Word or pray much.
Especially when we’re parenting, we don’t often think that our temptations or submission to them might be setting more of an example before our children than the right things we tell them. I think back to the stories I’ve heard about my own grandfather I mentioned above. I think it was at his job one day that he became so convicted that smoking his pipe had become an idol, that he threw it into a toilet. (There may not have been indoor plumbing, I don’t know.) His kids loved to tell that story. And I suspect that my own father learned how to pray fervently from that grandfather, who was his own father, and who always spoke to God in German with passionate fervency.
“ Good parenting is a humbling task, and children need to see that. ”
A well-ordered life, time spent alone with God and His Word (Deut. 8:3), a life producing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), a life that rises to the challenge of taking every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5)—these are prime responsibilities of godly parenting that children see and will learn more effectively by our examples, rather than by lecturing and preaching. Be assured, these are hard things and the desire and energy to do them must originate with a genuine love for God. And we fail at it all the time. But so do our children. And when they do, isn’t our hope to see them repent, turn from the wrong, and move forward? Why is it so hard to do the same with our heavenly Father while our children watch?
Good parenting is a humbling task, and children need to see that. I was (am) terrible at this. I always want what I say to be the last word, and if my own actions might not live up to what God says is right, far be it from me to admit that in front of children. I was brought up with “I am the parent and am always right” attitude and I learned that; not how to say “I was wrong.” Bill Cosby, back in his day, used to say that he could tell his children, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” We’d laugh, knowing that we wouldn’t really take our children out, but that we had some right to demand that they listen to us despite our own actions.
This is not to say that teaching children isn’t important. Sound Biblical teaching goes right along with being an example. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 reads: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Just what are the words we are to so intently and intentionally teach our children? A lawyer once asked Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Another time a rich young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus told him he needed to keep the commandments. The young man replied that he had. Jesus then said he should go sell everything he owned and follow Him [Jesus]. Jesus is the only one who has kept the commandments because he is the only One without sin. We are called to give up all the sin we cling to and follow Him. He has paid the debt that our sin requires of us by His death, and covers us with His righteousness. His Spirit places the desire in our hearts to love the Lord with all of our being—everything we have—and to love others, to care and serve others, as we do ourselves. This includes all others, but especially our children and grandchildren. It's a lifelong process of growing and sanctification that He graciously works in us before others that they may see what we do and glorify God because of what they see happening in us (1 Peter 2:12).
“ I can not only teach them, but actually show them Who Jesus is! ”
During all this, somehow and quite miraculously, my relationship with God deepens. I am able to share this with my children. To tell them how I learn to fix myself in His Word, to care for and grow with other believers—not thinking I know more or am better than they are. I am able to show impartiality and kind hospitality to unbelievers. I am able to confess my sins before my children and show them that Jesus never leaves me or forsakes me. I can tell them the importance of living for Jesus and applying it practically to everyday life. I can not only teach them, but actually show them Who Jesus is!
Even though many times I fall short, and will in the future, God faithfully continues to show His steadfast love and faithfulness to me, my children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, all my kin that have called on His name and learned Who He is from those who have gone before us.
Maybe, if I could only still run a little, I would join my grandson, Jeremiah, and run and shout across the lawn with him:
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!