Drive down neighborhood roads early in the morning and you are well aware that school has begun. The school zone speed limit signs are blinking and, on many streets, the police cars are waiting to pull speeders over when they disregard the sign and blast past the school while children are present.
The backpacks have been purchased and innumerable school supplies have been obtained to fill them as the children march toward their destiny in their new classrooms. The younger children are, by and large, excited about the new grade level and the excitement that awaits. [First day of kindergarten with backpack and smiles – a strong face concealing a bit of trepidation!]
The older youths are a bit more jaded and it is not quite as “cool” to be excited about the change as are their younger siblings.
Parents also go through a “school transition” of sorts … just watch a mother standing at the bus stop with her kindergarten child. As the bus pulls up, the child ascends the steps and, if you look closely, often the mother is daubing her eyes. Her little chick has left the nest for, possibly, the first time and it is a transition because there is the awesome awareness that a new chapter in the child’s life is about to begin. [First born getting on the bus for first day at kindergarten, while Mom is holding back the tears of pride and fear all at the same time!]
There are times that we tend to think that all education is to be handled by the school … or perhaps by the church. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
The primary teacher for the child is the parent then grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members.
While this seems to run counter to our culture, Scripture is clear that teaching the children is the paramount role of the parents. Solomon, who was known as the wisest man on earth, penned the book of Proverbs as a record of his teaching to his son. The book begins:
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – … The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. (Emphasis not found in text of Scripture)
Long before Solomon wrote the proverbs contained in the Scripture, God directed the Israelites to instruct their children in the commands of God. In Deuteronomy 6:1-7, the children or Israel were commanded to keep the commandments that the Lord gave to them, and further they were to “teach them diligently to your children…”
In Exodus chapter 13, God instituted the annual feast of unleavened bread to commemorate the people’s leaving Egypt by the mighty hand of God. At verse 8, the people are instructed to tell the children that the reason for the feast was “because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”
After the Israelites went through the Jordan on dry land, Joshua took 12 stones, one for each tribe, and set up a pillar. Then he told the people:
“When your children ask their fathers in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’, then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’”
Clearly, teaching occur during a wide multitude of activities.
Time spent with children can teach various skills, but mostly will teach about relationships, enjoying being with each other, and the value of sharing time together in God’s marvelous creation.
Sometimes our “teaching” will result in the discovery of a new hobby that could last a lifetime. Or, it might confirm the fact that “I don’t want to touch that!” But no matter what, learning will come through the experience.
Sometimes teaching a skill, such as swimming, will result in nothing more than having fun … but that is all too important in a world full of strife, pressure and challenges. Knowing how to have fun while parents, grandparents or other adults are watching is, in itself, something worth learning.
Most importantly, however, through prayer and attention, we teach them to love the Lord, to live a life that is full in Christ, to pray when facing difficulty or just to commune with the Living God, to learn and develop their own personalities while, at the same time, becoming responsible for their own actions and understanding that God is Sovereign. This kind of teaching occurs during the act of living. Just watch the preschooler mimic you.
One example that stands out in my mind was the child we were babysitting for who stood in our porch, holding a Golden Book with the pages facing us, as if she were the teacher reading us the story. However, she was too young to read; rather, she was saying, and I quote: “Blah, blah, blah, … [slight pause] I don’t wanna hear about it!” Then she would turn the page, look at it as if reading the words, turn the book around so the new page faced us, and then repeat the same statement with the same cadence, rhythm and sing-song form each time she said it. It was clear that she had heard this phrase often in her home. She may not have known what it meant, but she knew how to say it!
Or consider the parent who was shocked when the 3 year old let out an expletive only to hear himself say the same thing when he hit his finger with a hammer. If we say it, they will, in all probability, say it as well. The phrase “your actions speak louder than words” is much more than a catchy phrase!
- If you don’t want them to curse – you should not curse.
- If church is important to you – you should go with your child to church, not just drop the child off at the door.
- If prayer is important to you – you should pray in front of and with your child, not just direct the child to pray at bedtime.
- If God’s Word (the Holy Bible) is important to you – you should read it in front of, and also along with, your child.
It behooves us to be sure that our actions are consistent with the words that we speak, especially when children are listening or observing what we are doing.
In Proverbs 22:6 we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” See also Proverbs 22:15.
Teaching or training our children means much more than just providing a computer or iPad and letting them look around, play games or watch movies. Teaching our children includes information from school, certainly; but the more important lessons relate to our teaching of Jesus Christ, teaching of God’s sovereignty and majesty, teaching of sin and salvation, teaching of God’s love and mercy combined with His holiness and justice. And, teaching our children includes teaching that actions have consequences and that discipline is an important part of growth, training and living.
God disciplines each of those He loves and we should discipline our children. The writer of Hebrews says the following about discipline in chapter 12:6-10:
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. … Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
I am surely not advocating for child abuse, or even for spanking or other form of physical punishment, necessarily; but I am advocating for loving discipline that trains the child and brings wisdom. Ephesians 6:4. Discipline includes development of self-discipline which affects virtually the entire life, including things like diet, alcohol use, actions while partying, sexual purity, fidelity in marriage, money usage and savings, etc.
Leaving the yard vegetation without pruning or guidelines results in weeds growing wild and choking out the good plants and shrubs growing spindly and weak. Likewise, leaving children to raise themselves results in children who do not know God or follow His commands, who do not understand boundaries, who do not respect authority, who do not have the discipline to live productive lives.
We must not waste our opportunity to teach, discipline, and train our children. Our time with children is important, and it is limited!
Father, forgive me when I have focused on the mundane and have ignored the weightier matters when speaking with my own children and grandchildren. Holy Spirit, please guide me as I teach by example and let my words be consistent with my actions. May the children I come in contact with see Jesus and His love put into action as I interact with them. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your guidance and presence.