(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
The day our first child was born a lot of things changed. Really our whole lives changed, but one thing we might not have realized is our occupation changed that day as well. We became teachers. We became trainers. If we still have kids in our home we still have that job. Let’s talk more about that role and why it’s vital in our parenting.
God has created and designed the structure of family so that parents would naturally be the main teachers of their children. We are always teaching them. The question is what are we teaching? For example some parents may feel like they haven’t been teaching their children anything or enough about God.
But before they believe that, they should hear what pastor and writer John Piper said about it: “It is impossible not to teach children about God, because not to teach them is to teach them plenty.” Even in our silence we are in fact teaching them God is not significant and that we consider other things to have more significance. Ephesians 6:4 says to bring our children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (emphasis mine).
Education is important for our children. Believers and unbelievers can agree here. But what kind of guidance does God give us in this area? Does his Word give us direction or tell us what kind of school to put them in? Does it have to be a Christian school, private school, or home school? The Bible doesn’t say, but it does say who is responsible for teaching: the parents. The Bible even says fathers specifically in Eph. 6:4. The church isn’t responsible, the government isn’t responsible, and our parents aren’t responsible. We, the parents of our children, are.
Maybe you have heard people say “you can’t teach your kids the Christian faith because if you talk about it too much they will be more likely to reject it.” William Farley said this in his book Gospel-Powered Parenting: “Children don’t reject our faith because of too much formal Bible teaching. They reject it because we don’t practice it. They reject it because we practice it but do not value it enough to teach it to them. Or they reject it because they never receive new birth. But too much knowledge is not the problem. A lack of knowledge usually is the problem.”
Our kids can never know too much Bible, but they can know too little about the gospel. Here are a few things to teach our children:
Teach Them about God
Some who don’t believe in God will look down on us and think we are brain washing our kids. Maybe you have asked yourself, “Should we drag our kids to church?” I will say, without a doubt, a positive “yes” to that question. Why? Well, we make them go to school before they understand how important education is for them, right? Why? Because it’s good for them and they are too young to know it yet. We make them brush their teeth, right? As parents it’s our job to create healthy habits in the lives of our children because they will not do it on their own. If you allow kids to decide for themselves, they would skip school all the time and eat junk food at home.
As parents it’s our responsibility to put before them things that are good for them even if they don’t understand yet. That is especially true of spiritual things.
Teach Them About Eternity
The Bible says, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), so it’s never too early to teach them about it. Most think of eternity as a time that starts after we pass away, but really it started for us the moment we were born. Heaven is the most wonderful, beautiful, and glorious place. It’s a real place and it exists right now. Our minds cannot even come close to imagining how amazing it is.
We want our kids to know that earth is not our permanent home. When it’s our turn to cross over we want our kids to know that we went to be with Jesus in the place he has prepared for us (John 14:2-3), and that “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23).
Let’s teach our children that they too can join us. Randy Alcorn wrote, “One of the greatest gifts we can bestow on our loved ones is the honest anticipation of reunion in the better world.” But until then, let’s take the opportunities we have to teach our child to set their “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Teach Your Kids How to Pray
Kids learning how to pray is precious. One morning I asked my daughter to pray. She said, “I don’t know all the words.” I reminded her God already “knows what you need before you ask him,” and he is not so worried about our words as he is our heart (Matthew 6:8). I asked her, “Do you know how to talk to daddy? Let’s talk to our Father in heaven.”
I remember clearly when for the first time she understood that God heard her praying. And she started to understand that we can talk to him anytime. In our family worship time we read how Jesus healed a “leper.” When we came across that word I explained to her it was like her dry skin problem but way worse. After the story she said she wanted to ask God to make her dry skin go away. She was starting to understand that God is able to help those who ask.
We must be praying for our children. There is nothing more important we can do for them as their parents. Praying for them before they are born until the last day we have with them. I remember one night my son and I finished our books, I turned off the nightlight and held him close to sing and rock him in the chair. He had one little arm across my chest and the other around my back. After singing I said, “OK son, let’s pray.” I wasn’t sure if he was asleep yet or not, but I felt his little arm come from around my back and he put his hands together. What a precious moment. I pray he will grow up to be a man of prayer. Often times we Christians underestimate what God can do when we go to him in prayer.
Teach Them to Deny Themselves
It’s important we try to teach our kids the word “no”. Why? Because not everything they desire is good for them. They must be warned that “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Meaning sometimes our hearts will trick us into thinking something is good for us when it’s really not. Just because it feels good and desirable doesn’t mean it is.
For example, when a child has the strong urge to hit a sibling for being annoying and he has already been told that hitting is wrong, he can stop that desire to strike out in the moment. It’s difficult. It’s even difficult for us. When is the last time we told ourselves no? Did we accept our no or give in?
We have to train ourselves as well. Denying ourselves is not easy. It makes me think of when Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Teaching our children how to accept “no” is a forward step on the path of self-denial. It’s imperative that we and our children know what God has defined as right and good, so when our hearts desire something else we can deny it.
Teach Them the Inside is More Important
Recently I was sitting in a coffee shop and a group of moms were talking in front of their daughters the whole time about different actors. Their conversation went something like this: “No that one is too short”, one mom said. “Well, I think that one is too dark and fat”, said the other. This went on the whole time I was trying to work on this book. They spent a long time sitting there emphasizing different actors’ outward appearances, never did they mention their character or personalities.
How do you think this will affect the minds of their young girls? How do you think these young girls will grow up thinking about themselves and others? We must be careful not to praise a certain look, but rather focus our family’s attention on the inside of a person and remind them that’s what matters most. Let’s teach our children that what is good and beautiful is the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
If we are always addressing our children’s outside appearances more than their character and hearts, we are teaching them that what’s on the outside is more important. Let us be careful not to constantly focus on their outside looks; instead, point out the moments they are being selfless and make a big deal about that. Help them to see their loving act of selflessness is more beautiful and important than their clothing choice or weight.
God is concerned with the heart more than he is our outward appearance. Just look at Israel’s first king, Saul. The Bible says, “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he,” and the verse goes on to say, “From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2). But look carefully at what God had to say about him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samual 16:7).
We must teach our children to live for God’s approval and not man’s approval (Galatians 1:10). When they are living for God’s approval alone they will not succumb to the pressure their peers will put on them to look, talk, and act a certain way. They will care less about what others think, and care more about what God thinks.
Teach Your Kids the Importance of Reading
Instill in your kids a love for learning, specifically reading. Read together. This will have a huge impact on so many parts of their lives. Make reading something they look forward to and are excited about. Invest in good children’s books that are good for their imagination and good for their soul.
One morning I didn’t have time to read the Bible, so I was looking for opportunities throughout the day to spend some time reading. I found some, but I had the idea to wait and read it with my daughter that night during her reading time right before bed. I did that because I wanted to explain to her that I didn’t read my Bible today, and I wanted to do it before the day was over. I wanted her to see how important it is for daddy.
Read the Word with them. You can get them their own personal children’s Bibles even before they can actually read. It will be special to them to have their own copy. Tell them over and over again how special a book it is.
Obviously we cannot cover in this chapter everything there is for us to teach and train our children. But as we read the Bible with our children all the things God wants us to teach our kids will be given to us. It’s encouraging as a parent to know that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). God’s Word is sufficient for us and our families.
Teach Them to Tell the Truth
The Bible confirms something we already know and have witnessed as parents: Our children are capable of telling lies. Psalm 58:3 says, “ . . . they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Children lie to us to avoid discipline, and they lie to others so others will like them more.
We must encourage our children that telling the truth isn’t scary; lying is what is dangerous and scary. Make telling the truth the thing that is praised, honored, and safe. We must teach them the habit of always telling the truth. Experts say there are ways you can beat a lie-detecting machine; in other words, we can deceive man, technology, and even ourselves, but we must remind our children they can never deceive God.
I once read the story of a young boy who was told to stay home while his father was away. He was not allowed to go out with his friends that night because he wasn’t finished with his homework, but he sneaked out anyway. While hanging out with his friends, he saw his mom, who looked very frightened. She said, “Hurry home! Something terrible has happened!” When they were both in the car the son, who was just as terrified as his mother, asked what happened. Making sure her words would have their full effect on his heart, she said, “My son just lied to me.”
We must teach our children that lying is unacceptable. Teach them that if they tell the truth the first time they will be in less trouble than if they had lied. We need to encourage our children to always tell the truth. It should go without saying, but we should never lie to our children either. For example we shouldn’t lie and say, “If you do that, the ghost or police will come get you.” Teach them to always tell the truth and train yourself to always tell them the truth.
Teach Them about Marriage and Sex
I remember one embarrassing day while waiting at the doctor’s office with my mom. I noticed a chart of some sort with words around it, and there was a word I had never seen before, so since I was old enough to read and pronounce words I asked my mom in a rather loud voice, “Mom, what is ____.” I won’t put the word here, because I’m embarrassed and it might make you feel uncomfortable. My mom was embarrassed by how loud I had said that word, and she was probably glad I didn’t ask the doctor.
The reason I share that story is that I remember having to learn “sexual terms” mostly on my own. It was not talked about in my home, but I did hear things at school. Kids need to be taught and their questions need to be answered. If we don’t answer questions or talk about uncomfortable things, they will go to the internet or friends for answers. But we want them to feel comfortable asking us, and we want them to hear our answers. The last thing we want is them getting answers from people who have a skewed perspective on sex and marriage.
Teach Them the Joy of Serving
After church one Sunday we pulled out our famous lime pie that my wife made me for Father’s Day. We still had half of it left and wanted to share it with our friends from church. I remember my wife and I cutting it up and putting it into bowls. We called our daughter over and told her to give one slice to this person and that person. The joy others had in receiving the pie from our daughter made her even more happy to serve and give. Let’s teach them that we are called to “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2) and that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Teach about Money
Someone once said, “Money has three uses: spending, saving, and giving. Spending is for living today, savingis for living tomorrow, and giving is preparing for living in eternity.” God calls us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and to be “givers” (Matt. 6:19-21, 2 Cor. 9:6-8). It’s the parents’ responsibility to model good stewardship of finances.
One way to train our kids with money is with this pattern:
1) I do. They watch.
2) I do. They help.
3) They do. I help.
4) They do. I watch.
Meaning first I spend/save/give and they watch how I do it. Second, they help me do it. Third, they do it and we help them. And lastly, they do it and we just watch. This model can work with almost anything we train them to do.
Be Creative in Our Teaching
In our teaching we should aim to be creative at times. I heard of one father who built a big fort in his living room. He moved all the big furniture around and put a big blanket over it all. After that he and the kids crawled under it with flashlights. That’s always fun and cool to do no matter how old you are. After they got under there he read Psalm 18:2, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge . . . ”
Another way to be creative is to tap into their imaginations when trying to make a point. For example, I heard a pastor once say boys are wired to be protectors and fighters, so when a little boy attacks or hits his sister you can tell him, “You are being the dragon right now”. Explain to him that God put him in the family to fight the dragons, not be one.
Maybe you have a whiny daughter; teach her to be a strong woman of God. Don’t just pour out discipline on them all the time. They will continue to feel like they are the weak ones and you are the strong one.
If they enter a room whining, make them leave the room and come back in without whining this time. Make it fun! Make a big deal of it and be creative. Have them flex their arms (yes, even girls), but then tell them to flex their heart and try not to laugh when they actually try. Tell them God can make their hearts strong, and God delights in giving strong and beautiful hearts.
Teach Them to Fear Not
We shouldn’t be surprised if our kids are scared of ghosts and the dark if we allow them to watch scary movies. You and I must teach our children to fear God alone. The culture may instill in kids a fear of giants, but the Bible instills in our kids the truth that no giant can stand before God’s man (1 Samuel 17). Culture may teach us to be scared of evil spirits and ghosts, but we know “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), and that he is “over all”. God said, “fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).
Be Ready for Questions
As they learn, we must get ready for hard questions. My daughter asked me one night as I was rocking her, “Dad, why did God make mosquitos?” I didn’t have an answer. I had a couple of funny thoughts and guesses, but I had to confess to her, “Baby, I don’t know.” It’s OK not to know. But one thing we do know is “He created everything with a purpose. Nothing throughout all creation is meaningless or purposeless,” as A.W. Tozer once said. Encourage your children to ask good questions. These are great moments to teach!
Advances in technology have reached new heights because scientists and engineers are free to experiment in labs. Homes are to be the same way. There should be a certain amount of freedom for our children to make mistakes and fail without being ripped to pieces physically or emotionally. They are learning. I remember when we began trusting our children to carry food to the table. We didn’t start out with hot soup, of course, but with toast. Sometimes it ended up on the floor and that’s OK.
My friend Josh King said it best, “Parents, school is always in session, the world is your classroom, the Bible is your textbook, your children are your pupils, and your objective is that God’s glory be feared and delighted in.” So may we remember “school is always in session”, and we are called to teach our children “as we go” in this world. The things listed in this chapter are not designed to be a long to-do lists that add to your everyday routine, but we are to teach our kids truths and apply them while we are living life together with them.
Let me end with this one simple but profound proverb. Before reading it we must understand the Proverbs are not promises but more like probable outcomes. Here is the one I want us to read and think about, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Whether we know it or not we are training our children how to be parents some day. I remember going into my daughter’s bedroom and seeing her spanking her big oversized teddy bear our neighbor gave her. When I asked what she was doing, she responded in a pleased and cute voice, “I’m spanking her; she pushed the other baby”. We are always teaching and training. May God help us to be godly teachers and trainers. And may we be able to tell our kids “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org