July 14, 1991

THE COVENANT CONNECTION

“Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

“I’m not going to push religion on my children.  I think they should make up their own minds about spiritual things.  They have to choose their own beliefs and values, and I have no business trying to influence their choices.”

That’s a broad-minded, tolerant approach to parenting, and I’m not surprised that quite a few parents feel this way.  Maybe your parents tried to shove religion down your throat, and you don’t want to subject your children to that kind of pressure.  Or maybe you think that whatever your children believe about God is okay, as long as it works for them.  When it comes to faith and spiritual values, you want to influence your children as little as possible.  Let them decide for themselves.

I agree that it’s a serious mistake to dominate our children and force them into a mold.  But are you really sure you want to go to the opposite extreme and offer them no guidance at all?

Suppose it’s meal time.  Your darling little Jeremy declares:  “I hate vegetables, and I don’t feel like eating meat right now.  I’d like a big bowl of ice cream for dinner.”  What do you do?  Do you say, “Why, of course, son.  Five scoops of ice cream, coming right up!”  Not if you’re like most parents.  You’ll inform Jeremy that if he wants to eat anything at all, he’d better eat what’s on his plate.  When he finishes that, he might get a little ice cream for dessert.

Or suppose it’s time for school.  Young Julie wants to stay home:  “I don’t like spelling and arithmetic.  I think I’d rather stay home and ride my bike today.”  How do you react?  Do you phone the school to let them know that Julie will be too busy riding bike to attend classes?  I doubt it.  You hustle Julie off to school, whether she feels like it or not.

I doubt that you let your children make all their own choices, at least not if you care about them.  If you don’t want your children to become wimps, you provide food that will nourish strong bodies.  If you don’t want them to be ignorant and illiterate, you insist on the kind of education that will develop keen minds.

If you do this to help a child’s mind and body, what about that child’s soul?  How will our sons and daughters learn to know God and develop sound values if we parents refuse to guide them?  We might as well feed them a diet of ice cream and let them skip school every day as expect them to develop a healthy spiritual without our help.

God commands parents to nurture the souls of their children.  In Deuteronomy 6:7, the Bible says,  “Impress {God’s teachings} on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).  Too often, though, we ignore what the Bible says and take an approach that is the exact opposite:  “We parents should not try to influence our children’s religious beliefs.  They can choose their own beliefs and values as they watch television at home, listen to the radio on the road, party with friends before they lie down, and go to a school that excludes God when they get up.”  That’s a formula for spiritual disaster.

If you’re not trying to shape your children’s souls, there are plenty of others who are more than happy to do so.  If you think children’s souls develop in a bubble, with no outside influence on their choices, think again.  Advertisers on Saturday morning cartoons want to influence your kids.  Heavy metal rock bands are trying to influence them.  Teachers at school want to shape them.  Various friends are constantly putting pressure on them.  Drug dealers, beer companies, pornography publishers–the list goes on and on of people who would love to influence your children.  If you don’t want to influence your children, you’re about the only one who doesn’t.  So it’s not a question of whether someone will try to influence their choices and identity, but whose influence the children will choose to follow.

Ultimately, of course, our children will make their own choices as they grow up.  But although we parents cannot make the final choice for our children, we can play a vital part in showing them what the right choice is like.

How can we do what’s best for our children?  If you’re a young parent like me, you probably take that question very seriously.  Your first child changes your life.  A strange new feeling sweeps over you as you hold that tiny baby.  Now you have not only yourself to think about, but also someone else who depends on you for guidance.  You love your baby and you want only the best for her.

I suspect that’s why there’s a trend for many people who dropped out of church during their teenage years to return to church after they become parents.  Even if you never attended church or thought much about God in all the years you were on your own, you may begin to look for a church home once you have a family.  You send your little ones to children’s classes at church, and you may even begin attending church yourself.

In fact, some people I know go to church simply for the sake of their family.  They’re not sure what they believe themselves, but they want their children to be exposed to Christian teaching, just in case there’s some truth in it.  Besides, it can’t hurt.  The children will hear some interesting stories, learn some solid moral rules, and hopefully make some decent friends.

I’m glad whenever parents want the best for their children, and I think it’s a great idea to involve your family in church.  However, that’s only one aspect of nurturing a child’s spiritual identity.  You have to deal with first things first.  There’s more to it than simply putting your children in touch with a pastor or priest or Sunday school teacher.  Your children should be able to draw spiritual strength and guidance directly from you.  Your life powerfully affects your children’s lives, for better or for worse.  You as a parent will either be your children’s strongest link to God, or else the biggest obstacle between them and God.

So if you know God, it’s not just good for you;  it’s good for your children as well.  The Bible often uses the word “covenant”.  In a covenant, God establishes a relationship with someone, and this relationship branches out to include the person’s family.  God’s covenant guarantees his love for you, and his covenant also includes your children in this relationship of love.  When you commit yourself to God’s covenant, God makes you a primary link between your children and himself.

However, if you reject God’s covenant and refuse to accept his love, you are condemning yourself, and you are also cutting your children off from getting to know God through you.  You have become a spiritual obstacle to them.  Of course, God can still reach your children by other means and bring them into his covenant.  But you won’t be the one God uses to do this.  You are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If you’re a father or a mother, you can’t keep your problems to yourself.  If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, it’s not just your problem.  It affects your family, too.  If you swear frequently, it’s not just your choice of words.  It quickly becomes your children’s choice of words.  If you’re prejudiced against people from other nationalities, your children inhale your bigotry in the air they breathe.  If money is the most important thing in your life, it’s not just your weakness.  Your children will be affected by your mixed up values.  You can’t expect a godless lifestyle not to affect your children, any more than a pregnant woman can smoke crack and expect to deliver a completely healthy baby.

Even if you consider yourself a pretty decent person, you’ll still be an obstacle for you children as long as you are not part of God’s covenant.  Your children see that you get along without God.  If you can do it, why can’t they?

What I’m saying is simply this:  you can’t do much to help your children spiritually unless you have a relationship to God yourself.  How can you introduce others to someone you don’t know?  How can you teach what you haven’t learned yourself?  God’s command to instruct our children in the faith comes in the context of his command to know him and love him ourselves. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when your get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

It’s clear from this part of the Bible that if you want to help your son or daughter’s soul, you must start with your own soul.  Ask yourself three questions about your own relationship with God:  First, do I know the one true God?  Second, do I love God?  Third, have I taken the teaching of the Bible to heart and allowed God’s Word to affect every aspect of my life.  Only when you can say “Yes” to these questions about your own faith are you ready take the next step and impress God’s ways on your children.

So let’s think about these questions more carefully.  First of all, ask yourself:  Do I know God?  Maybe you believe in God as some higher power, but you don’t believe the Bible and you don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God.  If that’s the case, I’m afraid you don’t know God at all, and you won’t be able to lead your children to God.  If you think it doesn’t matter what god you believe in, as long as you believe in something, you’re not doing yourself or your family any favors.  According to the Bible, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” and this one God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

So I’m not just asking if you believe in a god.  I’m asking whether you bow in worship to the one and only God, the Lord who tells about himself in the Bible and came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s impossible to reject the Bible and still know God, because the Bible is God’s Word.  It’s impossible to reject Jesus and still know God, because Jesus is God.

So if you want spiritual life and insight from God, you must begin by believing what the Bible teaches about Jesus.  According to 1 John 5:20, “We know … that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.  And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life.”

Once you believe in this one true God, you’re ready to ask yourself the next question:  Do I love him?  That’s a crucial question, because correct beliefs are not enough to make a positive relationship.  You believe God exists?  Congratulations!  God also believes you exist.  But that doesn’t make you friends.  James 2:19 says, “You believe there is one God?  Good!  Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”  When Jesus was on earth, the demons recognized him.  A demon-possessed man cried out to Jesus, “I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”  (Mark 1:23-24).  Even evil spirits know the facts about God.  But they don’t love him.

So unless you want to join the demons, ask yourself not only about the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus, but also ask yourself:  Do I really love him?  When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, he quoted those words from Deuteronomy:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

You’ll have this kind of love for God only when you discover how much God loves you.  Jesus was nailed to a cross and gave up his life to rescue the people he loved.  That’s the ultimate in love.  Once you really believe Jesus died for you, you know how much he loves you, and you can’t help loving him in return.  A covenant relationship with God becomes real only because of Jesus.  We love God because he first loved us.

Love is at the center of any genuine relationship with God, and love for God is also crucial in showing our children the way to God.  Your children are quick to notice who you like and who you don’t like.  It doesn’t take them long to see what you really care about.  Kids are pretty hard to fool.  So don’t think for a moment that they can’t tell how you feel about God.

Too many parents, especially fathers, think they’ve done their spiritual duty if they send their children to classes at a church.  You don’t feel any love for God, but you expect your child to love God after a few hours in a class.  Perhaps you even send your children without bothering to attend church yourself.  Or maybe you drag yourself to church as part of a tired ritual.  Do you think your kids are stupid?  Do you think they can’t tell how little you care about God?  It’s time to wake up!  Until you love God with all your being, and the teachings of the Bible are written on your heart, you will be an a negative spiritual influence on your children.

So for your children’s sake, as well as your own sake, examine your heart.  Do you love God?  Have you really trusted in the death of Jesus and accepted God’s love for you?  Once you experience God’s love for you, and you begin to love him back, it will change your life, and it will also affect the life of your family.

If you can honestly say, “Yes, I do love the Lord,” then you’re ready to ask yourself the third question:  Have I taken the Bible to heart, and is it guiding every part of my life?  God wants the Bible on your heart, not just on your shelf.  He says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts” (Dt. 6:6).  So take the Bible to heart:  read it every day, think about it often, commit parts of it to memory.  And then do what it says.

You won’t do your children much good by thumping your Bible if you’re not eager to hear and obey it yourself.  After all, your children aren’t watching you just on Sunday morning.  They are watching you even more closely on Wednesday evening or Saturday afternoon.

I think that’s why God says, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Kids are most impressed, not when they see the Bible on your lap in church, but when they see it on your hands as you work, on your forehead as you think, on the doorframes of your home as you lead your family, on the gates of your community as you relate to the people in your neighborhood.  You become a Bible for your children.  Although you’re not always perfect, you are genuine.  You’re for real, and your children can tell.  You know the one true God through Jesus;  you love him; and you seek to follow the Bible in all that you do.

That’s when the word “covenant” means something:  your children are connected to you, and you are connected to God.  In the context of that covenant, you are ready to actually tell your children the truths of the Lord.  “Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Notice that this means taking the time to be close to our children, and making the effort to communicate with them.  Our lifestyles sometimes make this difficult.  Even if we love God and we love our family, we’re just too busy and too tired to talk with our children.  You’ve got things to do around the house, and you find that the television is a pretty good babysitter.  So you turn it on for them, and they probably won’t bother you for a while.  Or you get home after a long day at work, and you just don’t feel like reading books or playing games with your kids.  You’re more interested in relaxing.  So you grab some snacks and something to drink, and you watch television the rest of the night.

At this point, maybe I’m talking more to myself than to you.  I need God’s reminder to talk with my children, because sometimes I just don’t feel like it.  I’d rather do something else.  But time after time, I discover how rewarding it is to take the time and spend the energy reading to my daughters.  They enjoy Bible stories as well as other books.  Sometimes they are brimming with questions about God and heaven.  When they sit on our laps and listen to us read, they are learning new words and valuable language skills.  But they are also absorbing God’s truth and tasting God’s love through us during that time together.  There’s something very mysterious and supernatural in what happens between Christian parents and children.

Okay, I’ll admit that sometimes I’m not so spiritual, and I’ve simply had enough.  I’m not all sweetness and light, any more than you are.  But those really are times to treasure when we can read together and talk about God as a family, because God is there with us.

As the children grow older, you may feel that it’s more difficult to have an impact on them.  For one thing, when you’re at work and the children are at school, you can’t talk with them.  Someone else is influencing them.  It’s out of your hands.  Or is it?  Don’t just take it for granted that parents must leave the education of their children to the state.  In many communities,  Christian schools are available.  These schools can shine the light of the Bible on every aspect of life that your children learn about.  If you have such a school available to you, I’d encourage you to send your children there.  If there isn’t such a school, you may want to talk with other Christian parents about starting one.

If you do send your children to public schools, you can still have an important role in their education if you make the effort.  You can make time available to talk with them about what they are learning in the light of the Bible.  You may also join together with other Christian parents who send children to the same school, praying together for your children and their teachers, and doing what you can to make that school a good place.  One way or another, you can take an active part in your children’s schooling.

And don’t overlook the ongoing importance of time together at home.  It takes conscious effort to spend time with God as a family.  Your son has a baseball game, your daughter’s got gymnastics, and you’ve got a meeting.  You don’t have time for family devotions.  How can you pray and read the Bible as a family every morning and evening when there are so many other things to do?  Surely God isn’t serious when he tells us to talk about these things when we get up and when we lie down.  Or is he?  Before we try to change what God says, perhaps we should change our own priorities.  When we’re too busy for God, and we’re too busy for each other, we’re too busy.

I’m painfully aware that it’s not always easy for parents to know what’s best for the family, and even when we know, it’s not always easy to do.  But we don’t need to panic.  When we commit our lives to Jesus and stay close to the Bible, we’re already well on our way to being the kind of parents our children need.  We won’t do everything right, but our children will see something of Jesus in us.  And through all the ups and downs of our own faith, through the joys and heartaches of parenting, we keep on praying for God to do what only he is capable of doing:  draw us and our children to himself.  Let’s pray together right now:

PRAYER

Lord, it’s a marvelous privilege and an awesome responsibility to be parents.  We feel such a mixture of joy and anxiety as we learn about your covenant.  We want to know you, and we want to best for our daughters and sons.  Help us to know to know you through Jesus; teach us to love you, dear Lord;  and instruct us in the truth of the Bible.  Help our children see beyond our mistakes to the reality of the faith you’ve given us.  And then work that miracle of faith in their hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit.  We place ourselves and these children we love into your hands.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.