THE NEXT GENERATION
By David Feddes
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. (Psalm 78:4)
“I’m not going to push religion on my children. They can make up their own minds and choose their own beliefs and values. I have no business trying to influence them.” That’s a broad-minded, tolerant approach. Quite a few parents feel that way, and no wonder. If you grew up with parents who shoved religion down your throat, you might take the opposite approach. You leave it up to your children to find their own way. Whatever they end up believing about God is fine, as long as it works for them.
Now, I agree that it’s wrong to stuff religion down children’s throats. But are you sure you want to go to the opposite extreme? Do you really want to offer no guidance at all?
Suppose it’s meal time. Your darling daughter declares: “I hate vegetables, and I don’t feel like eating meat today. All I want for dinner is a big bowl of ice cream.” How do you react? Do you say, “Why, of course, sweetie pie. Five scoops of ice cream, coming right up!” Not likely. You inform her that if she wants to eat anything at all, she’d better eat what’s on her plate. If she finishes her meal, she just might get some ice cream.
Or suppose it’s time for school. Your son says he wants to skip: “I don’t like math and history. I’d rather play Nintendo.” How do you react? Do you say, “Go ahead, my dear boy. Nintendo it is. Whatever you choose is right for you.” No, you tell Johnny, “Young man, you’re going to learn something today, whether you feel like it or not!”
If you’re a father or mother, you don’t let your children make all their own choices, at least not if you care about them. You make sure they eat some nourishing food–you don’t want them to become wimps! You insist that they study and learn and develop their minds–you don’t want them to become dummies! So if you don’t want to raise spiritual wimps and dummies, you’ll give your children a healthy spiritual diet and education in God’s truth.
You may think that by choosing not to influence your child’s relationship to God, you’re being tolerant. But that’s not tolerance. It’s neglect. It’s neglect of your child, it’s neglect of God, and it’s neglect of your duty as a parent.
You may think that by leaving matters of morality and faith entirely up to your children, you’re being openminded. But don’t be so openminded that your brains fall out. Refusing to influence your children isn’t openminded; it’s stupid.
If you’re not trying to shape your children’s souls, there are plenty of others who are eager to do so. Saturday morning cartoons and advertisers want to influence your kids. Teachers at school want to influence them. Their friends want to influence them. Rap groups and heavy metal bands want to influence them. Beer companies, cigarette sellers, dope dealers, pornography publishers–all want to influence them. Various religious cults want to influence them. So if you’re not trying to influence your children, you’re about the only one who isn’t.
Ultimately, of course, our children grow up. We can’t make all their choices for them. We can’t force our own faith into them. But we can speak to them of our faith and show them by our own example what it’s like to live by faith. We can introduce them to the God we know and love, and God can use us to pass a living faith from one generation to the next.
So, then, we must never hide God’s teachings from children or leave them to search for it on their own. In Psalm 78 the Bible says, “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done… he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so 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.”
It’s an awesome moment when you first become a father or mother. As you hold a tiny newborn, you feel lifted up by a new sense of wonder, and at the same time you feel a new weight of responsibility. Now you don’t have just yourself to think about; that little one depends on you for guidance.
Maybe that’s why quite a few people who drop out of church during their teenage years eventually return to church after they become parents. Even if you never attended church or thought much about God while you were single and on your own, you may look for a church home once you have a family. You want the best for your children, so you send them to classes at church, and you may even start going to church yourself.
Now, I’m glad if you want the best for your children, and I think it’s great to involve your family in church. At least it’s better than saying, “I’m not going to do anything to influence my children’s moral and spiritual life.” But taking children to church isn’t enough. They don’t just need to hear a preacher or Sunday school teacher. Your children should be able to draw spiritual strength and guidance from you.
Psalm 78 doesn’t say, “We’ll get somebody to tell the next generation.” It says, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.” Other people can play a vital part, but parents are primary in passing faith to their children. Not somebody else–we! We will tell the next generation!
Here’s the simple truth of the matter: as a parent you will either be your children’s strongest link to God or else the biggest obstacle between them and God. Your life powerfully affects your children’s lives, for better or for worse. If you know God, it’s not just good for you; it’s good for your children as well. If you go through life without God, it’s not just bad for you. It’s bad for your children, too.
If you’re a father or a mother, you can’t keep your problems to yourself. You affect the next generation. If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, it’s not just your problem. It affects your family, too. If you swear a lot, it’s not just you. Your children start to use those words. If you’re prejudiced against other races or nationalities, your children inhale your bigotry with the air they breathe. If you’re obsessed with money, it’s not just your problem. Your children will be affected by your mixed up values. You can’t live a godless lifestyle and expect it not to affect your children, any more than a pregnant woman can use crack cocaine and expect it not to affect her baby.
But what if you live a fairly clean life? Well, even then you’re still an obstacle to your children as long as you don’t have a relationship to God. Your children see that you seem to be getting along just fine without God, and they figure that if you can do it, why can’t they? At that point, you’re standing as a barrier between them and the true Source of life. God may still reach your children by other means and move them to faith in him, but you won’t be the one God uses. You’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.
If you want to help your children spiritually, you need to know God yourself. You can’t introduce children to Someone you don’t know. You can’t teach what you haven’t learned. You can’t tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord until you yourself know God and rejoice in his deeds.
So if you’re at all interested in helping your children to know God, start by taking a hard look at your own life. Let me ask you three simple questions: First, do you know the one true God? Second, do you love God? Third, are you listening to God’s Word, the Bible, and living by it? Only when you can say “Yes” to these questions about your own faith are you ready to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. So stop for a moment and take stock and reflect on each of these questions.
First, do you know God? Do you believe in him? I’m not asking now whether you believe in a higher power of some kind. I’m asking if you believe in the one true God, the living God who created the heavens and the earth from nothing, the personal God who has come to us and revealed himself most fully in Jesus Christ. To have a relationship to God and teach your children about him, you obviously need to believe he is real and know something of who he is.
Second, supposing you do believe in this one true God, do you love him? That’s a crucial question. After all, even the demons believe that there is one God, but it just makes them shudder. They know who Jesus is, but they don’t love him; they hate him. So unless you want to join the demons in hell, don’t just say you believe in the existence of God and the deity of Jesus. Ask yourself: Do I love him? Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
This kind of love is essential to a real relationship with God, and it’s also essential for leading your children to God. Kids are hard to fool. They can tell how you feel about God. If you love the Lord, they can tell. And if you don’t love him, they can tell that, too. Maybe you’ve been sending your children to Sunday school without bothering with church yourself, or you’ve been drag yourself and your kids to church only as part of a weary routine. If so, wake up! Do you think your kids are stupid? Do you think they can’t tell that you don’t love God?
For your children’s sake, for your own sake, and for God’s sake, examine your heart. Do you truly love God? This isn’t something you can manufacture on your own. The only way you’ll ever love God is if you realize how much God loves you. Jesus was nailed to a cross and laid down his life to rescue the people he loved. If you really believe Jesus died for you, you know how much he loves you, and you will love him in return. Of all God’s deeds, Jesus’ sacrificial death and glorious resurrection are the greatest. You need to respond to these deeds with love and adoration before you can tell next generation these praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.
Can you honestly say, “Yes, I do know, and yes, I do love him”? If so, then you’re ready for the third question: Are you listening to the Bible and living by it? If you love God, you will listen to what he says. As Jesus put it, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
The Lord doesn’t just want the Bible on your shelf. He wants it in your heart and in your life. He wants us to say with the biblical writer, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Can you say that? Have you hidden God’s Word in your heart? Do you read the Bible every day every day? Do you memorize parts it? Do you meditate on it and ask how it applies to you? If not, then get going! Read the Word.
Listen to the Bible. Hide God’s Word in your heart and live by it. Only then can you instruct your children in the truth of Scripture. You won’t do your children much good by thumping your Bible if you’re not eager to hear it and obey it yourself. Your children don’t just hear what you say. They watch what you do. And they don’t just watch you on Sunday morning. They’re also watching on Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon.
If you want to teach the Bible to your children, then you must be a Bible to your children. The Bible’s teachings must be on your heart and must be guiding whatever you do, wherever you go. Scripture 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 people in your neighborhood. You become a Bible for your children. Okay, so you’re not perfect. But are you genuine? Does God’s truth shine through you in spite of your faults? If you’re for real, your children can tell.
So, again, let me ask you these those three basic questions: Do you know the one true God through Jesus? Do you love and adore him? Do you listen to his Word and live by it? If not, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t rest content until God has changed you. As long as you continue to live apart from God, you’re offending him, you’re hurting yourself, and you’re hurting your family. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may be saved and your household as well.
If you do know and love and listen to God, you can delight in what God has done for you, and you’re in a position to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. But don’t thing this just happens automatically, though. It takes time and effort. You have to take the time to be close to your children and make the effort to talk and listen to them.
And that’s not always easy, it is? Even if you love God and your family, sometimes you just get too busy and too tired. You’ve got things to do around the house, and you find that the television is a pretty good babysitter. If you turn the TV on for your kids, they 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, I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to you. I need God’s reminder to talk with my children. Sometimes I’d rather do something else. I just don’t feel like talking with them or reading to them. But if I go ahead and do it, even when I don’t feel like it, I discover that it’s worth it. I find out again and again how rewarding it is to read to my daughters, both from the Bible and from other good books.
Even from a non-religious perspective, there’s great benefit in all this. As children sit on our laps and listen to us read, they get a sense of closeness and caring, and they also learn new words and valuable language skills. But as valuable as that is, it’s far more precious that they are absorbing God’s truth and tasting God’s love during that time together. There are times when they’re brimming with questions about God and the Bible and heaven. Those are golden opportunities to answer their questions and tell them the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.
As children grow older, you may feel that it’s more difficult to have an impact on them. This is especially true if your children are in school every day. 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 government-controlled schools. In many communities, there are Christian schools. These schools can be your partners in telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. Authentically Christian schools try to shine the light of the Bible on every aspect of study and every area of life. If you have access to such a school in your area, please consider sending your children there. And if there isn’t such a school, why not talk with other Christian parents about starting one. Another possibility to consider is home schooling. A growing number of Christian parents are using home education to shape the next generation, and there are many fine resources available.
The current school year won’t be over for awhile yet, but if you’re a mom or dad, you may already be making decisions about your children’s education for next fall. Don’t automatically enroll your children for another year of whatever they’ve been getting. First give it some careful thought. In light of what the Bible says about teaching the next generation, do you really want to hand your children over to a government-controlled system of instruction? What about the many fine Christian schools that are out there? Have you ever looked for one in your area or checked it out? Or, if that’s not the option for you, have you ever explored the possibility of home education?
President Bill Clinton made some interesting remarks about education in his 1997 State of the Union speech. At one point he said that government should make it possible for parents to send their children to the public school of their choice. If what they really want to choose is a private or Christian school, too bad. They’re on their own. They’ll still have to pay taxes that go toward education, but they’ll get financial help only if they choose a public school.
A bit later the president said, “Politics must stop at the schoolhouse door.” What a strange thing to say! I mean no disrespect for the president, but I can’t help asking: How can politics stop at the schoolhouse door when the schools are run by politicians? In public schools, politics never stops at the schoolhouse door. Here’s what stops at the schoolhouse door: The Bible stops at the schoolhouse door. Faith stops at the schoolhouse door. Spoken prayer stops at the schoolhouse door. God stops at the schoolhouse door–or he would if he followed public policy and took orders from politicians and judges.
Maybe you need to stop at the schoolhouse door. Maybe you need to stop sending your children through the door of a school that deliberately hides God and his deeds. Okay, so maybe the government keeps taking your tax money without helping to pay for real choice in education. Choose Christian education anyway.
Public schools don’t teach that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. They don’t teach children what Jesus has done for them. All of that stops at the schoolhouse door. No matter how wonderful some public educators might be, public schools are required by law to hide these things from the children. But what does the Bible say? It says, “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.”
As you think about where your children will be educated next fall, I urge you: Check out a Christian school, or look into Christian home schooling. Don’t do anything that would hide God and his deeds from your children. With God’s help, let’s do all we can to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. And as we do that, let’s ask God to do what only he is capable of doing: drawing us and our children to himself.
Lord, it’s a marvelous privilege and an awesome responsibility to be parents. Help us to know you; move us to love you; and guide us in the truth of the Bible. Help us as we pass our faith the next generation. Help our children to see beyond our mistakes to the reality of the faith you’ve given us, and work the miracle of faith in their hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.