We led many Bible clubs when our children were young with neighborhood children coming to our home. A great way to witness to parents was to say, “I wish you could have been in class.” Then we’d share the theological question their child had asked.
One parent answered with, “Boy, I’m glad she asked you that tough question and not me!” This gave us opportunity to say, “But He gave this child to you. If you don’t know the answer, simply say, ‘We’ll find out.’ ” So many parents feel intimidated by hard questions. We don’t know all the answers, but we don’t have to. And we do say the wrong thing sometimes!
Our family once had an entire litter of puppies that died. My son was very upset about those puppies. “Are they in heaven?” he asked. Too busy to pay close attention, I answered casually, “Oh, I don’t know if they are or not.”
He tenderly replied, “Jesus will build a fence for them so they won’t run away.”
Boy, I missed that one. I wish I had said, “The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure. But God does tell us a lot about animals. We know they’re important to Him. He must have loved them—He’s given them to us to take care of, to love, and to have fun with.” I could have told him about the sparrow. “He knows when one falls. We don’t know whether sparrows will fly in heaven, but we know they’re creatures He loves. And we know He loves us.” Our family has had many animal funerals. We can use everything, including animals, to teach children to see God in the world around them.
When teaching God’s truth to children—which is a great privilege we have while they’re on loan to us—we begin with the adult/child relationship itself. We can’t impart beyond what we model and what we know. So we start by loving unconditionally—not spoiling them—but caring deeply for their needs.
Our children learn quickly what’s important to us; they see through our facades easily. They pick up more from what they watch us do than from what they hear us say. Much of their concept of God comes from what they see in us, so we must take care that we reflect God as accurately as possible.
It’s important to be consistent with them—as God is consistent with us. We must be faithful to them—as He is faithful to us. This is an introduction. Leading them step-by-step to Christ will follow. Eventually we can share that good news. When the moment does arrive in which a child recognizes his or her sin and God’s forgiveness, our message has credibility. That child views us as authentic because we’ve built a solid relationship.
In terms of what we actively set out to teach them, we can—early on—relate all of life to God’s truth: “all truth is God’s truth.” Help them see God in everything that happens. We can point out that He is all around us—using the death of a pet, for example. Something as simple as the weather gives us opportunity. God made the sun to keep us warm and give us light. And God made the rain so the trees and grass can have a drink. He made the mountains and all we need—our lunch comes because God made the world in such a way that we have food to eat.
Teaching children to see God in everything is a foundational truth of Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “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 you get up.”
The modern equivalent would be to teach our children when we’re walking along with them or driving them to soccer practice—from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night. The parent’s role as teacher is constant.
We can ask, “What did you learn in church?” When they talk about their little companions, we can find out if their friends go to church, and if so, where they attend. We can ask, “Do you think they know about Jesus?”
At one point, my husband and I made a list of the concepts we had tried to teach our children and grandchildren. We divided our goals into three categories: (1) Teach them to love the Lord with all their hearts. We do this first by showing our love for Him. They recognize that either He is or isn’t important to us. Do we pray? Do we worship Him? Are we gentle as a result?
(2) Second, help them to want God’s best for themselves and for their friends. That begins with “God made you special.” And it can translate into affirmations such as, “Your pretty curly hair is a gift to you from God.” It involves recognizing their abilities: “You are so friendly. That’s a wonderful quality you can use for the Lord. It’s a special way to care for other people and show His love to them.” One of our grandchildren felt sad whenever another child felt sad. That was an opportunity to say, “God cares when we feel like crying. He understands about our feelings being hurt, doesn’t He?”
(3) Teach them to appreciate the world around them, God’s great creation. Life is a glorious adventure, a great adventure! We can approach it with a sense of wonder. The most wonderful part is that we share it with Him, knowing Him personally, knowing He has a purpose for us: “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).
At one point when our children were small, we felt God leading us to change churches. When we shared this with them, each child had a different reaction. Our first daughter insisted, “I am not gonna leave my church.” The smallest, age five, in her room that night before we prayed asked, “And we are going to another church?”
“ We’re going to ask God and He will tell us what to do?”
She replied, “Well, He sure doesn’t answer back very loud.”
In God’s time, He did lead our family to a church where each member found a special spot.
Life is an adventure, and teaching children is too. I spoke with my four-year-old grandson this past spring, wondering what he understood about Easter. We talked about Jesus dying on the cross—how Christ died and was buried for our sins. Then he told me how the story ended: “But then God picked Him up!”
“Oh yes!And one day if we trust Jesus, He will pick us up and take us to our heavenly home to live with Him forever.”