Raising kids can be challenging, especially in a prosperous culture where idols beckon their devotion left and right. The Word, however, points them and parents to a different devotion, to love the Lord God with everything. It even tells us how to do this: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children” (6-‐7). The word “dilligent” means sharpen or engrave, like sharpening a sword or engraving a stone. Instructing our kids takes discipline and hard work but it leaves its mark. How can we teach devotion to the one, true God in a way that leaves a mark? Here are three ways that will help.
Remember the Lord in Prosperity
First, teach them to remember the Lord in the prosperity of the city. On their way to the Promised Land, Israel was told:
And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
We forget the Lord when we have another god, when his gifts become our gods. When our houses are full of good things, we quickly forget God and so do our children. When America was a rising prosperity, the Puritan pastor Cotton Mather said: “Piety has begot prosperity but the daughter has devoured up the mother.” In other words, prosperity can soften piety, true devotion to God. When our children receive everything they want, from candy to gifts, they learn devotion to comfort. Sacrifice becomes unusual. No becomes never. When we offer our kids an unrestrained flow of “good things” how do we expect them to find God appealing, when we’re telling them they’re god?
I had to tell my son no to Wii games twenty times this week. We allow him only to play on weekends but he got spoiled at the grandparents. Sometimes I just wanted to give in but I knew it wasn’t in his best interest. I used to threaten him by saying it will melt his brain. Now I tell him that I want him to enjoy real people that God has given to him or to enjoy playing outside in God’s creation. He forgets; it’s my job to help him remember. There’s blessing in the no. If fathers and mothers don’t train their children to receive no as a blessing, we will breed self-entitled, discontent consumers who worship the god of comfort. We need to learn to say no lest they forget the Lord. Now, we cant just tell them no, we have to model no. When mom and dad bow to other gods, when they are more interested in music and sports or a well-decorated house, than the Lord; they might hear devotion to one, true God but they witness many gods.
Teach Devotion by Modeling Devotion
This brings us to the second way to raise kids that are distinctively devoted to the Lord. Teach devotion by modeling devotion. Our kids need to see parents devoted to God, in awe of his grace, in love with his Son, obedient to his ways. This can happen every day. Growing up, my parents didn’t do Bible studies with us but what I do remember is them loving God. Watching them worship, sing, pray, read the Bible, sacrifice for marginalized people, and possess a remarkable devotion to God, encouraging us in our devotion to God. They modeled it, but they didn’t do it perfectly.
What do you do when you’re not devoted to the Lord? When we blow it? Does this produce irreparable damage in your kids? No, we have a God who is more devoted than us that we are to him. This God who keeps the law at the expense of his Son. The Son loves the Father to the death so that there is always a sacrifice for our parental failures. The one, true Lord comes to us in Jesus devoted to us in our great failure to love, in our deviation from devotion. Whether we fail or succeed we can teach the hope of gospel by modeling hope in the gospel. We need not be cast down in failure but look up in faith.
Devotion is taught through the gospel, which says “Devote yourself to the Father, and when you fail know that he has devoted himself to you in Christ.” That will compel you even more! Think of a spouse that loves you, forgives you, and embraces you when you know you’ve really screwed up. That kind of love evokes more devotion. It frees us to succeed and fail. When it comes to kids, they need to know that kind of love. You can model it by making a habit of confessing your sins to your children. But explain why you can, why you’re not afraid of failing, because your hope is, not in being a perfect parent but in a perfect savior. I got angry with my kids in the car the other day. My wife dismissed as the result of a long trip. Was it car travel or my heart? I knew. I asked God to forgive me, then I turned back to my daughter and said: “Will you forgive me Ellie. I asked God for forgiveness, and I know he forgave me, but I also know I hurt you, so I want to ask you to forgive me.” She showed me more grace. Ultimately, what we want to model is the gospel not great parenting. Teach your kids the hope of gospel by modeling hope in the gospel.
Put God’s Word on Their Hearts
Finally, we can teach our kids devotion by putting these commands on their hearts (6). Remember the heart is intellect and affections, love the Lord with all your mind and soul. It is the parent’s responsibility to put God’s Word on the heart. To put it within reach of the mind, so they remember the Lord. This means teaching our children the Bible. It is not the responsibility of the pastors or small group leaders to teach your children the Bible. It is primarily your responsibility. Develop family rhythms to put the Word on your child’s heart.
- Pray the Bible over them at night. Ask God to give you verses and specific prayers for each child.
- Sing the truth at meals, even if you cant sing, like me! Make up songs or get a kids cd, the Rizers or Hide Em in Your Heart.
- Read the Bible regularly with your kids. I recommend the Big Picture Bible for pre-schoolers and Jesus Storybook Bible for school kids. But just the plain Bible will do.
- Consider getting A Guide to Family Worship, a 35 page eBook that helps you develop regular rhythms.
Putting the Word on our kids’ hearts is like stacking wood for winter. Lay the truth on their hearts, piece by piece, over time and then ask the Spirit to light the match, to inflame their hearts with devotion, affection, faith. Pray. Ask God to open their hearts to soak in the truth, for their hearts to beat with devotion for him because they have taken in his power and uniqueness, his devotion to them in Christ. Let him carry the weight of their conversion. You just place the teaching on their heart. Remember the Lord, Model Devotion, & Put the Word on their Heart, three ways to raise kids in a prosperous city. Then ask God to do all the work. You’re not responsible for your kids idolatry just their instruction, so instruct with diligence pleading with God to make your kids distinctive in their devotion to the one, true God.