Foundations of Spiritual Parenting
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your strength.
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
when you walk by the way,
when you lie down,
and when you rise up.
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
—Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NKJV)
Are you thinking about tomorrow? No, I don’t literally mean the next day on the calendar as much as I mean the future when you are no longer on this earth. Many people are so focused on living life on earth now that they make no plans for tomorrow. This attitude can result in chaos for the next generation. Have you ever seen the bickering and bitterness that come about in a family when a parent dies and doesn’t leave a will with clear instructions about the inheritance? This is just one example of why we need to think about tomorrow.
In Deuteronomy 6, God gave Moses instructions to the second generation of Israelites. The first generation had blown it. None but Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised Land. The commandments were given again to this new generation, and Moses drove home the priority and process of preparing their children and grandchildren. This passage is particularly applicable to parents, grandparents, and others who are (or will be) in a place of teaching children. In this article, I hope to help us think about tomorrow and how we can spiritually prepare the next generation for it.
The Priority: Relationship
When God calls His people to teach their children, He speaks as a Father Himself. He speaks to those who know Him and have a relationship with Him. Notice that verse 4 refers to Jehovah as “our” God, not impersonally as “the” God. Notice the command to love Him with the whole heart, soul, and strength (v. 5). Notice that the words of the commandment are to be in the hearts of the people (v. 6). Their whole selves are to be committed to God and His teaching.
Before we teach others, we must be sure of our own relationship with God. We must know Him through Jesus Christ His perfect Son, the One who perfectly obeyed all His commands and always pleased the Father. We must trust in the sacrifice of this crucified and risen Lord and Savior to have a relationship with God as our Father.
This relationship changes our hearts so we recognize God as the supreme authority of our lives. We should be completely committed to Him, loving Him heart, soul, and strength—seeking to please Him above all else.
In addition, we should treasure His words. If we love God, we will love what He has communicated and commanded. As we seek to teach, we are not to be mere conduits through which His words flow. His words are to dwell in our hearts first. We must seek to know and treasure and obey them for ourselves.
Do you know God? Do you love Him? Do you treasure His Word? We need to have faith in Christ to know God. We are to love Him wholeheartedly. We must read, know, and practice the Bible if we are to be those who have His words in our hearts. These things are essential if we are to realize and communicate the priority of a right relationship with God, both for ourselves and for our children.
The Process: Repetition
Have you ever manually sharpened a knife with a whetstone or watched someone else do so? It’s not a quick process, is it? It requires continual exposure to the object that causes the blade to become sharp. So it is with spiritual parenting.
Spiritual parenting is a repetitive process. Hollywood and Madison Avenue know the value of repetition. Have you ever considered how bombarded we are with the world’s messages, whether through billboards or media intake? Have you noticed how these messages often permeate the conversations people have? Yet many of us forget the need to continually speak about and teach the truths of God’s Word.
The passage emphasizes a regularity and repetition to spiritual instruction. God’s people are to teach His words “diligently” to their children (v. 7). This is the idea of the whetstone—constant exposure and contact. This is how we are to make an impression. This is done throughout the mundane and ordinary processes of daily life: “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (v. 7). God commanded the people to put His words on their hands as signs and as frontlets between their eyes and to put reminders not only on their bodies but also on their property—on the doorposts and gates. They were to take no vacation from spiritual parenting.
The application for us is that we need to take steps to regularly and constantly teach God’s Word. We should be ready to take advantage of every opportunity. We can teach our children about God and pray with them when they wake and when they go to bed. We can talk about spiritual things as we enjoy a day around the house, work on a project together, take a walk, or ride in the car somewhere. Although we certainly can seek to literally have the reminders God commanded the Israelites (and it certainly does not hurt to have key Scriptures displayed in your home, for example), the point is that we are to continually whet our children with His Word.
Are you seeking to take this step? Do you speak of spiritual things with your children? If so, when? Only on Sundays or regularly throughout the week?
While the daily, diligent instruction of our children shouldn’t end, a great place to start is with family worship. We certainly must emphasize the importance of the local church to our children and the spiritual food we receive from public preaching and teaching. But we should also consider how a regular structured time or two each day can help keep spiritual truths before our children and give rise to conversations throughout the day. Family worship does not need to be elaborate or overly formal. It can be short and simple. In his practical booklet, Family Worship: in the Bible, in History, and in Your Home, Don Whitney suggests three elements: read, pray, and sing (if you like alliteration, Jerry Marcellino’s booklet, Recovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship, presents these elements as Scripture, supplication, and song).
Our own children are small at this time. We have been alternating reading The Big Picture Story Bible with working on some Scripture memory. In prayer, we often ask God for something related to the Scripture we have just presented (for example, if it was about Jesus as King, we ask God to work in the hearts of our children so that they will follow Jesus as their King in this life). Then we sing at least one or two songs. Sometimes we will also work with a Baptist catechism (presently the material presented in The Truth and Grace Memory Books from Founders Press, edited by Tom Ascol).
This repetition has helped our children learn several verses, songs (including hymns), and catechism questions and answers. As they grow, we hope to utilize Catherine Vos’s The Child’s Story Bible and then actually read from an English Bible. We hope to see the children pray around our family circle. Our responsibility is to teach them diligently God’s truth daily and consistently. Our prayer is that they will come to know Him and teach others.
We need to be thinking about tomorrow, with the desire that the next generation will embrace God’s truth and glorify Him and teach others. If we do not teach our children, we are giving them a smooth road to destruction. Notice what happened to the generation after those who heard in person the words of Deuteronomy 6:
When all that generation [the one that had heard God’s Word through Moses] had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel . . . and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods . . . and they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judg. 2:10, 12 NKJV)