In honour of Father’s Day last Sunday, all this week we’re looking at Christian parenting. But not just for parents – for everyone. Our text is Psalm 78:1-8, which is the introduction to a very long Psalm that recites the great deeds of God in Israel’s history. But the introduction itself tells us a lot about teaching future generations about God. We’re using John Piper’s six key ideas as our “window” into the Psalm:
(1) God, the central reality in our lives, (2) has given us a fixed deposit of his truth (3) which we are to teach (4) so that our children might know that truth (5) and therefore put their trust in God (6) enabling them to live lives of loyal obedience.
Teach so that our children might know God’s truth…
So (1) God, the central reality in our lives, (2) has given us a fixed deposit of his truth (3) which we are to teach – and we are to teach it (4) so that our children might know that truth. Verse 6 of Psalm 78 tells us to teach our children his commandments:6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
The end result of our teaching must be that the children in our church know the truth; that they know God himself. This is more than just a passing acquaintance with Bible stories – more than just knowing about Moses in the bulrushes or Zacchaeus up a sycamore tree or waving palm branches at a guy on a donkey. And more than just being able to recite all 66 books of the Bible in order, or list the kings of Israel, or map out the missionary journeys of Paul. It’s more than just head knowledge – it’s a knowledge of who God is. His power. His character. His requirements of those who would be his people.
Many times the Bible makes a distinction between those who know about God and those who know God. A distinction as great as heaven and hell. We educate the next generation so that they might know God personally and with great depth.
…and therefore put their trust in God
And if the next generation truly knows God, they will put their trust in him.7a ‘Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds’
Knowledge of who God is leads to trusting him, to placing our confidence in him. In ancient Israel, the opposite of trusting in God was trusting in pagan idols for agricultural survival and foreign military powers for national security. Today our false sources of confidence might be our material wealth, our achievements, or our reputation and esteem in which others hold us. Not much different, really.
So just as much as ever, we need children who are confident in God, not in these other things. Children who know God so well that they look only to him for their satisfaction. But how can we do that if we have a church full of people who live no differently to the rest of society?
We need to teach the children in our church where to find satisfaction. And we do that by modelling it, not by talking about it. If I say that satisfaction comes from God – yet act like I get it from my career, my house, the size of my entertainment system, or even my family – my children and others in the church will see that. And they will conclude that God does not really satisfy, and so go searching after all those other things themselves.
We need to teach our children where to find their confidence and significance. The rest of the world tells us to build up our child’s self-confidence. But the task of the Christian parent and the Christian village is different. Our task is to do our best to weed out our children’s self-confidence, and replace it instead with God-confidence. I am accepted, I am secure, I am significant because of who I am in Christ. Not because of what I can do, but because of who loves me. The creator of the universe himself.
And again, that can only be taught if we ourselves are not self-confident, but demonstrate in a concrete way that we are God-confident.
Now parents have to lead the way in this, but the church village has a responsibility, too, in providing other role models. In particular, role models half a generation above. Not quite parents, not quite peers – Christians who have greater maturity in years and in the faith, yet haven’t lost their “cool factor.”
I’m now way past the stage when my kids thought I wa pretty cool. I think it was shorter for me than most dads, but eventually it comes for everyone. During the teen years, my impact as a role model in certain areas decreases for a while: I might live out godly values, but there’s a danger they’ll be associated with “old people who act responsibly.” That’s where parents need other “village members” who are half way between the parents’ age and the children’s age – people to model those same values while still young enough to be cool doing it. And if we all stick around in the same church long enough, hopefully the children you invest in will do the same if ever you have children.
A recent study was made of why many church kids leave the church when they grow up. They found that teens who had adults from church make a significant time investment in their lives also were more likely to keep attending church. 46% of those who stayed in church said 5 or more adults at church had invested time with them personally and spiritually. The author of the study comments: “Anybody wondering if they can make a difference can stop wondering… One Sunday school teacher…, one discussion leader, one person at church who clearly cares can impact the course of a teen’s spiritual journey.”
For me personally, I spent my teen years in a church with not many people my age. But there were plenty of people that half-a-generation older who made an effort to connect with me – to treat me as an individual rather than a fashion accessory of my parents. People who modelled confidence in God, rather than selling out to the values of society.
Don’t ever underestimate the impact you have just sharing life with village members half a generation younger than yourself. You have the opportunity to show for them what it means to be young and a committed follower of Jesus whose confidence comes from God.
And for those of you at the older end of the age spectrum reading this, you have a similar but slightly different role. Firstly, you have the opportunity to act as surrogate grandparents, especially for children and teenagers who don’t come from Christian families. But also to model how to live for God over the long haul. That Christianity isn’t just a fad that young people go through. That Jesus will see you through all that life throws at you. That our children and our young people can be confident in God for life. And as teenagers begin ministry as young adults, having you as models and one-on-one mentors will be invaluable.
To think about
What “half generational mentoring” have you witnessed or been part of? What was its long-term impact?