My wife and I have 3 children. We have a 6 year old son, a 3 year old daughter, and a 4 month old son. I remember that one of my earliest feelings, upon finding out that we would have our first child, was one of fear. Was he going to survive child birth? Was he going to be a healthy baby? How was he going to learn words? Do I have to teach him every individual word? Will he believe the gospel? All of these things haunted me. Thankfully, he, like all of our children, survived child birth and was healthy. I also soon learned that words were something he’d largely pick up on his own. And he, like his sister, believes the good news that Jesus Christ has given His life as a substitute for sinners so that their record of a lifetime of sin doesn’t damn them when they stand before God. Instead, God will credit Christ’s perfect life to their account. And if you are a parent, or plan to be a parent, then I want to offer some encouragement and help by disclosing some things I do with my children.
We are to teach our children the way they ought to go so that they might not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). God instructed the Israelites to teach their children and the subsequent generations the Word of God (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Psa. 78:4), and we are instructed to do the same today. We are told not to anger or embitter our kids, but bring them up in the training and admonition of God (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Understand that each of these directives given to us are considered law. The law isn’t exclusive to just the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Any time we are told to do something by God, it is law. If God says, “teach your children”, a failure to do it is disobedience. And make no mistake about it, we will fail to do that.
But every “do this” passage should be met with “done in Christ.” When we fail to do those things we are told to do, we ought not despair as though God is upset or annoyed. Though good works are a fruit of repentance and belief, we should never look to our work in order to gauge whether or not we are Christians. We fix our minds upon Jesus and His finished work. Therefore, we don’t do these things out of fear of condemnation, but because we have been set free by Christ.
I learned right away with my first son that children have unbelievable potential and an ability to learn things quickly. Though I still can’t help squeezing my kids, kissing them all over the face constantly, and calling them my babies, I try and have a lot of respect for them. In part, this means that I try and not speak to them in a condescending tone. For example, if my son tells me about something he’s read or had seen on television, I don’t respond with, “WOW, big guy, that is so interesting, buddy” or “Uh huh. WOW. Yah.” Instead, I try and pick his brain and speak to him like I would anyone else. I don’t want to be guilty of “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this, therefore because of this), but we’ve noticed that this way of speaking to him and my daughter has made a huge difference in their speech, work ethic, and habits. For instance, we’ve been told by my son’s first grade teacher that he should be doing 3rd grade work and that he is incredibly bright. I personally believe that that this is due to the fact that we daily encourage and help him really take advantage of the mental potential that God has given him. This is also why we need to begin to teach them the gospel at a very young age. They can understand it.
But, as parents, it’s very easy to be lazy and self-focused. I am everyday. It’s so much easier to ignore everyone but myself. It takes a lot of convincing to get myself to take away from my time in order to give my children attention. It’s aggravating to have to wake them up, make sure they bathe, brush their teeth, clothe themselves properly, eat, don’t fight, do homework, get in bed at the proper time, read to them and pray to them, etc. Day in and day out. I usually fail horribly at being consistent. And oftentimes do get angry and embitter my children. And they witness my sinful nature just as plainly as I witness theirs. Unfortunately, this will always be the case, but how we conduct ourselves when the grotesque impulses of our hearts are laid bare is important in the training of our children.
The life of the Christian should be marked by repentance. We readily admit that we are sinners, but easily become outraged when our sins are pointed out by others. We recognize that we sin daily in thought, words, and deeds, but easily look at others as worse than ourselves. We teach our children not to do a list of things, and they witness us breaking these very things. These are impulses we need to shred with the law and soothe with the gospel. And our children need to see that we readily confess and recognize our sin. Otherwise, they will see that we are holding others to a standard we are unable to fulfill ourselves and that hypocrisy will effect them. They might even abandon Christianity because, if they are honest with themselves, they will know they can’t meet the standard either. If not, they might just stick with it, trying to keep the standard, while using you as an example of what not to be like. That was what happened with me for a long time. It becomes a Christianity without absolution. It becomes another device in our lives with which we can give strength to our own sins of self righteousness and self importance.
It’s important that your children aren’t only exposed to the gospel on Sunday mornings. It must be a daily reminder because we sin daily in our thoughts and words and deeds. That being said, I want to briefly share just two things I do with my kids before bed time and when they wake up. They love it AND shout for me to do it if they sense that I might not. I pray with my children each night and morning using the evening and morning prayers found in Luther’s Small Catechism. I have a very thin and very small copy of it that could easily fit in your back pocket. In case you aren’t familiar with either of them, here is the evening prayer:
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
[Repeat the Apostles’ Creed & Lord’s Prayer]
I thank You, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day, and I pray You forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.
And here is the morning prayer:
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
[Repeat the Apostles’ Creed & Lord’s Prayer]
I thank You, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Two simple little prayers. I make sure that when I pray these prayers, I add to them appropriately. Instead of reading them verbatim, I use them as a guide. For instance, with the evening prayer:
We thank You, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept us from danger today, we aren’t hurt, and we pray You forgive us all of our sins, where we have done wrong, by doing those things you’ve told us not to do. But we did them anyways. Graciously protect us tonight because while we are sleeping, we have no idea what is happening around us. Into Your hands we commend ourselves, our bodies and souls, and all things. Let Your holy angels be with us tonight, so that Satan has no power over us. Amen.
This includes the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer. I read the Apostles’ Creed something like this:
We believe in You, God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in Your only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He was whipped, beaten, spit upon, and had a crown of thorns smashed into His head under Pontius Pilate,
then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross, and making sure they killed Him. Then they put Him in a tomb;
And He was dead for three days.
The third day he came back from the dead.
And ascended to Your right hand, Father.
He will return one day at a time we don’t know in order to judge every man for what they’ve done.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
those who believe in the good news of Jesus around the world,
the gathering of those who believe your good news when we get together at church,
the forgiveness of sins in those things we’ve done, thought, & said that you told us not to do, think and say
the resurrection of the body, when we should come back from the dead the way Jesus had
and live forever with You. Amen.
And we read the Lord’s Prayer this way:
Father in heaven,
Your name is different, separate, and more important than anything other name.
Your Kingdom comes through the spreading of the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners. By believing that, we become your children, and members of your kingdom because you are King.
Whatever you want to be done, will be done throughout all of heaven and earth. No one can tell you to not do something.
Give us our daily bread as you always do, showing us kindness and goodness even though we are always not kind and good to You.
Forgive us our sins, those things you have told us not to do, but we do them anyways all day in the way we think, talk, and act
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Protect us from temptation and evil and the devil
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.
After praying these prayers, I do something with them that they go CRAZY for. And maybe you don’t want to pray something exactly like I do with them as explained above. That’s fine. But I suggest doing something with them like what I’m about to explain because it shows them what the gospel is like. It is a kinesthetic, or hands-on, way of teaching. I tell them to stand side by side. Then I begin to speak the law to them in a personal way. I bring up how they’ve disobeyed and upset us throughout the day. I remind them that they haven’t thought about God the way He wants people to. I remind them that they have spent the day doing what they want and not what God wants. I remind them that God promises to punish everyone who breaks His rules. I remind them that one way God describes our sin is like filthy and disgusting clothes, and that when we die and appear before Him in those dirty clothes, He will cast us away from Him. I remind them that we need to have our filthy clothes covered in the clean clothes of Christ’s merits.
After clearly displaying that they should stand guilty before God because of their repeated actions throughout the day, I interject with a “BUT.” And this is when they start jumping up and down and grinning ear to ear. I ask each of them, “________, do you trust that your only hope to stand before God clean is Jesus Christ? That God the Father sent His Son to live a perfect life, dying on the cross for the sins of all those who trust in Him? Do you believe this?” Upon saying, “Yes!” I take these two throw blankets (his is an Angry Birds blanket, and hers is a Barbie one) and upon asking them individually, I then wrap them in the blanket and say, “Therefore, ________, your sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ and you are covered in His righteousness.” I explain that their pajamas represent the sins they’d confessed, but the blanket is the covering of Christ’s perfection. And I kiss them on the head. And they are ecstatic every time.
I’m certainly not a very disciplined dad, and oftentimes I do these things with my children out of fear and obligation instead of love for neighbor. I need to daily remember that blanket that covers me by faith. But doing something like this with our children is vital. Reminding them that they and you are forgiven is important. We are covered in a blanket of righteousness, though our dirty clothes are still underneath. And so, I clothes… I mean, close with something my son said the first time I’d done the blanket thing with them. I’ll never forget it. It was after the evening prayer. Grinning widely, he immediately fell to the floor, wrapping the blanket tightly around himself saying, “I’m resting in Jesus’ righteousness.” Amen.