My earliest childhood memory is when I was sitting in the living room, with my brothers, listening to my father tell us the account of Jonah. We were intrigued upon hearing that this man had been thrown into the ocean and then, rather shockingly, swallowed by a whale! I can still remember the look on my brothers’ face as he asked, “Dad, will we be swallowed by a whale when we go to the ocean?” He meant it with all sincerity, and I, younger than my brother, listened intently to what my father’s response would be because I too was a little concerned! My father laughed and replied, “No son, this is just an act of God.” At that, we were comforted and began to move on recollecting the account of Jonah.
My father was one who was always adamant about teaching us the Word of God. So much so that I assumed everyone had Biblical knowledge when I was a child. He often would sit us down and teach us Biblical truths. At times I’ll admit I got bored, but I never forgot the lessons I learned in my youth. I even recall many times teaching my Barbie’s about the Lord. I knew the Biblical accounts like the back of my hand. In the end, my dad got just what he wanted, us to know Biblical truths.
Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate the time my dad invested into teaching me the Word of God. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have some of the Biblical knowledge I have today. For it seems the truths I learned as a child stuck better, then those I have learned as a adult. I mean, think about it. Many of us who grew up in either the church or in a Christian home can easily recollect the Biblical events such as Noah’s Ark, Jonah, Abraham, Adam and Eve, Moses, Daniel, David and Goliath, Jesus death and resurrection, and more. These Biblical truths seem to be more easily remembered than, say, something we learned in last week’s sermon. Why? Simply because we learned them in our youth. In fact, children are better equipped to assimilate spiritual truth then, they will be when they are older. This is why experts continually push for earlier and earlier schooling, because the early years are when children are most able to learn new concepts.
With that in mind, I want to introduce you to five practical principles to remember when teaching your children spiritual truths.
1. Understand that Children can Comprehend the Basics of Almost any Truth.
There is nothing so challenging as conveying deep Biblical truths to young children. But we can’t sell our children short and we can’t kick the can of responsibility down the road. We need to seize every moment. The reality of it is, children really can comprehend the basics of almost any truth, if we just allow ourselves to believe that. For this is exactly why Jesus calls us to a childlike faith.
“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” Mark 10:15
What makes a child’s faith different from an adult’s? Simply that children refuse to be troubled by what they cannot understand. They accept it at face value and accept God for what he says is true. They don’t second guess it or try to mix it up in their heads. They have the faith that it is real. We should mimic that kind of faith!
In truth, few of us understand the concepts of eternity or infinity any different than we did as a child. We may use a little better terminology, but our finite minds can’t grasp it. Don’t be afraid to admit that to you children.
2. Understand that Children have a Vivid Imagination.
When possible avoid figurative language. For example, when we talk about Christians being, ‘the light of the world.’ Children probably picture themselves as a bright shining sun that is holding a flashlight for all to see; rather than the real message behind the metaphor. This is just the way their minds work.
I once encountered this issue with my seven year old daughter, Ayva. I was explaining to her how sin can darken a person’s heart and pretty much left it at that. A few days later she got into trouble for not listening; within moments she broke into tears crying because she feared her heart had turned dark due to sinning. Hum? Don’t think I sent the right message there! Obviously, I straightened out the situation, but learned not to use figurative or metaphorical language when talking to children about Biblical truths. They don’t quite understand to that degree.
So instead of asking children to invite Jesus into their heart, in which they might picture a heart with an open door; it is actually easier if we just tell them what faith is a how to surrender their lives to Jesus.
Now, not all metaphoric, allegorical, figurative language is, ‘off limits.’ There are many children’s books and magazines that illustrate these things just fine. However, when discussing Biblical truths, just make sure they are grasping the right concepts, and that you are explaining things in detail.
3. Distinguish Truth from Fantasy.
Children today are bombarded with fantasy and make-believe characters. They have everything from Super Man to Princess Cinderella. They are inundated with fantasy in books, television, magazines, at school, at home, and they even pretend to be the characters they most value.
Now, there is nothing wrong with fantasy; in fact kids imagination grow well this way. However when discussing Biblical truths we must remember to distinguish truth from fairy-tale
One way we can do that is to not refer to Biblical events as, ‘Bible stories.’ In a child’s mind, stories are factitious. When we read them stories like, Peter Pan, The Three Little Pigs, or any other children’s story, they are based off of factitious events. This is why they are called, stories. The very definition of the word ‘story,’ is that it is an account of an imaginary event. When we refer to the Biblical accounts as Biblical stories, in a child’s mind, we are just reading them another imaginative story. This is why it’s important to distinguish the two. Rather than refer to them as, ‘Bible stories,’ refer to them as ‘Biblical accounts.’ This will help weed fact from fiction in a child’s minds.
4. Ask Questions.
The best way to find out what your kids are really thinking, is to ask them questions. I can recall numerous conversations with my children about Biblical truths they learned in Sunday School. There were times they were confused and times they understood. But I never would have figured out the basis of what they knew, if I hadn’t inquired.
Asking your children what they learned encourages them to pay attention to what they are learning. If you have more than one child, you can even make games out of it. For example, one game my kids and I play is Bible Trivia. They love it! My two eldest children tend to compete for, ‘who knows the most information,’ and I’m happy, because in the process they are gaining many Biblical truths.
Now, it’s not all just about gaining Biblical knowledge. You see, the Pharisees were world champions at Bible study, but they failed to find life because their studies did not move them to engage with Jesus (John 5:39-40).
Having wrestled with what we’re actually asking children to do with the content knowledge the Bible presents, I have come to think that imagination is key. We need to encourage children not only to learn the Bible but to also engage imaginatively with what the Bible says.
One way we can do that is by asking questions that engage their imagination. Questions like: Which character do you feel you are most like? How would you respond if you were the character in the story? How does that character make you feel? What if your friend did that to you? Would you have acted like Jesus in that situation?
Remember your children love to hear from you. So the more questions you ask, the better.
5. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.
As a homeschool parent I now understand that children usually don’t get the whole message the first time around, nor should we expect them to. This is why repetition is built into many of the school curriculum’s I use. The more something is repeated, the more likely children are to remember it.
I mean, think about when you were a child. The things that we remember the most, are the things we heard the most. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard the story of Noah, and because of that, I can recount the story almost word for word. This is how it is with our children. If there are certain principals we want our children to retain, then we must use repetition.
One thing, that I have taught my kids over the years, is that God loves them. If they are having a good day, I’ll say, “God loves you.” If they are having a bad day, I’ll say, “God loves you.” If they are being disciplined for something, I’ll say, “God loves you.” No matter the state they are in, they know that God loves them, no matter what. I want them to understand that God loves them even when they reject Him or sin. And as they grow older, I want it so ingrained into their brains, so that when they do mess up, they know God loves them, forgives them, and is there for them; even when people may not be.
In conclusion, teaching our children spiritual truth is a never-ending, non-stop duty. But it is also a tremendous privilege and great joy. You are your child’s principle spiritual guide and it should never be assumed that children will catch on to God’s Word by some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis.’ They must know who God is, in order to obey Him. Teach them Biblical truths. Understand that children can grasp almost any concept, understand that children have a vivid imagination, distinguish truth from fantasy, ask questions, and use repetition. Don’t back away from your role and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated or frustrated into abdicating this responsibility. It is the best part about being a parent. So enjoy it while it lasts!
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6,7
“…Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Psalm 78:1-4
Additional Insights on How To Help our Children…
– Daily make connections between Biblical truths and everyday life experiences.
– Teach them how the Bible is the only thing that reasonably explains the world they live in.
– Encourage them to see their own feelings in light of Scripture.
– Note the natural consequences of right and wrong thinking on any given topic.
– Explain how God’s truth triumphs over all other claims -false philosophies, false religions.
– Teach the “whole counsel of God.”
– Show them how to “walk in the truth” by walking in truth yourself.
– Lead them by both your word and deed.
– Pray for them.