Saturday, August 30, 2008
Instructing a Child's Heart
Danette and I just started reading Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. The main emphasis of the book is on formative training in the lives of children. Basically, the Tripps are calling parents to do the hard work of intentional and purposeful instruction in the lives of our kids. This purposeful formation must be centered around the Gospel, that is that Christ died the death we should have died and lived the life we should have lived to bring us to God. The big question of course then is how do you do this? And the answer is composed of two elements. You set up regular times of teaching and instruction for your kids, and you do it ‘as you go’ or as you walk through life together. This formative instruction will in end prove to be a deep well that children can draw from that leads to life. So, through this, Danette and I are going to attempt to weave regular instruction into our lives. Here are some of the ways we are hoping to do it, in truth we have done some of these things, the trick now is to develop greater consistency, while maximizing those teachable moments. Here goes:
First the intentional aspect of formative instruction: this is composed of regular times of family worship, daily prayer, the catechism and Scripture reading. Three to five times a week we want to gather as a family for worship. This usually begins with a Bible story from Scripture. A very important part of this is making sure you attach the smaller story to the larger story of Scripture. Too many times we read a story and try to make it stand alone without connecting it both to the historical context and the Scriptural context. What this leads to is great stories of valor and morality, but stories that we can never live up to. It produces Christians who try to slay giants, have great faith so they can accomplish all that they want to in this life or not fail when temptation comes like Jonah. And what is largely absent from this life - Jesus. Jesus is what makes Christianity, Christianity. He separates us from Islam and Judaism and any other religious way of life. The Scripture points to who He is and what He has done. After all Jesus explains the Bible to the disciples on the road to Emmaus this way, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Notice the word all - in all the Scriptures. The Scriptures are about Him. He is point. So we want to show the children how Abraham, Moses, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, David, Solomon, the Prophets and the Exile all relate to Jesus. The story of God’s mission and our redemption is the main story Scripture tells and all the little stories point to this. So to do this, we read a story out of The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. Both of these are incredibly well written, well illustrated and deeply theological, while at the same time packaged in a way that kids enjoy it and can grasp it. After the Bible time, we may sing two or three worship songs or tell God many things we are thankful for or what makes Him great. Danette and I aren’t musicians, although Danette sometimes thinks she is a great singer, harkening back to memories of singing with Great - Grandpa at church. Anyway, we use the ipod and sing some rich hymns or Sovereign Grace kids songs. All of these songs are full of Gospel truths. We finish with prayer. Each child prays for a friend or request, and Danette and I pray for each child and other friends and family.
A second formational thing we are doing is memorizing Bible verses and the Shorter Catechism. Our church, Trinity Harbor PCA, has given out a summer set of verses. The girls are learning Genesis 1:1 and Jed is learning Psalm 100:1 right now. We also learn the catechism and do a short devotion driving home the main points of the catechism each day. We do this in the morning, sometime. The catechism is a series of questions and answers that explain the basic tenets of this faith we believe and attempt to live out. The first question/answer set in the Shorter Catechism is this: Q: What is man’s primary purpose? A: Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. After we spend some time memorizing the question and answer, we then turn to the Bible portion which centers around things like this for example, how do you use something for its created purpose? After all we don’t use shoe polish to make our teeth white, that’s not it’s purpose. So, man is made for God. We are made to glorify Him and enjoy Him. When we live for things - toys, money, possessions, love, princesses, football or video games - we aren’t being used for our purpose. Anyway each teaching centers around this first question for a week, then we move on to question 2 with short devotions centered around this question and answer. This material is great and comes from Teaching Hearts and Training Minds.
A third aspect of this intentional formation is prayer in the morning and blessings at bed time. We put the kids to bed each night with a blessing from Desiring God Children’s Blessings - these are Scriptural prayers of blessing. We also pray for peace in the night and a Godward focus to the day in the morning. The kids always ask to be prayed for at night. I think this is part of their nightly stalling routine sometimes, and I often times find myself wanting to be lazy, but they don’t forget, and it is a good thing that they don’t. Judson loves being prayed for, when we put him in the crib he stays standing and says prah, prah...I then place my hand on his head and pray and bless him. It is pretty cute.
The next important piece and probably more vital is the “as you go” type teaching. We see this as part of the command of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples” should be translated still as a command, but with the implication it is as you Go, you are to make disciples. As you walk through all thing various things in this life, make disciples. It isn’t some religious experience removed from life. Rather it is through the very basic things of life that you make disciples. No where else is this more regular than in the home and as you do the things you do as a family. This instruction should center on the Gospel and our need of grace, verses a more moral values behavior focused training. It is so easy to always threaten with rewards and punishments, while never teaching the heart. From where does evil come - the heart. Where does my kids and my first problem reside - inside. We do want to teach values, but values that are founded and established in and by Christ through the Spirit. So, when Jed says its hard to not get angry playing a video game or when Jadyn says I can’t clean up or Blakley says I don’t want to share, the answer isn’t necessarily in punishment, although it might help, and the answer isn’t, hey, you can do, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try. Rather we try to help them see that they need help to do anything and all things, and where does this help come? It comes from God. So we want them to pray and ask Jesus for the power and ability to do any of the above things. It is hard. In fact it is impossible...we need grace to empower us to do what is right. This grace comes from outside of us. It isn’t just sitting there waiting to be enacted by our effort. Rather it comes from Christ, and it is how we do anything good in this life. This instruction comes as you go, it comes at the pool, in the living room, at the mall or at the field. It sometimes involves scenarios. Like, Jed what if boys at school want to make fun of another boy, what do you do? Blakley, what do you do when you don’t want to share your new toys and a friend comes over? Things like this are a part of “as you go” instruction.
A last aspect of instruction comes through discipline. Tripp stresses that this cannot be the only time of instruction. Rather it is a part, but only a part of the instruction process. I am reminded of Doug Wilson’s great exhortation in his book Future Men, when he says we should view discipline with delight. This is a great time to teach and train. It is a gift according to the writer of Hebrews. What I realize is that I usually despise discipline, both the Lord’s of me and mine of my children. It is inconvenient. It is hard. But those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. This is also a great time to teach the Gospel. One of the great truths of the Gospel is penal substitutionary atonement. This doctrine states that Christ took our punishment, namely the wrath of God poured out on sin and sinners. He stood in our place and received what we should have received. Many times when I discipline, I will remind the children that this discipline is for their benefit, and I do it because I love them and then I will remind them that it is temporary and it ends, because of Jesus. You don’t have to receive the just punishment you deserve for sin. Punishment that lasts forever. You don’t have to, because of Jesus. He took your punishment. So, long after the sting fades, you will feel better, but through Jesus you can truly be forgiven and free forever.
Lastly, a couple of the incredible things I have been learning in all of this is one, how much the Gospel is for me as a parent. It is here in my failure and sin that I most cling to the promise of Christ found in the Gospel. He took the place for me and for my anger, laziness and frustration just as much for my kid’s quarrels, deceit and selfishness. Second, I have learned how faithful God is to grant wisdom when we ask and then seek, and both the asking and then the seeking are grace. They both are a gift. I sometimes ask for wisdom, but don’t seek it out. I ask, but don’t do the work of seeking. This week God has shown me how he blesses with wisdom when I seek and study. And both in both of these God gets the credit, because it is by grace that I ask and by grace that I am empowered to seek. I am hopeful that Danette and I can develop this type of instruction as a regular part of our lives, and that God will impart grace to us and our children through it.