Psalm 78:5-8 sums up Domestic piety in a nutshell.
“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.” (Psalm 78:5–8, ESV)
What are we trying to achieve as parents? What has God commanded us to do? We are to teach our children to “set their hope in God.” In other words, the goal of all our parental instruction must not merely be the passing on of knowledge— as if dry, arid, intellectual, theological dust blowing around in their brains would suffice. The knowledge we pass on must be alive with the glory of God, His goodness, His trustability, and the sheer incompleteness of life without Him. This is something we must live out, or we will never pass it on to our children. They live with us after all. The aroma of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy will linger long in the rooms of our houses like Aunt Jemima’s awful (always over-applied) parfum— and with the same effect.
In this regard, forgetfulness is always the perennial danger to the life of faith— forgetfulness joined with stubbornness. Willfulness clings to us like a leech to the flesh; we like having our own way too much. The gravitational power of the “self” constantly pulls our hearts away from God.
What can be done?
- Expose their souls to as much soul-stretching preaching as possible. Our children need to be inspired by a vision of the glory of God. Pray the greatness and goodness of God will rest heavily upon the preaching of the Word, that it will be alive with His splendor and majesty. Resolve to make morning and evening worship the non-negotiable weekly rhythm of your family’s piety.
- When God shares little nuggets of truth that thrill your soul, pass these on to your children. Keep a notebook for these (otherwise you will forget them). Resolve never to be a dead end to truth. Pay it forwards.
- When you pray before your children, speak about the reality of His holiness, His all-seeing eye, His knowledge of your heart. Psalm 139 is a tremendous help here. Confess your sins particularly (and appropriately) in your prayers before them. It is so easy to pray “pretend” prayers before your children. I have borderline ADHD (if such a thing exists), and I find it a tremendous struggle to be real with God before my children. It’s hard for me to find God amidst 120 fidgeting fingers and toes. Too often my prayers feel like just words. The struggle for reality is worth it, however. We must press on.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict your children of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.
- Teach your children the great stories of the Bible. How wise (and kind) of God not to give us as our Bible a mere list of theological propositions. Instead, he gave us stories that parallel our own. As we observe the reality of God in the lives of the Bible’s heroes, we learn to discern His unseen hand in our own.
- As your children grow into the teenage years, loosen your grip a little. Too often, too many of us make the mistake of trying to drive our teenagers towards the faith. Parental anger, insecurity, and impatience will not make up for past failure, and cannot serve as a surrogate Holy Spirit. Anger will not give birth to life and righteousness in the lives of your little ones! (James 1:20). In the early teenage years, we will often find our children pushing back against our instruction, trying to find the real limits, the absolute boundaries. We must steward this moment carefully. Driving our children away from us with the constant scolding tone is a poor strategy for drawing them towards our Savior. When they say something “stupid” rather than berating them (or worse mocking them), try asking a question, “I hear what you say, but have you considered this, this, and this?” Or, “Okay, that’s an interesting point of view, and I hear you hold it with some passion, but what would you say if someone countered it with this….?” Teaching our children to think and telling them what to think are not the same. Learn the difference.
- When they come to you for counsel, teach them to remember God. Bring His presence, His reality, His Word, His law into the equation. God’s word is alive and has the wonderful ability to fix us from the inside out (Psalm 19:7). Resist the temptation of using it as a baseball bat to beat up your children. Let them feel it’s peculiar beauty as you savor it before them. When it comes to living life skillfully, let them sense the Bible is your best and wisest counsellor. Then maybe they’ll take it as their own.