Helping Your Children Know God
About the Guest
Helping your children understand who God is can be challenging. Join us for today's broadcast when Dennis and Barbara Rainey give parents practical suggestions for helping children know and love God.
Dennis and Barbara Rainey give parents practical suggestions for helping children know and love God.
Helping Your Children Know God
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition – Thursday, August 12th. Sometimes when you get kids together, and you ask them questions about God, you get some interesting observations. Let's listen together as a group of parents talk about some of the things their children have come up with.
Man: Memorable things your children have said to you about God or asked God in prayer. Wasn't there something the other day – Curt prayed something really funny – he's three.
Woman: He's three, and we were in the car one day, and we were talking about how God is everywhere, and he thought for a minute, and then he cracked up in the back seat – "We're running over God."
Bob: You know, what we've been listening to is a group of parents gathered together in a HomeBuilders parenting meeting, going through one of our study guides, one of our HomeBuilders parenting study guides. It's one of six that we've put together for parents designed to help us with the challenging task of raising kids who love Christ and who are biblically centered in their lives, and this issue of helping our children think rightly about God is a core part of our task.
Dennis: It really is. In fact, we have surveyed more than 50,000 people in a couple hundred churches across the country and have asked them, "How can FamilyLife serve you in your marriage and family?" And, Bob, one of the top five issues around the subject of parenting is introducing our children to God and helping them get to know Him. And because of the overwhelming response to this survey that we have been taking over the past half-dozen years or so, we asked you to create a small group Bible study for parents.
Now, for a number of years, we've had HomeBuilders for couples, and more than 1.5 million of them have gone out the door and have helped marriages all over the United States and around the world, but now we've launched six new Bible studies around equipping parents to raise the next generation. And we asked you to write this one – "Helping Your Children Know God," and I guess my question for you, Bob, is what is your objective as you wrote this HomeBuilders?
Bob: Well, I think understanding who God is, is challenging for grownups. I mean, it's the ongoing spiritual issue for me, as I seek to try to understand who God is and get to know Him in a better way throughout my life, and I have an assignment to pass that information along to my children. And I thought in this study maybe what we can do is help parents clarify their own understanding of who God is and then give them some very practical ways that you can take some big ideas, some abstract ideas, and make them a little easier for children to grasp, to get the big idea, you know?
Dennis: Yes, and it is a tough assignment. Barbara has joined us each day of this series, where we're challenging parents to be revolutionaries and start a small group to equip not only themselves in raising children but also others. Barbara, as you look back on your childhood, how would you say your parents introduced you to God?
Barbara: That's really a good question. I think probably the main way that they sought to do that was by taking me to church. You know, I don't know how much of it was our generation, I don't know how much of it was them and their comfort level with talking about spiritual things, but we didn't talk about spiritual things at home other than to say grace at the table occasionally, and I'm not even sure that was an every-meal kind of thing. I can't remember, for sure, but we did go to church every Sunday without fail, and we went to Sunday school and I remember learning about God as a child, and I remember at five and six years old wanting to know God better and wanting to know who He was and what He wanted for my life.
So I remember learning all of that through church.
Bob: I think your parents and my parents probably took the same approach, which was church is the key tool in this. As long as we're taking our kids to church, church will introduce our children to God, and our children will get to know who God is because the church will teach them. And yet, as we look at the Scriptures, the Scriptures make it pretty clear that it's not the church's responsibility primarily. It is our responsibility, as parents, and the church should be there to reinforce the work that we are doing.
I'm wondering, when you and Dennis got married and started having children, do you think you had a game plan ready for how you were going to introduce your children to God – how you were going to explain the ideas of who God was to them?
Barbara: I don't think we had a game plan thought through, but I know that I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to be more involved in teaching my children about who God was beyond just taking them to church. I knew I wanted to talk to them about it; I knew I wanted to be the one, if God gave me the privilege of doing so, I wanted to be the one to lead them to Christ; to tell them how to pray and invite Christ into their life.
Bob: And I think that's the desire of just about every Christian parent. We want to be more involved; we want to be in the process; we want to share spiritual truth with our children. But if we didn't grow up seeing it modeled, or if we haven't sat down and consciously thought through, "How am I going to do this? All we have is a desire, we don't have a plan," and part of what I was hoping to do in putting this study together for parents is to give them some specific ideas, things you can do with your children to help communicate specific biblical truth about who God is.
The whole concept of God is a hard one. We heard these parents talking during the HomeBuilders group, and this little boy, who is thinking, "Well, God is everywhere, so we're driving on God." It's hard for a three-year-old, a five-year-old, to get his arms around the fact that God is everywhere, that He is invisible. These are hard concepts, and I wanted to try to give parents some practical ways to pass that information along to their children.
Dennis: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, because in your HomeBuilders you have six sessions. And the first one is "Getting to Know God." So you're actually guiding the parents into a clearer understanding of who they know God to be?
Bob: Well, I want them to understand the process by which we get to know God. You know, cultivating a relationship with anybody involves time – spending time together, getting to know another person. Well, how do we do that with the God of the Universe? I wanted to walk parents through an understanding of how you build a relationship with God; how you get to know Him. It's really not that different than how we cultivate any kind of a human relationship. We get to know God by spending time with Him in His Word; spending time with Him in prayer; and I wanted parents to understand that process and then be able to share that whole idea with their children.
Dennis: And you provide, in your HomeBuilders parents' Bible study, five simple way that we know God. First of all, through creation; secondly, through the Bible; third, through His attributes – that's the description of what God's like, who he's like; fourth, we learn about God through Jesus Christ. He became flesh and dwelt among us.
Bob: He is the visible image of the invisible God.
Dennis: There you go, and then the last session is all about responding to God, once you know who He is.
Bob: Mm-hm, because we're not just called upon to know who He is but to have relationship with Him. So how are we to relate to Him, and the Scripture is pretty clear that we are to love Him, and we are to fear Him, and we are to obey Him, and that's what our relationship with Him ought to look like. At the end of each of these sessions for parents, I tried to design an activity that a family could do together to take the information that the parents have talked about and take it home and do this activity with your children.
Dennis: Kind of a Family Night?
Bob: A Family Night, a family devotion, something that you could do together so that not only would you understand the concept better but you could pass that information along to your children.
Dennis: And you equip parents to be able to do that in a very simple fashion. One of the great questions you asked at the end of the first session is you asked parents to write down the top 10 things or the most primary things that you think are important that your children need to know about God. Okay?
Bob: I've got a top 10 list here, and if you're going to pass along information to your kids about God, what are the things they need to know?
Dennis: How would you answer that question for you and Mary Ann?
Bob: Well, I think there are attributes that you're going to talk about throughout the study. For example, you need to know that God is omniscient; that He knows everything. And you need to know that because it gives you confidence for the future; it helps you understand that there is not a detail in your life that has slipped by. You need to know that God is omnipotent; He is all-powerful. There is nothing that God can't do. Again, it gives you a great source of hope. You need to know that God is everywhere, and, as David said, "Where can I run from your spirit?" You know, "If I go to the top of the mountain, you're there; if I go to the depth of hell, you are there."
Dennis: Okay, so you have three characteristics of who God is – His power, His presence, and that He knows everything. How does knowing those things about who God is and wanting to teach that about who God is, affect your parenting as you raise your children?
Bob: Well, first of all, the confidence that we have to know that God knows everything – I know that when I'm lacking in wisdom, God has said, "I've got the answers, I know," and that there is nothing that my kids have done that's escaped His view or His understanding. And I want my kids to understand that. I want them to know that God is paying attention to everything that's going on in their life; that He is omnipresent; that when they're hanging out with their friends, and they're facing peer pressure, everything they do, they're doing in front of God, and that He is all powerful, and there are things that I can't do for them, but there is nothing God can't do and won't do that's consistent with His characteristic and with His will.
I've been spending a lot of time recently looking at how God spoke about Himself when He passed in front of Moses. You remember Moses on the mountain says, "Can I see Your glory?" God says, "No, you'd die." He says, "But turn your face to the rock, and I'll let my glory pass behind you," and so Moses does, and Exodus 34, verse 6, says this – "Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed the Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth, who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he will, by no means, leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and the fourth generations."
Well, here is God's description of who He is. Do I want my kids to understand that He is compassionate; that He is gracious; that He is slow to anger; that He abounds in lovingkindness and in truth; that he forgives iniquity and transgression but He will not leave the guilty unpunished? I want them to understand all of that, because I want them to know God.
Dennis: Yes, and if you know who God is, He and His presence will impact your behavior. Barbara, can you think of an illustration with one of our six where the knowledge of God and who God is, the truth about who He is, has impacted maybe the behavior of one of our kids?
Barbara: Well, I think of a situation with one of our kids who was – we thought he was the guilty one in taking something from one of his siblings. One of our kids had a coin collection, and this particular child knew about that coin collection, knew where it was and, all of a sudden, one of the prize coins was missing. And I remember in the conversation that we had, we talked about – "We don't know which one of the five took this coin, but somebody took this coin, and God knows who took that coin, and God knows where it is." And when you remind your children of that, suddenly you don't have to be omniscient, because you're not, and you know you're not, and the kids know you're not, but somebody does. Somebody knows, somebody sees, and, all of a sudden, the children pay attention, and this child paid attention and confessed, and we found out where it was.
It gives parents a great advantage because you're not parenting alone. You know, you're parenting with God when you're communicating who He is, and the children know that it's not just mom and dad that I have to answer to – that I have to answer to God as well.
Dennis: You're really hitting on something that I think the next generation of parents needs to pay very careful attention to, and that really is teaching the truth about God, as Bob is talking about here in his HomeBuilders parents series – the truth about God that creates the fear of God, the respect of God. Because if you don't have a fear of God, if God is not an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-righteous, holy God, then sin may not have any consequences, and I'm afraid there's a generation of young people today who are not being raised in homes that are not being introduced to who Almighty God is, and, personally, I think it's good for our children to know the truth about who God is, because once they know that truth, that can be used by God, by the Holy Spirit to convict them and to turn them from evil at a time when you're not there as a parent. But God is.
Bob: Let me let you in on a little secret, and I don't want to scare anybody by doing this, but as I sat down to put this study together, I pulled out a couple of books that I have on my shelf that are books in systematic theology, and in a systematic theology, one of the subjects is the knowledge of God – how do we know who God is, how do we find out that truth, where does it come from? And I looked at those books, which were written on that theological level, and I said, "This isn't just for theologians, this is for all of us." I mean, theology is the study of God, isn't that what every Christian ought to be committed to?
So this study is really an attempt to get some of that systematic theology off the shelf and get it into the hands of parents so that we're passing it on to our children.
Dennis: But in a lay-friendly …
Bob: Yes, in a way that all of us can do. At the end of the first session, we've got this parent-child interaction. You go home with your kids and maybe you go out to a fast-food restaurant, and you give everybody a blank sheet of paper, and you're going to have the celebrity quiz with your kids. And you say, "I want to give you a quiz about famous people that Mom and Dad have met. Now, to qualify as somebody you've met, this would have to be somebody I've either shaken hands with or I've spoken to, and in each category I want you to decide whether you think this is true or false."
So we'd go through and say, "Do you think Mom or Dad has ever met a famous movie star or television star?" And, for Mom, you'd say, "Mom has, Dad hasn't." You know, each kid would get to vote. Mom or Dad has ever met a local television personality – the news anchor or the weatherperson or a sportscaster or a reporter. How about a professional athlete or a politician or an author or a musician or God? You see, and we get to the end of that and now in the conversation you go back through and say, "How many of you think Mom has met a famous sportsperson?" And two say yes, and one says no, and then Mom can say, "I did. I met a pro athlete one time," and she tells the story, and you have that kind of family interaction.
Well, the last one is how many of you think Mom or Dad have met God? And that gives you the same open door to talk about, "Mom, when did that happen? How do you meet God? Dad, tell the kids how you've met God." And let them know when you were first introduced to God and share your testimony with them. Now, that's the kind of Family Night, family interaction, you can have. It would be fun for the kids and yet it opens the door for a spiritual conversation and begins to get the idea across to them – we meet God the same way we meet other famous people. We get introduced, somebody says, "This is God," and you get to converse, get to know, and build a relationship with God.
Dennis: And the important thing that parents need to hear and, for that matter, singles, is that where children get their first concept of God is from Mom and Dad. You are the most important person in shaping your child's introduction to who God is, is what we're saying here.
Bob: One of the things our kids have always loved doing, and we love having this now – our kids have loved acting out stories with the video camera running. They did it more when they were little than they do now, but we've got the story of Jonah, I think, acted out on a movie. Well, again, if you want to help your children understand more about who God is, you can videotape one of these Bible stories with the kids acting it out. They'll have a blast doing it, you'll have a memory that you'll hang onto and show for years, and when you're done shooting the movie, you sit down and say, "Now, what does that story teach us about who God is?"
The idea is the Bible is where we get our picture of who God is, and these stories in the Bible teach us something about who God is. So let's act one out and then let's go the next step and say, "What do we learn about who God is through a story like that?
Barbara: I remember our kids did that on several different occasions. They acted out the stoning of Stephen once, and several others.
Bob: I bet they loved that one.
Barbara: They wadded up Kleenexes for the stones and threw them. But it reminded me, though, of one, years ago, with our older three kids when they decided – and this wasn't our initiation, either, this was their idea. They wanted to act out the story of Jesus and the Crucifixion, and I don't know if it was around Easter or what prompted them to do that, but they did, and the three of them each had a different role, and I remember that Samuel was Jesus. And I remember them acting it out in the living room. Do you remember this?
Dennis: I don't.
Barbara: They were acting it out in the living room, and I remember Samuel was standing over against the wall with his arms out like he was on the cross, and there was this look that went across his face as they were putting on the final production – this wasn't practice, this was the real thing. And I think he just had on his little Underoos, or whatever he had on, but I remember there was this look of recognition that went across his face, where he was acting out Jesus and, all of a sudden, it hit him what it meant. And he was only maybe seven or eight, but there was this consciousness that was raised as he actually portrayed the character, even in a childlike way, and he understood, at a different level, what it might have meant to have been Jesus as he stood there. And I'll never forget that, because just acting out the play put them in touch with the real people who are in the Bible. And it made a lasting impression on them.
Bob: I’m convinced every time we read a story in the Bible, or we read a passage in the Bible, one of the questions – when we shut our Bible, one of the questions we ought to ask is, "What did that teach me about God? What do I know about God? What's revealed about God?" Because that's what the Book is here for – every story, every chapter, is designed to tell you something about God and His plan for our lives. And so what I'm trying to do is get parents and children to think, not just about the story of Daniel in the lion's den, which is a great story, but let's make sure we go to the "so what." What does that say about who God is? What do we know about God that He can shut the mouth of lions? What do we know about God that when Stephen is stoned, he looks up into heaven, and he sees God. That's the question I want parents and children to be asking as they go through these stories.
Dennis: And if we didn't have the Bible, just think of where we would be left to gain our assumptions about who God is.
Bob: Well, again, my systematic theology book says that there is general revelation …
Dennis: … that's from creation …
Bob: … we can look around to creation and know there's a God from that, but you can't be saved through general revelation. You have to have specific revelation; you have to have the revealed Word of God, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Dennis: And I think sometimes we take the word "theology," and we make the study of who God is into something academic, and our assignment, as parents, is to do the best job we can, first of all, to get to know Him for ourselves, and then begin to do what you equip us to do, Bob, in your HomeBuilders Bible study here – begin to put the cookies on the lower shelf, so to speak, where your children are so they can begin to taste, as we have tasted and see that the Lord is good.
Bob: This is one of six studies for parents in the HomeBuilders parenting series, and our hope is that a lot of parents all over the country will get together with other parents in your church, in your neighborhood, if your kids go to school with other kids, get their parents involved, invite six or seven couples over to the house and start going through these studies, because not only will the information help you as a parent, but the interaction with other parents will help you.
We're real big on community. I mean, that's what the body of Christ is, that's what the church is all about, and these small groups are designed to provide that kind of biblical community that can help us for the task of raising our children and raising the next generation to know God.
If you'd like more information about any of these studies, go to our website at FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY and join the parenting revolution. Become a part of the group of parents who are committed to raising the next generation to know God, to serve Him, to obey Him, and to love Him.
Dennis: I think there are probably some wives who are listening to the broadcast right now saying, "Boy, I'd love for my husband – I'd love for him to go with me to one of these studies." You've been wanting for him to grow spiritually and to participate? Well, it just may be that getting a friend to form a HomeBuilders parent study and having a peer of his invite him and you over to join a group may just be the way that moves your marriage out of neutral spiritually into growth.
Bob: In fact, we're so big on this that this month we've decided to make the materials available at a discount – 25 percent off the regular price for any of our HomeBuilders materials if you call us during the August and get a group started. The number to call is 1-800-FLTODAY or you can go online at FamilyLife.com and, don't forget, you'll save 25 percent if you call this month. Again, it's 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Become a part of the HomeBuilders parenting revolution and be one of those parents who is raising your children to know God, to love Him, to obey Him, and to fear Him.
And tomorrow we're going to tackle one of the challenges that we all face as parents, and that is effective discipline and how we establish that in our homes.
Dennis: You won't want to miss this.
Bob: You've got the secrets for us?
Dennis: I think this is one of the hot, hot issues in families today, because we live in a culture that knows no boundaries, and for a Christian family today to have limits, boundaries, and then discipline their children to live within those boundaries? You talk about counter-cultural – it's also biblical Christianity, and it really represents the core of a Christian family.
Bob: All right, Dennis and Barbara, with foolproof discipline for your family …
Dennis: … I didn't say that …
Barbara: … no, we didn't …
Dennis: … don't go putting words in my mouth.
Bob: I hope you can be back with us tomorrow. I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Go to Bob's house for the foolproof discipline.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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