Teaching Kids to Love God
About the Guest
Dennis and Barbara RaineyDennis and Barbara Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Their 43+ years of leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries. Together they have spoken at over 150 Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways and authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples, Staying Close, A Symphony in the Dark, and Barbara’s most recent, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife...more
Dennis and Barbara Rainey remind us what Jesus said when he spoke about the greatest commandment to “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” A parent’s assignment is to demonstrate for their children how to respond to the love of God.
Teaching Kids to Love God
Bob: As parents, we want our children to be skillful in relationships; but there’s one relationship that matters more than any other—that is our children’s relationship with Jesus. Barbara Rainey says that’s something that, as parents, we can’t engineer.
Barbara: It’s not our responsibility. I think that’s where parents get confused—I know I felt it. I felt like it was my responsibility to teach my kids and to make sure they had a relationship with Christ, but that’s not it. My responsibility was to present the truth to them and to model a relationship; it’s God’s responsibility to call their hearts. I think that’s where we get mixed up, as moms and dads—we own what is not ours.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 7th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. As parents, how can we prepare our child’s heart so that, when the seeds of the gospel are planted, they can take root?
We’re going to talk more today about our responsibility, as parents, to introduce our children to Jesus. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I had kind of an “Aha” moment—this was a number of years ago—but I remember reading in Romans, Chapter 1, where it says that, since the beginning of time, it’s been obvious to everybody that there’s a God. That’s not new news for anybody. Anybody who can look around and see the world/anybody who’s aware of their own existence—
Dennis: This is the Lepine paraphrase of Romans 1.
Bob: Yes! This is what Romans 1 says: “If you’re alive and you can take a breath, you know, deep inside, you’re here because there is a God.”
The “Aha” moment for me was—as I raise my kids, my kids know there’s a God. The issue is—I don’t have to convince my kids that there’s a God who exists—I just have to introduce them to the God they already know exists. Or my assignment is to explain who this God, that they know already, is; so they can have a relationship with him.
We’ve been talking this week about relationships and how that fits into parenting and the priority for us, as parents, to help our kids know how to do relationships—to build strong relationships with our children to help them know how to relate to one another. At the core of all of this—they need to understand the God who created them and what it means to have a relationship with Him.
Dennis: A listener recently wrote us, Bob, and said something very similar to that. She said: “Your broadcasts, in general, are so helpful; but a blessing to my life. First, as a follower of Jesus Christ.
But secondly, now that I’m 36 years old, I don’t have the wisdom and the training to disciple my kids and to know how to pass this truth on to my family. You guys are equipping me with those biblical principles and spiritual growth so that our kids don’t wither when they go out into the world, but they know how to thrive.”
Bob: Well, we ought to say, “Thank you,” right here, at the beginning, to those who, not only listen to FamilyLife Today, but to those that make it possible for listeners like this to get the help and hope they need for their marriage and their family.
Dennis: And as we’re here at yearend, I just need to turn to you, as a listener, and invite you—and may I also say, “challenge you”—to join with us, financially, in this broadcast. Help make it possible so that others—not only you and your family—but that others can benefit from this broadcast as well. We need you right now to pull out a checkbook or a credit card—
—go online or get an envelope and put that check in the mail to FamilyLife Today—so that we can be on air with stories of redemption and hope that do give wisdom to those who are in the trenches. Bob, I think that’s what marriages and families need today—is that practical biblical help and hope that FamilyLife Today can be counted on to provide.
Bob: Well, as I’ve said, this is a particularly good time of year for you to make a donation; because we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have come along and offered to double every donation we receive. They’re going to match it, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.5 million. For us to take full advantage of that matching gift, we need every listener, who has benefited from this program over the course of the year, to be as generous as you can be so that we can end the year in a strong position.
You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. When you do, we’re going to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of the movie, Like Arrows, on DVD.
This is the movie we produced this year that was in theaters a few months ago. It’s not available for purchase yet, but we have a limited supply we’re making available to those of you who can help support the ministry this month. Again, you can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Thanks, in advance, for supporting the work of FamilyLife Today; and thanks for listening to FamilyLife Today.
In fact, we want to focus today on what moms and dads can do to help raise the next generation.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. Earlier, we talked about how this big idea of training your kids in relationships begins with you. As parents, you’re a mirror of how your kid is to love another person—you train them; you teach them; you instruct them; you coach them; you correct them.
We brought the number-one coach in the country in to this broadcast, Bob, to help us know how to best train our kids to love God.
Barbara Rainey joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. [Laughter]
Bob: Congratulations!—number one in the country. I didn’t know that!
Dennis: Coach of the year!—coach of the decade!
Barbara: [Not sounding convinced] Yes. [Laughter] That doesn’t feel quite right, since I know my failures so well.
Dennis: We just finished a book called The Art of Parenting. In that book, we’ve got four big ideas: relationships, character, identity, and mission. We’re wrapping up the relationship side—just reminding listeners that we, as human beings, are made to relate to God, as Bob has just said; and we are to relate to one another. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 22—He said, when asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And He summarizes: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In case you didn’t get it, loving God and loving others is where parents ought to start as they train their kids; and it’s not natural for them to know how to love God. Here’s why—because it was God who built the bridge to your kid. First John, Chapter 4—if you haven’t read this, read it to your kids: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” He goes on to say we didn’t love God first; He loved us first and, as He loves us, we learn how to love Him in return.
Bob: Barbara, I would think that, for every mom and dad who knows Christ, the desire to introduce their kids to Christ—to see their kids come to faith—that would be central for all of them.
One of the things I read in your book is—you’ve seen statistics that said this is not a priority for a lot of believing parents.
Barbara: Yes; we ran across this statistic and put it in our book. It’s a George Barna stat; and he said, “Seven out of ten Christian parents today don’t think salvation is an important outcome for their children.”
Bob: Now that’s astounding to me.
Barbara: Oh, it was astounding to me when I read it, too; because that was my number one goal for my kids, because I want to be in heaven with my children someday.
Barbara: I want them to know Christ; because I know that, without Christ/without a relationship with Him, their life isn’t going to work. Their relationships aren’t going to work; their marriage’s/their job won’t work. None of it’s going to work, because He is the One who holds everything together. So, if they want a marriage that’s going to go the distance, they need Jesus, who holds everything together. If they want kids, who will grow up and be mature responsible adults, those children need Jesus, who holds all things together.
So I was shocked by that—I know Dennis was, too—but what we’re saying in our book is what I just said. It is the most important thing that you can teach your children, because you can’t teach them how to love without them knowing Christ.
Bob: The problem is—we can teach them how to have a relationship with God, but this is not something we can make them do. This is on them to make that decision. This has got to come from inside of them; right?
Dennis: A good friend of ours is Robert Lewis. I’ll never forget—we were going through a dark set of days in our parenting journey; and he said: “Look, you can teach your kids to do what’s right. You can teach them to love God; but it takes God to, ultimately, put it in their heart and then them to respond to Him and to love Him in return.”
Here’s what I want parents to hear—
—your assignment is to teach, and demonstrate, and instruct—and teach, and teach, and teach how your child is to respond to the love of God. Your lifetime assignment is to teach them how they should love God in return.
Barbara: And I totally agree with that, but it’s more than just teaching. I think that’s where—I think that’s where a lot of parents make the mistake—they are heavy on the teaching and the instruction: “Here’s how you invite Jesus into your heart…”; but they forget that they’re modeling what that relationship looks like.
So, if you want your children to want to know God and you want your children to love God, then you have to show them a relationship with God that’s attractive. I’ve heard people say, who grew up in Christian homes: “I never considered not wanting to become a Christian, because I watched my parents. Their relationship with God was so attractive, and convincing, and real that I wanted it for myself.”
The burden of proof, so to speak, is on mom and dad to demonstrate a relationship with Christ that is infectious, and contagious, and attractive so that your kids will want one too.
Bob: Well, and the other side of that is—a lot of parents could harden the hearts of their children—
Barbara: Yes; that’s right.
Bob: —by professing one thing—
Barbara: —but living another.
Bob: And kids grow up with that kind of hypocrisy and that turns them away from wanting to have anything to do with Jesus. You know, a lot of adults today, who would say: “Here was my experience when I was a child. I prayed a prayer—I invited Jesus into my heart.”
Dennis: “I walked the aisle.”
Bob: Right; and then they say, “But when I became a teenager, I kind of fell away; and I ultimately had to find my way back.” Kids will often demonstrate some kind of spiritual interest when they’re children.
Bob: I think, in part, because they know: “It would please Mom and Dad if I act this way,” or “…believe this way,” / “I want to be like Mom and Dad, so I want this to be true of me.”
How did you guys or how would you coach parents to help their kids along this journey, so that it’s not just imitative behavior; but it’s really something that God’s doing in their heart?
Barbara: Well, I think it’s really important for parents not to be shocked. We talk about this in our book—don’t be shocked when your kids question their faith, because all of us question our faith. If we don’t, then maybe it’s not genuine. We have to evaluate what we believe and decide if it’s true or not. All kids are going to do that. I went through times of doubt; doubt is normal.
I think, when parents react when they see their kids doubting, that freaks out the kids; and it creates a dissonance in the relationship. I think the main thing to do is to allow your children to process—engage with them; talk with them; answer their questions. Give them positive feedback when they’re asking questions, so that they don’t feel like the fact that they’re doubting is really wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with doubting.
Dennis: Barbara and I had a great vacation last summer. Sometime, during the vacation, we started noodling on this. We started talking and discussing what had become crystal clear to us; and that is, we wanted our children to see us experiencing God, not just on Sunday between the hours of 10:30 and noon; but we wanted our children to see us experiencing God seven days a week—and bringing Him into our discussion with them so they caught a picture: “This is exciting. This is not some hum drum everyday journey that’s boring; but we’re serving the God of the universe—experiencing Him. He’s intersecting our lives.”
Certain things, Bob, become clear as you get older. I am seeing certain things more clearly than I have ever seen.
And that is this—as parents, you need to share your experience with God and His Word and what He’s doing in your life—how He’s convicting you of sin; how He’s encouraged you to reach out to somebody you don’t like; how He helped you defeat bitterness and forgive. Kids need to see their parents exemplifying the Christ-like life of Jesus living in and through us.
In fact, Barbara and I started talking about writing, not another book—but doing a Bible study that would be like Henry Blackaby’s Bible study, Experiencing God—but put it this way: Experiencing God in Your Family. I think that’s where we were first meant to experience God. I think the reason young people today are leaving the church, when they graduate from high school or college and they’re not showing up again, is because they saw one thing on Sunday from their parents; and they didn’t see much of anything of experiencing God the other six days of the week.
Bob: One of the key elements here is that your time in God’s Word and your time together in prayer, as a family, be something that is real and regular in your home. I’m thinking of the movie, Like Arrows, that is connected to the Art of Parenting™. It’s a movie that shows a family that was kind of nominal and marginal. They were going to church, but there wasn’t really a life of faith being lived out in the home. They got confronted with that, later in life, and started to make a transition. It made a difference in the dynamic of the family.
This is something that parents need to prioritize: introducing our kids to the Bible, reading the Bible with them, praying with them—making this a part of the life and fabric of your family. I know, Barbara, a lot of moms and dads feel like failures in this area; because they’ve tried to do family devotions or whatever—it hasn’t worked well. The kids roll their eyes—
Dennis: Well, they rolled their eyes at us; okay? [Laughter]
Barbara: Oh absolutely. We felt like failures, too; because we had this image of family devotions, where everybody was sitting politely around the table and paying attention.
Barbara: Our kids didn’t pay attention or, at least, they didn’t seem to be paying attention. But as they got older, we would catch little things that they would say, where we knew: “Oh! They really—they picked that up when we did that family devotion; so they were paying attention.”
Dennis: Remember the tape we played for one of our children—
Barbara: Yes; for Laura; yes.
Dennis: —about modesty?—right?
Barbara: He brought it home, and he played it for Laura. She rolled her eyes; and she said, “Oh gosh, do I have to listen to this?” We said, “Yes; you have to listen to this,” and so she did. We didn’t see anything for a while. After she graduated from high school, she had a job at a girls’ school. Part of her job was to check the girls before they got on the bus in the morning before they had a day of service in the community. She called me one day and she said: “Mom, you are not going to believe these girls.
“I cannot believe what they are wearing to get on the bus in the morning to go off for their day of service. I sent some of them back to change clothes.” [Laughter] I just had this sense of vindication as I heard her say this; because I thought: “She got it. She got it!” [Laughter]
Bob: I want to point our listeners—on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ve got an excerpt from an interview that we did a while back with Don Whitney, who wrote a book on the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. He talked about having family devotions; he said he thought his kids weren’t paying any attention. He was doing this—he felt like a failure in the whole thing—until his daughter’s graduation from high school, when she got up and, in front of the whole high school, started crying about how faithful her parents were to read the Bible every day. He said, “I thought she was hating it; and yet, this was a part of what God was stamping on her heart and her life.”
You can hear him tell the story [on our website].
It’s a powerful story and a great reminder that our faithfulness—
Bob: —in just taking our kids to who God is: taking them to the Bible, spending time teaching them how to pray, praying with them, reading Bible stories, pointing them to Jesus—this is the chief assignment we have, as parents. If we fail at all kinds of other things and succeed here, that covers a multitude of sins; doesn’t it?
Barbara: It’s not our responsibility. I think that’s where parents get confused—I know I felt it. I felt like it was my responsibility to teach my kids and to make sure they had a relationship with Christ, but that’s not it. My responsibility was to present the truth to them and to model a relationship; it’s God’s responsibility to call their hearts. I think that’s where we get mixed up, as moms and dads—we own what is not ours instead of trusting God to do the work in their hearts.
Bob: We talked, earlier, about the bridge that parents need to build toward their children so that there are these open lanes, where we can take unconditional love and where we can take pursuit and forgiveness.
God has built that bridge toward us; hasn’t He?
Dennis: He has; and because He first loved us, we love. We start building a lane back to God and a lane to others—that’s what your assignment is.
One of the things we’re talking about here—and I’m just thinking of Barbara, looking across the table at her—she has been the passionate one about this passage—is Deuteronomy 6: the command to parents to pass on their experience of God to the next generation.
Barbara: Right; it talks about—uses these verbs, in Deuteronomy 6, to talk about God’s Word when you walk, and when you sit, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. It means that in every part of your day, no matter what you are doing, you’re supposed to be talking about God’s Word—living it out/practicing it—so that your kids see that you belong to Him. They see what that looks like; and they can, therefore, imitate it.
Bob: This most important thing we’ve been talking about—introducing our kids to God—this is not something we can do unless our faith is real. We can’t expect our kids to have a real active vibrant faith; and so the starting point for each of us, as parents, is to pull back and say: “What’s my own relationship with God like? How central is God to everything that I’m doing in life? Is it clear to my kids this is what matters most to me?” If a parent, listening today, is unsure about their relationship with Jesus, what do they do?
Dennis: Well, I think, first of all, they need to realize that God is love. He has reached out to them in love through the person of Jesus Christ. He became flesh—it’s why we celebrate Christmas—He dwelt among us. He did what we could not do for ourselves—He lived a perfect life and, then, He sacrificed His life on a cross so that He might become the payment for our sins—
—that we might have God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ if—if we place our faith in Him.
If you’ve never done that—if you’ve never passed from death to life, if you’re not spiritually born again, if you don’t know where you’d spend eternity—why spend another day doubting or worrying about that? Why don’t you settle it with God?—and cry out in faith and say this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I need You. I need a Savior. I need You to do for me what I cannot do for myself. I need You to forgive my sins. Now, come in my life. Live Your life in and through me; and give me eternal life that I might pass it on to my spouse, my children, my nieces, my nephews, my grandchildren.”
I want to tell you something—it is the greatest adventure of a lifetime to know the God of the universe.
He is up to big things in our little lives. Why would you not want to be a part of that?
Bob: We’ve got a link, on our website at FamilyLIfeToday.com, that explains how to know God. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on that link and find out more about what it means to be a Christian/to know God personally.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s also where you’ll find information about Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book for parents called The Art of Parenting. It’s now available, along with the DVD series that’s great for small group use. Find out more about these resources when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com—get a copy of the book; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Speaking about The Art of Parenting, we created a movie in conjunction with The Art of Parenting that was in theaters a few months ago. That movie is not yet available for purchase on DVD; but during the month of December—for those of you who can help support the ministry, as you talked about earlier, Dennis—we’re making the Like Arrows DVD available as a thank-you gift. Keep in mind your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, this month up to a total of $2.5 million.
If God has used the ministry of FamilyLife® in your life this year, can we ask you to be generous and make a yearend contribution to help support the ministry? Your donation will be doubled, and we’ll send you the Like Arrows DVD. Donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
Let me ask you one more thing. Pray for the hundreds of couples, who are going to be joining us this weekend at the St. Louis Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. Pray that God would meet with them this weekend and would do a work in their marriage. That’s our prayer every time when couples go to the Weekend to Remember—
—that they would leave the weekend with their marriage more strongly rooted in Christ than when they came.
We hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend and then join us back on Monday when we’re going to pick up right where we left off today. We’re going to talk about how we can know if our children really know Christ. Terrance Chapman is going to be with us to talk about that. We hope you can be back with us as well.
Thanks to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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