Parenting Priorities

Deuteronomy 6:7-9

November 15, 2009 | Brian Bill

I need two volunteers this morning.  I’d like one of you to make 40 little circles on the white board and I’d like the other to make 3,000 circles.  When you’re finished you can sit down.  Ready.  Set.  Go.  

In our series called, “Faith Begins at Home,” we learned two weeks ago to remember because we forget, to respond because we falter and to remain because we’re fickle.  We must be like Joshua and declare, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 

Last week we camped in the first six verses of Deuteronomy 6 where we discovered that according to God’s Parenting Primer, we’re to learn why God must be central, we’re to live what God says, and we’re to love who God is.  We must first start with the heart before we can move to anything else.  As parents we must make loving God a priority in our lives.  In short, we must be passionate about Him and about parenting.  

A friend of mine let me borrow a book by Bo Shembechler called, “Bo’s Lasting Lessons.”  He’s the former football coach of the Wolverines, having won 13 Big Ten Titles.  It’s going to take a lot more than a book for me to cheer for a team on the wrong side of Lake Michigan but I was very impressed with his opening words: “Let’s start with first things first: passion…because the fact is, you’re never going to be able to lead others effectively unless you put your whole heart into what you’re doing.  If it’s just a job to you, it’s going to be just a job to them.  And trust me: You’re not going to fool them.”

I realize that Bo’s talking about football but we can apply this to families as well.  Parents, if we want to lead our families effectively, we must be passionate about our parenting.  Last week we focused on the who – parents (and everyone) must make faith at home a priority.  Today our focus will be on the how and the when – as we focus on some practical parenting principles.  We all need help, don’t we?  I’ve been reading the Book of Judges in my Quiet Time and came across this request of two parents while they waited for their son Samson to be born in Judges 13:8: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

Before we jump in to our text for today I want to say a word to parents who have prodigal children.  My aim is not to pile on and make you feel guilty.  Nor is it my intention to be trite and oversimplify what is one of the most challenging tasks that we will ever have.  Some of you have hurting hearts today as you wonder where your child’s wandering heart is.  Don’t beat yourself up because your child has a will that is separate from your own.  He or she will make choices that you don’t always agree with.  God gives grace to the grieving.  Don’t lose hope.  Keep praying.  Keep fighting for your family (we’ll talk more about this next week).

My outline is simple today.  First, we need to teach truth intentionally; second, we need to talk truth relationally and finally, we need to transmit truth practically.

  • Let’s go back to the white board to check on our two volunteers…

1. Teach truth intentionally. 

We see this in the first part of verse 7: “Impress them on your children.”  The word “impress” literally means “to sharpen” or to “teach incisively.”  It’s the idea of going over and over and over until the knife is razor sharp.  It also means to use pressure so as to leave a mark in the mind or memory.  One commentator points out that this verb comes from the same root that is used for doubling something and is sometimes used for expanding or repeating in order to be precise and to the point.  We are not to just throw our faith out as an option for our kids.  Rather, we are to take it so seriously that we look for ways to precisely pass along what we are learning and what we are living.  We are to talk about God’s Word 24-7.  The task of teaching is a never-ending, full-time assignment.

This is repeated for emphasis in Deuteronomy 11:19-21 and Psalm 78:4-8.  Would you notice whose responsibility this is?  Look at this clause again: “Impress them on your children.”  This task is not for the church to fulfill but for the parent to faithfully do.  The church is meant to supplement what is done in the home.  

We have a tough job in this department, don’t we?  I came across some true statements that kids made in a Sunday School class: “Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.  The Egyptians were all drowned in the dessert.  Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments.  The First Commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.  The Fifth Commandment is to humor thy father and mother.  Moses died before he reached Canada.  Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the battle of Geritol.  The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him.  David…fought with the Finkelsteins.  Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.” 

This is right up there with what 10-year-old Joshua wrote to his pastor: “Dear Pastor, My father says I should learn the 10 Commandments.  But I don’t think I want to because we have enough rules already in our house.” That’s not as bad as what 11-year-old Ralph wrote: “Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday.  Especially when it was finished.”

We can laugh at this but the task of teaching the next generation is even more difficult than just getting biblical names and events right.  I recently read a very provocative post called, “Choosing Their Religion.”  The subtitle says it all: “Not all teens reject truth.  Some are tailoring it to fit their lifestyles. Call it iPod religion.” 

“Today’s teens can program their iPods to play only the songs they like, bypassing record-company executives and radio programmers…It’s hardly a surprise, then, that many teens are forming their religious worldviews with the same mentality—by picking and choosing among things they like and leaving the ‘hard’ stuff behind, largely without the benefit of traditional gatekeepers such as teachers and pastors…It’s a culture in which personal choice is supreme and what’s right for you is right, period.

Christian Smith of the University of North Carolina surveyed more than 3,300 13-to17-year olds throughout the country and made this observation: ‘Religion becomes one product among many others existing to satisfy people’s subjectively defined needs, tastes, and wants.  Religious adherents thus become spiritual consumers uniquely authorized as autonomous individuals to pick and choose in the religious market whatever products they may find satisfying or fulfilling at the moment.’  Among the more than 3,000 teens who participated in the survey, the specific phrase ‘feel happy’ appeared more than 2,000 times.  Smith believes that teens absorb this ‘what works for me’ view of religion from the adults around them, often in their own homes.”

  • Let’s go back to the white board to see if we’re at 3,000 dots yet…

2. Talk truth relationally.

As we love God with everything we have, then we can be in a position to impress these truths upon our children

Look at the last part of verse 7: “…Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”   As we love God with everything we have, then we can be in a position to impress these truths upon our children.  We are to show our kids that we have a love-relationship with God, not just that we’re religious.  Notice that this should be more than just getting them up for church once a week.  We are to make an impression upon them by talking about God when we’re sitting at home, walking along the road, at nighttime and in the morning.  The basic idea is that we don’t preach at them but reach them by showing how God relates to everyday life.  Jesus did this all the time as he drew illustrations from birds, flowers, sheep and even pigs.

Friends, listen.  Eternal truths are most effectively learned in the loving environment of a God-fearing home that is life-oriented, not information-oriented.  That reminds me of the father and son who were climbing in the mountains when the father hesitated for a moment.  He had come to a place where he had to choose between two paths, and there was some danger.  As he stood there, trying to determine the best path, his son reminded him of his great responsibility when he said, “Go ahead, Dad, I’m right behind you.”

The basic idea is to capitalize on the normal rhythm of day-to-day life, leveraging “teachable moments” for the sake of our children.  I have had mixed success doing this.  Sometimes I get it right like when Megan was making scrambled eggs and she commented that eggs are very fragile.  I then told her that eggs are like our hearts – very fragile and easy to break.  Beth and I came back to this later and she pointed out to Megan a verse that we have over our kitchen sink from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Other times I get it wrong like when I was reading the Daily Leader before supper one night and turned to the arrest page.  I made a comment about what I was reading and I saw that Lydia wasn’t pleased with what I had said.  I asked her what she was thinking and she said, “I don’t think that’s right that people’s mistakes are printed in the paper just so everyone else can read them.”  I told her that I read them so I can think of ways to minister to people (I could tell she wasn’t buying this).  I came back to her a couple hours later and told her that she was right and thanked her for pointing this out to me.  I’m thankful that God can make teachable moments out of our successes and also out of our sins.

Let’s look more closely at these natural and normal times to talk truth in the context of relationship.

  • Meal Time – “When you sit at home.”

One of the best times to talk with our kids is when we gather for a meal.  It’s an optimal opportunity to have a focused discussion.  Unfortunately, studies show that many families don’t eat any meals together.  But, there’s actually a new trend developing where the family meal is coming back into style. In a local paper I read this front page headline: “Amid din, families find time for dinner.”  Here are some highlights: “Most nights, most families manage to eat together…altogether, more than 60 percent of those who live with families said they sat down with family for dinner at least five times in the past week.”  

Check out these words from an article in TIME magazine called, “The Magic of the Family Meal”  “…There is something about a shared meal–not some holiday blowout, not once in a while but regularly, reliably–that anchors a family even on nights when the food is fast and the talk cheap and everyone has someplace else they’d rather be.  And on those evenings when the mood is right and the family lingers, caught up in an idea or an argument explored in a shared safe place where no one is stupid or shy or ashamed, you get a glimpse of the power of this habit and why social scientists say such communion acts as a kind of vaccine, protecting kids from all manner of harm…“If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube,” says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, about the mysterious way that family dinner engraves our souls. “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”

Unfortunately, about 25% of families that do sit down to eat together have the TV on, about half say they are pestered by phone calls and 15% say texting or emailing on a cell phone can mess up the meal time.

  • Drive Time – “When you walk along the road.”  Most of us are not out walking to get to the store or to activities today but we are in our cars a lot.  According to that same TIME article, “Often the richest conversations, the moments of genuine intimacy, take place somewhere else, in the car, say, on the way back from soccer at dusk, when the low light and lack of eye contact allow secrets to surface.”
  • Bed Time – “When you lie down.”  Bed time can be a very tender time when our kids are open to discuss things that might not be shared during the busyness of the day.  One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mom was tucking her small boy into bed.  As she was just about to turn off the light, he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”  The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug.  “I can’t dear,” she said.  “I have to sleep with Daddy.”  After a long silence the boy replied, “The big sissy.  Is he scared too?”
  • Morning Time – “And when you get up.”  Each day is a blank page for the family to start fresh relationally and to plan important seeds in the heart of a child.  Just a few encouraging words, a hug, and a prayer together can launch the day off on the right foot.  Unfortunately, some of us are not in the best of moods in the morning.  In fact, sometimes Beth wakes up grumpy, and other times she lets me sleep in.

We are to show our kids who God is, not just in formal spiritual settings, but also in the casual classroom of everyday life.  Look for those teachable moments to make an impression.  Be intentional and leverage this natural rhythm to interact together.  When those times happen, gently introduce God’s perspective by sharing a verse or principle from Scripture.

  • Let’s go back to the white board to see if we’re at 3,000 dots yet…

Let’s summarize where we’ve been.  First, teach truth intentionally.  Second, talk truth relationally. Finally, transmit truth practically.

3. Transmit truth practically.

Verses 8-9 show us that the Israelites had visual reminders everywhere about God.  They were on their hands, their foreheads, on their doors and on their gates: “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Many Jews took this literally by putting passages of Scripture into little boxes called phylacteries and attaching them to her hands and foreheads.  They would also put mezuzahs containing this passage on the doors of their homes.  The idea is that God’s Word is to be so central to your family’s life that your kids think about it every time they turn around.  The principle here is this: whatever we need to do to remind us of God, we should do it.  Proverbs 3:3 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

While it’s ok to put up literal reminders, our “hands” represent our actions, our “foreheads” represent our thoughts and attitudes, our “doorframes” symbolize our homes and the “gates” refer to social life outside of our homes.  Remember that Jesus was not impressed with the Pharisees who took this passage literally but didn’t apply it their lives in Matthew 23:5: “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.”

We are to make God real to our kids

Fellow parents, let’s have our homes so full of the Word of God that our children can’t help but see and hear it wherever they go and whatever they do.  The bottom line is this: We are to make God real to our kids.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once had a dinner guest who was an atheist.  During the meal his guest expounded the virtues of freedom of choice and how religion prevented people from being truly free.  He was especially upset with how parents train their children in the faith, claiming that kids should be free to believe what they want without any outside influence from their parents.

After dinner, Coleridge got up and asked his friend to come outside with him to take a look at his garden.  Coleridge was known as an expert gardener so his guest was expecting to see beautiful flowers, sculpted shrubbery and flowering plants.  Instead, he saw weeds everywhere and out-of-control vines and general disorder.  Everything was overgrown.  The atheist look puzzled and said, “This is your garden?  What happened?”  Coleridge responded, “Well, I just took your advice.  I wouldn’t want to impose myself upon these young vines – I just let them grow like they wanted to.”

Parents, what kind of garden are you growing in your home?


This kind of message can be very encouraging or very discouraging.  Let me say that no matter where this message finds you, start where you are.  There’s no need to look back and feel guilty.  Begin right now, maybe with your grandkids or your nieces and nephews or your own children and put these principles into practice.

I love how the New Living Translation renders Isaiah 28:10: “He tells us everything over and over – one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”  Let’s take some small steps, a little here and a little there.  One of my favorite book titles is “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  We just need to head in the right direction, taking the next steps that God lays out for us.  Remember that a child’s mind and heart are like a big bottle with a small opening – in order to fill it up, we must do so a little at a time.

One author points out that parents are often asking silent questions.  They want to know these three things.

  • Give me the plan.
  • Show me how it works.
  • Tell me what to do today.

Here are some literal “take-home” ideas.

1. Make dinner time a priority.

If you’re doing it once a week, work at twice a week.  Here’s a question you might want to ask each other around the table.  We stumbled upon this a couple months ago and it ended up being a great exercise.  Here’s the question: “I wonder what life would be like if I were ?”  Take turns completing this sentence for each family member.  Something interesting happened one night this week after dinner.  Our conversation turned to some funny things that had happened that day and after about ten minutes one of our daughters looked at the clock and said something like this, “Man, we’ve been at the table a long time!  She then got up out of her chair and went into the kitchen.”

2. Read the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) whenever you can with your family. 

We have this passage lying on our dining room table and we read it together before we eat.  Howard Hendricks once said that if he had just one sentence of advice to offer to parents, he would encourage them to drench their minds with Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

3. Figure out your role with each of your children or grandchildren. 

My wife and I read an article from Focus on the Family a couple years ago that was really helpful.  I found it again this week and reread it.   The basic idea is that our parenting changes as our children grow.  I don’t have time to explain it fully but here are the four phases:

  • Commander 
  • Coach
  • Counselor
  • Consultant

Interestingly, we’re in all four of these phases because our four daughters are in different places in life.

4. Use the natural rhythms of the day to communicate Scripture through song.  

  • Let’s go back to the white board.  It’s hard to see the 40 dots but these dots represent the 40 hours a year that our Sunday School ministry has with your child.  To put this in perspective, the average fourth grader spends nearly 400 hours a year playing video games and studying math.  Do you know what the 3,000 dots represent?  That’s how many hours an average parent has with his or her child in a given year.

God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through your family.  Never buy into the myth that you need to become the “right” kind of parent before God can use you in your children’s lives.  Instead, learn to cooperate with whatever God desires to do in your heart today so your children will have a front-row seat to His grace and goodness.

When his boy was small a dad overheard he and his two buddies talking in the backyard one day.  One boy said proudly, “My dad knows the mayor of our town!”  The second boy said, “That’s nothing.  My dad knows the governor of our state!”  Wondering what was coming next, this dad heard his son say, “That’s nothing.  My dad knows God!”  The father slipped away after hearing this, and with tears flowing down his cheeks dropped to his knees and prayed earnestly and gratefully, “O God, I pray that my boy will always be able to say, ‘My dad knows God.’”

Reggie Joiner admits that his greatest struggle is to trust God to show up and do what only He can do.  After a particularly bad conflict within his family, he sat down and imagined what God would say to him.

I’m not trying to make them happy; I want them to really live.

In the middle of their pain, I can be a better friend than anyone, even you.

I am the only one who can really love them unconditionally, forgive them forever and be a perfect Father.

So maybe you just need to trust Me enough so that they can see Me.

Besides…with all your issues, I think it’s probably better for them to trust Me more than they trust you.

Isn’t it more important for them to love me more than they love you?

I can heal their hearts; you can’t.

I can give them eternal life; you can’t.

I’m God; you’re not.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?