Early in our child training years, we started a habit of regular Bible reading and teaching with our children. Was it an easy routine to keep? No. The routine of teaching children is never convenient, but nothing worth having is. We had plenty of stops and starts and many opportunities to just chuck the whole thing. I don’t know which was the greater accomplishment: The facts we taught our kids or the lesson to never give up as we kept coming back to the plan of reading and praying together.
One of the practical consequences of a regular Bible reading habit as a family was that the Scriptures became our greatest ally in training our children. Because we went to God as the “last word” in our actions and attitudes, it lessened the power struggle between parents and children, us vs. them. We continually reminded our children, “We are all on the same team. We all desire to follow God’s pattern for our lives, individually and corporately.” Our family Bible reading time elevated God’s Word to a place of prominence, not just because of the time spent in it, but because our kids saw the value that Mom and Dad placed on being in the Scriptures.
One reason we struggle with keeping the Bible reading habit going is because, quite frankly, we see it as “optional”, something we will get to when we have the time. It does not hang over our head like a school or work assignment. However, when we let other activities of life squeeze this out, our loud and clear message to our children is that reading the Bible together is not that important. What we communicate to our family, whether we intend to or not, is that these other things that are squeezing it out are more important. Is that the message we want to send to our family?
This doesn’t have to become a legalistic burden of “every day or we are failing parents.” We need to give ourselves the same grace that we give to others. But it does need to be regular enough so that our children know it is an important part of our family identity. This activity is a vital part of “this is who we are.”
Similar to a sports team, one of the most important aspects in developing our family team is to formulate a training program for the participants. A power packed verse in the New Testament regarding our family training program is Ephesians chapter 6, verse 4. Understanding the key Greek words that underlie this verse adds great depth to its meaning. The English version (NASB) reads like this with the Greek counterpart to the bold words shown in parentheses.
“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (έκτρέφετε) in the discipline (παιδεία) and instruction (νουθεσία) of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4.
- EKTREPHO translated “bring up” means “to nourish or feed“
- PAIDEIA translated “discipline” means “training that regulates character“
- NOUTHESIA translated “instruction” means “putting in the mind“
So an expanded or amplified version of Ephesians 6:4 might read like this, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming your influence. Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our training goal is two-fold. The top line, “do not provoke”, is about establishing a relationship. Generally speaking, your positive influence in the life of your child is directly proportional to your relationship. The bottom line, “instruction”, is about establishing a training program that puts the ways and knowledge of our Lord into the minds of our children. Both lines are important. The top line starts with a sincere interest in getting to know your children. The bottom line starts with examining God’s Word together as a family in a pattern that is regular, planned, everyone involved, and parent-led.
Ephesians 6:4 is a balance of relationship and instruction. Just like the balance of celebration and responsibility, love and control, grace and truth.
A group of tourists went to visit a marble quarry in western Vermont. As their tour progressed around the quarry, one of the visitors called out to a jack hammer-wielding worker below, “What are you doing down there?” The worker snarled back, “I’m cutting this stupid rock into a square!” Seeing another worker who appeared to be doing the same thing, the visitor called out to him, “What are you doing?” The second worker, obviously happy in his work, called back, “I’m on a team building a cathedral!”
When we view family life through the eyes of the first worker, we are just a group of people living under the same roof. Your contribution to the effort may go unnoticed in the busyness of day to day activities. Conversely, you may not acknowledge the contribution of others to the family’s well-being. In short, we are just cutting rocks into squares.
But when we embrace family life through the eyes of the second worker, our family becomes a team that is building a cathedral. Each one in the family has a contribution to make. Our job as Mom and Dad is to require a contribution, recognize the contribution, and celebrate the contribution. Part of developing our family identity is getting your kids on your team. If we require them to join the team with all responsibility and no celebration, family life becomes defined by rules; cold and rigid. When we celebrate and reward without responsibility, we fail our kids. We haven’t taught them the value of self-discipline, loyalty, and service.
As in all things family, building a cathedral requires balance. A balance of responsibility and celebration. A balance of love and control. A balance of truth and grace.
Yesterday we saw our daughter and son-in-law, Annie and Matthew Dorin, and their girls, Danielle and Lily off at the airport in Houston. With their stack of boxes, footlockers, and suitcases, you would have thought they were moving overseas; and they were! Yes, they are off to France for language school in the village of Chambéry on their way to a permanent assignment in West Africa with the mission agency of Wycliffe Associates.
It was sad to see them go. Rhonda and I were getting spoiled with trips to the Houston rodeo, the museum, and the park with the Dorin clan. And sharing breakfast with those precious girls. But I have to honestly say there was something almost palpable in the air that lessened the pain of their departure. Annie and Matthew have heard the voice of Jesus and are following the mission that God has specifically for them. That assurance was enough to turn their parting into an anticipation of the adventure that awaits. What adventure of faith is waiting for you? Developing your family identity, hearing the voice of Jesus, and following where He leads is not something to write and read about. It is a plan to put into action. Let’s live the message we teach.
Bon Voyage to Matthew, Annie, Dani, and Lily and may God bless the work of your heart and hands.
When I was a kid growing up in a small Indiana town, my father would send me to the local market to buy a loaf of bread. Sometimes I would pass an old man sitting on a city bench with my dollar bill flapping in the wind. If he were to ask me “where are you going with that money?” I would have had a ready answer. “I am going to the store to buy a loaf of bread for my father.” I knew exactly what I was doing with the money because I knew exactly what my mission was. In the same way, we should be just as clear in our answer when someone asks, “What are you doing with these children that God, the Father, has given you?”
When we set out to establish our family direction, we hear voices. Our friends, our extended family, our neighbors, our pop culture, our school, and even our church all have an opinion of where you should go. As we strike out on the path of establishing our own family identity, we need to be able to answer two questions. First, “What do you think the voice of Jesus is saying to you at this point in your family life in the context of the challenges and opportunities you are facing?” Second, and just as critical, “What indicators give you some measure of confidence that it is indeed Jesus speaking to you rather than someone or something else.”
When Rhonda and I set out to discover our family identity, we had no desire to elevate ourselves or our family. Our desire was to elevate Christ. Our desire was to elevate God’s Word as our guide for faith and practice, our guide for marriage and parenting, our guide for developing our family identity. When we did this, our family identity of loyalty, service, giftedness, and character found us. It wasn’t something we specifically went looking for. We soon developed the phrase, “This is what the Lehmans do” to help our kids understand the type of family we were becoming as we followed God’s leading. This was not designed as a point of pride or a judgment on other families, it simply became a way to explain our actions to our children.
May I encourage you to think about this topic with your family. What identifies you as a family? Do your children know what habits, what character qualities are important to Mom and Dad? Do they know there is a biblical basis for the family decisions you are making? Open the Scriptures, ask God to guide you, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit inside. Then follow where God leads.