Feature Art By Brian Marshall Jr.
In my previous Valor article, I wrote about the principle of building a boy “backwards.” The idea being that if you can picture what your son should be like when he’s, you can work backwards to significant milestones that will help direct your efforts and focus your limited energy. I chose last time to talk about the vision of your adult son possessing a pure heart and exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit. In this article I want to extend the vision of that twenty year old young man to include: My adult son will know God’s Word and Precepts.
When our boys were little we were often told by well-meaning people, “Just wait until your children become teenagers.” There was an unquestioned expectation that at thirteen our boys would suddenly burst into rebellion. I’m not denying that the teenage years were a time when my three boys pushed at boundaries, but Wendy and I were excited for the teen years! We expected that by trusting God’s Word and God’s grace our children would grow more mature, not more rebellious. God blessed that faith , as foolish as it may have seemed to many people.
The Vision: “My adult son will know God’s Word and precepts.”
The hopeful vision we had for them was built on the picture that God gives us in His Word of a wise young man at age 20. By building backwards from this vision it was easier to mark out significant milestones that helped direct our efforts and focused our limited parenting energy. In this second article I want to draw a picture for you of one of the most important aspects of our vision as we raised our boys: “My adult son will know God’s Word and precepts .”
Start as early as possible
The struggles common to the teen years should be seen as exciting opportunities for discussing, applying, and internalizing important biblical truths that he’s been hearing about since he was a boy such as: submission to authority, the nature of truth and falsehood, wisdom and foolishness, law and grace, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and the nature of the heart. But a teen boy’s heart will not be ready to respond in this way unless the ground of his heart has been prepared throughout his early years. We should expect that God will use His Word to soften the hearts of our children. Because of this we should be saturating our children in the Word of God so that they might know it intimately , in the hopes that the Holy Spirit would create over time a deep love for God.
Milestone 1: Learning to love the sound of God’s voice
So we began by constantly looking for ways to help our boys interact with God’s Word. When they were very young, we read to them all the time. In particular, we read to them simple biblical stories: Daniel and the lions, Noah and the ark, etc. In time, the children internalized these stories. They knew the details of the ark, they knew why Noah had to go on a big boat, and they knew the result. They may not yet have understood the profound dimension of the Fall or the foreshadowing of Christ in these stories, but they knew the facts and began to sense what it meant to love and obey God. Even more importantly they enjoyed hearing the stories and wanted to hear more.
As soon as they could sit at the table, we had our children participate in our nightly reading of the Word and devotions. I would read passages, always trying to restate the passage in a way they could understand and asking them lively questions. This is a great way for parents to grow and learn too! Generally speaking two-year-olds can start memorizing simple passages of Scripture, and three and four-year-olds can memorize whole sections. So we found ways to help our sons memorize scripture.
Milestone 2: Understanding how God’s Word applies to everyday decisions
As our sons grew we wanted them to transition from knowing the facts about God’s Word into training them to become readers and learners. Early in their reading years we set the expectation that they read their Bibles the very first thing in the morning – before breakfast, before schoolwork, before anything else in the day. We set this expectation verbally, but more importantly by seeking to set an example for them in our own lives. It’s not that the only time to read God’s word is in the morning, but we wanted to help them develop a habit that would teach them that God was our priority. And in the beginning we required this time in God’s Word, but our prayer was that as they grew God would plant a heart-felt desire in their hearts that would replace the requirement.
Over time, as God worked in our children’s hearts we indeed saw that our sons wanted to spend more time with God. We found ourselves needing to remind them less and less. We also began to see examples of personal devotion in their lives: unforced moments reading Scripture, unsolicited comments about God’s work in the world, and so on.
Guard against the tendency to treat reading God’s Word as a chore to be checked-off. Your son may be sitting down on the couch and reading his Bible for twenty minutes each morning, but is he understanding what he’s reading? Is he able to carry on a discussion with you about a section he read and tie that section together with others passages? Can he draw out principles from Scripture and see how they apply to some of the choices he is making?
God wants your son’s heart, not just his brain. So prayerfully consider how to use God’s Word to open up the reality of his heart and motives. Think upon some of the important issues of the heart: selfishness, vanity, laziness, etc. Do you see evidence that your son is starting to think about passages like Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” when he finds himself angry with his sister? This is where your guidance as a parent is vital.
It was also at this point that we began to give our sons the opportunity to practice articulating and sharing their faith. Role playing can be a powerful teaching tool.
Milestone 3: My teen has developed a biblical worldview.
The teen years are the time to be asking more difficult questions about the Word and world. Patiently expect intelligent conversations. As the boys got older we would regularly have our sons lead in family worship which we typically do after dinner each night. At other times I would end a family worship time with a direction to our oldest children to go and solve a doctrinal or ethical problem. For example, I might give them a scenario such as “a man comes with his family to the church and asks for $100 for food and shelter for the day. What would you do?” The boys would have ten minutes to go and prepare an answer using Scripture. It was the process of them looking to God’s Word to develop their answers that helped them at this transitional point in their life to develop a Biblical worldview.
Let your vision of a mature, godly young man inform every decision you make for your son. How, for example, does the vision of purity and wisdom inform your conversations around the dinner table and the things that you let your sons do? How does this vision impact the types of behaviors and attitudes that you discipline?
Lastly, never forget that your son will learn to love God’s Word both through his exposure to the Scriptures and also from watching you. As I reflect on what God used to develop our children’s love for His Word, I think it was the example they saw in us, probably even more what they saw in their mother, that made the biggest difference. Do you love the Scriptures? Are you regularly using the Bible to solve the problems of the family and the decisions you make? Are you sharing your reasoning with your son and incorporating him in the discussion? This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect. It means that you are seeking God in His Word with the same gospel-centered sincerity that you hope to see your son develop. The Gospel, after all, is not about our perfection, it is about the rest and joy we can only find when we learn to trust in the perfection of Jesus. Lead your son by example to the foot of the cross where sons and parents can all equally admit their need for grace.