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Teaching Our Kids How to Worship, Not Memorize

Teaching Our Kids How to Worship, Not Memorize

Have you ever thought about how scary it must be to be a baby? Imagine everyone around you as a giant, speaking a language you don’t know. They are always in your face with some new, shiny, flashy, noisy gadget whose intent is to introduce you to your new world but instead leaves you with so many questions you have no way to express. Everyone is always making decisions for you, always knowing what absolute best for you is.

And your own body is rapidly changing and developing—growing teeth and hair at alarming rates. With every smell, taste, and sound being new, it’s amazing any of us survive the transformation.

The Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh said, “I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle.”

Yes, what Van Gogh saw was terror and so many questions.

The Abruptness of Change

I mean, the difference between a thirty-one and thirty-five-year-old is that perhaps the thirty-five-year-old knows better than to try to do the splits to show off again in front of the kids. But the difference between a one- and five-year-old is astronomical.

The one-year-old is just barely walking and likely still absorbing his world by licking everything, while the five-year-old is supposed to start learning the mechanics of a complex language. A short five years later, the ten-year-old is solving fractions at 9:00 am and rehearsing musical pitch and tone in a choir by 4:00 pm.

Another short five years after that, we see a fifteen-year-old stumbling through Spanish lessons, guessing at the difference between alkali metals and halogens on the periodic table of elements, and memorizing literary devices to apply to some dusty novel by an author whose name they cannot pronounce.

And our final stop is five more years later at the twenty-year-old. It is expected that you have your life not only planned but set in full motion by this time. Either he is deep into his major or already hired past an internship from the trade school he attended. His worldview is deeply engrained and established. He has been practicing, aware or not, his view of authority for a while now. And quite possibly—he thinks he has learned everything he needs to execute this life plan.

How Do Your Kids View Learning?

The sheer amount of information our children are exposed to in a short amount of time is astounding. A lot of it deals with developing skills: buttoning a shirt, holding a spoon, writing a paragraph, driving a car.

Some things are necessary for survival—you can’t subsist on just Dr. Pepper and Taco Bell, you have to pay attention to road signs, and what goes up will indeed come down. Some things are just nice for the rest of us—personal hygiene, boundaries, a closed mouth while chewing.

But how our kids view what they learn is an interesting thing.

And we haven’t even breached the subject of the knowledge we instill to them of God. Learning the fruits of the Spirit is a great thing. Still, it’s possible for them to look at the armor of God as just another lesson from an authority figure, right along with learning the parts to a five-paragraph essay and their multiplication tables.

Love, Then Learn

In Deuteronomy 6, we, as parents, are first commanded in verse four to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” before the Lord says in verse seven to “teach them diligently to your children” (ESV). Our love for the Lord must supersede our diligent instruction of him to the generations that come after us.

And it makes sense to me now that I think of just how much material is presented to our kids, most of which is a natural part of their development as human beings. Teaching our kids how to handle the Word of God, the life of Jesus, the humanity of the experiences in the Psalms, and the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament are all beautiful things. However, if they are not first established in loving God, then our kids become fact collectors rather than worshippers.

And this is the heart of it—worship. Ephesians 3 contains a prayer for spiritual strength. It says, “…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

It is when we love something that we fling our entire weight behind it. That love certainly takes development and maturity, but then the intrinsic motivation settles in.

Two Ways to Instill Worship in Our Kids

1. Pursue the character of God and not solely his benefits.

If I were to ask my five-year-old right now why she loves me, she would say because I cook good food or because I read to her. Perfectly acceptable and sweet. However, if I (a thirty-six-year-old) were to say the same things about my own mother, then that would be juvenile of me. I would say it’s because of her generosity to her family and perfect strangers, her sacrifice for others, and her humility.

Likewise, our children see the world primarily as how it serves them. Consequently, they can view God the same way. Collecting facts about who God is must be framed as worship so that we can serve him in turn.

For example, we learn in Romans 2 that God’s kindness (a fact we can gather) is meant to lead to repentance (a benefit from God). We teach our kids to first focus on God’s kindness. We thank him for that and delight in this true attribute of our God—this is worship. The repentance is a good and gracious benefit we directly experience, and that is another aspect we can worship that comes directly from him as characterized by kindness.

2. Everything we do is worship.

The small and the mundane must be seen and presented as worship. Ask the Father to point out how we can talk about him in all areas of life. When we see the Walmart birds, “Girls, did you know God cares for you more than birds? That’s what we are to think every time we see a bird.”

Or simply pointing out what the Lord has given us in a day: safe sleep, breath in our lungs, food aplenty, flowers in a garden—these (and many more) can all be tied back to specific scriptures that are meant to cause us to worship.

Beholding the Glory of the Lord

It all comes back to the heart. It’s easy to measure how much someone knows. We can check off a Bible reading plan or have our kids recite the books of the Bible. They can dominate in a game of Bible Jeopardy and get all the questions right. But in the minds of our children, are these just facts along with everything else they are consuming?

Our knowledge of the Lord is meant to lead us to fear, adore, and revere him. This must be the posture of us as parents first before we lead our kids in it. Second Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Behold, abide, worship—it all leads to the transformation of Jesus.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Tutye

Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom, and with the help of the Lord, that is her hierarchy of work. Beyond this, she works with the youth and children at her church and edits as a freelancer. She enjoys reading, writing, running, cooking, and practicing thinking pure and lovely things. 

After being unsure if they ever wanted children, the Lord eventually blessed Kate and her husband Clint after nearly three years of waiting. They welcomed their first daughter in 2011, another daughter in 2013, and yet another daughter in 2016. Kate considers this her most time-consuming, emotion-full, sanctifying, not always pretty but trusting in the Lord’s plan, and blessed work. Stuck in a house with four females, her husband Clint consistently reminds Kate of her identity and union in Christ. 

You can read more of Kate's work here.