What are your kids learning? Do they know how to tie their shoes? Read? Set a budget? Drive a car? That’s good, but it’s not enough. These skills, essential though they are, can only take them so far, and they won’t do anything to help them navigate the trials of life and the questions those trials will raise for them. Here are seven skills our children need in order to rise up out of the meaningless futility of living merely for today (Eccl 3:21-22; 1 Cor 15:32) and participate in the work of the Lord, which is never in vain (1 Cor 15:58).
To do list for parents:
The Bible is not a Sunday book; it’s the daily, hourly, moment-by-moment voice of God in our lives. It’s our bread (Deut 8:3)—our source of life (John 6:68-69). Why, then, do we insist that our kids master history, science, literature and maths, and leave their competence in Scripture up to chance? Without turning Scripture into an academic subject, we need to help our kids develop both the skills to use it and a habitual dependence on it.
Do you pray without ceasing (Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:16-18)—in the car, at the table, during crises, at times of celebration, when the car won’t start or when you’ve lost your wallet, even when talking on the phone? A persistent inclination towards God in prayer helps our kids remember that he is always there, all the time, involved intimately in everything we’re doing. This habit and awareness will keep their souls fresh and clean, and gives them an internal waste disposal system as they encounter various hard times as adults.
As our kids get older, they will get stronger in various ways: physically, intellectually, socially, musically, athletically, creatively. They begin to discover the unique currency God has naturally endowed them with—currency he invests in them for a purpose (Luke 12:48b). But too many kids grow up thinking he’s given them their power and wealth for their own sakes. If we don’t train them to use their power by investing it outside themselves, it will be wasted. Let’s help our kids not to squander themselves by giving them a vision for how God has specially equipped them to meet the needs around them.
Sin springs from the belief that we deserve better, that we have rights that must be acknowledged by others, and that our opinion must be considered and prioritized. From the time our kids are toddlers, they need to understand the world in terms of the gospel—of Christ’s submission to God for our sake. One way this can be done is to train them to submit, to come under another, to yield, to keep silent—all out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21).
Our kids need to know what to think and what to do when the world turns against them—and they need expect that to happen (1 Pet 4:12-14; 1 John 3:13). They need to be okay with self-denial, fear of rejection, and the threat of danger and opposition. We can train them for this by sharing with them Scripture’s frank warning about persecution, by not griping and moaning when things are hard, and by practising self-denial even during times of prosperity.
The love of Christ’s disciples for one another is evangelistic (John 13:35), gospel-affirming (John 13:12-17) and faith-building (John 15:14-17). Love is the “new command” (John 13:34; 1 John 2:7-8) and the law of Christ (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; 6:2). Our kids need to know that the goal of the Bible, the gospel and God’s work in the world is to restore love and its offspring: order, unity, harmony, peace. Don’t teach them the truth of the Bible without training them for love, truth’s outcome.
Our kids need to know that in all these things, they will stumble and fall, that others will sin against them too, and that the skills above will equip them to deal even with that. Their inadequacies will drive them back to Scripture and force them to their knees in prayer. That humility will strengthen them for submission and suffering. Repeated trials and failures will, over time, simplify their definition of success to a single point: to love others graciously and generously, as they have been loved by God. We need to prepare our kids now for a lifetime of falling short so that they can get into the habit of trusting in Christ’s perfection alone for their salvation and joy and life.
I want my kids to know that these skills are topping my list of things to do. Never mind the mess in the bathroom, if they can’t love each other. Who cares about maths if they don’t know how to submit to authority? What difference does it make if they gain a doctorate, but can’t find Christ in Scripture? The finish line isn’t their 18th birthday, college graduation, or even their first job; I want to aim them towards the day they meet Jesus.