Even with the best of intentions, discipling our children can feel impossible when we’re in the thick of daily parenting struggles. Yet, instead of being overwhelmed by the task of teaching children about God, Rebecca Martin shares three simple steps we can follow from Deuteronomy 11 to help us weave discipleship opportunities into the everyday tasks and habits of parenthood, and meet our children right where they are.
I won’t sugar-coat it: Parenting is hard and discipleship is even harder. The season of ‘just trying to survive until naptime’ can feel like a spiritual desert. As Christians, we are told to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Yet that can feel overwhelming when we’re in the thick of parenting. We idealize the images of peaceful family devotions we see on social media. But the reality is often a lot messier and real children are a lot more fidgety. How do we raise little Christ-followers when our kids struggle to even sit still?
The good news is that our Creator is the Childhood Expert. And He has shown us how to speak His truth into their wild and silly hearts. In the Old Testament record of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God has given us a model of how to live faithfully and raise our children to do the same. Thankfully, this model of discipleship does not hinge on our children’s ability to listen quietly. Deuteronomy 11:18-20 breaks down the daunting idea of discipleship into three easy steps.
Old Testament Encouragement
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20).
God uses an “I do, we do, you do” pattern commonly used in modern classrooms (I am continually in awe of God’s ability to be ahead of the times). He describes a lifestyle of discipleship woven into the daily tasks and habits of parenthood. We need not be overwhelmed by the task of teaching children about God. Instead we can use these steps in Deuteronomy 11 as our guide through the spiritual wilderness of parenting.
STEP ONE: SET AN EXAMPLE (“I DO”)
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 11:18).
The first verse of this passage shows God’s people how to be an example of discipleship; to live a visible life of faith by studying the Word and letting God’s laws guide our actions. Children cannot model what they do not see. Through simple acts of faithfulness—such as praying, reading our Bible, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)—we teach our kids what Christ-centered living looks like. We give them an example to follow as they grow.
A Two-Fold Benefit
By seeking God, we are also equipping ourselves. This way, when a parenting crisis inevitably erupts in our home, we have God’s guidance already stored in our hearts without having to stop to hunt for an applicable verse. Armed with the truth, we can be ambassadors of Christ to our children, even during turmoil (2 Corinthians 5:20). As we draw near to God, we are getting ready, as Paul writes, to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
When our children witness us seeking and worshiping God and using His Word to guide our actions, they are learning that these habits of discipleship are important to our faith. As they grow, they will begin to understand the ‘why’ behind these actions (particularly as we incorporate step two into their discipleship training). Eventually our children may begin to practice these habits on their own.
STEP TWO: EXPLAIN AND PRACTICE TOGETHER (“WE DO”)
“You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
Teaching is equal parts explanation and practice. Kids learn about the world by trying new things and asking questions (and by parents doing their best to answer them). In the same way, children internalize their faith by talking about God with us and by increasingly participating in everyday habits of discipleship.
We can first explain aspects of the faith as they come up (Why do we pray? Why is it important to show kindness?). We shouldn’t be intimidated by the thought of discussing theology with children. Deuteronomy 11:19 presents a very casual approach where talking about God is not confined to formal devotion time. Instead it can be discussed throughout the day, no matter what we are doing.
Pray for Wisdom
If, like me, you worry about having the right answers, pray for wisdom and God will grant your request (James 1:5). It is helpful to remember that occasionally, “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Just do your best to find out the answer later and bring it up again. (“Hey, remember you asked me about ____ and I didn’t know? I was reading the Bible and I think I found the answer.”) This models the ‘study’ portion of the faith. It also shows that even if we don’t always have the answers, God does!
Next, we can give our children an opportunity to practice habits of discipleship. We can do this by inviting them to participate and deliberately including them in the day-to-day disciplines of faith. A simple practice even small children can do is praying over meals and at bedtimes. Kids thrive in predictable routines. They are great at reminding us of these practices once they are in the habit of doing them. You can use a standard, easy-to-remember prayer. Or you can let your kids pray about what they are interested in.
My own boys love talking to God about the latest video game or their plans for the following day. I suspect their primary interest in bedtime prayers is delaying lights-out just a few more minutes. Nevertheless, the habits are slowly taking root. They are learning to go to God for all their concerns and with gratitude.
STEP THREE: EQUIP YOUR KIDS WITH GOD’S WORD (“YOU DO”)
“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:20).
The ultimate goal of discipling our children is for them to begin to live out a personal relationship with Christ. To that end, our children need to be equipped with the Word of God. It is the foundational tool for growing closer to Jesus. When our children are exposed to the Scriptures, they learn to use God’s Word for guiding their lives. And, in time, they may grow to be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Let it be seen
The adage “out of sight, out of mind” feels particularly applicable when trying to memorize Scripture. Deuteronomy 11:20 combats our forgetfulness by encouraging us to write God’s laws on doorposts and gates—places they will be seen. I took this suggestion literally and taped printed verses to well-used areas of our home—like the boys’ bathroom. Then I read each verse aloud whenever it catches my eye. We currently read and recite John 1:1-3 as my boys brush their teeth.
Connect it to a habit
One way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the idea of Scripture memorization is by tying it to an existing habit (such as brushing teeth). By engaging in our kids’ natural rhythms, we make the new skill easier to complete. Look for quiet, non-media focused time in your kids’ day when you could incorporate reading or singing verses aloud. Feel free to get creative when it comes to sharing Scripture with your kids, too. As we see in Deuteronomy, studying the Word together doesn’t have to be overly structured. Rather than stressing over getting your kids to sit while you read a chapter, why not sing a verse while you help them tie their shoes? Or shout a verse down the hall and invite them to echo in silly voices?
Put it to song
Many children can recite half a dozen theme songs to television shows without having ever sat down and practiced the lyrics. They simply heard the song enough times to commit it to memory. That type of exposure is the goal here. Children don’t possess an inherent reverence for Scripture yet and may have trouble listening politely. But continual exposure imprints God’s Word on their hearts, particularly when we approach it as a fun, consistent part of the day. Eventually, those Scriptures will echo in their minds, teaching them to do what is right as easily as they can currently reference a certain Tiger-helping song for every preschool dilemma out there.
TRUSTING OUR GUIDE; THE HARVEST IS AHEAD
By practicing the “I do, we do, you do” example of discipleship God shows us in Deuteronomy, we are sowing seeds from an early age. As our kids grow, we water the seeds with Living Water, the gospel. And we take care to uproot weeds of sin. We are shepherding our children’s hearts through this day-to-day gardening. And we will see the fruits of these labors in due season (Psalm 1:1-3).
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).
Weave your faith into the everyday
In His perfect understanding of children (He created them after all!), God has given us a guide to discipling them in ways that meet them where they are. As we work on skills like sitting quietly and listening patiently, God shows us how to take hold of everyday opportunities to pour into our children’s hearts. He is the ultimate Gardener and Shepherd. And He is treasuring those little seeds of faithfulness. One day, we may see the fruits of this labor and drink our coffee uninterrupted while studying the Bible as a family. But until that season, we simply weave our faith into our every day in a playful, casual way. This is what God has called us to do. And I, for one, am thrilled that His design for child discipleship does not center on their ability to sit still.
Encouragement for Teaching children about God
So let’s not grow weary, friends. There is hope for this journey because we know where all of this is headed. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we can trust in God’s guidance. Because we know there is a Promised Land ahead, even when the road to get there isn’t picture-perfect.
Do you have any visible habits that show your kids what Christ-centered living looks like? If not, what is one you could start today?
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May you be blessed abundantly as you disciple your precious boys!
I couldn’t agree more with this! I kept nodding my head as I read. It is beautifully written too! Blessings