Even though I am not a parent myself, God has blessed me with a reflective mind that enabled me to constantly meditate on what it meant to grow up in a God-fearing family, what it meant to parent, and what it meant to be a filial son to my parents. Though I am still imperfect in so many way, God has blessed me with a heart that is constantly drawing itself towards Him. This led me to doing things in an effort to bring my family together in a way that is, hopefully, pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.
You may read about some of the things I have done in an effort to bring my familial relationships closer here: https://thir.st/blog/the-circuit-breaker-a-blessing-for-my-family/
Because I am not a parent myself, I was taken aback when an elder in my church approached me one day after music ministry practice and spoke about his family’s struggle. He told me all about his desire to bring his children to God. However, he was unsure of how God will speak to them, let alone work in their lives. He asked, “from your perspective as a second generation Christian, will God touch my children’s heart in the way He touched mine?” He asked me with such concern and desire for their children’s well-being that his voice trembled and he shed a tear.
“Well, God is a relational God, so I am sure He will relate to your children in a way that is best for them. That may be different from what we expect, but it’s okay,” I replied.
“But,” he interjected. “My children do not show that desire for God as I have hoped! They come to church because they felt that it was their obligation. They do not come to church for the purpose of worshipping God.”
At that moment, I paused and thought for a while. My mind was almost blank as I looked up at him. I have only one thing in my head and I knew I had to say it. I asked him, “have you contemplated on how Jewish parents parent their children?”
In my heart, I panicked at the response that I have given him because this topic is something that I am not entirely sure myself. All I knew about parenting came from the Bible. But when it came to practical application,… Well, I am not a parent myself!
I found myself uttering the words from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 to him. I said, “have you considered what God meant when He told Israel to impress the commandments on their children? Talk about them when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they get up? How much about this verse do you practice?”
“Not a lot, I guess. We have weekly devotions as a family using BSF materials,” he responded. “But most of the time, when we asked them to share, they were quiet. It was awkward.”
I couldn’t help but feel my heart break a little. In my head, I thought, “isn’t this what many churches are facing?” I cried a silent prayer in my heart as I struggle to find an appropriate response for him.
“Erm, do you, fear the Lord?” I asked.
“Fear? I am not afraid of God because we are all assured of salvation,” he replied.
“No, no, not that fear. I mean, respect, honour, reverence for God.”
“Uh, I haven’t really given much thought about it.”
At that, I realised the crux of the issue. I shared with him an episode of “The Chosen” where Jesus was interacting with the children, and shared with him about how much we should 1) let the children be curious and ask questions, 2) spend quality time with the children, and 3) treat children as we would an adult. As we do all of these, we are to live in constant fear (reverence) to the Lord.
“Today is the beginning of Lent,” I told him. “Did you do anything for your family?”
“No, we have nothing planned. There’s the church’s lent devotionals though.”
When I heard his response, I did not know what to think. On one hand, I felt angered at his parenting. On another, I felt upset and helpless because I realised that many other parents all over the world are also facing similar struggles. I let out a sigh and said, “maybe you need to spend more time with your family; to talk to them about God and to observe religious traditions”.
Inwardly, it felt extremely weird because it isn’t something I would normally say. However, I knew that it was the Holy Spirit working within me, instructing my mouth to utter words of edification before my brain can even process what just happened. I reflected about the things that the elder and I spoke about, and I looked up Jewish parenting. I watched videos on YouTube and contemplated on how Jewish children can grow up with so much love for God and respect for their religious traditions. It was then when it dawned on me — it was the fear of the Lord that was teaching the children. It was the fear of the Lord in the adults that acted as a model for the children.
I am not saying that we live our life in constant fear for the Lord, being afraid that He will kill us at any moment or reprimand us for every sin we sinned. After all, we trust in Jesus and the salvation of sins. So, why should we be afraid? Rather, the fear that I am referring to is the constant discipline of worship that we inculcate in our daily lives.
As I watched videos of how Jews celebrated the Shabbat, I realised that it was more of a familial (and even community) activity than a religious obligation. Sure, God called us to set aside the seventh day to rest and to worship Him. But more so than that, it was a time for the entire family (and even community) to gather and to reflect about God, to have a meal together, to worship together, and to enjoy each others’ company.
Watch this video to learn about Shabbat:
When children recognise that a Sabbath rest is not a time of “obligatory worship” but rather, a time to connect with friends, family, neighbours, and even the community, Sabbath becomes something that is fun; something that children will look forward to. When children are enjoying their time enjoying these religious traditions, that is when the curiosity of children will kick in. This is why the Bible wrote, countless of times:
“In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you are to tell him, ….”
(Exodus 12:26, 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20; Joshua 4:21)
In another video about another Jewish Holiday called Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement), we see that family gather together to eat and fellowship. Again, we see tradition at play, guiding children to reflect on the importance of the ritual. More so than this, we also see that religious adherence is a community event. In the video, a child explains, “during Yom Kippur, we have to ask a friend for forgiveness, before we ask God for forgiveness”. Doesn’t asking each other for forgiveness bring people together? And doesn’t the “religious context” lessen the embarrassment one would have felt when they ask each other for forgiveness? On top of this, there are also fasting and other religious adherence that the entire community observe. These observations create a collective experience for the children. It is these collective experiences that bonded the children with other members of the community. When you listen to the sharing of these children, you realise that the most memorable experiences these children had isn’t anything religious, but the bonds they have forged during these rituals — It is the fellowship that was built, meals that were shared, and friendships that was restored during these religious traditions.
Watch this video to learn about Yom Kippur:
I reflected on these things that the Lord has shown me. I realised that the fear of the Lord is, in essence, the respect one has towards God. It is their love towards God that enabled them to treat religious observances with reverence and respect. When we fear the Lord, our children will observe and model after us. God do not expect our children to be well-versed with the Bible or be well-versed with religious doctrines. All God cared about was that we respect Him and we treat each other respectfully.
This is why God said, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13 NIV). What God truly wanted, isn’t stubborn religious observance, but reverence towards Him — the kind of reverence that would resonate from our lives to our next generation.Image by Denise Husted from Pixabay
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