In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the hit 1964 musical now reappearing on Broadway, Tevya, a poor Jewish milkman struggling to make a living for his family in an early 20th-century Russian village, makes a profound observation:
We have traditions for everything – how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, “How did this tradition get started?” I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our tradition, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.
But do they? As the story unfolds, Tevya’s traditions are shaken one by one. He comes to accept the inevitable changes in his life, yet he fails to fully grasp the original intent behind those traditions: a deeper, more intimate relationship with His Creator.
When you think about it, not much has changed. Ask the average person why they do what they do, and they might respond like Tevya: “I don’t know. But this is what I’ve always known. It’s how my parents taught me. It’s just the right thing to do.”
So how can we make sure that a child’s spiritual understanding goes beyond mere “traditions” to become a defining part of his or her life?
Some believe that by simply taking their child to church every Sunday, they’ve done their “spiritual” duty. Others feel the need to expose their children to various religions, hoping they will “find their way” to happiness. The parent is simply a bystander in the process.
It may come as a surprise, but as a pastor, I do not believe the most significant part of a child’s spiritual development takes place inside the four walls of the church. It takes place inside the four walls of the home.
Parenting is not simply passing down a set of “rules” to live by. It is not some “casual” responsibility that places the burden of teaching morals or virtue on the schools or the church. It is a God-given responsibility … and gift.
Cherish God’s gift to you
To properly instill a sense of values and faith in our children, we must first understand their worth. Our children did not enter our lives by chance. The Bible tells us, “Children are a gift from the LORD – they are a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3).
Think about that for a moment. If you are a parent, the Creator of the universe has divinely placed this child under your care. And He will supply you with the necessary wisdom and strength to nurture this precious gift.
I know that’s hard to believe when your toddler decides to “decorate” your room with permanent markers, or if your child struggles with a special need. Yet, remember this: That child is not yours by accident or coincidence. He or she is a gift from God.
Walk the talk
Consequently, God places a high priority on a child’s spiritual education. In the Bible, Moses emphasizes the vital role parents play in passing on their faith to their children:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
– Deuteronomy 6:5-7, NIV
Notice Moses first says that parents need to have a wholehearted, devoted relationship with God before they even begin teaching their children. We cannot lead a child any farther than we ourselves have come. As the famous pastor Andrew Murray once said, “The secret of home rule is self-rule: first being ourselves what we want our children to be.”
I personally longed for the day my sons would believe the Gospel message of Jesus Christ for themselves, and embrace Him as Savior and Lord. I made sure that I explained to them who Christ was and how they could know Him. Yet, I also knew that they needed to see the Gospel “lived” – not just discussed.
Capture teachable moments
Moses also says, “Impress them on your children.” The original Hebrew translation implies piercing spiritual truths deeply into your child’s heart and mind so that they become wise and discerning individuals.
One father, reflecting on his life after his children had grown, said, “If I had it to do all over again, I would share God more intimately with my family. Every ordinary thing that happened in every ordinary day I would use to direct them to God.”
That’s the idea. Teaching “religion” is not enough. Our children need to see that our faith is personal and active, not something we reserve for one day of the week. We honor and look for the hand of God in every aspect of our lives.
The writer of Proverbs says it well: “Those who fear the Lord are secure; He will be a place of refuge for their children” (Proverbs 14:26).
The most secure place a child can be in times of uncertainty is a home where the Lord is worshipped and loved. Do your children have a place of refuge?
Translations used: New International Version and the New Living Translation.