Deuteronomy 6:4-7 - Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
In today's world, the foundations for good and sound decision-making have been eroded almost to the point of non-existence. Biblical values and absolutes have been systematically removed from public schools and "values clarification" courses now teach our young people to make decisions based on what the individual thinks is the best choice in a situation. Similarly, many ministries and churches today want to avoid the "harsh" moral teachings of the "Old Testament God" and consequently teach that personal decisions should be based on what the individual feels is the "most loving" thing to do at the moment. Although vestiges of biblical thinking linger in our culture's subconscious as a result of our Judeo-Christian heritage, the basic framework for personal decision-making in society today is not God-oriented, but self-oriented. Young people today desperately need parents who are committed to communicating God's values and attitudes, teaching decision-making skills, and helping their children build a strong biblical framework in which life's decisions can be made. The above text of Scripture from Deuteronomy 6 is part of the well-known Jewish "Shema" (named from a transliteration of the first word--the Hebrew word for "hear"). The "Shema" clearly teaches that extensive family biblical teaching was essential under the Old Testament Law. This biblical principle of continual and consistent family teaching is also emphasized in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:4 states, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." These Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments emphasize that parents are to teach the Word of God to their children. They are not only to teach what it says, but teach what it means as well. Notice that the emphasis is on teaching by action in both of these Scriptures. A brief word study of Ephesians 6:4 shows that the two words, "nurture and admonition" (KJV) or "discipline and instruction" (NASV) essentially mean "training by act" and "training by word". Thus biblical family teaching is more than just a short family devotion session each day. "Family devotions" must be a lifestyle--they are to go on all day ("when you lie down and when you rise up") and in every situation ("when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way"). The concept of modeling biblical doctrine and moral values as an integral part of family life is essential. Too often, the way Christian parents make decisions is colored by the selfish actions and thought patterns of the world around us rather than by God's Word. What good is it to teach children by word, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel," if we teach just the opposite by action when we ignore or bad-mouth our neighbors? How will a child learn to be truthful if we teach by word, "You shall not lie," and then model the reverse by calling in sick to work when we want some extra time off? A father who cleans up his neighbor's spilled garbage because the Bible says to "Love your neighbor as yourself," is modeling biblical doctrine before his children. The mother who returns money to the store clerk who undercharged her because the Bible says, "You shall not steal," is conducting family devotions by action teaching. Biblically-based family living now is essential and mandatory for biblically-based decisions by the children down the road. Deuteronomy 6:7 indicates that appropriate Scriptures should be verbalized when parents model biblical doctrine and moral values. A strong base for future decision-making is built into children's thinking when they see God's ways and hear God's Word at the same time. "All-day" family devotions, then, should include frequent explanation of biblical values, decisions and actions, along with the appropriate biblical texts. Furthermore, the more children are involved with their parents (and not just observers) in church and neighborhood activities, the more the Scriptures quoted will "stick". Practicing the biblical principle of "lifestyle family teaching" doesn't mean, however, that families don't need a "formal devotions" time. From biblical times right up to the recent past, fathers and sons generally worked together in the fields or in the family shop, while mothers and daughters spent many hours together caring for the home. Evenings were usually spent together. "All-day teaching" was possible from infancy to young adulthood. In modern times, however, most families spend very little time together, especially after the children reach school age. The opportunities for all-day teaching are becoming less frequent. A "formal" family teaching time is even more important today than it was in the past, to insure that children are learning God's Word and God's ways. Unfortunately, this important and needed aspect of family life is rapidly becoming a neglected or forgotten Christian tradition. Christian parents need to reverse this trend and work hard at preserving the good tradition of "formal" daily family devotions. This day-by-day diet of Scripture and family prayers will not fail to influence the decisions made by every member of the family. Formal family devotions should be designed to be understandable, practical and applicable in both the Bible time and prayer time. Reading a brief devotional thought and having a short prayer is better than nothing (much better than nothing!), but "devotions" must move on to include teaching doctrine and moral values--particularly as children grow older. Bible stories and the lessons they teach are powerful tools for shaping the thinking of young adults as well as young children. A family discussion of the sad results of the poor decision in Samson's life, for example, will help to influence the decision-making process in children's lives for years to come. The moral and ethical teaching of a passage of Scripture can be thought through and talked through when parents start a discussion with "What would you do if...?" In fact, "formal" family devotions is an excellent time to discuss decisions that the family is facing or decisions that the children will need to make in the future. If family devotions follow the biblical model, there will always be interaction and discussion between parents and children, with opportunities for questions and comments. This applies to both "formal" and "all-day" family teaching. Deuteronomy 6:20-25 assumes that the children will ask questions and that the parents will give good answers. The old adage of "children should be seen and not heard"is not biblical when it comes to questions about the faith. Sometimes the innocent comments and questions of children can help parents see areas in their own lives that need some work! Powerful teaching occurs when parents are willing to acknowledge their poor decisions in the past or their present short-comings, and then show their children that they are working hard to bring their lives into line with God's Word. Notice, by the way, that both Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and 6:20-25 stress the fact that the Word of God is first of all to be on the hearts of the parents! How can parents answer their children's questions and pass on biblical doctrine and moral values if they aren't firmly established in God's Word themselves? Many of you reading these words are not parents--yet! You can start now by having a consistent daily time of Scripture study and prayer and by modeling a lifestyle that is in line with biblical doctrine and moral values. Married couples should start a "formal" family devotional time with a family of two--before the children arrive! Including the children, if and when the Lord sends them, will then be a natural and automatic transition. One way couples can start "all-day" family devotions now is to carefully select the TV programs and videos shown in their home. "Major surgery" will not have to be performed later as the family grows. Remember, preventative maintenance is always better than repairing damage later! Some of you are already parents with young children and need to "get your act together" as far as your lifestyle goes. Start immediately before your children are old enough to "see through" your role-playing masks. Maybe some of you are frustrated because your efforts at a daily "formal" devotions have "bombed" and you think that such a teaching time can't work in your family situation. Try the following suggestions. First, think over your family lifestyle and try to find a time when the whole family can be together. Suppertime is often the only possible time, so be flexible--choose a different dinner hour each day, if necessary, to allow for after school activities or erratic work schedules. Then make your "formal" family teaching time a habit! Don't depart from the habit when one parent is on a business trip or guests are over, etc. Bedtime may work well if dinnertime teaching just isn't possible. Try to use variety in family teaching times. Lengthy readings from Leviticus every day won't keep the children's interest long! And if children aren't listening, they can't learn. Why not let the children choose and even lead the teaching on some occasions? A periodic "missionary night" might include a meal from another culture as well as an opportunity for children to help support missions from their allowances. This is real action-teaching of the Bible! (The periodic focus on foreign missions may even influence the future course of a child's life!) Share your prayer requests and be sure to thank the Lord when the answers come! Encourage family participation by "sentence prayers" around the table. Be flexible! Adapt! Using the basic guidelines of the Bible teaching and some practical prayer, Christian parents can be very creative with their "formal" family devotions. One of the greatest benefits of biblical family devotions is that future decision-making for the entire family becomes more biblically based. Biblically-based decisions, even in small matters, become "rule of thumb" for parents and children alike. Major decisions, such as college education, career and job changes, marriage, the selection and use of a home, expensive purchases, and many others will all take the Lord and His Word into account, and will be less tainted by the values and attitudes of our culture. Having the kind of biblical family devotions described above is not an absolute guarantee that children will always make the right decisions in the future. Each child is a growing moral agent responsible before God as an individual. As some children grow to adulthood they may choose to reject the teachings of their parents and make heart-breaking decisions. But, generally speaking, the future decisions of the majority will be greatly helped by good teaching/role-model parents who regularly practice "all-day" and "formal" family devotions. Inability to make proper decisions was one of the sad results when God's Old Testament people failed to keep their covenant with the LORD. This had been predicted as part of the contract. In Deuteronomy 28:20,28 we read, "The LORD will send upon you curses,confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do...The LORD will smite you with...blindness and bewilderment of heart; and you shall grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways." What a vivid description of a lack of decision-making capacity. It is significant that the teaching of God's Word to the children by the parents was an important and integral part of the covenant contract. As we follow the history of Israel we see the sad record and results of wrong decision-making for generation after generation. God couldn't communicate our responsibility to us more clearly! Families who want their children to make biblical decisions in the future should start living and teaching God's Word today!