“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
“And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (Exodus 13:14)
“There is power in telling our story to our children. At the earliest age, our children can begin to hear parts of our story and to be eyewitnesses to how God is continuing to shape it. I love to tell my children aspects of my own faith story in the context of the age they are at that time.” Michelle Anthony in Spiritual Parenting
Parents are disciple-makers. I’m thankful for how many Christian families today take on this role. Many of these same parents have given great attention to things like teaching their kids biblical truths, catechizing them with basic doctrine, practicing family devotions together, and instructing them in right and wrong. All of those are great things and worthy of time and attention. But one neglected aspect of discipleship in many families is passing on a living faith through remembering together how they’ve experienced those truths in their life.
Some parents focus on making sure their kids learn biblical truths and morals, or that as a family they do devotions together, but they rarely talk to their kids about how they have seen, tasted, and experienced these things. They neglect remembering God’s wonders and mighty deeds in their life, and in the friendships, local churches, and ministries they’ve been a part of. The neglect of the personal practice of remembering can keep theological truths in the impersonal realm of distant ideas.
I’m not suggesting we replace the authority of biblical teaching with personal experience, but I’m suggesting good teaching includes providing personal examples of where God shows in our world what He says in His Word.
I think if more parents intentionally practiced this it would stretched them to talk about God in personal, concrete terms and kids would be wowed and wooed by hearing the stories of God at work in their lives. Remembering what God has done stirs up belief in what God can do. Looking at God’s work in our past gives perspective, wisdom, and faith for the work God wants to do in our present and future.
Teach and Tell
For example, Christians parents should teach their kids about God’s faithfulness. It’s talked about throughout the Bible and is a key attribute of God. It would be good to teach them about God’s faithfulness through a story in the Bible or a lesson on faithfulness from the Bible. But if all a parent did was teach God’s faithfulness but they never pointed to examples of God’s faithfulness in their story, it would be easy for many kids to assent mentally to this truth without being convinced of it or knowing it in a deeper way. The doctrine becomes more of a nice thing to put on the wall rather than a living reality they find meaningful.
But, if the parents teach them about God’s faithfulness and tell them about God’s faithfulness through specific stories in their life, family history, local church, or relationships, then the truth of the doctrine is paired to the beauty of the story so it becomes a powerful reality. As this is done throughout childhood and teenage years (as a start), the child grows up in an environment where their reference for God’s faithfulness includes both robust biblical teaching and real personal stories. Without the doctrine, the story doesn’t have the categories in place for why it’s meaningful or what it teaches us, but without the story the doctrine is theoretical rather than practical and powerful.
Or you might teach your kids about God’s power, but once they have the structure of this truth in place, you solidify it and bring it to life by recalling for them how you’ve seen it in your life. Don’t just tell them God is powerful, but tell them about the stories where you’ve seen God’s power at work. Tell them how you were freed from sin, how God opened closed doors, how God provided when it seemed hopeless, how God helped you do something you knew you couldn’t do on your own.
The Old Testament Example
God repeatedly tells Israel to disciple later generations by remembering with them. Through religious festivals, holidays, feasts, memorial objects, the Law, the Scriptures, the Sabbath, and in their own experiences of God, they are to remember with their children the ways and works of God. They are to disciple their children and grandchildren by recalling all God has done in the past, which will help them believe in and trust in this same God in their life. History lives on and speaks into the present and future through remembering in this way.
Consider when Israel crossed the Jordan river and entered the promised land. God commands piling up large stones to be a visual reminder of His faithfulness. Every time people walked by this memorial object it offered a chance to rehearse God’s power and provision for His people. (For other examples, see Exodus 12:24-27; 13:8, 14; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7, 20; 11:19; 32:46; Joshua 4:1-21; Psalm 78:4-6; 102:18; 145:4; Isaiah 38:9.)
“And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:5-7)
Tell your children about what God has done, what He has taught you, how He delivered you, proved Himself, and showed His faithfulness. Pass on the spiritual lessons you’ve learned. Celebrate God’s works and Word that have impacted your life by commemorating and remembering what you’ve learned and experienced.
Ways to Remember Together
There are many ways you can do this as parents, but I hope you see a big part of how you disciple your children (or any disciple) is through remembering with them. Use what they’re going through to remember how you walked through something similar or what God taught you in those circumstances. Use their questions to reflect with them on your own life or their life. Take advantage of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries (marriage, conversion, baptism, big transitions, etc.), New Years or changing seasons, and other significant dates to reflect on God or what He’s taught you.
Here are additional ways you might teach your children and give testimony to God’s faithfulness through remembering.
- Share stories of God at work and His faithfulness in ordinary events throughout your day. Be quick to brag on God. Invite others to share with your children how they’ve tasted and seen the goodness of God.
- Share your testimony of coming to Christ with your children, as well as significant ways God Has worked for you or in you since your conversion.
- Listen to Matt Chandler’s four-part sermon series on family discipleship, especially the sermon “Milestones.”
- Find ideas from Noel Piper’s book, Treasuring God in our Traditions. Download for free.
- Learn from the history of the Church. Know God’s works and faithfulness to His Church through church history and biographies.
- Engage in the church calendar through seasons (Advent, Lent) and days (Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Day, Christmas) that offer a chance to talk about the events of Christ’s life and ministry.
- Record things: prayer requests and answers, lessons learned, milestones, growth moments, struggles, good quotes, etc. Then review with your children later to show God at work or to talk about what He taught you at various points.
- Write in your Bible. Include notes, prayers, lessons learned, sermon outlines, thoughts, experiences tied to that text, etc. As you use this Bible over the years those notes will be opportunities to remember.
- Use memorials to remember truth or God’s faithfulness in your life. Is there something you can put on your desk, kitchen table, bathroom sink, or in your living room that would be a reminder to your family?
- Learn more about developing family traditions at the Art of Manliness.