Previous articles in this series: June 2021, p. 403

The spiritual nurture of our children from the time of infancy is vital to the confidence, security, and strength they will exhibit in their future lives. Though the topic “Nurturing Preschool Children” may seem blasé and undeserving of our attention, this could not be further from the truth. The years from birth to the time our children enter school are the most formative years of their lives. Neither do we concern ourselves in these articles with the care given our little children from an earthly, material point of view, though this too will influence their lives in this world. We concern ourselves with careful attention to the spiritual nurture of our little children.

We are dealing with methods. In the last article we concentrated on one of three different ways we use in raising our children. As parents, we must teach our children by way of example. We cannot expect our children to live godly if we do not live godly. We cannot expect our children to be spiritually minded if we are not. We cannot expect our children to know their sin and their need for the cross of Jesus Christ if we do not reveal such in our own lives as parents. Children learn to worship God every Sunday by faithful church attendance on the part of parents. They learn to pray and read God’s Word each day by seeing their parents do so. Example is perhaps the most important way to nurture our children in the fear of God.

With this article we take a look at a second way, the way of instruction or teaching. The Bible is unequivocally clear in this matter. No parent may sidestep what is taught in Psalm 78:2-7:

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

These verses, first of all, define the calling of parents toward their children. They “will not hide” the testimonies of God from their children, but rather, “show” them to the generation to come. Two important truths stand out concerning this calling of parents. First, while instructing their children, fathers and mothers of God’s covenant may not busy themselves with all kinds of other instruction but place the spiritual instruction of their children on the shelf, so to speak. This is hiding the praises of God from our children. On the contrary, parents must “make known” or “declare” what God has taught them.

In the second place, parents must teach their children what they learned from their parents and grandparents (that which our fathers have told us). This needs emphasis, since every generation seems to think that what they have been taught by parents has become antiquated and is no longer useful for the new generation. Parents with infant children and toddlers ought to listen to the wisdom of their parents before following the latest advice drawn from the world’s modern methods.

These verses of Psalm 78 also set forth the content of that instruction, that is, the Word of God with all its wisdom. The Scriptures set forth “the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.” They likewise declare to us the commandments and exhortations required of us as children of God’s covenant. From the moment our children lay in our arms, unable yet to give voice to what is in their thoughts, to the time they leave father and mother, parents must instruct their children in the praises, strength, works, and commandments of Jehovah.

Let’s exemplify these.

  • God’s praises

 Hearing a three-year-old singing at the top of her lungs (ah—I need to turn down my hearing aids!) a Psalter number or “Jesus Loves Me.” To watch in church a little child yet unable to read the Psalter she holds before her attempting to mouth the words the church is singing. To see a baby not even a year old make a noise when told to say “Amen,” simply because he knows everyone gets excited to hear him. Praises—all praises! All taught them of their parents.

  • God’s strength

A little child explains to his grandparents, “I don’t have to be afraid of the lightning and the thunder! When I was scared, my dad told me that God is speaking to us of how strong He is. If He can send storms, just think of how strong He is to protect us!” At times like these, parents have the opportunity to teach their children Psalm 29. “The voice of Jehovah, the God of all glory, rolls over the waters, the thunders awake; the voice of Jehovah majestic and mighty, is heard and the cedars of Lebanon break” (Psalter, #76).

  •  God’s works

A four-year-old boy rushes up to his father when he comes home from work, “Dad, did you know that God covered the whole world with water? All the wicked people got drowned, but God saved a man and his family in a big boat with all kinds of animals! Mom read me the story at lunchtime!” Little children believe and confess with childlike faith that Jesus was sent by God to save them from their sins. They learn from the mouth of their parents of the death of the Savior on the cross.

  • God’s commandments

From infancy children learn to pray, first an Amen, then, “Lord bless this food…, and, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” They are instructed to obey their parents, go to church, not to fight with siblings, to share, and so on. It is no wonder that believing children grow up to be the best citizens in a society of lawlessness, immorality, and violence. Walking a godly, upright life is ingrained into their hearts and souls before they even reach the age that they attend school. Who says little children do not receive a proper education in the home prior to school? A teacher once explained to a mother when asked what should be done to prepare her child for school: “Make sure your child learns respect for authority and obedience. I will teach the academics.”

The examples we have cited reveal that the instruction given takes place in two interrelated and necessary ways. First of all, there is formal instruction. Formal points to the need for parents to follow a certain form or to use certain methods to instruct children. A formal education of our children does not begin with school. Any parent with a genuine concern for his or her child is aware of that. How many parents start teaching their preschool children their ABCs or 1-2-3s to prepare them for school? There are countless CDs (or whatever new audio/visual device available today) with ‘ditties’ that teach children to sing sounds and words that they might begin to learn the skill of reading. Well, the same is true from a spiritual point of view. There are certain formal methods parents use to teach their little children about God, sin, Jesus Christ, and salvation. These methods of instruction may not wait until the child is about ready to enter school. They should be put to use as soon as a baby is able to understand (yes, in a very childlike way) the things of the kingdom of heaven.

When a family sits down to eat and that little oneyear old is in the high chair barely able to see above the rim of the tray in front of her, Dad teaches her to pray. “Say Amen. A-a-a-a-amen. Amen.” Soon the infant is saying “Amen” (or something that sounds much like it), much to the delight of her parents. Then a few phrases are added. Soon a prayer emerges through the hard labor of parents teaching their child to pray. The child learns the importance of prayer as well as words to speak in prayer. The child slowly learns that she is praying to God who provides the food she is eating. Formal instruction.

Father and mother take their little child to church early on. Most of the time the baby sleeps or sits with a few cooing sounds. We all know that at a certain age most children become too loud in church, not yet able to understand that they need to be quiet. Ah yes, take them to nursery or sit in the back of the church with them. But this age soon passes and the child is old enough to know he must sit in church with mom and dad and be quiet. When a child is noisy and gives his parents a hard time, yes, dad gets up and walks out of church (sometimes with a loud wail from his son), only to come back in a little later with his teary-eyed boy to sit and listen to the minister. Formal education.

Mothers while instructing their children in the home teach them Psalter numbers and short Bible verses. They read their children Bible stories. Dad talks with them about what he reads to them at the table after eating. It is not a long drawn-out ‘sermon,’ but just short, easy-to-understand questions or comments molded to instruct children. Formal education.

So the list can go on. We cannot emphasize enough the necessity of this formal education of our children in the things of God’s kingdom. The things taught our little children will stick with them for a lifetime. These things become a part of their lives they will not forget! Parents with little children must be busy in the home formally instructing their children in the ways of God. Believing children do not just drop from the sky. God uses the means of godly parents who take their calling seriously to shape and mold the next generation of believers.

The second way of teaching our little children is by means of informal instruction. This stands in close connection with our example as parents. Let’s try to exemplify what is meant by informal instruction. When the nation of Israel under Joshua crossed over the Jordan River into the promised land, Joshua commanded that twelve large stones be taken out of the Jordan and carried to their camp in Gilgal. They set up these twelve stones there as a monument. Then Joshua commanded the people in Israel with these words of Joshua 4:21-24: “When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you…that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.” This is what is meant by informal instruction. As our little children grow, they are full of questions. If the right spiritual atmosphere is established in the family, they will also ask questions about the ways of God. At times questions are not asked but a parent is given an excellent opportunity to apply life lessons to a spiritual matter that arises. The point is, when conscious of it, parents are able to establish in their home an atmosphere that is conducive to learning the ways of God.

When such instruction is neglected, parents ought not expect their children to grow up to love and fear God. It is true, that God’s grace is powerful and works in the hearts of His people even when parents neglect their calling. But such parents ought not to assume God will save their children despite their efforts. As we have stated, godly children do not drop from the sky! Example and instruction are needed to nurture our preschool children. One other method also needs to be applied: discipline. We will take up that matter in another article.