I grew up reading the Bible. But something in particular about the Gospels always bothered me: how Jesus called His disciples. It was always so abrupt to me. These men are going about their jobs – fishing, tax collecting, whatever – and then this guy just shows up and says something weird like, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” And they just drop whatever they were doing, leaving family and livelihood behind. Two of those guys left their dad in a boat. We know that Peter had a wife, and out of eleven other men, I’m sure many of them also had wives and children. Honestly, I struggled with this kind of abrupt leaving.
But today I read Matthew 4, and I caught this verse, something I’d never (in all the times I’ve read it and heard the teachings about it) noticed:
After leaving Nazareth [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum by the sea…From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (verses 13, 17)
Ok, now I’m sure you saw this, knew this, noticed this, even learned about this before. But it dawned on me this morning, while my kids were playing and life was full and rich around me – Jesus didn’t just walk up to the disciples as some unknown man and ask them to give up everything. These men had seen Him, heard Him, probably even knew Him to some degree. So when Jesus came calling them, they were ready to respond. Ready to turn toward a man they knew to be worth it. Not turning away from life, but knowing that as He called, they were turning toward Life.
Then I knew. There was nothing abrupt about it. Jesus let Himself be known through His living – He “went and lived in Capernaum,” deliberately. He began to speak His purpose, deliberately. And it’s the same now, here in my house. Even though Davy and I know and love Jesus, our kids don’t know Him yet. They haven’t made the choice to follow Him, and they may not for several years. They don’t understand what that choice means yet because they are so young. But Jesus can still pursue their hearts and make Himself known to them, and we can still be part of teaching Him to them. Deliberately.
Jesus lived and let His life be the example, and by what He said and did, those men chose to be disciples. When Davy and I are deliberate in making our lives echo Jesus’, in character and in words, we point our kids back to who Jesus is and what He is about. When we allow God to permeate our living, Christ’s reputation will precede Him into our kids’ hearts. Even through the daily struggle with our own humanness and sin, we can choose to point back to God’s kindness in forgiving us, His grace and mercies, and our own utter and complete need for a Savior like Him.
These are some ways we are trying to show who Jesus is to our kids:
(And by trying, I literally mean trying. We don’t get this right everyday. We mess up and are bad examples sometimes. We forget. We get grumpy. We lose focus. But as an overall goal, we’re trying.)
– Reading the Bible to them everyday. My favorite is the Beginner’s Bible because they don’t exclude the concept of sin.
– Telling them Bible stories from memory. It was a little awkward at first, but I started trying to be as animated in my facial expressions and tone of voice as possible. I actually started doing this in the dark at bedtime because I felt so awkward about it. But it captured my kids’ attention and they love it.
– Correlating direct disobedience and wrong attitudes and actions with sin. We don’t hide the fact that everyone is sinful from our kids. I’ve admitted to them that my impatience (or bad attitude, etc) is sin that I have to ask God’s forgiveness for. Without using guilt or condemnation, we say, “that is wrong. It is a sin to –.” (We do not do this with actions that aren’t actually sin. For example, if I haven’t taught Norah that drawing on the wall is wrong, then I do not treat this action as direct disobedience and sin. However, if I teach her that drawing on the wall is wrong, and then she does it because she’s mad at me for telling her no, then I deal with the attitude behind the action as sin. We also don’t do this if our kids’ “wrong” actions are outside of their developmental capabilities, like lying.)
– Talk about God positively throughout the day, not just using Him as the ultimate No. We like to do this with songs and games about what God made, what He’s like, and what He’s done. We do talk about how sin makes God sad, but that is not the only time we bring Him up.
– Pray with and for our kids. Our bedtime routine includes a family prayer time, where our kids can pray if they want. In this post, I talk about our recent journey with prayer. It’s actually become a really special time in our routine. Some days only one or neither kid wants to pray, and that’s fine. Usually we ask what they want to pray for first, and then they have an idea of what to say before they actually pray. Norah’s prayers usually go like this, “Jesus, thank You for sleep. Food. Amen.” Micah’s prayers usually include thanking God for something silly, like toes. But sometimes he really surprises me with very heartfelt prayers. Both are great because Jesus cares about toes and serious things too.
– Include ourselves in talking about how we need Jesus. Because it’s true, and it’s ok with us for our kids to see that we don’t have it all together. We’re real with them, and we can all really seek after Jesus’ help together. It’s hard enough to be a parent without having to always be right and perfect also.
These are just the things we’re trying to do in our home. God knows we don’t do them everyday, and I’ll confess that there are days when I don’t talk about Jesus deliberately. But I think the important thing is to have overarching consistency and frequency. To be genuine in relaying who Jesus is to our kids. That way, when Jesus comes calling their little hearts to follow Him, they will be ready to respond. When their spirits awaken to the sound of His voice, they will know who is calling them. They will know they aren’t turning away from some kind of life the world can offer them, they are turning toward Life. Life they know to be good and true and just and merciful, because Jesus’ reputation precedes Him.