The most important gift that we can give to a child

Jari Rankinen
Reija Becks

We love our children and want to give the best for them. Do we do it? What is best is not fancy clothes or gifts or offering the child the opportunity to engage in a good hobby – as important as hobbies are. The best is faith in Jesus.

A friend of mine, who has long been teaching children about the faith, said, “A child’s heart is almost always the good soil of the Parable of the Sower.” Children are open and listen receptively what we teach them. Growing up, people become more closed, and receiving teaching about God will be, if not impossible – nothing will be impossible with God – much more difficult. Therefore, it is so important to talk about God especially to children.

Most of those who got to hear Bible teachings as children are in the faith or will return to the path of faith, after they have wandered along other paths for a time and noticed that they were wrong. Maybe their parents will not live to see this and pass away grieving that their child is an unbeliever. It has been said that a child from a Christian home will either live in the faith or with a guilty conscience and can’t fight against his or her conscience forever.

Another reason to teach the Bible to children is that, these days, our children are learning so many other things; matters of faith are ignored, they are forbidden, and the child’s thinking is filled completely with something else, or our faith is muddled up with fairy tales and other religions. Television, in particular, is teaching this to children.

What does faith give to a child?

Our Martti was afraid of going to bed. My wife and I heard, from the dark room, the words that were uttered with the earnestness of a four-year-old, “Dear Jesus, give Martti a good sleep.” And in the morning, the boy told us that he had not been that scared at all. Faith in Jesus gives security to the small as well as the bigger ones: there is a great God who is with me in all circumstances and takes care of me.

Faith in Jesus gives meaning to life; I am not here by mere chance but because God created me here and gave me life. If we know and believe this simple fact, life is never pointless. There are many who do not believe, and so it is no wonder that also a child’s life may have lost its meaning.

Faith in Jesus teaches us best right from wrong. What is right is what the Bible tells us to do, and what it forbids is wrong. If children learn to obey the Bible, they can avoid many bitter tears. And faith in Jesus gives strength to follow the Bible.

Children feel guilty about their wicked acts. Guilt is oppressive, depressing, and eats away the will to live. The best remedy to guilt is faith in Jesus. We do not tell our children that there are no such things as sins – they themselves know that they have done wrong. But they receive forgiveness from Jesus for everything. And that will give them a good conscience.

In this life, there is nothing as important as these facts. We give them to our children, if we teach them the word of God. We deprive them of those, if we do not give them the word, with which God generates faith in Jesus.

After this life, there is eternity with heaven and hell. We get to heaven only by believing in Jesus. If we desire that our children will one day get to heaven, we will teach them God’s word.

What is teaching?

We take the children to church, say evening prayers with them, or sometimes say something about God to them. This is important, too, but it is not really teaching. If I teach mathematics to children, I sit beside them and do math exercises with them. This is what teaching facts about the faith should also be: I take time for it, sit beside the children, speak with them about God and ask whether they have understood.

Juho started school last autumn. Following the example of our family friends, we agreed with Juho that before the start of school, we will learn the Ten Commandments, the Confession of Faith, and the Lord’s Prayer. In spring and summer, we sat together several times, and I said aloud how each part goes, the boy repeated it until he learnt it, and then we discussed what it means. We went through many facts about our faith. The boy listened intently, asked questions, and I believe that he learnt, too. Also, the son taught the father. When we were dealing with the Sixth Commandment, and I asked what it means, Juho thought for a while and answered, “Well, if you have got a wife, but then you realize that you are not completely satisfied with her, yet you must not leave her.” What if you took on to teach the essential points of our faith this way to the child? At least take your time to speak about the facts of faith with the child. This will also have the effect that subjects of faith will become for the child natural topics that can be discussed like anything else.

What should be taught?

A child is honest and demands honesty. What has been taught, must not be nullified. If it is nullified, children will ask themselves whether the whole faith is a lie. After having explained that there is hell, we must not tell the child that, nevertheless, everybody will go to heaven. Honesty is difficult especially with this point. I do not mean that we have to say that a neighbour, who did not seem to care anything about Jesus and then died, certainly went to hell. It is honest to say, “We do not know his fate. We leave him into God’s hands, and God will judge him as He considers appropriate. But we believe in Jesus, to be sure of going to heaven.”

Law and gospel should also be taught to a child. Tell them what the Commandments of God say. Speak about our great God who is holy and hates sin. And tell them that Jesus died for us, all our sins are forgiven, and because of Jesus’ death, God accepts us just as we are. Speak to the child about our God who is loving and merciful and leads us to our home in heaven.

Why do we not teach?

We consider it important to teach matters of the faith to children. Yet we teach these issues so little. Maybe the reason is lack of time. Days go by so fast from morning to evening, and there are so many other things. It is the work of the Devil that life becomes so busy that there is no time to discuss faith matters with our children. The Bible tells us to resist the Devil. To resist is also to give less priority to other things, work, or cleaning, and to make time for those most important issues.

Or, we may not talk about matters of faith because we are afraid of the child asking difficult questions. They surely will ask tough questions. But we do not have to have all the answers. We can say, “I don’t know.” And a child, too, should be taught to worship the great God, about whom we do not understand everything. We believe in the living God, not in a god whom we have made, and about whom we therefore know everything. We often lack this humbleness and we refuse to be as small as we are. Could this be taught also to a teenager who rebels against matters of the faith? We can pause to ponder what the Bible is teaching, even though we do not understand it now. Maybe later we will understand a bit more. If we do this, the Bible will, in a way that we can’t explain, make us sure that it is true.

Perhaps we speak so little about the questions of faith because we are afraid that our children will face contradictions – not all their friends believe – or we fear that our children will be bullied for their faith. This may happen. But it is good to face the reality early on that not everyone believes and that there is a price to pay for your faith. In any case, this reality must be faced at some stage and must be accepted, if you wish to walk towards heaven.

I often feel unworthy to speak about God to my children; I am not what I should be, I get angry at home and say very bad things. Nevertheless, I try to speak. And maybe herein lies the main teaching which my children will comprehend later: Dad was no saint, but he believed in Jesus. That is what I will do, too, and can do, even though I am a sinner.

Faith is God’s work

We can’t make anybody come to faith, not even our own child. God gives faith to whom he wishes. Faith in the crucified Lord is not just one worldview among others which we choose and which also the children are made to adopt. The Christian faith is quite something else, and immeasurably much more. But it is also true that faith does not just somehow appear out of nowhere. God will bring it forth by His word. And God will not do this in any other way but by His word. You can’t give your children faith, but you can give them God’s word. And God is in the words that you speak – when you read and teach the Bible – and He works in your child. Maybe the moments when you speak God’s word to your child seem so simple or disorderly that you can’t believe this. Yet this is what they are all about. Have your children heard the word of God?

Good moments

It is important that the moments in which facts of faith are talked about will be remembered as good times. This will help in absorbing the word. And it will hardly be helpful if, after listening to the word, the listener will feel anguished and oppressed.

Older children, at any rate, can’t be forced to listen to the word. But we may encourage them. And we may, for example, use a little bribery. After all, God’s word will work in the child’s or adult’s heart, no matter what the reason for their coming to hear the word.

Evening prayer

Do you hold evening prayers at your home? It does not have to be a complex event. In the living room or nursery, you will read from the Bible, the Children’s Bible or a devotional book, pray the Lord’s Prayer together, and sing a song. In these moments is sown the good seed that will sprout in due course – even when we may doubt whether anything sinks in. During the evening prayers, it is also good to take time for general conversations about faith or about other issues of the day. And it is also good to ask the children about the Bible passage that was read – you often get amazing and wonderful answers from them.

Talk to God

My friend told me, ”My father was away from home so often that he hardly had any time to give me guidance about faith. But I know that during his travels, he prayed so much for me. And I believe that it is the effect of my father’s prayers that I am believer now.” When you can’t, for one reason or another, speak to your children about God, speak to God about them. Its influence will be wonderful.