Wednesday, March 09, 2005

First Things First

The fundamental assertion of faith among the people of God in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (vv. 4-5).

This statement was the central affirmation of Old Testament faith. Every time a person recited these words, they renewed their covenant with God. It was a gentle reminder of their true identity and the relationship they had with the One who gave them that identity.

They recited it at least twice every day – when they woke up and when they went to sleep. It was also the first sentence taught to a Hebrew child. When a child developed the ability to speak, this was the sentence they were taught to say.

When an Israelite died, they often used their final breath to speak this sentence. That was a sign of someone who took their commitment to God seriously. The shema (a Hebrew word meaning “hear” or “listen”) as it came to be called, was to be their first sentence and their last sentence – not only of each day but of their lives as well.

Needless to say, this portion of Scripture was known by every Jewish person to be the very core of what it meant to be a child of God’s covenant love. Everything else was subordinate to this one overarching principle: Love God with everything you’ve got!

But read what Moses says next: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Now think back to the question at hand: Who is responsible for making sure our children develop spiritually? The Old Testament is pretty clear on this. Parents have the primary responsibility for making sure their children know and respect God. Their worldview will flow from this foundational text, so parents should make every effort to teach this principle to their children.

But don’t think this is merely an Old Testament concept. In the New Testament we find the Apostle Paul saying the same thing: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Clearly, children are meant to be raised by their parents.

As obvious as this appears, however, we seem to have gotten off track somehow. Children spend less and less time with their parents these days. Between school, tutors, little league and band practice, a parent is just one of many voices in a child’s life. And the less time we spend with our children, the less confidence we have in our ability to parent.