Teaching The Child About God
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 7 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Infants)
Once a little child drew a picture. One of his parents asked him who it was he had drawn. The child replied, "That's a picture of God." The parent said, "Why, honey, no one knows what God looks like," whereupon the child replied, "They do now."
Faith comes natural to a child. The best time of his life to teach him about God is in his early days. Our Catholic friends have said for years that if they can have a child until he is seven years old, they have him for life. This is probably right. Someone has called these years the seven vulnerable years. How foolish it is for parents who have faith in God to use such philosophies as "Let the child decide for himself," "We don't want to push religion on the child," etc. During this brief period of childhood, youngsters are especially vulnerable to religious training.
Somewhere I read that a little baby goose has an unusual characteristic along this line. It is said that the first thing he sees moving near him after he is hatched, he will follow. Of course, if the mother goose is this first object, he follows her. If for any reason she leaves him, he will follow any other object. In other words, there is a time in his early life when he will attach himself to anything that moves which is near him. This is true with a child. Because of this we should seize upon the opportunities to train the child from birth.
There are several things that must be done.
1. Teach him that there is a God and that God loves him. Once a little child asked, "Mother, what does the world stand on?" The mother stuttered timidly and replied, "The world stands. . er. . ..... on the shoulders of a big strong man."
The child waited a moment and said, "Mother, what does the man sit on?" The confused mother stuttered a while longer and said, "Well, honey, the man stands on . . . er ah. . . ah. . . on a big rock. That's right, a big rock!"
The child replied after a few moments, "Mother, what does the rock stand on?" The bewildered mother hesitated for a moment and said, "Sweetheart, the . . . er . . the rock ... er. . .ah . . the rock. . .ah. . .sits on a big pole."
The child then asked, "Mother, what does the pole stand on?" An angry mother said, "Oh, the pole just reaches all the way down to the bottom!"
This is often the extent of training about God given to a little child. We teach him to bathe, to brush his teeth, to eat, to sleep, to develop good habits, and yet we fail to teach him about the most important thing in his life-an individual's relationship with God.
2. It is important that a child's first impressions be of spiritual matters. This is why it is important to pray with the child when he is still an infant. He should have impressions made quickly concerning Mom and Dad having their head bowed. Early impressions should include his parents holding a black book, going to church regularly, singing from a hymn book, etc. As soon as possible he should be taught to fold his hands and bow his head in prayer and though these things are no more religious to him as far as his consciousness is concerned than any other gesture, he will soon associate them with regular habits, and these habits will lead him one day to know their meaning. These impressions will linger with him.
The infant should have pleasant thoughts about these impressions. He should be comfortable during them and learn to associate pleasantness with their performance. His first impressions of the church nursery should be associated with pleasantness and comfort. (This is why it is so important to have a cheerful, clean, comfortable church nursery.)
3. The young child should be exposed to proper heroes. Children are great to emulate other people. They make heroes and want to be like them. This is why parents should expose little children to the best patterns possible and should from childhood point them to adults whom they can emulate as their heroes.
4. The parents should build proper respect for God's man. Children should be taught that God has given to them a preacher. That preacher is God's man to lead them, to teach them, to preach to them, and to guide and instruct them concerning their lives. It is important for a family to have a man of God just like it is important to have a family doctor, a family dentist, etc. For that matter, it is even more important! The parents should never criticize God's man but should train their children to love and respect him.
This can be done in many ways. One of the most important ways is to lead the child to pray for the preacher many times a day. Every time he bows his head to say grace or to say his "Now I lay me" prayers, he should pray for his preacher. He should get an early impression that one of the most important persons in the world is God's man, his pastor.
The nursery workers at First Baptist Church have little bibs made for the babies. On each bib is printed, "I love my Preacher." This is very important.
The child should feel that he has a friend in the pulpit and that that friend loves him and is very wise. The time will probably come when the parents will need the pastor in the rearing of the child. It often is true that a time comes when the only hope of saving the child is the pastor. If the parents have been critical of him or have a negative attitude toward him, the children will develop such an attitude and will not come to the pastor when they need him in a period of crisis.
5. From infancy the child should be taught that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. When I was an infant my mother started a little ritual. Every night she would put me on her knee, hold her Bible in front of me and say, "Son, the Bible is the Word of God." Then she would ask me to repeat after her those words. Three times she would do this. Then she would tell me that Jesus is the Son of God. I would have to repeat it after her. Again she would say it and again I would repeat it. A third time she would say it and a third time I would repeat it. She then told me that I should always believe those two great truths. Now I do not recall when she started it; I do know she started this practice long before I could comprehend what was going on, but as far back as I can remember I can see my mother teaching me that Jesus is God's Son and that the Bible is God's Word.
She would then mention some kind of sin and warn me concerning its evil. One night she would take a whiskey ad. She would hold it up before me and say, "Whiskey - bad, bad, bad, bad! Whiskey - bad, bad!" Then I was required to say, "Whiskey - bad, bad!" She would then get a frown on her face, tear up the ad, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. She would shout, "WHISKEY - NO, NO! WHISKEY - BAD, BAD!"
Mother was trying to associate bad words with whiskey. I do not know when she started this. I do know it was before I realized it, and the association between the words "whiskey" and "no" made a lasting impression on my mind and life.
6. The wise parent will act out Bible stories. For our children I would take a Bible story like "The Good Samaritan." I would be the man who was attacked. I would rock and reel like I had been attacked. I would then lie down like the man beside the road. I would then become the priest and Levite who came by and looked on him. Then I would come by and be the good Samaritan. I made it as interesting as possible. This was a regular ritual at bedtime at our house. As long as our children were small they looked forward to Dad telling them stories from the Bible and acting them out.
Once a little girl was being told the story, "The Good Samaritan," by her Christian worker. The teacher described how the man had been beaten, stripped of his raiment, was lying there bloody and hurt. Then she asked her class, "Girls, what would you have done if you had seen a man in that shape?"
A little girl said, "I would have thrown up!"
Stories are real to little children. One of the best ways to train a child is to take Bible stories and truths and teach them night after night and day after day.
7. As soon as possible the child should be taught to memorize Scripture. Start off with simple ones like, "God is love," "Be ye kind one to another," etc. As soon as possible, teach verses that are more difficult. It is very important that a child be taught to memorize the Word of God in the early days of his life.
8. The father image is very important in teaching the child about God. The father is God's representative. God calls Himself our Heavenly Father and then gives a father to each home. The child should respect, revere and love that father. When he hears of his Heavenly Father he will find it easy to respect and obey Him. This means that the child's earthly father should do his best to emulate the Heavenly Father. For the child who has a Christian father, his thoughts of God are those of being a man, for the Christian father is the nearest thing on earth to God to the little child.
9. The infant should be taught to respect authority. This means all authority. When he is taught to obey every authority such as his father, his mother, his Sunday school teacher, his baby sitter, etc., it will not seem difficult for him to obey God when he hears and understands the plan of salvation.
10. The father should punish the child for doing wrong, even as the Heavenly Father punishes His children for doing wrong. Infancy this punishment should not be associated with the Heavenly Father, but the law of sowing and reaping can be taught in infancy and early childhood. Since the father is God's image and representative in the home, he should, of course, act as much like the Heavenly Father as possible. As the Heavenly Father punishes wrong, so should the earthly father punish wrong. As this punishment breaks the heart of the Heavenly Father, even so it should break the heart of the earthly father. As this punishment from the Heavenly Father is prompted by love, even so should the punishment from the earthly father be prompted by love.
Perhaps there is no better way for the child to learn about God than for him to have the proper relationship with his father. Respect for God's deputy in the home will lead to respect for God and to an early conversion.
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