Children are amazing. Uninhibited by the assumption that memorization is supposed to be difficult, their capacity for internalizing Scripture is incredible. Right around last Christmas, my wife and I began teaching our then 2-year-old son memory verses and working through a children’s catechism we’d seen recommended.
Most days my wife would review a chosen verse, helping our son, Amos, remember and recite it, and each night we worked on one of “his questions” before bed. Nothing complicated, just a simple “repeat after me” approach in small chunks at a time, reviewing the ones we’d done already. He absorbed them much faster than we expected. By June Amos could zip through a handful of Bible verses, and no fewer than 30 catechism questions and answers. What a joy it is to watch your child grow in the knowledge of the Lord!
And what a firm foundation it builds for times of trouble.
Everything changed abruptly, almost without warning. Several weeks ago, I was hiking in Kentucky with friends when I got a phone call from my wife, who was at the emergency room with our three-year-old son. Shortly after that, we wept together in utter shock as I listened on speakerphone to a doctor telling us that Amos had a tumor in his head. By the time I made it back to California, where we had gone to visit family from Cambridge where we live, he was 40 minutes from his first of two brain surgeries.
It’s cancer. We are, right now, torn and raw and exhausted, still in the center of this terrible event. I wrote this in the hospital, where we have been for almost two months since it all began. The way ahead will be long and difficult for Amos. Please pray for him.
Never Too Early and Never Too Late
Let me make my point very clear: Parents, I exhort you to teach your children about our God, both from Scripture and with the organized instruction of a children’s catechism. If you haven’t started, now is unquestionably the right time. Laying the rock-solid truth of Scripture in the foundation of your child’s soul can never begin too early. Although there aren’t any shortcuts, it isn’t as hard as you might think. And regardless of how daunting it may seem, Scripture commands us to teach our children about our wonderful God. Speaking from experience, no task proves more rewarding.
I want to look at two key verses out of many that admonish us to pass on our knowledge and love of the Lord to our children through regular instruction. This can happen in many different ways, but I suggest that helping our kids memorize Christian teaching in particular is one of the most effective. There is no doubt about how singularly clear the importance of that task has become in my own life as my family recently entered this time of deep and terrible crisis.
Catechesis in Scripture
We see repeated commands and examples right through the sweep of the Bible to pass on the knowledge of God to our children through catechesis, or “instruction.” We will look at just two passages that seal the deal.
First, one of the clearest exhortations comes from Deuteronomy. Moses is delivering the commandment of God to his people for their life in the land, urging them to “listen and be careful to do it” (6:3). Moses proclaims that the Lord our God is one, and that his people are to love him with all of their being (6:4–5). This supremely important theological statement is followed immediately by the command, first, to never forget it, and also to teach it to our children (6:6–7). Not a trite or begrudging kind of teaching, but a patient, persistent, life-encompassing kind of teaching:
You shall teach [these commandments] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (6:7)
Second, and on the flip side, neglecting to teach our children about the Lord can have terrible consequences. The Deuteronomy example is a clear command that God’s people in all times and places will do well to observe diligently. This second, complementary text comes from a narrative that illustrates the characteristic trends for God’s people when we fail to catechize our children in the Lord. In the beginning of the book of Judges, Israel has taken possession of much of Canaan, as God promised, despite difficulty due to their lack of obedience (Judg. 1:1–2:5). While they are still under the godly leadership of Joshua, Israel repents and serves the Lord (2:6–7). But things fall apart quickly. After Joshua’s death, we read:
All that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. . . . And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers. (Judg. 2:10, 12)
The implication, of course, is that one generation failed to teach—failed to catechize—the next generation about God’s mighty person and work. And with disastrous results, as Israel’s downward spiral in the book of Judges and beyond begins immediately afterward.
God’s Word in Crisis and Out
As our son has begun to recover from his surgeries and begin radiation treatment, he still lacks a significant amount of motor skills. One of those is speech. Although the doctors are positive and he is beginning to make progress, it’s unclear right now how well Amos will ever speak again. Amid the darkness and uncertainty of everything unfolding in our lives each moment, my wife and I have found deep and gratifying comfort in our knowledge that Amos knows God’s Word. It’s in his heart, mind, and soul. He knows God made him and takes care of him, for his own glory. It’s an invaluable comfort to know, as we pray that our son would sense God’s presence and peace, that he knows Isaiah 43:1 by heart:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Parents, diligently instruct your children in the Lord. The hours we spent teaching Scripture and catechism questions to our sweet little boy have borne fruit in incalculable ways, in our own hearts and, we trust, in his. The Lord indeed gives good gifts to his people (Matt. 7:11). One of these is his word in Scripture.
If God knows how precious a gift that is, how much more so should we in turn give God’s Word to our own children.
Editors’ note: Parents might consider the New City Catechism (and iOS app) for both themselves and instructing their children in the faith. We found that parents who teach their kids a children's catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children's catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children's answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time. Learn more here.