Where Is My Reverence?
In the last job I held outside the home before becoming a mother, my coworker was Jewish. As she explained it, she was "culturally a Jew, not religiously." She felt a lot of resentment toward her parents because, "They never taught me what to believe about God. They didn't raise me to be a Jew, but they didn't want me to be a Christian either."
It's unfortunate that many "enlightened" parents today have the same attitude. They think that what their children believe about God is an issue for the children to decide when they enter adulthood. The inspired writers of the Bible knew better. Paul told Ephesian fathers, "Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." And surely my Jewish coworker's parents had read Deuteronomy 6:6-7, "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
It's easy to teach our children facts from the Bible through rote memorization. Our more difficult duty as parents is to teach them attitudes toward God, the truth, the church, and our fellow man.
A very important attitude to instill as early as possible is that of reverence toward God. Reverence means "to feel respect for, to show submission to" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words); "profound awe and respect and often love for" (Webster's University Dictionary). "This is what the Lord spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified'" (Leviticus 10:3). The writer of Hebrews said, "Serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (12:28).
I think the key to teaching our children to have reverence for God is to first teach them to have respect for us, their parents. "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 1:6).
For a child to have respect for his parent, he must obey that parent, and obedience doesn't come naturally, it's taught. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother'" (Ephesians 6:1-2).
One of the keys to teaching a child obedience is to never threaten a punishment unless you intend to carry it out. Many parents warn "little Johnny" repeatedly of what will happen if he doesn't stop running through the building, but then ignore him. ("The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother," Proverbs 29:15). Why on earth would little Johnny stop when experience has taught him that his parent "doesn't really mean it?" And little Johnny may grow up thinking that if his parents didn't really mean it when they said he would be punished, maybe God doesn't mean it either.
Young parents, avoid the temptation of allowing your child to run wild because you're too tired to deal with them. If you think you're tired now, wait until that child (who learned early that he doesn't really have to obey you) is a teenager and you're sitting up in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for your disobedient child to come home! ("Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell," Proverbs 23:13-14, and, "Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction," Proverbs 19:18).
So how does a parent teach a child reverence for God and the church? One important way is to teach the child how to behave while assembling to worship God. ("Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them," Matthew 18:20).
And how should we and our children behave during the assembly? That's easy. "I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul instructed the Corinthians on how to conduct themselves in his first letter. Chapter 14 of that book states, "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (vs. 33), and "Let all things be done decently and in order" (vs. 40). Psalm 89:7 states, "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him."
These verses tell us the assembly should be peaceful (not confusing), decent, orderly, and reverent. The application for adults is obvious, but what of children? Once the actual worship service has begun, for a child to talk, laugh, cry, play with loud toys (or any toys once the child is old enough to sit still), or move around on the pew creates confusion and disorder and is very distracting for anyone sitting nearby.
The best parenting advice I was ever given about teaching a child to behave during the assembly was from my brother who said, "Never let his feet touch the floor once services begin." In other words, no playing on the floor, or running between or on the pews.
Even more important than the advice given by my brother are the examples I've observed. When we lived in Tennessee, my husband and I observed parents who were pretty close to our age, and who had three of the best behaved children we had ever seen. We watched what they did, and eventually sought their advice. The essence of what they told us was:
Yes, I heard very few sermons for the first 3 or 4 years of my child's life, but by teaching him how to behave at such an early age, my role as a parent is now a relatively easy one. And teaching a child to behave isn't just teaching reverence, it's also simply being considerate. A loud child makes it very difficult for people to hear and therefore participate in the worship service. This is especially true for older members who may be hard of hearing. And what of our brethren who are weaker in the faith? Could not being able to hear and/or focus on the sermon discourage their attendance?
Many people consider this attitude too severe. They think that it is expecting too much from a child. In my experience, we don't give children enough credit. When my son was about 6 years old, a Bible class teacher decided to have the children memorize the 23rd Psalm. I didn't think there was any way a child that young could memorize something that long. I thought it was "expecting too much," so I didn't even try to help him memorize it. Yet, just from the work they did on it in class, he had it memorized within a few weeks! We don't give kids enough credit. Besides, the advice of those parents in Tennessee certainly worked on their three children ("Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right," Proverbs 20:11), and it worked on mine.
Perhaps some parents think that if their child isn't "having fun," they won't be interested in the church when they grow up. But do we really want to teach our children the denominationalist attitude that worshipping God is mostly about playing and having fun, or do we want them to learn to pay attention and to take it seriously and reverently? Again, when my son was about 6 or 7, I noticed that another family's 7 year old always found the song in the book, stood when the congregation stood, and stopped all other activities when the congregation prayed. Turns out, it didn't take many more services before I had my child trained to do the same thing! And when my husband and I are sick, our now 11 year old son asks us to call someone to pick him up so he doesn't have to miss services! Doesn't sound like all that strict discipline destroyed his interest in the church.
My Jewish coworker resented her parents because, "They never taught me what to believe about God." This coworker cursed like the proverbial sailor and lived with a man to whom she was not married. Teach your children that an important thing "to believe about God" is that He deserves respect, submission, and our profound awe. Teach them that the assembly is one of the places reverence is most important. And it is most likely that once you have "trained up your child in the way he should go, that when he is old, he will not depart from it."