Odds are, your kids aren’t going to remember everything you taught them. But it will be nearly impossible for them to forget the things you were passionate about. In fact, they will very likely grow up to be passionate about the same things. Perhaps this is why we are instructed to do more than just teach our children about the Lord. Psalm 145 tells us to commend, to praise His works to the next generation. John Piper describes this as the transmission of knowledge—the works of God—through praise or exhortation.
The Kind of Knowing Worth Knowing
You see, there’s so much more to discipling your children than just getting the right information about God into their heads. There is an eternal difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally. Our hope for our children is that they would know God and have a relationship with Him.
We see this idea illustrated in the lives of three men in the Old Testament: Hophni, Phinehas and Samuel. In 1 Samuel, we meet two young men who knew much of the Lord but, as Scripture explicitly tells us, did not know the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were PKs: Priest’s Kids. Their father, Eli, was a priest in the house of the Lord at Shiloh during the period of the judges. It’s an understatement to say that these boys grew up in church. They were literally raised in the house of the Lord and, no doubt, had a correct working knowledge of Him. But right information about God is not the same as having a right relationship with Him. As 1 Samuel 2:12 states, “The sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”
The Hebrew word for “did not know” carries more meaning than just lack of understanding or knowledge. It suggests a lack of acknowledgement and, in a spiritual sense, suggests that Hophni and Phinehas did not believe in the Lord. This is quickly confirmed by the unspeakable acts the two sons commit later in the book of 1 Samuel. While they had an understanding of God in their minds, their hearts were far from Him.
Compare these two men with Samuel, the son of Hannah. Barren and desperately wanting a child, Hannah was a common woman with an uncommon faith and fervor for the Lord. In the first chapter of 1 Samuel, Hannah prays to the Lord in the temple at Shiloh, desperately asking for a child. The Lord goes on to answer her prayers, giving Hannah a son whom she names Samuel, meaning “the Lord hears.”
Just as she had promised the Lord, Hannah brought Samuel to the house of the Lord at Shiloh and presented him to Eli. (Yes, the same Eli whose two sons did not know the Lord.) From that day on, Samuel would grow up in the house of the Lord under the training and instruction of Eli, hearing and learning the same lessons that were taught to Hophni and Phinehas.
But Samuel’s outcome would be much different than that of Eli’s sons. Samuel would come to know the Lord and would be named successor to Eli. Unlike Hophni and Phinehas, “The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19).
What Made the Difference?
Why did three boys raised in such similar circumstances result in such different outcomes? How did Samuel come to know the Lord while Hophni and Phinehas did not? Salvation belongs to the Lord, and faith comes from Him. God was the ultimate factor. But Scripture goes out of its way to highlight one variable: a praying mother.
Hannah prayed for her son. From before he was born to, what I’m willing to bet was her final breath, Hannah prayed for Samuel. Some of those prayers were private, spoken only between her and the Lord. But others were very much public, and the Lord saw fit to preserve one of them for all to hear (1 Sam. 2). Hannah passed on more to her son than just correct theology and right information about the Lord. She passionately and publicly praised the works of the Lord in ways he could witness.
Hannah provides a great example of what it looks like to go beyond teaching your kids about God but to also know Him and have a relationship with Him. This transmission process is one reason why it’s vital that you make corporate worship—the weekly gathering of the saints—a regular part of your family’s routine.
As an elementary aged boy, “big church” wasn’t my favorite way to spend an hour and a half of my weekend. But looking back on that experience, there’s no doubt that my parents were planting seeds of faith in my young heart that would come to produce fruit as an adult. Not only was I learning about God from them, but I was witnessing their experience of and relationship with Him, as well. Attending corporate worship with my parents allowed me to peer through a window into their hearts and see their passions on display.
Parents, follow Hannah’s example. Don’t just teach your kids about the Lord, but show them what it looks like to know Him. Praise His works in visible ways, both in the privacy of your home and in the public, weekly gathering of the saints. Your words are needed, but your visible example communicates both the authenticity of your faith and the great worth of your God.