By: Raymond Johnson
I hated it. Everyday she replied with the same three-word answer. It wasn’t derogatory or offensive, but it bothered me greatly. I mean really, did she always have to reply with the same phrase? Did she always have to give the same response? Acting as if I wasn’t really asking a question.
My wife and I try to keep the contents of our family worship time consistent; we always follow the same routine. First, we read Scripture together; we’re currently reading 1 Corinthians 13 every time. Meghan and I pray that the Spirit would implant the Word of Christ deep in the souls of our children (James 1:21). We then sing a couple of songs (hymns, worship songs, or kid’s praise music). This part of our family worship time usually includes some very silly dancing from all 4 of us! Before we pray, I always ask Abigail (our 2.5 year old) if there’s a special song that she would like to sing. At first, her answer was always “Jesus Loves Me”. The first month or so I thought, “This is cute…it’s probably the only song she remembers right now.” A couple of more months went by with the same answer but we knew that she knew other songs because we heard her singing them at other times. So, being the loving father that I am, I tried to figure out a way to force her to choose something “better,” something more theological (you know…the songs that make me look good when she sings them in front of other people). One evening, during family worship, I even asked her twice which song she wanted to sing. She looked at me with very determined eyes and said, “Jesus Loves Me. It’s my song!” So with a defeated sigh, we sang “Jesus Loves Me” once again.
Later that night as I contemplated ways to convince her to sing more “meaningful” Christian songs, songs that would move beyond the basics to greater Christological ecstasies, I realized that my daughter understood something I didn’t—simplicity is beautiful. She likes “Jesus Loves Me” because it is simple. She likes “Jesus Loves Me” because it is easy to sing—we can sing it real quick or sing it 45 times in a matter of minutes. Beyond that, this “simple,” “repetitive” song communicates the most foundational basic truth in the Bible—that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Scripture teaches more than this “simple” truth, for sure, but we can never move beyond this truth if we hope to be Jesus-centered people with a love for others.
Parenting with Gospel Repetition
Similarly, parenting is often merely repetition of simple, basic actions—reading the Bible together, going to church together—not only going to church, but getting there on time together—eating meals together and so on (any stay-at-home mom can testify to the repetition of parenting). Often, parenting is also simply vocal-repetition of simple, basic truths. Truths that communicate clearly while sitting on the floor and playing dolls with your daughter as you look over to say, “Daddy loves you, he always will.” Truths that are communicated in less-than-grandiose songs like “Jesus Loves Me.” We often repeat our love for our family and Jesus’ love for us simply because it is true. Its basic and its foundational.
Men, women, and parents are called to repeat the basics of the gospel. In his the last epistle that he wrote before his death, the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to repeat the things taught to him in presence of faithful men who could be entrusted with repeating the gospel to others (2Tim 2:1-2). Women, too, are exhorted to teach young women how to love their families through repetitive actions that model self-control, hard work, and submission (Titus 2:3-5). Parents, fathers in particular, are called to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4) by repetitively teaching their children to follow the spoken Word of God (Deut 6:7-9, 20-25).
Repetition is, well, less than exciting (especially for men). In fact, often it actually feels “boring.” But, that is mostly due to the fact that we believe we have “graduated” beyond the basics—we’re too mature to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” Or, it is due to the fact that we believe these basics are too basic; repetition of them really isn’t worth our time. The Bible, though, calls us to repetition of basic truths over and over again—the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), treat others the way you want to be treated (Matt 6:12), everyone is important because God created all people in his image (Gen 1:27), God desires all people to be saved (1Tim 2:4), whoever believes in Jesus has life (1John 5:12).
Last night, we piled on the couch to begin our performance. Fighting back desires that hated all the repetition, I prayed silently, “Lodge this Scripture and these truths in the heart of my kids, Lord.” Then, I read and we sang, and sang, and sang the same old song all the while repeating, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Its her song, its my song.
Raymond Johnson and his wife, Meghan, live in Louisville with their two daughters, Abigail and Charlotte. He is a PhD student in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church and is the Assistant Director of Student & Alumni Services at Southern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @RaymondJ17.
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