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Topic: Parenting

Psalm-Shaped Parenting

July 3, 2014

By Scott James

I sat at my desk with coffee in hand and the Psalms opened before me. It was early in the morning and I could hear the kids beginning to rattle around in the adjacent room. Just as I was keying in on a particular verse, one of my little guys shuffled into the study still wiping the sleep from his eyes. He plopped down on the couch in front of me and eased into the morning by chatting me up about his grand plans for the day. I confess that part of me wanted to guard my “quiet” time by shooing him from the room, but I decided long ago that I want my kids to have memories of dad reading the Bible, not memories of dad shutting the door on them. So we talked a bit, sipped some coffee together, and when the conversation lulled I went back to Psalm 18.

Immediately, the verse on which I had been meditating jumped back out at me. “He rescued me, because he delighted in me” (v. 19b). My soul filled so deeply with the glory of that statement that it had to overflow somewhere, so I called my boy over and excitedly showed him the verse. We read it aloud and talked about how amazing it is that God rescues us from our sin because He delights in us. To a 4 year old, excitement is contagious so he was quickly giggling with joy over the good news as well.

And that’s when the thought occurred: I’m not sure if I’ve ever specifically taught him this concept before. I’m confident that the idea of God delighting to save His people has been mentioned or implied in much of what my wife and I talk about with our kids, but I can’t recall ever intentionally highlighting it as this verse does, lifting our gaze to it as if it were a diamond in the light.

The fact that it was a Psalm that triggered this fresh conversation with my son isn’t surprising. In reading through the Psalms, I am continually reminded that God’s character is vastly complex and beautiful—truly a multi-faceted diamond—and that our response to His glory should be appropriately varied. He is not a one-dimensional God and we are not one-track worshippers. The psalmists write of the many attributes of our Lord and model a broad range of emotions and actions in response to Him. Reading through the Psalms stretches me in a healthy way, bringing long-neglected truths back to my attention. Like anyone else, I have my theological hobbyhorses that I tend to focus on to the (relative) exclusion of other vital truths. I realize this danger for myself and so I strive to be shaped by the whole counsel of God rather than by just the doctrines that suit my personal predilections. So what does this have to do with the morning-time discussion with my son? That morning, Psalm 18 reminded me that this God-narrowing tendency creeps into parenting as well.

It sometimes feels like a large part of parenting involves repeating the same set of phrases over and over. Finish your dinner. Put your shoes away. Stop hitting your sister. Put your pants back on. Most parents will attest that even when what you’re saying is good and true, Broken Record Syndrome can kick in and diminish the impact of your words. This is especially true when your kids pick up on the fact that you tend to harp on some rules while being pretty lax about others. The same can be said regarding how we teach God’s Word to our children.

I talk with my kids about God quite often, but I recognize that my tendency is to repeatedly focus on the same subset of truths. I emphasize the truths that most captivate me and neglect those that are not currently on my spiritual radar. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to being a broken record, I’m all in favor of repeating the core truths of the gospel of grace every chance I get. But if my discussions with my children leave them thinking that the whole of our relationship with God boils down to a few repeatable key points, then I am failing to portray how His wide-ranging character intersects with every single aspect of our lives. Even worse, if I employ a cherry-picking discipleship strategy based on my own theological interests, rather than allowing Scripture to shape it beyond my own limitations, I am in danger of growing my kids in my likeness rather than growing them in God’s likeness. That’s a scary thought.

So, my plea to fellow parents is this: as you disciple your children, let the Word of God broaden your palate. The Psalms are particularly helpful in this regard. Let the psalmists bring to light wondrous (and sometimes difficult) truths that you are not naturally inclined to dwell on. Meditating on the Psalms will propel you to engage your kids’ hearts in a way that communicates a big God—a God who is fully able to minister to the vast range of emotions and thoughts roiling in their embattled hearts. In your home, let the Psalms display God in His multi-faceted beauty. Trust me, He’s far better than any other version you or I could come up with.

Scott James is a husband, a father of 4, an elder at The Church at Brook Hills, and a physician. He is the author of The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent, which releases this October. You can follow him on Twitter at @scott_h_james.

This post originally appeared on Reprinted with author permission.
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