This post was excerpted from Chapter One of Instructing a Child’s Heart, by Tedd and Margy Tripp. This section provides you with keen insight on the importance of formative instruction.
The life classroom is constant, compelling and comprehensive. The same is true of our homes as well. They are environments where our children are constantly learning. Not only that, but we are always teaching our children. Our every response, whether it is instruction or silence, teaches. Our behavior and our love teach. But in addition to that natural process, God calls us to instruct our children about what to believe, how to think from the Scriptures, and how to live. In this book we will call that deliberate teaching “formative instruction.” Formative instruction “forms” or “shapes” our children. It is not a single event, but a lifetime of interaction that is based on God’s revelation. We are promised that our teaching will bear fruit in our children’s lives (Prov. 22:6).
We must actively teach our children, and live the reality, that God defines life. He tells and shows us the truth about what is valuable, what is worth living and dying for, what is worth doing and being, and what gives our lives significance. Rather than simply fixing short-term problems, we parents must have a vision for formative instruction from infancy to adulthood. These realities are summed up in Matthew 22:37–39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that love for God and others look and sound like? Where do I find wisdom, direction, stamina and the ability to overcome my sinful nature, and to love God and others? The answer is in God’s revelation—his instruction to man. The Bible is our curriculum for formative instruction. Christ is our example of how to live the Bible.
God’s Word teaches us how to understand all human knowledge and experience in the light of his existence and his involvement in our world. This sets biblical instruction apart from both the immoral perversion of the modern day and the humanistic worldview that is traditional, time-honored and well-heeled. Our objective when we teach our children is not simply to ensure, by some venerable or socially accepted child rearing method, that our children are not criminals, or that they “do well.” Rather, our desire is that they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and mind. Therefore, formative instruction must be rooted in Scripture, not in what Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura advise, or what Parents magazine recommends or even what the pediatrician tells us to do.
As parents, it is our divinely appointed task to commend God’s works to the next generation (Ps. 145:4). We are to proclaim God’s truth—not our own ideas. We get a sense of the importance of God’s words in Deuteronomy 32:46–47, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. . . . They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (emphasis author’s).
The Scriptures teach repeatedly that God’s Word alone provides truth that can bring life to the hearer. Our words must echo this. But they must not only echo word for word. A mere echo could have a hollow ring, as it did for the Pharisees. These life-giving words must be processed, applied and taught with love, so that our children learn how to put that word into practice in their circumstances. Scripture teaches that parents’ words carry weight because they are messengers of the living God. Our very lives express God’s Word as well. Christ’s physical presence in our world showed us what God was like, because Christ said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). When we speak and live the words of God, we too speak and live with authority (see 1 Pet. 4:11). Honor for God, respect for authority, respect for others, and a gracious and productive atmosphere in our homes will be some of the blessings of biblical formative instruction. Modern homes can be the shelter where dignity, loyalty to family values and standards are kept, helping our children to face the world and its challenges each day. Parenting is not just child-care. We can have a vision for formative instruction that will transform our homes and communities.