Session 3: A Child’s Duty - Delightfully Worshiping God
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
- Piper, J. (2022). Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (30th Anniversary, p. 3). Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.
Worship is the goal!
There are many things to invest into your children.
What is Worship?
the worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.
Peterson, D. (2002). Engaging with god: a biblical theology of worship (p. 55). IVP Academic.
Worship is a tricky word for most of us, because when we think of worship we tend to think of formal religion. When most people think of worship, they think of Sunday morning, a gathering of fellow believers for singing, prayer, and preaching. But worship is not just a religious function; it is a human function. Worship is something everyone does every day. You don’t have to know you are worshiping to be worshiping. Because everything in our lives is shaped by worship, there is a way in which everything that we do is somehow, some way, an act of worship. You can’t divide life into moments that are times of worship and moments that aren’t.
Worship is that inner desire for wonder, amazement, and awe that every human being possesses. It is that craving to be fulfilled. It is that constant search for life. It is wanting personal meaning and purpose. It’s the drive to look to someone or something to give you identity. It’s that universal hunger for inner peace. It’s that life-long hunt for God. It’s the fact that we always live in service of something or that we always live in control of something. It’s the reality that no one is godless. We all give our hearts to the one true God or to some created God replacement. Read the powerful things Scripture has to say about the worship/idolatry of our hearts and the hearts of our children.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:5)
“Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.” (Deut. 11:16)
“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deut. 30:6)
“And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.” (1 Sam. 12:21)
“How long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” (Ps. 4:2)
“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (Ps. 96:5)
“Their idols … have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust them.” (Ps. 115:4–8)
“I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa. 42:8)
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.’ ” (Isa. 44:6)
“Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols.” (Ezek. 14:4)
“Therefore, beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)
“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)
And this is just a few of the passages! Why is this such a strong biblical theme?
Because the God who created us knows that everything in our lives and the lives of our children is driven by worship. He knows that whether we are conscious of it or not, every day of our life is a war of worship.
These uniquely human inner cravings—for life, for peace, for identity, for hope, and for meaning—that are at the heart of what worship is, were intended to lead us to our Creator, to seek the help that only he can give and to give our lives in service of him. But sin causes all of us to exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the creation. The position that God was to have in our lives gets functionally occupied by something in the creation. The catalog of things we worship is as wide as the catalog of things that God created.
So from the earliest moments of your child’s life he or she will worship something. I don’t mean intentionally or self-consciously, but your children will give their hearts to something. Their words and actions will be shaped by the rule of something. If your child looks for identity in material possessions, they will be all too focused on physical things and materialistic in their approach to life. If they look to people to give them life, they will be a slave to the opinions of others and work too hard to please them. If they look to get their inner sense of well-being from being in control, they will resist your authority as a parent and want to write their own rules. If they put themselves in God’s position, they will be entitled, demanding, complaining, needlessly competitive, and proud.
All the dysfunction, disobedience, disrespect, and resistance in the lives of your children, which distress you and make parenting hard, have worship roots. All of the willingness, compliance, respect, responsibility, honor, peacemaking, and good choices, which cause you to celebrate, are rooted in worship too. Knowing this is foundational to doing what God has called you to do as you parent your children.
The capacity of the heart of our children to worship is meant to drive them to God.
You can’t allow yourself to separate your parenting from this truth. Your parenting must be shaped by the most radical thing that anyone could ever say about your children. Your kids were made for God.
They weren’t just made for a good education, a good job, a good house, a good marriage, and good citizenship. These things have value, but they are not the reason your children have been given life and breath, and they must not be our ultimate goals as parents. Our children were made to find life, hope, identity, and meaning in God. They were made to surrender their will and their natural gifts to him. They were created to stay willingly inside God’s boundaries.
Many parents unwittingly separate Christianity from everyday life as they parent their children, and in separating Christianity from daily life, they fail to make worship as important as it is. Yes, they want their children to believe in God, to go to church, and to do what is right, but the primary focus of their parental energy is on producing children who are mannerly, do well at school, and succeed in sports and music. So they try to control all of the behaviors that will get in the way of these goals. Because of this they do not focus on the heart and what rules the heart. And because they fail to think about the heart, they miss those wonderful moments of grace where God is revealing the heart of the child so that his parents can be God’s tools of rescue, leading our children to insight, confession, and repentance. They are left with trying to get their children to do what is right without addressing the heart, failing to understand that if they could do that, Jesus wouldn’t have had to invade earth on his mission of rescue.
The capacity of your children to worship is the most important biblical insight for parents.
What captures your attention with your children?
The fact that they fight so much, that they tend to work harder at getting out of work than doing work, how they’re doing at school, the circle of friends they crave to be accepted by, the sexual insanity and temptation that seem to greet your children every day, the chaotic look of their rooms, the fact that they tend to be girlfriend and boyfriend focused, that they argue over things that seem so unimportant, their materialism, how much time they spend on their cell phones, their Facebook/selfie view of life, their horrible diet, the amount of time extracurricular activities distract them, or their lack of spiritual interest? Of course, everything I have listed is important because the list captures where your children live everyday and what captures their interest and controls their time. But it’s important to understand that these things do not cause your children to be what they are and to do what they do. No, these are the locations where what is really important to them, that is, what functionally rules their hearts, are revealed.
As a parent you have to look through the lens of the truth that your children are worshipers in order to understand and deal with all that is going on in your children’s lives. God will use the normal stuff of daily responsibilities, opportunities, relationships, and temptations to expose to you what is going on in the heart of the worshipers that have been entrusted to your care. He will do this again and again, because he is a God of gloriously zealous and patient grace. He is after the heart of your child even when you don’t have the sight or the sense to be. And he will be faithful to give you opportunities to see and help your children to see the God-replacements that are progressively gaining control of their thoughts, desires, feelings, choices, hopes, dreams, cravings, values, and goals.
He is on a mission of rescue, and he has appointed you to be his representative on-site in the lives of your children. For a parent, there is no biblical observation, no parental job description, and no daily goal more important than what we are talking about right now. As one of my favorite theologians, Bob Dylan, sings, “You gotta serve somebody.”
Since your children are worshipers, you must be committed to being an instrument of seeing.
Since sin tends to blind your children to their own hearts, because sin is deceitful, you must look every day for opportunities to be an instrument of seeing in their lives. It’s not enough to announce rules and enforce punishment. It’s not enough to get out your portable pulpit and give another lecture. It’s not enough to strategize how to protect your child from himself. All of these things have a place, but they are not enough. You see, if you see wrong in the hearts of your children, but they don’t acknowledge that wrong, they will resist your help and they will not commit themselves to change. Here’s how it works. Your children cannot grieve what they do not see, they cannot honestly confess what they do not grieve, and they cannot repent of what they haven’t confessed. Read what was prophesied of Jesus: “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I do not forsake them” (Isa. 42:16).
When you work to help your children to see and own what is motivating them to want what they want and to do what they do, you are doing the work of the Messiah, Jesus, who sent you. Parenting is not just about getting your children to do something, but helping them to see so that they would desire to do it. Every day you are working to give them light—light that illumines the heart and allows them to confess what is there. It’s important to understand that your children resist your help because in their blindness they do not think they need it. Sight-giving is an irreplaceable step to lasting change in the lives of your children. We should always ask, “What right now does God want my child to see that he is not now seeing and how can I help him see it?” Maybe there is no more important question than this one.
Since your children are worshipers, a vital skill for you is to learn how to lead them to confession.
It is so tempting to confess for our children: “This is what you did! This is why you did it! And this is what you’re going to get!” It is so tempting to make threats: “You don’t ever want me to see you do that again!” It is so tempting to instill guilt: “I just can’t believe that you would do this to me!” It is so tempting to call names: “Sometimes you’re such a brat!” It’s so tempting to condemn: “Sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever make anything of yourself!” It’s so tempting to compare one of your children to another: “I can’t understand why you can’t just do what is right like your sister; you’ve been raised in the same home!”
It’s so tempting to raise your voice, to make your vocabulary more pointed, to shake your finger, to get up in the faces of your children and, sadly, to slap their faces, to shove, push, pull, or pinch. None of these things opens up the hearts of your children. None of them gives them eyes to see. None of them gives them a voice to confess. All of these things shut the hearts of your children down. These things make your children angry and defensive. They make them want to escape you rather than hear you. They take the focus away from their own hearts and on to you. They put you in the way of what the Messiah is doing in the hearts and lives of your children, rather than make you a tool of it.
Leading your children to confession is about having tender, patient, understanding, and insight-giving conversations with your children that are intended to get them to examine what they haven’t acknowledged and to begin to accept responsibility for the thoughts, desires, and choices that cause them to do what they do. Leading your child to confession is not about being a prosecutor, leading them to sentencing and judgment. It’s not about building a case for indictment. It’s about wanting your children to experience the rescuing and transforming power of grace. It’s not “Do this and you’ll get this” parenting. It’s “You need help, and I’m here to help you” parenting. So you commit yourself to asking this question day after day after day: “Where is God calling my children to own responsibility for their thoughts, desires, choices, and actions, without excuse or shifting the blame, and how can I help them do it?”
To say your children are worshipers means you have no power to free them from their biggest problem.
We can teach our children, we can warn our children, we can work to protect our children, we can guide our children, we can be examples to our children, we can discipline our children, we can correct our children, but we have no ability at all to deliver our children from the natural idolatry of their hearts. Admitting our inability is not giving up as a parent. On the contrary, this humble admission is the soil in which effective, Christ-centered, grace-driven, hope-infused, and heart-changing parenting grows.
If you confess your inability, then you do now allow yourself to think that a louder voice, more graphic vocabulary, or a bigger threat is going alter the worship content of your child’s heart. What our children need is the rescue of divine insight, divine conviction, and a divine commitment to change. Without this they will say to themselves that they are okay and that they don’t need your parental help or the heavenly Father’s.
Because your children are worshipers, your only hope for them is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This point directly follows the previous. If there is no human parental help that is powerful enough to rescue our children from their own hearts, then there is only one place where help is to be found. It is in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now clearly, this doesn’t mean that we do nothing. It means that all that we do, we do with the desire to be sharp tools in his powerful hands. We faithfully hold God’s high standard before our children, we lovingly confront their wrong choices and actions, we work to help give them insight into their hearts, we are humbly honest about our own heart struggles, we talk to them again and again about the grace to be found in Christ Jesus, and we model his patience and forgiveness. We do all these things again and again because we believe the Savior is in us, with us, and for us, and we believe he is for our children because he has graciously placed them in a family of faith.
We are more like our children than unlike them.
Parenting is being willing to expend your time, gifts, energies, and resources in a daily battle of worship as God’s tool in the lives of your children. It’s never just about food, friends, Facebook, homework, sleep-time, clothes, household rules, or sibling squabbles. Those things are struggles because there is a deeper war going on inside the hearts of your children. Every struggle in these areas is an opportunity that is given to you by a God of amazing grace to get at those deeper issues for the sake of the redemption, rescue, and transformation of your children. And God will give you everything you need to engage yourself in that deeper war.