Children can, and often will respond to God!
Several years ago, I met a very well-known Coptic Bishop in Egypt who oversaw a diocese with several hundred churches and thousands of children.
We were developing a working relationship with the leaders of the children’s ministry work in his churches and we got to know him fairly well.
Drinking tea one day, he told me that early in his life, his father’s factory was nationalized (taken by the Egyptian government) and then his dad was forced to come back and manage to the factory for a meager amount. They confiscated their personal property and bank accounts and the family decided to flee to another country.
They finally received their visas and just weeks before leaving the bishop had a dream. In the dream, Jesus Christ appeared to him and asked him who would be His witness in Egypt if they left.
In his dream, he heard Jesus calling him to stay. In the morning he shared his dream with his parents, but they were not about to leave him there. The bishop, having heard from the LORD as not going to disobey and a conflict ensued.
Finally, after days of praying, arguing, and struggling the parents agreed to let their son stay for the summer in El Kosseya with his aunt and uncle. That summer drug on and the bishop ended up living in Koseeya the rest of his life and visiting his parents abroad.
For years he has served as the Coptic Bishop of the Kosseya Diocese. I asked him how old he was when he had the dream and he said seven! When directed by God, he responded as a child.
This has been my experience with children. When they really understand God’s Word, they are likely to respond to it and often are more willing than adults.
This is exactly what is on Moses’ mind at the end of the passage we have been looking at in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
And so we have come to the fifth and final smooth stone, response!
We Need to Help Children Respond to God's Word
Helping children respond to God is the final and crucial element in a transformational children’s ministry:
Tie [God’s commandments] as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (vv. 8-9)
Here Moses gives the Israelites final instructions about ministering to their children. He had already covered relational ministry, experiential teaching, teaching the truth, and discussing that truth in the context of real life.
Moses’ final words in this section reveal God’s desire to see His people respond to His Word.
This passage gave rise to two ancient Jewish practices, the first involving phylacteries and the second, mezuzahs. Phylacteries were very small boxes containing Scripture (typically the Deuteronomy 6:4-9 passage) that were sewn to leather straps.
One leather strap was bound around the left arm of the observant Jewish man, and the other was bound on the head with the box against the forehead.
The mezuzah was a decorative case that held a small parchment scroll inscribed with Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21 as well as the name Shaddai.
Once the scroll was inside, faithful Jewish families would attach the decorative case to the doorpost of their home. Both of these traditions were responses to the teaching in Deuteronomy 6:8.
Clearly, the Israelites interpreted Moses’s instructions in Deuteronomy 6:8-9 quite literally.
The Three-Fold Response to the Word of God
An alternative interpretation of these two verses posits that Moses was speaking metaphorically.
Advocates of this interpretation—myself included—view Moses’s teaching in verses 8 and 9 to be directly connected to his previous instructions regarding the Israelites’ ministry to their children.
Israel’s sons and daughters have been the focus of loving relational ministry, have learned God’s truth using experiential methods, have heard from the Word of God, and have talked about that Word and their real life.
Now the children were to put into action what they learned. Moses used metaphors to describe the three-fold response he taught:
With his references to the hand and forehead, Moses urged—metaphorically—the Israelites to make the Word of God evident in their personal life.
The Hebrew word yād—“the hand”—means “the terminal part of the arm used to perform functions of man’s will”. The hand is therefore associated with individual human action.
The Hebrew phrase translated foreheads (v. 8) is literally understood as “between the eyes”. Moses used the same phrase in Deuteronomy 11:18 to refer to the heart and mind.
At both these points in Deuteronomy 6 and 11, Moses was urging the Israelites to teach their children in a way that impacted how they would think and act.
Moses referred to the doorpost as a metaphor for the home: knowledge of God’s truth was to be evident in the life of the family.
In other words, the Word of God should be lived out in our homes.
Finally, God’s Word should infuse the community life, an idea captured in the metaphorical reference to gates.
Referring literally to the entrance into the city with its marketplaces and buildings, gates figuratively means that our knowledge of God’s Word should be evident in our public life.
Children Are Ready and Willing to Respond to God
For Moses, the ultimate goal of Israel’s ministry to their children was their real-life response to God’s truth, a response resulting from the transformation of each child’s heart.
Their response—like ours—should be evident in our personal life, our home, and our community. In my experience, when children really understand God’s Word they are likely to respond; often more readily than adults.
It was a Romanian Baptist Church in Cluj, Romania, and EGM team member Emese (e’-meh-sheh) was leading a lesson on worshipping God with our tithes and offerings.
At the response portion of the lesson, a little boy was so convicted that he walked up to Emese after the service and—with words that touched Emese’s heart—said he wanted to give God his favorite little Matchbox-type race car.
The next week, the boy arrived early for Sunday school and greeted Emese. When no one else was around, he asked Emese if God still had the car.
Emese responded that, yes, He did. The little boy then asked, “Do you think God would let me borrow it today during Sunday school?” 😊
I have found that when they are given the opportunity, children are ready and willing to respond to God. Their all-in response glorifies Him and undoubtedly brings Him great joy.
The final smooth stone is the response to God. When children act on what they have learned God uses it to transform their lives, to live as He intends.