We are what we sing – children, song and memory

I parked my car and headed up the footpath towards the shops past two children aged about three and five years sitting on a bus-stop seat They were singing quietly to themselves,”I can feel a fourex coming on…!’. I stopped. “What other songs do you know?” I asked. They named several – all advertising jingles. They could recall no other songs.

At age five I loved to sing too. I did not know one advertising song, but I had a good repertoire of Scripture choruses. • ‘A little talk with Jesus makes it right’, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so’, ‘Joy, joy, joy, with joy my heart is ringing…’.

The waiting children and I learned our songs in the same place – at home! I learned mine from my parents: they from TV. I began to think about my education in the things of God and the part my parents played in it.

Every night before we left the dinner table, we had family prayers. Mother and Dad took turns in leading day about. Bible reading came first – we always read consecutively through a book or a section of a book and alternated regularly between Old Testament and New Testament. We often followed the Scripture Union card of daily readings.

After reading the Bible passage, a parent would comment on it and, if necessary, clarify it’s meaning, message and application to our lives. Often we would discuss it. We particularly loved the Old Testament stories and Acts.

Then came our memorisation time.  For us children this was a fun time of challenge, encouragement and praise from our parents. Each of us had to commit something to memory, but we each moved at our own pace of learning depending on our age and ability. Each day we had to recall what we had learned in the previous two or three days and no child moved on to something new until he or she could recall perfectly the material learned the day before. We learned through recitation, repetition, constant testing of our ability to recall and, above all, our parents giving us a purpose for learning and making it a pleasant challenge with much variety.

In this way, by the time I was twelve, I had firmly memorised

  • the names of the books of the Old Testament;
  • the Beatitudes;
  • the Ten Commandments;
  • the names of the books of the New  Testament;
  • the following whole Psalms: Psalms 1, 8, 19, 23, 27, 46, 67, 91, 100, 117, 121 and the following portion: Psalm 119:1-16 and Psalm 139:1-10;
  • lots of isolated New Testament verses and short passages;
  •  the Junior Catechism of the Methodist Church, one section per year.

After the active memorisation session, whichever parent was leading that day led us in prayer.  Always, I remember, on looking back, the following ingredients for prayer were present:

  • praising and thanking God
  • prayer for overseas missionaries by name and situation
  • prayer for local church matters and people
  • prayer for political leaders and situations matters relating to our family and contacts
  • the praying together, aloud, of the Lord’s Prayer.

Fairly frequently we sang a chorus together, but not always – it varied according to need, mood and relevance to the Biblical material we were reading or learning at the time.

Without making a big song and dance about it, this family prayer time was always given priority. Looking back, I realise that this would not have always been easy for my parents.

Until I was thirteen, my father was a building contractor and operated his business from home. Often he got in very late from work but my mother uncomplainingly always kept the meal hot and the children occupied so that we ate together as a family and were all there for family prayers. On the nights when my father had a night meeting, he would make a special effort to be home early so the meal and prayers could be completed before he had to leave. Very rarely was he absent from family meals.

Another complication was the phone. Clients knew Dad would be out on the job all day so they rang at night or early in the morning, but night was the busiest time.   His business depended on the phone calls, and they started about 6.00am. While we had our family prayer time, however. God had priority, and the phone was never answered.

When we had visitors for an evening meal, family prayers continued, but the procedure varied.  the visitor was a close friend of the family; normal practices were followed- When we had guests who were not known to be Christians, my father would read a suitable scripture and lead briefly in general prayers. On these occasions; whichever parent was putting us to bed would have a more personal prayer time with us then and the memorisation would be scrapped for the night. This happened about once every couple of months.

Looking back on these practices over forty years later; there is little I would want to change for then or for any family today. The involvement of the whole family, the regularity of the teaching and practice of Biblical principals in my parents’ lives, the comprehensiveness of Bible coverage, the active memorisation, the material chosen for memorisation, the priority it had in family life, the enjoyment, the shared experience – each was a significant component in a sound education in Christian beliefs.

Important as these educational principals are, there is an even more important underlying one. That is my parent’s acceptance that primarily they were responsible for the education of their children in the things of God.

Those two children at the bus-stop haunt me. By the ages of three and five they have learned in their home that a person can feel a fourex coming on. What are your children learning of God from you in your home?

I acknowledge these impressions are from an earlier, pre-television age. I am not suggesting we do away with TV, but I am saying that we need to control its impact and discipline its use. The pace of life is fast today, but we also packed a lot into the hours in my family. The challenge is as real now as it was then, but the negative influences seem greater now.

“See, I have taught you by decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may     follow     them…..Observe     them carefully….Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget…..or let them slip…..Teach them to your children…..11 Deuteronomy 4:5-10. ‘These commandments…..are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road. When you lie down, and when you get up.’1 Deuteronomy 6:7.

This article is from the Max7 archive. You can find it here