Have you ever had a song stick in your head and refuse to go away? This week a friend of mine shared a song with me that has done exactly that.
The song is not fancy. It only has six words. It is a teacher training video and not a performance for the Grammy Awards. Even so, it is stuck in my mind like glue. Listen a few times and I dare you to forget it.
What does “holiness” mean to a child who is five years old? God’s holiness is an extremely important theme running throughout the entire Bible and I believe even very young children can experience how special God is.
I’ve recently had an opportunity to teach in a large room so I decided to dedicate one area of the room as a special place where, each week, we sit for a few minutes and talk about how special God really is. I’ve loved how this has brought a new depth to what we are learning and I would encourage you to give this a try sometimes.
A Holy Space
I didn’t buy anything to set this space up and, with a little imagination, you will be able to find “special” items of your own. I drug in a coffee table from another room. I covered it with some shiny wrapping paper and placed chairs around it. Draping some old sheets and fabric over a room divider formed a small “wall” to make the space cozy. Someone had left some “gold” Christmas tree garland in our supply room so I thought that would add to the feeling of grandeur. A paper crown on a purple pillow emphasized the Kingship of God since we were studying the Divided Kingdom and the End of the Kingdom.
Even though these were not expensive items I can tell you that the children were in awe of the space. On a side note it occurred to me that the Temple that Solomon built was dripping with gold and precious cloths in a way that left everyone awestruck. But, in reality, gold and expensive items are actually worthless in comparison to God’s true worth. Perhaps we adults aren’t all that sophisticated after all.
A Holy Attitude
When we sit at the table in this space it is a “set apart” time from the rest of the class period. At other times we might play games and sing action songs and act out the story. There are many ways to glorify God. But, when we go and sit in our holy space we speak more quietly and we all reflect in awe and reverence about God.
A Holy Conversation
This is a 5 minute devotional time that is not limited to the lesson we are studying for the day. Everything we talk about in this space relates to how special God is. He is approachable but He is different than us. In a child’s eyes this space is very special and it is a great launching place to talk about how God is even more special than our idea of precious things.
Each week I try to cover a different aspect of God’s holiness and how this has been shown in Scripture. This is not the time to tell another Bible story or try to explain complex topics. I want the children’s minds to be fully on God so I talk about concepts they can easily grasp. I try my best to use illustrations to depict these things. For instance, the illustrations below are from www.freebibleimages.org
The Word of God- We open our Bibles and read a verse about God (or they follow along as I read).
This experience has brought a new depth to the lessons I’ve been teaching. The children have really picked up on the fact that sin is not just “bad behaviour” it is a real offence against who God is. I’ve been amazed at how often the children have referenced God’s holiness as we study other lessons.
When we learned about the prophet Jeremiah visiting the potter’s house and hearing God warn about turning away from him the children understood why God was angry. The kings were not treating him in the way he deserved.
We learned about how Jeremiah dictated God’s Message onto a scroll. As King Jehoiakim listened to the words he cut off pieces of the scroll and threw them into a fire piece by piece. When I mentioned that King Jehoiakim was making a huge mistake one of the children corrected me, “No! the king knew God’s words were special. He did not make a mistake, he did it on purpose!”
Before being led off into Exile the Temple of God was destroyed. The students in my class were so sad to hear this. They understood how serious this was to God.
How About Making Your Own Temporary Tabernacle?
I was blessed with a room large enough to create a separate space but you could create a special space almost anywhere. Put your “special” items in a basket and lay out the items when it comes time to have your devotional. After all, this is exactly what was done with The Tabernacle. It was set up and taken down wherever the Israelites camped.
As I read about King Josiah and his zealous destruction of idols and places of false worship I wrestled with how I would relate the severe actions of destruction and even death to the lives of these 4 and 5 year olds without giving them nightmares or encouraging destructive behaviour in general.
How do we relate tough lessons in the Bible to children?
Here’s how I prepared for the lesson about Josiah. There were many actions and themes that children this age would find confusing and disturbing. So, as I read about Josiah, I tried to focus on God and then thought about how Josiah responded to him. Here’s what I came up with:
God is Holy and Josiah believed this passionately and wanted to honour him.
God desires and commands our sole worship. Josiah was indignant about the prevalent idol worship in the kingdom.
God expects to be taken seriously. Josiah took his kingship seriously and was determined to change his kingdom.
God displays emotions but he always does the right thing. Josiah’s anger, indignation and outrage did not lead him to sin. These emotions propelled him into actions that honoured God.
God’s Word is true. Josiah had respect for God’s Word and obeyed it.
God is concerned about everyone. As king, Josiah displayed leadership and shared God’s Word with his people.
Trying to teach all of these would have been too much for 4 and 5 year olds to comprehend so I focused on just two main points that I thought they could best relate to. I felt confident in the priority of these choices since they are also how God started when he issued the 10 Commandments.
God is Holy.
Do not worship idols or anything else besides God.
God is Holy
We spent time in a “special” area I had created in our classroom. I wasn’t trying to re-create the temple but I made the space special with some silver wrapping paper and some strings of gold beads that I found. As we sat in this space we read from God’s special book, talked about the special tabernacle and temple and then spent some time talking about how God is different and holy.
Do Not Worship Idols
After sharing the Bible story we spent some time destroying idols! The children took turns finding a scroll I hid underneath some carpet tiles. If they found the scroll they “read” it.
Yes! for God……….No! for idols
Once they found and read the scroll they then followed Josiah’s example in clearing out all of the idols. The biblical version is much more graphic. We expressed our outrage by kicking them and knocking them down.
To conclude the class we gathered in and focused on God’s holiness one more time.
For older children I would follow up by taping pictures of other “idols” on the boxes to show that anything we place as more important than God can be our idol. This might include possessions, beauty, sports…and the list goes on.
Fabric scraps, old sheets and other odds and ends can be treasure for a Bible class teacher. Using some of these items a teacher might dress up as a Bible character to tell the story. A teacher can also collect items that encourage children or other volunteers to play character roles in an impromptu re-enactment of the Bible story they have just been taught.
The brave volunteers at left are modelling examples of costumes that could be used for Elijah’s nemeses, Jezebel and Ahab in the story God Takes Care of Elijah.
Child’s Play or Ancient Teaching Method?
At first glance this might seem like a childish way to review or re-tell a story. How can something this fun be serious, right? But think again! More than once in the Bible prophets used variations of costumes and props to bring home a message from God.
Jeremiah and a Yoke
We can read in Jeremiah 27-28 how the prophet, Jeremiah, was instructed by God to wear a wooden yoke to show how the people would fall under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
Even though SPBC is a small school the student body consists of people from many parts of the world. As students cheerfully sang the same song in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalon and Thai I was reminded again and again that the love of Jesus is for every person in the world. This means every language, every culture, every socio-economic group and every age.
Children are naturally curious about people in other parts of the world so I think they will enjoy listening to “Jesus Loves Me” in various languages. How about taking your laptop or tablet along with you when you next time you teach one of the following lessons?