When I took New Testament Literature as a college freshman, I aced every single test.

So did everybody else in the class.

The professor walked in on the very first day, and—after a brief introduction that included only his name and the name of the class—he turned to his notes and began to lecture. We hurried to keep up, writing furiously in our notebooks everything he said. Then, when the lecture was over, he said, “There will be a test next week over the information covered in today’s lecture.” That was it. And every class all semester was the same.

We learned quickly that all we had to do to pass his tests was memorize our notes. Using mnemonic devices and repetition the night before the test, we committed our scribbles and doodles to short-term memory. The next day we took his test, which was always a fill-in-the-blank straight from the notes. After that, we never thought about that material again, and we were off to eat cereal for dinner in the cafeteria. It felt pretty good acing every test, acing the class, and not having to overwork our brains.

Now, however, I wish I actually remembered something he taught us. We were free to dump the information from our memory banks as soon as we proved we knew the material. And we did know the material—for twenty minutes every week.

In his book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, Reggie Joiner draws a parallel between Moses’s final speech to the Israelites and the knowledge that we impart to our children. He says, “Moses makes a passionate plea to impress on the hearts of children core truths that relate to God’s character. Some translations use the phrase ‘teach diligently.’ The Hebrew concept of teach means ‘to cause to learn.’”

To cause to learn.

In what’s referred to as part of the Shema (Hebrew for hear, listen, or obey), right after Moses talks about loving God with all of our heart, soul, and strength, he tells the Israelites what to do with these commands. Commit yourself to them and “repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:7, NLT).

We were being taught, but we were not being given cause to learn.

The Hebrew concept of the word teach challenges us to make God a very real part of our everyday activities. Moses’s concept of teaching our kids means we should be helping them think through life’s situations in a way that calls attention to God’s love for us, God’s relationship with us, our love for others, and God’s relationship to creation.

When that New Testament professor lectured, we wrote it down. When he tested our knowledge on his lectures, we were ready to throw his own words back at him. But we were not challenged to live the New Testament in any way. We were being taught, but we were not being given cause to learn.

Every night at bedtime, my family and I work on a monthly memory verse. We make up silly songs or funny ways to say the verses so they will stick in our minds. My two-year-old and six-year-old have both become adept at memorizing Scripture. Our verse a few months ago was Romans 15:4 (NLT): “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

We have found ourselves in some significant transition in the last year, and one thing that hasn’t fallen into place yet is our permanent dwelling. My six-year-old would really like for us to buy another house like our last one so she can have her own room and hang her stuff on her walls and get all of her toys back out. We have had many long, emotional conversations about it. She is feeling the unrest, which is natural. She needs peace. Recently, we talked about God’s promises. While we don’t know what kind of house we’re going to buy, we do know that God is the provider of peace because we can look back through Scripture to see God promising and providing peace again and again.

Nothing you teach your kids about faith is going to be as meaningful as what you show them. When they see you living your faith, and when you take every opportunity to call attention to God’s work in our lives, the why of our faith becomes more clear. 

We have memorized Romans 15:4, but now our daughter is being challenged to live it. We are looking back on scriptures that were written long ago. They teach us and provide hope and encouragement. We are waiting patiently on God, as difficult as it sometimes may be. We aren’t just memorizing Scripture; we’re living it. My daughter is being caused to learn.

The way we teach Scripture and spiritual truths to our kids has to be more than words on paper. Scripture has to be living and active. Scripture must be applicable.

Nothing you teach your kids about faith is going to be as meaningful as what you show them. When they see you living your faith, and when you take every opportunity to call attention to God’s work in our lives, the why of our faith becomes more clear. In these real-world moments, we can cause our kids to learn about their faith, their Creator, and their relationship with God.

Don’t let your family’s faith be notes on a page, to be recited when the time comes. Rather, cause your family to learn through experiences where God’s presence is acknowledged and given glory in real situations.