The temptation we have when talking about spiritual things with our kids is we lean toward simplifying ideas for them and not distilling truth behind those ideas. Let me explain.
I have always loved science. I never did so good in math, but in science I did very well. When you simplify something in science or nature, you add stuff to dilute the base. You pour water into a concentrated drink to dilute it. The result is a watered-down, simplified product. When you distill something, you cook out what is not essential, and you are left with just the heavier, important things in a smaller, more concentrated form.
For far too long churches and parents have been guilty of trying to make Christ more attractive and appealing by adding ideas and other things to the Gospel. In doing this, we have robbed the Gospel of its power. When we distill truth, we take away the confusing non-essentials and leave the powerful core of truth that Jesus taught in the way a child would understand. It is by far easier to simplify truth, but it is much more impacting to distill it.
Let’s say one Sunday morning, you and your wife have a fight on the way to church because she was getting ready and you felt she made you late. On the way home, your wife is mad at you because you’re always talking to everyone in sight and you’re always the last ones to leave. You pick up your kids from class and make your way through the crowded lobby and out to your car. Once in your car, you ask your kids individually, “Did you have fun? What did you learn?” In response, your oldest son (age 7) says, “Dad, what’s faith?” You are taken aback and off-guard, so you say, “It’s when you believe something.”
Did you answer the question? Sort of. You simplified the concept. The problem with simplifying truth is it confines the truth to a nice, neat box. Truth is always true but rarely fits neatly in a box.
Rewind that conversation. Here is the truth distilled: “Faith is all about trust. It’s understanding what the Bible says about who Jesus is and trusting him no matter what happens in life.”
In my previous example, I tried to simplify my son’s question because I was frustrated, tired and overwhelmed. So how do we become distillers of truth and not simplifiers of it?
1. Ask God for wisdom, and don’t just answer questions in the way you have always heard them answered.
The Bible tells us that if we lack wisdom, we are to ask.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
2. Be prepared ahead of time.
Over the last 15 years pastoring kids (and during the last 8 as a parent), I have found that all kids want to know the answers to some basic questions. It’s important to prepare yourself for when your kids ask so you can give a reason for the hope that you have.
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
3. Understand the Gospel enough to be able to point kids continually back to Christ.
By no means do you have to be a biblical scholar, but you do have to read your Bible. When our backs are pinned to the wall by a 4-year-old wanting answers about the eternal state of their pet frog, what is in you is going to come out.
4. Write down your answers.
I know on more than one occasion I explained some complex truth to my kids because it was Christ in me more than my brilliance. I remember turning to my wife afterward and asking her what I just said because I couldn’t even remember.
There is something spiritual about keeping a journal. I never did it much because it doesn’t sound “manly.” But through blogging (much more manly sounding), I have been able to write down some of those things I can use at a later date to encourage my kids and as a resource for other parents.
5. Ask someone who is smarter than you are.
I remember watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for the first time. I got all the questions right up to a certain point. I thought I could dominate, but I hit a wall right around the same time the contestant on TV did. Then something amazing happened: Regis told her she could “phone a friend.” I didn’t even flinch; I knew exactly who I would call: my good friend who is way smarter than me. I knew then what I know now; I could win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire because of my average intelligence combined with my friend Rick’s superior intellect.
It was right at that moment that I had a God-thought: If I would feel comfortable calling my friend Rick about who was the fattest president based on percentage of body weight, why would I not call him about stuff that really matters? We all have people in our lives who know more than we do. Call them and leverage their wisdom to help you distill truth for your kids.
When you distill truth instead of simplify truth, you put handles to your kids’ faith, and they can take it with them wherever they go. And they will, because distilled truth is not tame truth—it is violent, life-transforming, never-be-the-same-again truth. When you distill truth in a way that clarifies a complex idea yet keeps the power of that truth intact, it’s unforgettable.
And it elevates Christ. We need to explain truth to our kids so they walk away in awe at the greatness of who Jesus is. I think we settle for simple truth because it’s easier at the time, and our kids walk away thinking we are the smartest person ever. I never want my kids to marvel at my wisdom. I want them to daily stand in awe at the greatness of our Creator. I want Jesus to be the hero in every moment in every story and in every day. We simplify truth because we misunderstand our role in the life of our kids (and the kids we minister to). We think we are supposed to be their savior. We are not. What God has called us to be is a voice crying in the wilderness telling our kids to prepare the way for the Lord. We’re just a signpost pointing to their Savior. When we distill truth, we do just that.