Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Father Abraham

Here’s the truth: I can’t stand this song. When I was young, I thought it was a subversive plot to force exercise upon us unwitting children. Now that I’m older, I think it’s boring and lacking in significant theology. Plus, I have an aversion to looking foolish, getting dizzy, and falling down. Because a friend requested it, however, I now include it in this series. You’re welcome, JV.

There’s just one refrain for this song, sung to various additional body motions. No reason to repeat ourselves here. We’ll walk through it only once.

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham

At first, this seems contradictory. From what I recall in Genesis, Abraham had only two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (respectively, the son of flesh and the son of promise, according to Galatians 4:22-23). That’s not “many.” Turns out, there were more biological children. In Genesis 25, we learn that Abraham took another wife/concubine, Keturah, who subsequently had six sons. Neither the chronology nor the terminology are clear in this case, but we know that Abraham actually had eight sons and who-knows-how-many daughters, since they weren’t usually listed. All these sons ended up fathering whole people groups, just as Isaac became the progenitor of the Hebrew people.

So there’s a not-very-exciting but true statement in this song: Abraham actually did have many (on the lower end of many, by Biblical standards, but still…) sons. Maybe this fact will help you win a Bible trivia competition. For the song, we sing it in a traditional grammatical structure, then in Yoda-speak.

But here comes the weird, wild, and interesting part!

I am one of them, and so are you…

One of my relatives recently did the DNA test to discover his/her global ancestry. Turns out, we’re part Jewish! Who knew?!? I have not, however, suddenly developed a taste for gefilte fish.

My DNA is not why I am one of the “sons of Abraham,” though.

[Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them… -Romans 4:11b

That would be everyone who isn’t Jewish and who believes what God promised Abraham.

And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. -Romans 4:12

And that would be Jewish people who believe as Abraham believed.

What did Abraham believe? First, he trusted God when God said he would have descendants even though it looked virtually impossible. But even more importantly, Abraham believed that his descendants would bless the whole world (Genesis 12 and 15). We now know that one of those descendants—a great-great-great-etc.-grandson—was Jesus, which makes faith way easier for us than it was for Abraham. He trusted a promise. We trust a Person.

Short version of Paul’s argument here: Circumcision was the main sign of following the Law. Jewish people thought the Law was the way to be holy or righteous (considered right by God), so getting circumcised (just the boys) put you on the path to holiness. It was about what people did. Paul, however, said they missed the point. Abraham already believed God before he was circumcised. In fact, God said Abraham was righteous way before He told Abraham to get circumcised. Therefore, circumcision couldn’t be the path to righteousness. It had to be straight-up faith!

But still, how are we Abraham’s children? In the Old Testament, there were these sort-of apprenticeship programs, and the apprentices were called “sons of [whatever trade they were learning].” For example, Amos said, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), meaning he wasn’t even studying to be a prophet. This is the way in which we are sons/children of Abraham. We follow in his faith footsteps as an apprentice would follow in the footsteps of his master.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. -Romans 4:16

And later in Romans…

It is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. -Romans 9:8

So let’s just praise the Lord!

What is your response to this idea that we belong to the lineage of Abraham because we believe God has created a way for us to become righteous? Don’t you want to “just praise the Lord”? Me, too.

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for [Abraham] alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. -Romans 4:23-24

I said in my introduction that there’s not much theology in this song. I was wrong! There is theology, you just have to dig into Romans to find it. And I’ve only scratched the surface. Not in the middle of a Bible study or quiet time plan right now? Spend the next week in Romans 4. I’m serious—the whole week. Oh, it’s just so deep and rich!

I hope the next time you’re forced to sing this song it will be a little easier for you as you remember the theology behind the simple words. Take a few minutes to explain it to your children, while you’re at it! Maybe they’ll have a better attitude than I did.

Father Abraham: Remember an essential truth of Romans through a silly children’s song. (click to tweet)

Do you have memories of singing this song as a child…or an adult? Do you skip it on the children’s Bible songs playlist? (I always did.) You’re welcome to share your memories or observations in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Attribution: (public domain)ss-songs-father-abraham

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Still to come:

  • My God is So Big
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned (guest post)

I'm pleased to host fellow Bible study writer and Mom, Emily Wickham, today. I
think you'll find her insights helpful, and I pray that her encouragement blesses
you like it has blessed me since the first time I met her! Read more about Emily
at the end of the post.

By faith, Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23 NASB

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made many mistakes as a mom—especially when my children were young.  Tiredness, selfishness, and fear top my list as reasons why failures occurred. As I reflect on those years, I’m thankful for God’s boundless supply of grace as described in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace redeems my mistakes into future opportunities for me to rely on Him and become more Christlike.

I wish I’d been more intentional as a young mom about seeking God’s help. Even so, God continues to grow me in this area. His grace flows into my regrets, washing away the past and renewing my mind today.

A couple of lessons from Jochebed’s life inspire me, and I’m hopeful these parenting tools will encourage you as well. As we implement the truths God reveals to us, He’ll show us more ways to please Him. The Lord doesn’t expect us to parent perfectly—He calls us to parent biblically as He teaches us His ways. (Click to Tweet)

Lesson #1: Jochebed and her husband lacked fear.

They hid their son rather than killing him according to Pharaoh’s order. I’m wowed by their fearlessness because I recognize how fear has hindered my mothering. I haven’t always realized its presence, but it has stretched its gnarly fingers into numerous aspects of my mom-identity. Perhaps its chief influence involved a repeated whisper that I’m just not a good mom, a lie from which God has delivered me. While Moses’s parents lacked fear from outward threats, I’ve battled fears from within.

Lesson #2: Jochebed acted wisely.

Rather than allowing her emotions to rule, she calmly prepared a waterproof basket for her baby son. Carefully she placed it in an area where the Pharaoh’s daughter bathed, leaving her daughter, Miriam, to offer the princess a nursemaid—Jochebed herself! Just as Moses’s mother received wisdom from God, we can gain its benefit today.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

Instead of facing our motherhood challenges with feelings of incompetence, we should call on the Lord for wisdom. He’s available for every need, every challenge, and every crisis. He freely provides without criticizing our parenting deficiencies.

Friend, wherever we are on our parenting journeys, God walks beside us. We’ve no reason to fear because He holds our hands, and He kindly gives wisdom when we ask. Let’s allow His sufficiency to impact the way we parent here and now. Though we can’t undo our past mistakes, we can rely on God’s grace to succeed in the present.

            Loving Father,

            You are fearless and wise. I confess sometimes I’ve allowed fear and feelings of incompetence to affect my parenting actions, but I thank You for Your grace along the way. Please replace my weaknesses as a mom with Your strength. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Jochebed (Moses’ mother): bold, faithful parenting in the midst of difficult circumstances. (click to tweet)

Carole here. Isn't she great? (I also thought it was nice that she wrote about
Jochedbed because I recently wrote about her myself--for a guest post!) If you
were blessed or have a response for Emily, please leave a note in the comments
or connect with her directly through any of her social media links below. Be
sure to follow and/or "like" her, too.

emily-wickham-head-shotPassionate about stirring hearts toward Jesus, Emily Wickham writes for Journey Magazine, blogs at www.proclaiminghimtowomen.com, and contributes material to ZMI Family Ministries International. A Bible study author and speaker, she welcomes connection via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. Emily, grateful to God for His Son, lives with her husband and children in North Carolina.

 

Of Soft Toothbrushes and Soft Answers

She liked to play quietly and she went to sleep without any problems. She was an easy-going three-year-old for the most part…

Except for twice a day, when it was time to brush her teeth.

For some reason, she hated teeth-brushing. It wasn’t the paste (designed for kids). It wasn’t the bristles on the brush (extra soft). It wasn’t the brushing (very, very gentle). It wasn’t my attitude…at least at first. Nevertheless, when she saw me squeeze the paste onto the toothbrush, she inevitably started squirming. She would wiggle and refuse to open her mouth. I would raise my voice. She would start crying. I would grip her jaw more tightly and hope her Dad could be home for the next session. By the time we finished, she and I both needed a time out.

I tried logic: “Brushing your teeth keeps your mouth from getting sick and helps your teeth be strong. You want strong teeth, don’t you?”

I tried identifying with her: “We all have to do things we don’t like to do. Mommy doesn’t like washing dishes, yet she does it every day. It’s just part of life.”

I tried bribery (but not with candy because would have been just too hypocritical): “When we finish here, you can watch a video!”

Nothing worked. This happened twice every day, but we had to brush her teeth. Such things aren’t optional. Still, she and I both dreaded it.

I felt silly, but I took our problem to the Lord. We had awkwardly prayed through potty training, and this felt similar. Like most of us, some of my prayers were of the “change her” variety and only a few were of the “change me” variety. (Just by the way, “change me” invariably works better.)

Not immediately but rather quickly, the most commonplace of verses came to mind:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1 NKJV

Really, Lord? Is that all I get?

I tried it at our next teeth-brushing session. Even when she protested, I stayed calm. I kept my voice soft and gentle. Then, instead of crying and becoming more difficult, my child responded to my gentleness and calmed down too. We made it through the process without tears or harsh words or threats!

Quotefancy-4366-3840x2160
http://www.quotefancy.com

It’s been ten years since those terrible teeth-brushing days, but I’m still thankful God sent us through them. I learned something about my child—about most children who haven’t been conditioned otherwise—that remains true. She doesn’t respond well to raised voices, yelling, or harsh tones. I wish I could say I’ve never yelled at her since those days in the yellow-and-white-striped bathroom, but I can say this: Raising my voice has never been effective with this one.

Reading recently, we came upon this:

Her face was pure, furious, madder-than-mad human. “Did you hear me, boy?”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t good at quick answers when people yelled.

-Joy Cowley in Stories of the Wild West Gang

Looks like my child is not alone.

Two things here. I pray they help you with whatever parent-child struggle you are currently facing.

  1. God hears our parenting prayers and often answers them through His Word. (click to tweet) Just pay attention.
  2. In Intentional Parenting, it’s the parent’s responsibility to pay attention to the child’s responses and learn how best to discipline each individual child.

What about you? Use the comment section to tell us how God has guided your parenting though His Word! 

How to Study the Bible with Your Grade-School Children (in app. 500 words)

If the thought of opening the real Bible (not the children’s storybook Bible) with your children intimidates you, here’s the help you need! It’s a simple Bible study method to engage you and your children in studying His Word. It requires no weekly preparation and it should be fun.

But first, it’s okay…

…to laugh with the Bible. Have fun; be creative; stretch your imagination. For example, what kind of face do you think Zacchaeus made when Jesus looked up in the tree?

…that you don’t have a degree in Bible. The Word of God is accessible to all. Plus, your kids don’t need a lecture on transubstantiation. They need to know what it means to take the Lord’s Supper/Communion.

…if you or your kids can’t answer all the questions. Everyone can try. You will all get better at it after some experience.

…to use the “grown-up” Bible with your children. Just find an easy-to-read translation such as English Standard Version (ESV) or New International Readers Version (NIrV) and start reading!

Before your first study time, choose a book of the Bible. Start with a gospel such as Mark or Luke—lots of stories. Read the introductory material in your study Bible. That will help you answer questions about the author and situation.

The “How To”

Pray together.

Ask for understanding, patience, listening ears, no distractions, etc.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. -John 14:26

Use stories.

Read one story, along with any preceding transitions or introductions. Then have someone else retell it or act it out. Try letting a child read the story, then you retell it.

(Next time, review previous weeks, then read the next story. Make it like a series so everyone catches the bigger picture.)

Ask interactive questions.

Use interrogatives to discuss the story. Answer the questions together.

  • Where are they?
  • When does this happen?
  • Who is there?
  • What actually happens?
  • How did people respond?

Now take it deeper.

  • What did it mean to the people who were there?
  • Why did the author include this story?
  • What connections do you see to other stories/Scripture?

Finally, application.

  • What have we learned?
  • What do we need to do about what we’ve learned?
  • What action do we need to take (as a family or individually) in response?

These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. -John 20:31

Create a ‘take-away’.

Find an object to remind you of this story, have someone draw a picture of the story, or (if everyone can read) display an application phrase in a prominent place for the week.

Extend the discussion.

Talk about the story and application as you have opportunities throughout the week.

These commandments that I give you today 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. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Family devotions without a devotional book: How to Study the Bible with Your Kids (in <500 words)  <-click to tweet

Try this out, then leave me some feedback. I’d really like to know what you think!

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This must be one of the simplest children’s songs we sang in Sunday School when I was growing up. Bonus: it helped us learn our colors! Not that people are actually red or any of the other colors listed, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus loves the little children

SS Songs - Jesus loves children
My first Bible (c) Carole Sparks

When you think of this song, you probably recall Jesus blessing some children. Maybe there was even a picture like this one in your children’s Bible or hanging in your church. That situation happens in Matthew 19:13-15 (also Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17). It’s short, so let’s just read it here.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Why did the disciples rebuke (that means scold or correct) those parents? I can only think of one possibility: they thought Jesus had more important things to do. Maybe they were in a hurry, since the text says they left as soon as He finished blessing the kids. Or maybe the disciples just thought Jesus should focus on the grown-ups, the important people. Far more so than today, children in that culture had very little value. Luke says they were actually babies (Luke 18:15), who couldn’t even respond to Jesus.

But Jesus valued them. He stopped talking to the grown-ups; he delayed his trip a little. Why? So he could smile into their eyes, put his hand on their heads, and bless them. Would they even remember this moment? Only the older ones, but that didn’t matter to Jesus.

Yes, we must teach our children to respect their elders. Yes, we must teach them not to interrupt us constantly. Let’s be careful, though, not to imply by our actions that they are unimportant. Pay attention to the times you say “wait” and the times you divert your attention toward them. Make a conscious decision to train them in respect and/or patience at times or to reinforce their importance—their priority—in your life. This is the epitome of intentional parenting.

Personally, I hate to lose my train of thought (especially when I’m writing). I also hate to miss part of a good news story on NPR. So I confess that I react far more often that I respond thoughtfully, and I’m convicted by this children’s song. *Insert groan of frustration here.*

All the children of the world

Okay, get ready for more conviction. This one is tough.

“All” really means all: the impoverished kid in Africa with no diaper and no shoes, the refugee kid in Greece who will never return to his home, the child of a Muslim terrorist pressing his forehead to the mat in prayers this evening, the minority kid who needs ESL help in your child’s classroom. All these children matter just as much to God as your child. As parents, we’re hard-wired to protect and promote our own children above all others. But God wants the absolute very best for every child in the world. He wants it fiercely, as fiercely as you would fight for your own child!

I know we can’t personally rescue every child in a difficult situation, and I’m not suggesting we open an orphanage or move to the other side of the world. Really, what I know I need (and maybe you too), is an attitude adjustment. It’s so easy to insulate myself, to tie my understanding of God to what happens under my own roof, to think God’s priorities mirror mine. In that case, my kids would always get the best, even to the detriment of other children. The more we can see children (our own and others) with God’s eyes, the better balance we’ll have in this area.

I’m still working on it. If that was you and me near Jesus back in Matthew 19, you can bet I would have been elbowing you out of the way to get my children first in line for a Jesus moment. Pull out the cellphone cameras—this is way better than Santa! (Please infer the sarcasm I intended here.)

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight

None of us are really comfortable with these words any more.  I found one alternative online that said, “Ev’ry color, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace.” That’s pretty good.

At our house, we sometimes substitute the THUMB guide used to pray for world religions: Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and the Buddhist. That also works.

I already covered the meaning here in the section above.

Jesus loves the little children of the world

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

The next time you hear or sing this song with your little ones, take time to really listen to the words and let God bring balance to your parenting perspective.

Want to share?

Use Jesus Loves the Little Children to bring balance to your parenting perspective. (click to tweet)

Fresh thoughts (for parents) on an old Sunday School song: Jesus Loves the Little Children (click to tweet)

Attribution: Words by C. Herbert Woolston, lyrics by George F. Root (according to this website)

I’ve written about Jesus and children in the past:

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Still to come:

  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Zacchaeus

I once met a woman named Zachaea, and I shared this story with her in another language by simply translating the words to this song.

I don’t know why we think of it (Luke 19:1-10) as a children’s story. With “wee little,” my mind goes to leprechauns and elves, but Zacchaeus was simply a short man, not a mythical creature and not a child. What is more, his life experience was far beyond that of those who usually sing about him.

Read on to discover how this story-song speaks to parents (perhaps more profoundly than it speaks to their children) in the 21st century.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.

Unimportant, overlooked, insignificant. That was Zacchaeus. Like a hobbit jumping to see over the shoulders of the race of men, he just didn’t measure up. Even worse, his occupation as a tax collector meant his own people despised him.

In the day-to-day, my life as a parent often feels inconsequential. It’s hard to keep focused on long-term parenting goals when every day feels the same (young kids) or you’re tired of driving all over the place (older kids). I can start to question my value to society. Then I catch myself saying, “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”

Do you ever feel like a “wee little mama” (or papa), without much impact in the world? Take another look at Zacchaeus. (click to tweet)

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

07-18 pretty tree
Not sure this is a sycamore tree, but you get the idea. (c) Carole Sparks

Zacchaeus had to make an effort to get close to Jesus. Unlike those tall, respected guys who just wandered down and stood along the road, he had to get creative. I imagine he looked around for a solution until he saw the tree. He hesitated before he climbed it because, well, climbing trees is not something we adults do. Especially not in a robe. When’s the last time you climbed a tree? It’s not as easy as it was when we were kids! Ever done it in a skirt? No, me either, but I think it would be really hard. If I did climb a tree out in public somewhere, I can imagine that people would stare at me incredulously. Zacchaeus’ desire to be close to Jesus superseded everything: effort, difficulty, embarrassment…

A young mother told me recently that she tries to get up early and spend time in Scripture, but her toddler invariably starts crying before she can. Been there? Me, too. Remember those days before kids when you could sleep as long as you wanted, get up slowly, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down with your Bible for as long as you wanted? I think I vaguely recall something like that. Like Zacchaeus climbing the tree, spending time with Jesus takes more effort and creativity now. If we think it’s worth it, though, we find a way.

Here’s one idea that’s great for summer: audio Bible and a stroller. You can make notes on your phone. You can even pray out loud because people will think you’re talking to someone on the phone. (Bonus: exercise!) Sure, it takes some effort to get the kid strapped into the stroller and the diaper bag packed and the audio file or podcast set up. But it’s worth it.

As the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down…

This is the best part of the story. Jesus could have changed directions or He could have ignored Zacchaeus. But He didn’t. He stopped and honored—not just acknowledged but honored—this overlooked, despised tax collector. I’m going to go out on a limb here (all pun intended!) and say Zacchaeus was pretty embarrassed to be discovered up in that tree. But Jesus didn’t care. He already knew Zacchaeus by name, and overlooking his ridiculous position in the tree, Jesus looked him in the eye.

When we make the effort to get close to Jesus, He knows exactly where and who we are, and He always responds. He will not overlook us. He will not ignore us. He will not laugh at us.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. –James 4:8a

For I’m going to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.

Jesus didn’t wait on Zacchaeus to invite Him. Jesus invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house. It was a sign of respect that Jesus would eat with Zacchaeus—one that Zacchaeus probably didn’t think he deserved.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. –1 Samuel 16:7

Jesus wants to come into our homes today, with the piles of dirty laundry, the unswept floors, the clutter on the kitchen counter. Jesus wants to come into our lives, with the feelings of insignificance, the effort we make just to open our Bibles, the embarrassment of “putting ourselves out there” again and again.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. –Revelation 3:20

Dear parent, like we’ve considered this children’s song afresh, receive this news today as if it’s fresh. God knows where you are, and He knows who you are. He wants to join you in the middle of your parenting mess.

Parents: Like Zacchaeus, God knows where you are and who you are! (click to tweet)

Do you have a special memory or significant understanding of this song or story? Share it with us in the comments below!

Song Attribution: traditional

Previously in this series:

            This Little Light of Mine

            The B-I-B-L-E

            Deep and Wide

Still to come:

  •             Jesus Loves the Little Children
  •             I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  •             Father Abraham
  •             The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Is there a children’s song you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments.

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Deep and Wide

I base this series on the principle that God still has something to teach us in everything we encounter, even the simple Sunday morning songs of our childhood. I must confess, however, that this particular song is difficult for me.

You see, when I was a child, we sang subsequent verses in which we substituted “mmm” for “deep” (verse 2), then for “deep” and “wide” (verse 3). Anyway, “mmm and mmm” quickly became “m&ms” so that our imaginary fountains flowed with m&m candies! With so little context in the song, we had nothing to bring us back to reality. So just try not to think about that as we reflect on the deeper…or maybe the wider (sorry—couldn’t help it)…meaning of this song.

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

A fountain of what? A fountain of God’s love.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. – Ephesians 3:17b-18

Deep and Wide
Indian Ocean sunrise  (c) Carole Sparks

Try praying this very specifically for each of your children. Substitute that child’s name for “you” and substitute “our family” for “the Lord’s holy people.” Then pause with each adjective to reflect on the extent of it. If you’re with your child, ask him or her, otherwise think about the width of an ocean, the length of train tracks across the country, the height of the redwoods in California, the depth of the Mariana Trench…and we haven’t even escaped the atmosphere!

Remember that sweet, simple children’s book, Guess How Much I Love You? In the end, the parent and young child “discover that love is not an easy thing to measure.” That’s why Paul couldn’t really quantify Jesus’ love for us.

Paul wasn’t alone.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. – Psalm 103:11 (emphasis added)

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. –Job 11:7-9 (emphasis added)

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

And it’s a fountain! Just after the Psalmist says, “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens” (Psalm 36:5) and “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” (Psalm 36:7), he continues, “For with you is the fountain of life” (36:9). This fountain of love gives us life!

Deep and Wide: This fountain of love gives us life! (click to tweet)

When I imagine a fountain, its source is hidden but never-failing. I don’t know where the water comes from or where it goes. And although my logical mind knows you can turn off a fountain, they somehow feel eternal. It’s more like a geyser, really…like Old Faithful: reliable yet mysterious, abundant yet veiled, drenching us in blessings.

The New Testament image of a spring fits our song’s “fountain.” In fact, different versions of the Bible interchange these words.

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” –John 4:14

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” –Revelation 21:6

So if or when you sing this song with your kids, think about the enormity and constancy of God’s love for each of us, and try not to start craving m&ms.

 

Attribution: According to about fifteen minutes of internet research in which I found *this* and *this*, Deep and Wide was written by Sydney Cox in the first half of the 1900s. I found no copyright claims/issues.

 

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Still to come:

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…

Father Abraham

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

 

Forget Where You Live? (guest post)

Don't you just stand in awe when your children remind you of an eternal Truth? Not
only is it spiritually beautiful, but it's also a great affirmation of your parenting.
That's what happened to my writer-friend, Cherrilynn Bisbano. Read her sweet story
(chocked full of Scripture!), then learn more about her at the end of the post.
Cherrilynn - meme
(c) Cherrilynn Bisbano

“I am so tired of moving,” I said to my son as we walked to the gym.

“I know mom; can we stay in this house forever?”

We took a few more steps; I smiled as I remembered. “Michael, this is not our forever home, our citizenship is in heaven.”

“That’s right mommy, I forgot!”

Do you forget where you ultimately live?

I find it so easy to get caught up in my earthly address, consumed with mundane daily tasks.

But our citizenship is in Heaven. and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. -Philippians 3:20 (All Scripture quotations in this post are ESV.)

I am blessed to have a beautiful temporary home in Rhode Island. Although the winters can be harsh, I thank God this house has so much sunlight provided by skylights. Even on the dreariest day there is a glimmer of light.

But oh the glorious light we will see in our forever home!

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. -Revelation 22:5

My earthly home has my cats, Peach and Simone. I share this earthly dwelling with my husband, son and sister. Sometimes there is strife, misunderstanding and chaos. We all love each other and Jesus. In Heaven we will all be together…no tears, anger or infirmity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. -Revelation 21:4

I think of my friends in Togo, Africa, who live in straw huts with dirt floors. How much sweeter heaven will be to them! Now they walk on dirt. In Heaven they will stroll on streets of gold.

…and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. -Revelation 21:21

I could go on and on comparing this earthly world to Heaven, but I digress. Until I reach my ultimate destiny, I will strive to be content here on earth and fulfill all that my Master has for me to do.

As my son and I continued our walk to the gym, we thanked God for our temporary home and praised Him for allowing us to be here to help further the Kingdom.

We still long for heaven where our bodies no longer need exercise, food or healing. Worries will be exchanged for worship. We will be face to face with God, consumed by His love and light.

“Mommy, one thing I really look forward to in Heaven is sitting in Jesus’ lap. I want to look into His eyes, give him a huge hug, and thank Him for dying on the cross for me.”

My heart filled with joy and my eyes filled with tears. I responded, “Me too, Michael, Me too. Heaven is home.”

Did you forget where you live?

No worries, fellow Christian. Our passport is stamped HEAVEN. Jesus is waiting to show us the mansion He prepared just for us.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. -John 14:2

Will you join me is rejoicing that our ultimate home is with the lover of our souls?

Did you forget where you live? Heaven is our home! (click to tweet)

Cherrilynn - w sonCherrilynn Bisbano (pictured here with her son, Michael) is a speaker, teacher, and writer. Her passion for helping people is evident. She encourages and equips women to divide rightly the Scriptures and to be strong in the Lord.

Cherrilynn is Associate Editor at Almost an Author, an online community for aspiring writers. She is a two-time winner of Flash Fiction Weekly. You can find her work published in Amramp, More to Life (MTL), Christian Rep, Refresh and other online magazines. Cherrilynn is also a regular contributor to The Good News Newspaper. Her first book, True Star Quality: Learn to Shine, will be out by summer.

Cherrilynn proudly served in the Navy and Air National Guard, earning the John Levitow Military Leadership Award. She lives with her fourteen-year-old autistic son, Michael, Jr., and husband of 17 years, Michael, Sr.

Carole here. Give Cherrilynn some thanks by commenting below. Tell her how this story
impacted you!

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: The B-I-B-L-E

Back when I was a little kid, all the pre-school children sang together at the beginning of the Sunday School hour. We sang the same songs so often that they lost any meaning; we didn’t even think about the words. As a teenager, I took over the musical portion of preschool Sunday School for a while, so I reacquainted myself with those same songs. I realized that some of them were keyed way out of my alto range, but I still didn’t pay any attention to the words.

Things about church childcare changed between my own childhood and that of my children. They don’t sing in Sunday School anymore. Heck, they don’t even call it Sunday School nowadays! Feeling nostalgic one day, I got to thinking about what my kids were missing because they didn’t learn those songs. Realistically, from a theological perspective, they aren’t missing much; I’d rather they sing “10,000 Reasons” than “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart.”

Nevertheless, I made a casual attempt to introduce those simple, old songs. In my attempt, our Heavenly Father revealed some surprising truths…and challenges for parents…buried in there with all the silliness.

I wrote about “This Little Light of Mine” last year. For the next few months, I will share a monthly parenting reflection from these children’s songs. This series will replace the Content & Context series that we finished last month.

The B-I-B-L-E

I’m fairly sure I learned how to spell Bible before I could read even the simplest Bible story book. Why did the lyricist spell it? Probably because it’s so easy to rhyme things with E.

Yes that’s the book for me!

My “Go-To” Parenting Book

There are thousands of books about parenting out there. Most of them offer contradictory advice. I’ve found a couple of good ones but these few are good because they are so solidly rooted in Scripture. When it comes to parenting, what’s the book for you? What book will you choose above all others?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -2 Timothy 3:16-17

Feeling a little intimated by the Bible as a whole? (It is big and sometimes random.) Do a search for “parent” or “child” on www.biblegateway.com or another website/app. Prayerfully read those verses and the surrounding context to discover God’s heart for your relationship with your child(ren). It won’t usually give you specifics for the exact situation at hand, but it will point you in the right direction, after which the Holy Spirit can guide you more exactly.

Pointing Our Children to the Word

Not only do we parents seek guidance in the Word, but we also teach our children to use the Bible for their own guidance. Look what Paul wrote to Timothy just before the verses above.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. -2 Timothy 3:14-15

Why was Timothy so strong in his faith? Because he had been learning about the Scriptures and from the Scriptures since he was a baby! Our children are never too young to understand God’s love and desire for their good. Timothy was wise beyond his years because of this training.

The Bible in Our Own Lives

Let’s talk about this for a second. I don’t know how Eunice (his Mom) and Lois (his grandmother) taught Timothy, but they probably didn’t sit down for an hour every day and have family Bible study…although I’m sure they did that sometimes, and probably regularly. I think more often they followed the pattern of Deuteronomy 6:7, where God told the people of Israel to Impress [the Scriptures] 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. In order to talk about the Bible in this manner, you have to know it for yourself.

And thus, we circle back to our song. Is the Bible the book for you? Are you intentionally making space in your life to:

  • learn more than you already know
  • study beyond what is comfortable
  • reflect on what you read
  • obey in a timely fashion?

The Bible will never become the book for your children until it’s the book for you.

I stand upon the Word of God

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. –Psalm 40:2

To stand on the Word of God means to have confidence in it, to rely on it. Remember Gandalf in the Mines of Moria when he confronted the Balrog? Balanced on a narrow outcropping of rock, he declared, “You shall not pass!” He took a stand. (The music in the header photo is from Lord of the Rings, by the way.)

Sometimes in the desire to protect my home from the onslaught of sinful culture, I feel a little like Gandalf, telling destructive habits and attitudes that they “shall not pass” the threshold of my home. I’m standing on that thin outcropping of rock, like he was. Gandalf eventually feel into an abyss. But God is our Rock (Psalm 18:2), and His Word is unmovable. This is where we all have to stand, fellow parents. Our firm place to stand is on His Word!

Our “firm place to stand” is on His Word! (click to tweet)

Struggling with a possible compromise? Feel like giving in to the constant barrage of pressure from the world? The Bible is our standard against which all of life is measured. Go back to His Word. Stand there. Then let everything else wash around you.

The B-I-B-L-E.

When we finished singing this last line in preschool, we would all throw our hands in the air and shout, “Bible!” Oh, the excitement of preschoolers convicts me here. I want to approach the Word of God with joyful abandonment, with hands thrown in the air just because I get to be in His Presence without distraction for a few minutes.

Out of the mouths of babes

As I said, I tried rather half-heartedly to teach these songs to our children when they were preschoolers themselves. I remember the first time our firstborn sang it like this:

The B-I-B-L-E
Yes, that’s the book for me.

I read and pray, and then obey
The B-I-B-L-E!

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked, “Those aren’t the actual words.”

She replied, “I didn’t hear them anywhere. I made them up.”

In our family, we sing it that way most of the time now. Isn’t it just right? This is how we use the Bible: read, pray, obey. It’s that simple.

 

Author’s Note: I tried to find copyright information or some history for this song, but I could find nothing—not even at Wikipedia. www.childbiblesongs.com says it’s free to use. So I’m going with “public domain” for the song lyrics.

Up-Coming in this series:

  • Zacchaeus
  • Jesus Loves the Little Children
  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

How have you been affected by these simple children’s songs? What other songs would you like me to consider? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!