Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Jennifer Lyell teaches Sunday school to three- and four-year-olds. As she does, she has a big picture in mind.

Jennifer Lyell: My goal is not ultimately to make sure they know things. My goal is ultimately to allow them to have been exposed to God’s Word through someone who loves them, loves God, and believes that God will work in their lives according to His purposes. I’m merely there to be a vessel and an opportunity for God to do that.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for January 30, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy, yesterday we talked about how to get the Word into hearts of children, and I have to tell you, we used some really big words—like Redeemer. I think that when I heard that word yesterday and how our guest defined it for three-year-olds and beyond, it made me remember that sometimes I feel intimidated or overwhelmed when I feel the burden of planting truth in the lives of children God’s put in my life.

I’ve watched you plant truth in little hearts. You’re not a mom. You’re not, technically, a grandma, but you have these spiritual little ladies in your life. Do you ever feel intimidated about how to plant God’s truth in their lives?

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I’ll tell you what encourages me as I think about that. I think back to the theology terms and biblical concepts that were planted in my life when I was a child. I’m sure I could have explained justification and sanctification and redemption, but those seeds were planted in my life from earliest childhood—at home, at church, and in the Christian school I was blessed to attend. I look at how those seeds have taken root and produced fruit in my life. So it wasn’t so important that I get it all at that point, but it laid a foundation for my life.

We all have children in our lives, whether we have biological children or not. I was single until the age of fifty-seven. Robert and I are not planning on having any children of our own. But I’m so thankful that God has placed in my life friends who have children, and now their grandchildren.

They are welcome in our home. They are in our lives. I love having those little children around. And part of what I love is every opportunity to plant seeds of truth in their hearts—just in the course of everyday conversation.

I did teach children’s ministries for years. My first job was as a children’s ministry director in a large church. So I’ve had a heart for this in structured ways, but also in unstructured ways.

All of us have children in our lives. And Jesus said, “Let those little children come to Me. Don’t turn them away. Don’t push them away. Make sure they’re a part of the fabric of your life, so you can be teaching them about Me.”

And our guest today, our long-time friend, Jennifer Lyell, is a beautiful illustration of this. Jennifer, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Jennifer: Thank you.

Nancy: Thank you for having a heart for children and for reminding us how important it is that we be passing the baton of truth on to the next generation.

You have a theological degree. I have known you for a very long time. You’re very bright. You’re very savvy about Scripture.

But you didn’t have the privilege of knowing Scripture as a child. I think that’s part of why it’s been in your heart to teach the Word of God to children, which you do—I’ve seen you do it—week after week for years now with three-year-old children.

You don’t have children of your own, but you’re investing in those kids’ lives week after week. You’re not just entertaining them or babysitting them.

Jennifer: No.

Nancy: You’re teaching them the promises of God.

Jennifer: Yes. My primary goal is actually for them to know that they are known and seen, for them to have the experience of someone who’s a Christian, who’s not their mom or dad, who’s not someone whose job it is to take care of them, but who loves them. I want to be someone who reflects the light of Christ to them, who gets to know them, who sees them as an individual who was created in the image of God, and not as a small object that just needs controlled. And that so often is their experience with adults when they’re away from mom and dad. It is more about being managed as opposed to a relationship being developed.

It’s crazy now because I’ve been teaching for so long, that the kids that started as three-year-olds, now I walk down the hall and they’re nine-year-olds. They’re going, “Miss Jennifer! Miss Jennifer! Miss Jennifer!” I’m so short that they’re getting as tall as me already.

But I didn’t open the Word of God for the first time until I was twenty-one. I remember being a child who was three. My earliest memories go back to about three. (I think that’s part of where God has given me a heart for this age.) I remember the things I could know and the things I could understand that a three-year-old didn’t need to understand. And then I know the things that, at twenty-one, God allowed me to discover through His Word, that had I known at three, I would have been completely different at twenty-one.

So for many years, and I would say the first few years I taught, at least, that was really the burden. The idea that I have experienced brokenness because I did not understand who God was and that God had created me. God had a plan, and how do I help these kids to understand that and how do I demonstrate that to them?

But then, really, the kids began to teach me. As they began to teach me and shape me, the experience of figuring out how to teach these things to three-year-olds—which everyone has to figure out . . . I’m not an expert. I don’t have a teaching degree. I make a lot of mistakes. There’s a lot of weeks where there’s just Goldfish crunched all over the floor and toys and crying and tears—sometimes they’re the kids, and sometimes they’re mine.

But at the end of the day, what I have learned from them is that God has given all children the ability to understand who He is, to learn that they were created in His image, to learn that they need Him, that He loves them. They get so excited when they find out that God knows how many hairs they have on their heads. It’s the little moments like that that are the seeds that I know I didn’t have and would have led me on a different path.

Nancy: Jennifer, as you’re talking, I’m thinking about a passage in the New Testament, 2 Timothy, where Paul says to Timothy, “I see in you a sincere faith, but it’s a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5).

And then in chapter 3, he hearkens back to Timothy’s childhood. He says, “I see how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [that’s the Word of God, the Scripture], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

So as a child, Timothy was exposed to the promises of God and the Word of God, the sacred writings, and they planted seeds in him that took root and produced a harvest of faith. That’s really what you’re trying to do week after week in that Sunday school class. That’s what any of us can be doing, whether moms, grandmoms, older friends coming alongside these parents who want their children to know God, and are investing in those kids’ lives.

And, Jennifer, we haven’t mentioned yet, but I’m so thankful that coming out of these years of teaching those little ones you have written a beautiful book. The writing is beautiful. The content is beautiful. But the book itself is beautiful. It’s called, The Promises of God Storybook Bible. The subtitle is, The Story of God’s Unstoppable Love. And this is a book that goes from Old Testament to New Testament, tracing the story of God’s unstoppable love, which is seen in promises.

I’m looking here at the Table of Contents. Here are some of the promises that you’re teaching these little ones:

  • God promises to always provide for His people.
  • God always tells the truth.
  • God will destroy the snake who lied to Adam and Eve.
  • God will never again destroy earth with a flood.

And then you get later into the Old Testament and to the Old Testament prophets:

  • God will send His Son to live among us and yet not sin.

And then this in laying the foundation for the gospel:

  • God will take the punishment for the sins of all His people.

These are promises of God that we as adults need to remind ourselves of.

Jennifer: Yes.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about what you see happen in their hearts as the unfolding of Scripture and the unfolding of the promises of God takes place.

Jennifer: Yes. It is always a journey, and every year is different because every group of kiddos is different. But at the beginning of the year, it is very often the first structured teaching environment they’ve ever been in.

They have to learn, for instance, that we have a schedule. For story time you sit your bottom on the carpet, and we open our ears so we can hear the teacher while I teach. And we open our hearts because God can speak to our hearts. I can’t speak to their hearts. We zip our mouths because I can’t teach them if they are talking because they can’t hear and learn if they are talking.

If you’re a parent, a grandparent, or just anyone who loves children and if you’re thinking, “Okay, I want to have these conversations.” But you can’t have this level of conversation with a child who has a thirty-second attention span . . . I know. Trust me, I know. (laughter)

So when I said yesterday that I teach for twenty minutes, that’s probably about thirteen minutes of actual teaching, and seven minutes of reminders of the rules. Right?

So that is where, at the beginning of the year, there’s a lot of work in helping them to understand self-control, the value and importance of listening. That’s really mostly demonstrated by me demonstrating care for them and then explaining that care comes from God.

But what’s incredible is that at the end of the year, the very last day of class, we have a party. They get to have a bubble machine; they get excited about that. But the tangible fruit for me, and the greatest day of my year, every year, is that class, because I don’t teach. They teach me.

So they get excited because they don’t have to zip their mouths. I just start out by asking them questions. I start at creation, and then I go to Abraham and to Moses, and then ultimately, to Jesus, and back to the garden, and then how that is all going to be restored through Jesus.

And year after year, no matter the group, no matter their ages, no matter the mix and the learning styles and the challenges we have along the year—which are always real in there—they’re always able to tell me, and they’re always able to walk me through a narrative of God’s promises and plan for His people that I did not understand until I was twenty-one-years-old. And they, at four, are able to do it.

I had a little girl last week who had been in my class. She was there in my class this past week, and I was teaching on the fall, and she asked if she could come and teach what happened with Eve and the snake. She taught it to the little three-year-olds and did a great job.

Nancy: And, Dannah, isn’t that the whole intention of one generation teaching the works of God to another—Deuteronomy chapter 6: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” but then you’re to teach these things to your children so that someday they can be able to teach the next generation.

Dannah: Yes. That passage in Deuteronomy 6 says, “Impress them, the things of God’s Word, on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up” (see vv. 6–8). And that’s really just being with them. That’s everywhere you are. Have God’s Word bubbling up in your life.

Jennifer, when I’m listening to you tell about talking to them about how to sit still and how to zip their lips, all of that is teaching them self-controlled living. That be-with time—because you have self-control living in your life because you’ve studied the fruits of the Spirit, and you’ve studied what the New Testament teaches about how the Holy Spirit empowers us for self-control—that is teaching them.

So, I guess, what I want to say is this: I feel overwhelmed sometimes when God gives me a new assignment, whether it’s a ten-year-old or a twenty-year-old or a fifty-year-old.

Nancy: Or those two twin grandbabies that are going to be growing up close to you.

Dannah: Oh, those twin grandbabies—oh, I love them so much! But the thing is, if God’s Word is in me, and I am with them, that is going to result in teaching.

It reminds me of one of the chapters or stories in your book that kind of models that. Jesus spent a really important night with twelve of the most important people in His life. And so, Jennifer, I would love it if we could just listen to you reading to your three-year-old Sunday school class the story of The Last Supper.

Jennifer:  

Jesus and His disciples gathered in a large room to eat the Passover meal. But Jesus wasn’t there only for the meal. He was their Teacher, after all, and He knew there wasn’t much time left to teach them.

So while they were still at the table, Jesus got up and filled a large bowl with water. And then He got a towel, and one by one, He began washing each apostle’s feet with the water.

Now, washing someone’s feet was something that servants did for their masters. It was not something that teachers and kings did for their students or friends. And it definitely was not something the apostles thought that the Promised One would do for those He came to save.

But this was just like when Jesus chose to ride the donkey, He was not going to be the kind of savior or king the people expected.

When Jesus got to Peter’s feet, Peter could not handle it. He loved Jesus. And he knew that Jesus was God. He couldn’t let God wash his dirty, old, nasty, stinky feet! Peter said there was no way Jesus could wash his feet, but that, instead, Peter was going to wash Jesus’ feet.

Well, Jesus had an answer for that! He said that if Peter didn’t let Him wash his feet, then Peter couldn’t have anything to do with Jesus ever again.

Well, that sure changed Peter’s mind! Peter then told Jesus not to just wash his feet, but his head and his hands.

Peter loved Jesus so much that Jesus knew that Peter’s love was big but wobbly. So sometimes it was going to fail. But that was okay because Jesus saw Peter’s heart, and He knew that it was so soft for God and that Peter really wanted to love, hear, and obey Him.

This was exactly the kind of heart that can stay connected to God’s, and it pleased Jesus very much.

Dannah: We’re listening to Jennifer Lyell read The Promises of God Storybook Bible. And Jennifer, as I listen to you . . . First of all, you put your little three-year-old voice on. I love it! But it also hit me that listening to you tell that story with all these amplifications of why it would have been so uncomfortable to wash someone’s feet, and how Peter may have felt, that’s something that I need to hear as an adult, too.

But going back to where we started in Deuteronomy, Jesus isn’t standing behind a pulpit. He’s not assigning them a reading. He’s being with them. They’re at that Last Supper. He’s teaching them humility, servanthood, love. He’s washing away shame. Can you imagine if Jesus washed your feet? If He washed my feet? And how does that happen? It happens by being with them.

We don’t have to get really worried if we don’t have a teaching degree or experience teaching. We just have to have the Word in us and be with them.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Whenever we have new teachers who are coming in and teaching different hour classes or joining me in my class, very often they are intimidated. I was intimidated the first time I went in to teach this age. And, honestly, I’m still intimidated. Every year, every group that comes in, I think, This is going to be the year that I realize, nope, can’t do it.

And, inevitably, the only thing that overcomes that fear is by getting to know them and by realizing that my goal is not ultimately to make sure that they know things. My goal is ultimately to allow them to have been exposed to God’s Word through someone who loves them, loves God, and believes that God will work in their lives according to His purposes. And I’m merely there to be a vessel and an opportunity for God to do that.

Dannah: You keep saying that you need to know them, and I really want to land on that because that is such an important part of a teacher.

Proverbs 22:6 is a verse that God planted in my heart years ago as a mother and also as a teacher. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

And when you really dissect the original language of the Scriptures, it’s not really training the child, but training yourself to know the child. That’s what that verse actually said. It was saying, “Listen, every child is going to be different. And if you don’t understand that child, that child’s personality, that child’s learning disposition, you will not be able to send them in the way that they should go.”

What an encouragement for us as parents to just slow down and be with them, which is what I hear you doing every Sunday with these precious three-year-olds.

Jennifer: It’s a privilege. I mean, it is really. I always say, “It’s the happiest 100 minutes of my week.” And sometimes people will look at me a little confused because fifteen three-year-olds, that maybe isn’t their understanding of what would be the happiest 100 minutes.

But it is such an honor to be able to come alongside families and just give a boost to what they’re trying to do but also recognizing that these children are going to go into communities, and they have relationships and play groups, and they’re on playgrounds with kids who may have the childhood that I had, that they’re not exposed to God’s Word.

If they’ve got such a foundational understanding of God through how they’re being parented at home and through people like me taking an opportunity to get to know them, then as they get to know their friends, they’re going to reflect that same perspective of God in their conversations with their friends.

And that is fruit I’m already starting to see from some of the children who have grown up and now are eight and nine, that were in class, as they’re starting to share with their friends at school. It is so encouraging.

But ultimately, I think no matter who you are, and no matter who you are engaging, and no matter the topic with which you are engaging, the person with whom you are speaking is created in the image of God. They will benefit from knowing the promises of God, the truth of God’s Word applied to their circumstances, but you can’t do that if you don’t understand them.

So often I’m distracted by my own sense of inadequacy or my own fear of giving the wrong answer to the person that I don’t allow the pause for me to just experience who is this person, hear the Spirit working, and then speak the truth in love, and trust God to work through it.

Whether it’s a three-year-old or a seven-year-old or a fifteen-year-old or a forty-year-old or a seventy-year-old, ultimately, I honestly would have the same conversation. I just might use a different voice inflection and probably not have to correct them as frequently about sitting still and not wiggling around as much. (Laughter)

Nancy: I’m sitting here thinking of that little chorus many of us learned as children—Jennifer, you didn’t, but Dannah and I did—“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

The question I’m just wondering is: Do we love the little children?

I want to give you a challenge. I don’t know how old you are, or how long you’ve been a Christian, what kind of ministry you feel called to, the areas where the Lord has you serving Him, whether you’re a mom or a grandmom or a college student or in the marketplace—whatever.

I want to challenge you to ask the Lord to show you who are the children in your life that He wants you to love. Then ask God for opportunities to love those children and to share with them the promises of God.

Now, we’re going to tell you in just a minute how you can get this resource, which will help you do that, the beautiful book Jennifer has written, The Promises of God Storybook Bible, but who are the children God wants you to love? 

Is it the neighborhood kids? I’m thinking of some friends of ours who come by our house frequently. We came home the other night, they were actually biking as a family. They had stopped by to see us, and we weren’t there, so we ran into them . . . well, we didn’t run into them. (laughter) We saw them in the driveway. They have five children, and we love those children. Robert and I do. We stopped to talk to them, to talk about what’s happening in their lives.

Wouldn’t it be an incredible thing, Jennifer and Dannah, if this week many of our listeners were to go to the children’s director in their church and say, “Sign me up. I’m available. I want to be involved in teaching children the promises of God”? I mean, every church needs children’s teachers. And they don’t need just warm bodies. They need people who love Jesus and who love children and want to help those children love Jesus.

So ask the Lord: “Who are the children You’re putting in my life, and how can I love them, and how can I be a part of them getting to know Your promises?”

Dannah: Nancy, I would love for us to get a copy of this book, The Promises of God Storybook Bible by Jennifer Lyell into the hands of our friends for the grandchildren, the children, or maybe just children down the street or in their Sunday school class.

We would love to send you a copy as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a gift in any amount to the Revive Our Hearts ministry right now. You can do that by visiting our website at ReviveOurHearts.com. And be sure to ask for The Promises of God Storybook Bible. Or just give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

Nancy: And, Jennifer, this is a beautiful book. We’ve got some photos of the paintings from this book up on our website, so listeners can take a look at those. I think it’s going to encourage our own hearts. I know my heart is encouraged as I just review these precious promises of God. But it’s also going to be a tool that we can use to invest in the lives of the children God has put in our lives.

And when you make that donation to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping us reach women around the world with the amazing, transforming, life-giving promises of God’s Word. So thank you so much for your part in helping to make this ministry possible.

Dannah: Tomorrow we’re going to continue this conversation with Jennifer Lyell, and she’s going to tell us the story about one specific one boy whose life was incredibly changed by the promises of God. Be back with us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you get God’s Word into young hearts. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.