Simple Family Discipleship: An Encouragement from John and Elizabeth Newton
Guest Post: Katie is a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, homeschool mama of three, and wife to Adam. When she is not in the middle of exploring the world with her kids, she enjoys reading and writing, photography, and putting her hands to all things creative. You can follow her on Instagram @TraceHisGrace.
Sometimes we wonder if we do enough as Christian parents. We may feel the pressure to make sure we check-off all the “good Christian parent” boxes—but still wonder if there is more we should do. The story of John and Elizabeth Newton provides much encouragement for Christian parents and those who work with children.
The writer of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton, was only seven years old when his mother Elizabeth succumb to tuberculosis. For the years prior to her death she stayed confined in her bed much of the time with extreme fatigue, a symptom of the disease.
Young John would crawl into her bed, and despite her illness, Elizabeth faithfully taught him his catechism, Bible memory verses and reading scripture. At an age when many discount a child’s understanding of spiritual things, the Lord prepared John’s heart to be fertile ground for the gospel to take root.
Years later after committing heinous sins in the slave trade, John Newton surrendered his heart to the Lord and penned the famous words: “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! / I once was lost but now I’m found / Was blind but now I see.”
The precious hours John spent at his mother’s knee, reaped a harvest of faith that continues to bless generations. John later wrote,
“Though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them. (1)”
Faithfulness with a Little
Elizabeth’s story encourages me as a parent of three precious souls. I can only imagine the sadness, guilt and even shame that Elizabeth must have felt because she couldn’t mother the way others could. She couldn’t sit on the floor and play. She couldn’t show her kids the world through travel—or even teach them how to knead dough for bread. Her illness took so much away from her. But she faithfully used what the Lord provided—cuddles with her son in bed.
Like Elizabeth, we may feel like we constantly fall short as a parent. Here’s the truth: We do. We always will. We will never be sufficient to meet all of our children’s spiritual, emotional and physical needs. Thank God, he never asks us to perfectly meet their every need. We are simply asked to be faithful with what he provides us.
A Little is Enough for God to Use
Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude with just five loaves and two fish is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, aside from the resurrection. In John’s gospel, he recalls the disciple Andrew saying “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two fish, but how far will they go with so many?” Thousands of men, women, and children cramed together on the hillside. How would the disciples feed them all with a couple of fish and some bread? But Jesus made it enough. They ate their version of fish and chips until their bellies felt full. Every one of them.
Elizabeth only had 7 years with her son, most of them bedridden. But Jesus made it enough.
Give a Little, Often
John and Elizabeth’s story continues to encourage my heart since I first read it. What a privilege we have as parents to cultivate fertile soil in our children’s hearts as we follow Elizabeth’s example: catechize, memorize scripture and read it aloud.
Simplicity is a gift to a busy parent. We don’t need to pile the books, sift through Bible studies, hang onto the latest hot topic, or purchase the right program. We can rest in the truth captured so beautifully in Isaiah 55:10-11
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Elizabeth’s story gently reminds us that, while it’s not our job to make our children believe, it is our job to prepare the soil. As Matt Chandler often says “Our job is to teach them about Jesus, putting as much kindling around their hearts as we possibly can so that the Holy Spirit can come in and ignite the fire.” May you find joy in simple family discipleship today.
What is one simple way you can teach the kids in your life about God’s truth and Word? Memorize truth at breakfast? Carpool? Dinner? Bedtime?
Making catechism a part of our regular routine sets us up for deliberate and consistent discipleship. See suggested resources below.
(1) quote taken from Devoted by Tim Challies