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Helping Kids Hide God's Word in Their Hearts

Original Air Date 01/12/2012

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In remembrance of Gary Smalley, we present this recorded interview in which the best-selling author and relationship expert explains how parents can help their children internalize the truths of the Bible.

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Episode Transcript


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Jim Daly: Hi, I'm Jim Daly and I'll be the first to admit family can keep you busy. In the Daly household, we're always on the move with school, work, church, friends and so much more. Maybe you feel the same way. And if so, can I recommend the "Focus on the Family" daily broadcast app for your smartphone. It's an easy way to listen to our program without missing a beat. You'll find great encouragement for your marriage, your parenting and your faith. Best of all, it's free. Check out our app at iTunes or Google Play today.

End of Promotion


Gary Smalley: I love Christ today so much more. I want Him in my life, not the things of this world.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: What an incredible eternal perspective, the late Gary Smalley there and he was on this "Focus on the Family" broadcast some 40 or 50 times over the years. And we welcome you to this program today, a tribute to Gary. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, we're already missing the smile and warmth of Gary Smalley.

Jim: Well, just hearing his voice, he had a great quality in his voice. It drew you in and he was such a great storyteller. Gary Smalley died in Texas about two weeks ago and we did give you a quick update at that point in time, but we want to come back and honor him for the amazing contribution that he has made, particularly to marriages. The Smalley family and close friends are honoring the legacy of this gifted communicator in a memorial service tomorrow.

And talk about gifted communicator, he made me laugh probably more than anybody that I listened to and certainly when he was here in the studio, John. He just had a great way of tellin' a story and I can (Laughing) remember his camping stories and comin' home and running over the cat, Puff and how he tried to maneuver that with his wife and the family.

John: And that one didn't work so well for him.

Jim: That didn't work too well (Laughter) You know, he was scorned by the family for running over the pet and that was just his way. I think the other great thing that Gary did so beautifully was, he never presented himself as perfect or the expert. He used his own failures in life to point people to what not to do. He didn't use other people's failures and point them out. He looked at himself and then made the humor work, because it was such a silly thing to do. Why did I ever do it? And that's a great quality in someone.

John: It really is and in some ways, I think he's influenced us. Certainly I feel more comfortable saying, you know, I really messed up over here.

Jim: Yeah.

John: And you can learn from that and he did that so very well.

Jim: And you know, the other great contribution that Gary and Norma made, just as an example, being married all those years, over 50 years and that right there says a lot about their relationship. And in that, he saved literally, probably tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of marriages. And in fact, even Focus on the Family's marriage institute and what we do in Branson, Missouri is because of Gary. He started that with his son, Greg, who is now on the Focus staff. And Focus on the Family has acquired that effort in Branson, Missouri and hundreds of couples are going through that now and thousands have been touched and their marriages restored. And that is a credit directly to Gary Smalley.

John: Yeah and there is one other thing, Jim and you and I had the privilege of seeing Gary kind of almost roam the halls here at times.

Jim: (Chuckling) He did.

John: He'd always come up and give you a hug and he'd always say something about God that was reflected in that little clip we heard at the top. He was really in love with God and so grateful to God for all His graces.

Jim: His faith was the most important thing to him and he would let you know that when you were around him and that's the mark of a good, good person who loves the Lord.

John: Well, let's go ahead and play some timeless material from Gary Smalley today. One of the things that he was passionate about in his later years was the importance of getting God's Word into the heart, particularly of children. And so, let's go ahead and listen now to the late Gary Smalley on today's "Focus on the Family."


Jim: What is gripping your heart about parents today and the need for parents to be mindful of--

Gary Smalley: Yeah.

Jim: --passing their faith on to their kids?

Gary: I think it's a combination of a number of things. I had my heart attack and my kidney transplant. And I came out of the kidney situation, sort of wondering what am I gonna do with the rest of my life? I was sort of trying to retire and it wasn't workin' out well for me (Laughter).

Jim: You don't retire well. (Laughter)

Gary: No, I didn't. I had to go back to work, but I love it. I love it today. I never should have retired. Since that time eight years ago, I have grown to just massively love the whole study of what Jesus meant by saying that, "Out of a person's heart, flows their thoughts, words and actions." And those three determine what our emotions are. So, that's pretty much the essence of who we are. So, if it's from our heart, flows who we are, the wellspring of who we are and above all else, guard your heart because it is the wellspring, I just got into it as a study.

And believe it or not, my son, Greg, was ... has really been my mentor since the kidney transplant, because his specialty is Marriage Intensives, is one of his specialties. And so, he never works with any couple that's in a mess without going to their heart, because it's what's in their heart that's determining the quality of their marriage. And so, then it's expanded in my life to that's what's in kids. In other words, it's what we influence them as parents to write in their heart, 'cause that determines who they are.

Jim: Well, let's talk a moment though about a child's heart. As your child's heart is developing, as a parent, you can see positive things and you can see negative things. First, how do you recognize those things as a parent? How do you stay astute enough--

Gary: Right.

Jim: --to see those things? And is it natural for kids to be negative or positive? Do they have a bent?

Gary: It's what's in their heart. Here's the essence of this product, the Guarding Your Child's Heart. It's a DVD, is that your kids are gonna write things on their heart every day, whether we like it or not. And so, we can as parents, be influential as young as, you know, 2-years-old, I mean, as soon as they start understanding anything.

And so, we can guide them to write certain things on their heart, because the world and the enemy of the world has our kids in their scope. I finally began to see that the enemy wants four messages written on a child's heart, because those messages cause most of the damage in our lives, personal lives and in our society.

Jim: And what are they?

Gary: They are pride, seeking the world and the things of the world more than God. They are seeking pleasure and fun and entertainment and excitement and thrills, more than loving people. The fourth one is complaining and viewing difficulties as bad and to be avoided. Whereas Jesus said, difficulties are richness. Difficulties are so key in developing us [into] who He wants us to become.

But I was riding with the world my whole life, where I would complain, gripe, worry, fearful. Those are all the fruit of having that fourth one written into our heart, like tattooed. He has four things that He wants us to write on our heart and Jesus has more than 100 commands. But I figured out over the last eight years, you can put all of 'em into four statements that I have yet to find how you can't fit it into those four.

So, I call 'em the "red trees" or the "red thoughts." And then I call the enemy's thoughts, "purple." The point is, is that I am now intentionally helping parents learn how to write "red thoughts," red--

Jim: Good thoughts.

Gary: --good thoughts, Jesus' words on their heart. And I finally have come to the place where I understand why it's important to memorize Scripture, because you think about it every day and every thought seeps into our heart. It's like a branch and so, it attaches itself to the tree and I want those branches to be red, not purple.

Jim: Talk about the four good red thoughts that Jesus--

Gary: The opposite--

Jim: --asks us.

Gary: --of pride and pride is self-centeredness, thinking I can figure out life [on] my own. I don't need God. I don't need other people telling me what to do. It's just the independent American, you know, philosophy that, "Hey, I know how to figure out life." Yeah. Just look around our country and see how well we're doing at figuring out how life oughta work and the messes that we see in the newspaper.

The opposite is Jesus' Word. He gives His grace to the humble. In other words, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they inherit the very kingdom of heaven."

Here's what I do every day. I admit to God every day that I am incapable of figuring out how to live apart from what Jesus teaches. And then I say, "I couldn't live the way He teaches me anyway, so I need Your grace." So, He only gives it to the humble.

Proverbs 22:4 says this: Humility is fearing the Lord, awe and trembling in front of the Almighty God. The wages of humility are riches, honor and abundant life. Who doesn't want that? But He gives it only to the humble. James 4:6, He gives His grace, His power, His love, only to the humble. So, in other words, you have pride first in the world. And kids can have prideful thoughts all day long. Or you can have humble thoughts all day long--His words.

Jim: Well, let's do some application here.

Gary: Okay, good.

Jim: You know, I've got two boys, 9 and 11.

Gary: Right.

Jim: So, what advice do you have for parents of kids of that age? How do we instill humility into a child that may not even grasp the concept?

Gary: Sure, well, what I do with my own grandkids and the families that I'm mentoring, for example, I've taught Matthew 5:3 is how blessed--it's an awesome word, God blessing us--are the poor in spirit. So, how do you explain that to an 8-year-old? And so, my granddaughter, Hannah, was a preemie, so she understands premature births, all the things she's gone through in her life.

Jim: How old is she now?

Gary: She's 14 now.

Jim: Okay.

Gary: Yeah, soon to be 14. So, she knows.

Jim: And she knew that struggle.

Gary: Yes and so, I said, "Describe what a preemie's like to me." And she said, "Well, they're helpless. They're on an incubator. They can't do anything. They're totally dependent upon, you know, the nurses and the parents and that touch them and so they grow."

I said, "When you realize that you are a spiritual preemie, that you cannot manufacture God's love and power and wisdom on your own. You can't figure out how to live and if you think you can, you get this prideful thought and you think, 'Yeah, I can figure out how to [do it].' Hey, well, that's pride."

And I said, "But if you recognize and say to God, 'God, I got a million different things I could think every day, but I want to think what You told me to think on.'" But it's not just one time; it's every day, several times a day. The neural scientists are saying, if you say it seven to 12 times a day, then it starts seeping into your heart and you start growing a tree, a humble tree. So, I want a humble tree. I don't want a prideful tree in my heart.

Jim: Gary, let's move to the second, the two other principles--

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: --and let's just talk that through.

Gary: Okay, so, there's four that Jesus said and four that the world said. So, the second one of Jesus' words is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In other words, just be more excited about having God and Christ in our life than the things of this world. And we have so many [things] in America, I mean, there are a lot of countries in the world where they don't have a struggle with this, 'cause all they have is Jesus. They have nothing they can buy, but in our world, it's, "I love Christ today so much more. I want Him in my life, not the things of this world."

Jim: And again, as a parent, teaching that to a younger child or even a teenager today can be very difficult and probably a lot of bedroom discussions between moms and dads--

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: --are right here.

Gary: But here's the key to this thing. If you get them to memorize a Bible verse like the one that Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" and you can have a fun time and you do it different ways. Well, here's what I did with my three kids as they were growing up. I didn't have a clue of how to parent, okay? But here's what I did and I see the results today in all three of 'em.

I used to say to my kids almost every day in some creative different way. I'd say, "Okay, tell me what's the greatest thing in the world? What's the greatest thing in life?" And Greg would go, "Dad, geesh, we know what it is. It's honor God; honor others and honor God's creation. Okay! You don't have to ask us anymore." They actually got a little bit irritated once in a while--

Jim: (Chuckling) Right.

Gary: --you know. But guess what they know today. Honor God, honor others and honor God's creation is very important, 'cause I grew an honor tree in their brain and in their heart and never knew what I was doing, 'cause I repeated it over and over and over again.

Okay, now listen to how exciting this is. This is what really pumps me up. Deuteronomy 6:4 through 9. Moses said, "Hear, O Israel. I mean, I got an announcement to make, the very words of God to tell you and gather around here. You're gonna hear me, okay? The Lord is our God. He is one and you are to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." And he said this is to be branded or written on your kids' hearts. Well, that's assuming it's already on the parents' hearts.

Then he says, "Teach it diligently." You're gonna remind them every day when they get up in the morning, when they're sittin' down to eat, when they get back up from eating, when they go in and out the front door, when they go by the gate, when they walk along the trail. We're gonna braid it into their hair. You're gonna tattoo it on the backs of their hand. You're gonna put some kind of a sign in their forehead. That's pretty significant. And so, what that's done to me is made me realize how many things do we have around our home that remind us of the very words of Jesus?

Because Jesus says, verse 9 [FYI: John 15:9], "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep my commandments" and the word "keep" means "living inside of you." Then you gotta have 'em memorized and repeated it several times in order for it to reach the heart. And then He says, "Keep my commandments. You will abide in My love just as I have kept My Father's commandments and I abide in His love." The only way I know how to do it is what Moses said. You say it to yourself and think it day and night, every day, many times a day. And that's what I spend my day doing.

Jim: So, memorizing Scripture is obviously the core of the whole--

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: --thing.

Gary: And then you meditate on those and I don't want to overwhelm parents. I say, you start with four. And then, what I've done is, I've 140 verses now that I've memorized in the last eight years. So, every day when I get up, I'll start the morning by saying, "Lord what a [day]. Thank You for another day and I just want to start this day off by saying, 'I'm gonna do Your will, not mine.'"

Jim: Gary, let's quickly cover the other two. You got pride.

Gary: Okay, that's right. Okay.

Jim: You got pride versus humility.

Gary: Yes.

Jim: And then loving the Lord--

Gary: Loving the Lord.

Jim: --your God with all your heart versus worldly distractions.

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: And No. 3?

Gary: Three is, loving others in the same way you love yourself or as you would like to be loved. I want to be addicted to loving others.

Jim: Versus with the world.

Gary: I don't want the pleasures of the world. I mean, I still get pleasures. I ate yesterday, you know, at a restaurant here in town that was delicious, okay? That's pleasure. Laughing is pleasure. You know, there's all kinds of pleasures in life. I don't want those over loving people. So, I've memorized several verses on loving people and the importance of loving people. And there's thousands of 'em literally in the Scriptures. So, I've memorized a lot of 'em and I say 'em every day. So, I'm focusing on that.

Well, here's what I used to do. What would be exciting today? I'm kind of bored. Let's see, I haven't tried sky diving yet. Or you know what? Let's go get a boat and go out fishing today. See, that was my life. I was always thinking of fun, pleasurable, exciting things to do, which is [there's] nothing wrong with any of 'em. I just concentrated on it too much, versus thinking about what God wanted me to think about, about loving others.

Jim: I gotta stop you on that one, too.

Gary: Okay.

Jim: I'm sorry; we're gonna go through the last two quickly, I thought. But that third one is still a challenge for parents, because so many of our teenagers today are looking for that adrenaline rush. And--

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: --I think parents, we feed it--

Gary: Sure.

Jim: --because we think we're letting our kids enjoy something--

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: --and they're happy--

Gary: Absolutely.

Jim: --if they want to go skiing here in Colorado or they want to go parasailing. But they're looking [for], it's that X-game thing, the extreme--

Gary: Oh, all that stuff.

Jim: --thing.

Gary: But see, that's what our world is.

Jim: Right, but it's really a distraction you're saying.

Gary: --right, except that I got my one grandson, Michael. He's 17 now, but from 10 on, he's memorized some key sections of Scripture. Where is his heart today? Is he always thinking about fun? And he does fun things, but his heart is digging wells in Africa for the people who don't have clean water.

Jim: Now how did he arrive at that?

Gary: I actually look for a life experience to introduce these. And he was crying, because he said his mother was too strict. And I said, "Well, so she's making you miserable?" He said, "Yes, she's making me so unhappy." I said, "She's not making you unhappy. She's simply revealing the color of your heart."

Jim: Hm.

Gary: If you want to be happy, that's your problem. That's your responsibility. You don't blame your mother, 'cause you have a belief in your heart. You have a tree in your heart. I said, it's colored in such a way that you think trials are bad and right now you think your mother's bad, so you believe your mother's bad. That's a lie.

He says, "Well, Grandpa, what are you doing? I've seen you're a lot happier." I said, "Do you want to write the truths on your heart that I'm writing?" He said, "Yes!" He was 10. And so, I said, "Here's what I'd like to have you do." And it came out to be five at the end, after we did it for a year.

Jim: Five key verses.

Gary: Five key verses. The first one that we did was James 1:19 and 20. And so, we put those two together. Be quick to listen; slow to speak and therefore, you're gonna be slow to anger, because the anger of man never works the righteousness of God. So, our anger anyway, it's revealing that we think trials are bad.

So, the second one, Philippians 4, 6 through 9. Stop your worrying and your anxiousness, but in all things in crying out to God, let your requests be made known to the Lord and the God of peace will put you at peace. And so, this is the God of peace, okay?

Then the main one that we worked on was 9. And that is, think on these eight things. So, think all during the day, analyze, is this thing true? Is it honorable? Is it right? Is it pure? Is it lovely, adorable, excellent and worthy of praise?" Don't think it.

Then the next one was oh! Romans 5:3 through 5, three, four and five. And that is, boast; be excited about your troubles, your trials, because the moment they start happening to you, you get more endurance. You get more of God's character. You get more hope. And hope is never disappointed, because the love of God is poured into your heart because of this difficulty. So, we get more of the love of God.

Jim: Oh, Gary, that just goes so against the grain--

Gary: I know. It--

Jim: --of our humanness. Even for us as Christians, it's hard to understand that.

Gary: I know. That's why as followers of Christ, we need to be having His Word in our heart, 'cause we write the truth on our heart, instead of the lies of the world. See, I didn't know this stuff back when I was raisin' my kids, but now I realize that I should've been memorizing Scriptures with them, like the AWANA program that churches have. Oh! Navigators, oh!

Jim: That's the core theme of what they do.

Gary: Exactly, see, but I never knew why. Now I know why, because when you think a thought and you know what it means, it'll reach your heart within seconds. It starts building a tree.

Jim: Okay, No. 4. We gotta get to the fourth one.

Gary: No. 4 is one of my favorite ones. The world teaches that trials are bad. Jesus said in Matthew 5, 10 and 11, as soon as your kids can memorize this, whatever age, in fact, this is for grandparents, for any age, 'cause I'm getting e-mails and messages from people of all ages, where this is transforming their life. And so, Jesus said, "If you rejoice in your difficulties, in your trials, your persecutions, I'm gonna bless you and give you more of My kingdom inside of you. I'm gonna give you more of My love, joy, peace, so on and so forth. Okay?

And then He said, this is a double blessing, if you do this, if you rejoice and give thanks for the difficulties you have in life, for all circumstances, I'm gonna give you treasures in heaven. So, it's a double whammy, good thing, okay? So, what does that mean? It means that everything that happens to us during the day, we literally say, "Thank you."

Jim: Gary, I've gotta ask you this though and I I appreciate that biblical orientation.

Gary: Yeah, yes.

Jim: It's something that I think every one of us struggles with is how do we rejoice in hardship?

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: It's hard for us. There is something really American about expecting life to be a certain way.

Gary: Uh-hm, uh-hm.

Jim: You and I have both traveled internationally.

Gary: Right.

Jim: And you see the church in different nations function well--

Gary: Sure.

Jim: --even though they don't have materials things.

Gary: Exactly.

Jim: They don't have all the comforts that we have. And it almost seems like these things are a true distraction.

Gary: They are a hindrance.

Jim: They are.

Gary: Yeah, exactly.

Jim: But how do we in our--

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: --materialism, in our selfishness, if I could be so blunt.

Gary: It's writing. I do understand that some people have really big trials, like you lose your job, you know? You know, the economy's changing. You can't sell your home or you have to sell it for half or you have to return it to the bank. I mean, those are big things.

Jim: Hm.

Gary: People are gonna worry about those things. And I expect that you're not gonna say, "Yea, God!" you know, right away or thank Him. But you could still say, "God, thank You for this, even though I feel miserable and I don't like it at all." But eventually after you grieve for a while, it's gonna be easier and easier through time for you to finally say, "God, thank You."

Because you only have two choices really. You're either gonna thank Him eventually and get the benefits of a grateful heart, which is the healthiest emotion you can have, or you're gonna be bitter. And so, you don't want bitterness, 'cause that robs you of God and people's relationships and so, you don't want that. But eventually, I understand you're gonna be able to thank God, but I don't ... you know, you're probably not gonna do it right away.

Jim: Gary, I've gotta ask you this question.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: And it may sound like an odd question.

Gary: Okay.

Jim: What is the true treasure in this life?

Gary: I would say the truest treasure is Jesus, His words and in our life.

Jim: But you talk about that peace of mind, no matter--

Gary: The peace.

Jim: --your circumstances.

Gary: Yeah, right. I will wake up some mornings in the middle of the biggest mess and have such overwhelming peace when I say things like this. I say, "You know what, Lord. I don't know what direction this is gonna go, but I have a lot of peace because I only really need You. In the end, Lord, You're my life, so I only need You. And I get You the rest of my life."

So, things'll happen for me, sometimes I have some big things, some little things, but I get You and with You is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. Oh, and when we hit that, the self-control thing, because all the addictions come from the purple thoughts.

Jim: The evil thoughts.

Gary: Yes, the evil. Those are the addictions. And so, I was addicted for 65 years to immoral thoughts from time to time, as a man.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Gary: I just figured I was gonna go to my grave, 'cause I had heard Christians leaders say all the time, a man will always have that struggle. It is really literally possible to be free, because when His words are in us, He sets us free.

Jim: Hm.

Gary: I never dreamed it would happen. It took two weeks. Galatians 5:13 and 14.

Jim: And it says ...

Gary: And it says, He has given us freedom. We've been called to freedom. But don't use our freedom for immorality or the flesh, for pleasure seeking. Use our freedom to love and serve others, because when we love others as ourselves, we are fulfilling all the laws of the Scripture.


Jim: Ah, that's the late Gary Smalley on today's "Focus on the Family," Gary a man who gave such profound marriage and parenting wisdom and he wasn't afraid to admit he didn't always have it together. We mentioned that at the top of the program, John. It was so true and that's what was so refreshing when we heard his humor and heard how he would weave a story.

From a practical standpoint, let me just recap those four big ideas, which as a father of two sons, they hit me right square in the heart. He said to humble yourself, to love God, love others and rejoice in the trials of life. Those are four great points to do as a parent and to impart to your children. And he reminded us to meditate on those principles throughout the day, not just once in a while, but throughout the day. And I think you'll find that God will help counteract those feelings of pride and greed and ungratefulness that can creep into us, especially in today's culture. And in a moment, we're gonna play Gary's final closing prayer and I want you to hear that.

John: And in the meantime, we have a number of related articles about building your child's faith and family devotionals that tie in with what Gary talked about. These are extremely popular and print off these devotionals and try them. Also order a CD or a download of this tribute presentation to the late Gary Smalley at or when you call 800-232-6459.

And let me mention that we'll send a CD of this broadcast to you as our way of saying thank you for your generous donation of support to Focus on the Family.

Jim: Now let's hear Gary in that program with the prayer that he prayed for all of us.


Gary: Father, we just love You with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We need You. We want You a lot more in our life, Lord, than we have material stuff; that's for sure or the pleasures. And we want to praise You, Father for the difficulties that we face every day, because those things build within us more of Your love and power. So, thank You, Father. We take Your ways, not our ways.

I pray, Father, for literally millions of us around the world who are Your followers, that we will take Your Word seriously and begin to obey Your commands, get them memorized and then depend upon You to give us the power to live it, so we can be a light to this world, so that those who don't know You, can clearly see what it is to have somebody who follows You and lives Your commands. In Your precious name I pray, Father, amen.

End of Excerpt

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Gary Smalley

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Gary Smalley (deceased) was a best-selling, award-winning author, a popular public speaker and a renowned family relationship expert. He was the founder and president of the Smalley Institute, which provides practical relationship help through conferences, resources and counseling. Gary passed away on March 6, 2016, at age 75. He is survived by his wife, Norma, their three children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Gary, his ministry and resources by visiting the Smalley Institute's website.