WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (with Marty Machowski)

WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

Even your youngest child may be familiar with familiar passages like Psalm 23. But WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New by Marty Machowki enables young readers, parents, and whole families to explore the Psalms more deeply.

Our family already loved other Bible study resources by Marty Machowski, and when I saw his new book about the Psalms I was so thrilled! WonderFull is not only an engaging introduction to the themes and structure of the Psalter for beginners, but it enables readers of all ages to see connections within the Psalms themselves and to see how the Psalms individually and as a whole point to Jesus.

I am so thrilled Marty agreed to be a guest on the Homeschool Conversations podcast! We discuss why he began writing books for children, how the Psalms can help us learn to pray, encouragements for parents as we disciple our children, the power of the Gospel, and more. I know you’ll be encouraged by this conversation!

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WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

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Who is Marty Machowski?

Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where he has served on the pastoral staff for thirty years. Machowski leads Promise Kingdom, the gospel-centered children’s ministry of Covenant Fellowship. He is also the Executive Editor for Children’s Resources at New Growth Press. He is the author of a number of family devotionals, Sunday School curriculums (including the Gospel Story Curriculum),  children’s books, and parenting titles. His latest releases include Parenting First Aid Study Guide and WonderFull. Machowski and his wife, Lois, have six children and several grandchildren. They reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

Watch my interview with Marty Machowski as we discuss his new book, WonderFull

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Amy Sloan: Hello everyone. Today we are joined by Marty Machowski, who is the family life pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where he has served on the pastoral staff for 30 years. Machowski leads Promise Kingdom, the gospel-centered children’s ministry of Covenant Fellowship. He’s also the executive editor for children’s resources at New Growth Press.

He’s the author of a number of family devotionals, Sunday school curriculums, children’s books, and parenting titles, many of which we have enjoyed in our family. Marty and his wife, Loise, have six children and several grandchildren, and live in Westchester, Pennsylvania. I am delighted to get to talk to you today. My kids were super impressed with me. I’ve got to look for ways to impress my children.

Marty Machowski: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be with you.

Why did Marty Machowski begin writing books for children?

Amy Sloan: We have especially enjoyed your book, The Ology, and now most recently, WonderFull. I would love to hear at the beginning just how you came to start writing books for children.

Marty Machowski: Well, it was somewhat by accident. I’d intended to write, but my writing began for the folks in our church. We were doing various curriculums in the children’s ministry, and as the children’s pastor, I felt responsible to be trying to follow along. I had one child with a take-home sheet from this curriculum, and another child (I’ve got six kids, so five in children’s ministry at once) and they’re all bringing home these follow up sheets that ultimately I’m responsible for making sure they give their parents, and they were ending up as so many floormats in the back of my car. I’m thinking, “Man, if I’m not doing it, I don’t think anybody’s doing it.”

I wanted to make it easy. I started out by writing a curriculum for our church, and a devotional that goes along with it. All the kids were learning the same thing every Sunday. If it was David and Goliath, all the kids were learning David, Goliath, and then days of devotion for the parents, David and Goliath. That way, as a dad, I only had to follow up with one thing, and it was also my family devotions. I thought, “That’s easy.” That material eventually found its way to New Growth Press, and they wanted to publish it so that more and more churches and families could use it.

That is what became the Gospel Story Curriculum, and then the devotional for the Old Testament follow-up is Long Story Short, and the devotional for the New Testament follow-up was Old Story New. Then once those were successful, the publisher, they’re looking, okay, what’s your next book? I’m like, “My next book. Okay. Well, let me see.” Then God has just very kindly given me ideas to help moms and dads pass the gospel on to the next generation.

Amy Sloan: I think so many parents can relate to that experience of cleaning out the van and finding all those old Sunday school papers like oh, no, somebody’s wasted trees and wasted moments. Then as a family with a wide range to be able to share in the same themes and ideas, that just makes so much sense as we study the gospel with our kids.

How does WonderFull differ from other books about the Psalms written for children?

Today, let’s focus especially on your newest book, WonderFull, which is about the Psalms. I would love to hear how you think WonderFull differs from other books about the Psalms written for children.

Marty Machowski: Well, other books are about Psalms individually. Like Psalm 23, or Psalm 1, and they’ll talk about those songs to children, and they’ll talk about the content of the Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Prepare a banqueting table for me. Or I want to be like the righteous man in Psalm 1 who’s planted like a tree by the stream whose leaf does not wither. If I’m following God, that’s going to be good for me. Those are great pictures for children, but I wasn’t so much interested in just wanting to teach about an individual Psalm. I wanted to teach the book and how to use it as a whole.

While there’s wonderful Psalms that tell stories or teach us particular truths about God, they also form this wonderful instruction manual for teaching a child how to pray, or teaching adults how to pray as well, but specifically as it relates to children, I wanted the book of Psalms to become a useful tool for them, and WonderFull, I’m hoping, connects the bridge between what can be somewhat complicated book of an assembly of 150 songs, some very long, to something that was bite-size that parents could use, that kids could digest. They could understand, and it could help them to pray.

Amy Sloan: As I was reading the book, I saw a lot of parallels in its distinctiveness where if you have a collection say of just some Bible stories for your kids where you go and you pick out a few heroes from the Bible or whatever, and you’re like, go be like David, go be like Daniel, and these things, and you miss the overarching story of redemption and how each of these stories are pointing to Jesus, not that there’s no value in reading the story of David and Goliath on its own, but you miss something. You miss that big picture. To be able to have all the psalms together and really see how they’re all telling one story in their own unique ways, it’s really valuable to give kids that vision for the Psalter, I think.

WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

Marty Machowski: I don’t know how many Psalms that this mystery editor who put this book together, that was included in our scripture, had to pick from, but I would think that there were thousands. It’s not uncommon for a songwriter today to have hundreds of songs. Well, we’ve got 150. We’ve got David, of course, with the majority of them, Asaph’s got a bunch, the sons of Korah, one by Moses, and there were a lot of Psalms that that editor had to pick from. He chose these, and in God’s providence, these were what were inscripturated and passed on to us as the Word of God. It’s exciting to see the connections between them and how they run in themes. If you read one psalm at a time, you don’t pick that up.

How do we help kids find the connections in the psalms?

Amy Sloan: Definitely. Let’s go off of that a little bit because one of the things that I recognized as I was reading this book, was a few years ago, I read O. Palmer Robertson’s book, The Flow of the Psalms, and it blew my mind about the structure of the Psalter, because I had always thought of the editor just randomly grabbing these Psalms and sticking them in a book, and with no rhyme or reason to the order, and to be able to see the connections and the intentionality of themes and development through the Psalms, just blew my mind. I could see that for children, on a children’s level, in this book.

How do we find those connections in the psalms? Are they obvious? Are they not so obvious? Then how do we talk to kids about that and help them to make those connections?

Marty Machowski: Well, some of them are obvious. The Psalms of Ascent are right next to each other. The Kingly Psalms, all talking about the characteristics of the king. You can see them all together. We could say, hey, look, there’s a theme running here. I like to use Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 together as an example. Psalm 22 is perfect picture of Jesus that shows portions of his crucifixion. Then it leads right into the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. How is this that the Lord is our Shepherd? How is it? What did he do? Well, think about Jesus. In fact, I encourage the children, in WonderFull, when you see the word Lord, you can pull that out and put the word Jesus. Jesus is my shepherd.

All of a sudden, oh, oh, there’s a big connection to the New Testament. He’s the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and that ultimately is what opens the door for us to have a relationship with God where he protects us. He goes after us. He shepherds us. He cares for us, and ultimately, leads us to the ultimate banquet table, which is that in heaven. Psalm 22 talks about the work of Christ. Psalm 23 illustrates the blessings of Christ that are only available because of the work of Christ. Seeing them together, and how they connect like that, is really quite amazing.

WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

Amy Sloan: How often do we really think of those psalms together? Psalm 23 is so familiar to many of us out of context, and maybe if we’re reading through the Psalms in our devotions, we’ll read them consecutively, but to be able to see that direct connection is so important. My own pastor recently did a sermon series through the Psalms of Ascents, and he was making the point that Christ as the king, who is praying these Psalms, that he can perfectly be the one to pray them because he’s the perfect king. Yet then with our union, with Christ, how we can then know that they are applying to us, and we can pray them as well, and just being able to see these Psalms talking about Jesus and having our children start to see that, is just such a beautiful way to point them to the gospel.

Marty Machowski: When you understand the Jesus connections, the Christological connections between the Old Testament and the New, it completely transforms your understanding of scripture.

For anyone who isn’t really used to doing that, I just say, get one of those Bibles that has that little center column. When you read a Psalm, look for a New Testament reference and go to it. When you’re reading the New Testament, often, the quotations from the Psalms, like in Acts of the Apostles, are actually spoken and connected to. If not, again, look down that middle column and see, is there something there? Isn’t it amazing to know that Jesus, it says they will cast lots for my clothing in the Psalms, and connect that to the New Testament like, “Wow, God is so amazing. He could speak it thousand years before and make it happen.”

How can we use the psalms to teach children to pray?

Amy Sloan: Yes, that’s a great tip. Well, you’ve mentioned a couple of times about using the Psalms to teach our children to pray. I was wondering if you could give an example of a Psalm you might use to teach a child to pray, and then how you would start there to help them be able to do that on their own with other Psalms.

Marty Machowski: Let me see. In the book, I have the prayers and praise of David, which is Psalm 17-21. I don’t outline every Psalm in its entirety because if I did, the book would be like this thick, and families would find it impractical to use with children. I had to choose what I was going to share, and so as David prays, I want to teach kids to use the same words for them to pray. Under Psalm 18, I quote verse 6, “In my distress, I called upon the Lord my God. I cried for help. From His temple, He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” Now, I chose that verse because it’s one that kids can understand. He heard my voice, my cry reached His ears. Then I say, when something bad happens to us, we can get angry, blame God, and turn away from Him, or we can run to Him for help.

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WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

What did David do? How can David’s prayer help you to pray when you are sad and upset? I don’t answer that question. I leave it hanging there. That’s the perfect way then for parents who are reading this to their kids to say, “What do you think about that?” “Did you ever need God’s help?” Your child’s likely to say, “Uh, I don’t know.” Then you say, “Well, what about yesterday when you fell and you hurt your knee and it started to bleed? What did mommy do?” “Prayed?” “Yes, we prayed to God for help. That was a time of trouble, and we prayed to God for help. That’s what David, did and that’s what he does in this section of the Bible. When he’s in trouble, he prays to God for help. When we’re in trouble, we can pray to God for help.”

Then the other thing that I did in the book, is I have this fictional story that weaves through the Psalms where this character, Oliver, is going to live with his grandfather who’s dying of cancer, and Oliver comes across the book, WonderFull, on a shelf in his grandfather’s house. He goes out to read it, and then his grandfather comes along and says, “Hey, how about if we study this book together, we can study the Psalms together.” Your children, as you’re reading this book to them, see how Oliver learns how to use the Psalms, taught by his grandfather. Then as his grandfather is getting sick, and even after his grandfather passes, he uses the Psalms. I wanted, in that fictional story, to create a picture of visual of how this actually takes place so that the kids don’t just learn it from the text of the song, they get to see it take place as they are read that story, or as they read the story themselves.

Amy Sloan: Yes. I loved that. I think it makes it easier too, for a parent, maybe for whom some of these ideas are new, to be able to open it. It leads us through opening up some of these themes, these questions, these ideas in a natural discussion way with our kids without feeling overwhelmed, or like, “I’m not sure what to say.” That’s helpful.

Marty Machowski: Well, putting the questions down there on the page, you just really need to reread the questions. You don’t actually need to know what to say and just let the book be your guide.

Taking a Closer Look and Going Deeper through the Psalms

Amy Sloan: Yes. Well, another recurring section through WonderFull are these “Closer Look” prompts through the book, and a “Going Deeper” section at the end. Can you tell me a little bit about those sections?

Marty Machowski: Yes. Like The Ology, I wanted WonderFull to work for a family. Particularly I think of my own. I have six kids, 10 years apart. We started with twins, which consolidated that grouping a little bit, but I would have a 5-year-old, a 7-year old, a 10-year old, a 12-year old. I wanted a book that would work for the bulk of grade school, and so for the youngest children, you’ve got the illustrations that keep their attention. Then the paragraphs of description and the pieces of the Psalms that I chose, I tried to make relevant for the middle road of grade school kids. First, second grade, they’re not really equipped at that point in time to do a lot of application or a lot of writing or critical thinking. I wanted to put some of that in the book so that if you have a third or fourth grader, they can go through, they can keep a journal as they read, and that’s one of the things the closer look encourages them to do.

Then periodically along the way, ask them questions that they could write their answers down. In the back, when I do the little study in the back, then I take 25 Psalms, 5 from each of the books of the Psalm, and I take a closer look at those particular Psalms, and we dive deeper. There’s more information, more complicated commentary, something that would be more stimulating for an older child. It can be for like, we homeschooled all of our children, it can be for a homeschooling family, a great Bible study for a Bible curriculum for a particular child for that year to go through Wonderfull and the deeper study in the back.

Amy Sloan: I have five children, also 10 years apart, so no twins, so I only had five, but when we read the The Ology book, I did that in our morning time and a part of our beginning of our homeschool day. At the time, my kids were from 5 to 15. It is just as the scriptures themselves, they are profitable for teaching for all of us, all of God’s people, from the youngest to the oldest. To be able to hear the truth of God’s Word, and then all the different ages, and understandings and perspectives, can come together and study the same idea, but wherever we are in our development.

Marty Machowski: Yes. I’ve had plenty of parents come up to me, look around, and they say, “You know that book The Ology or WonderFull, I’m reading it to my kids, but I’m learning a lot too.” I said, “Well, that is how the Bible works.” I could reread this book, even though I wrote it, and God could use something, have me see something that I’ve never seen before, though I had to do a lot of study to put this down on these pages. God’s Word is never ending in our ability to mine it for truth for today, even beyond what we learned yesterday.

What encouragement can you give parents as we disciple our kids?

Amy Sloan: Yes. It’s living and active and deeply rich. What encouragement do you have for parents, in general, as they seek to teach their children about the Bible? Sometimes that can be challenging either because the parent feels like unequipped, or maybe because you think, I feel like I’m telling you, and then I feel like I have to tell you again, which I have to read the Bible and I’m like, “Man, Lord, I knew that, and I needed to hear it again.” What would be encouragement, I guess, just in general, as we disciple our kids?

Marty Machowski: We, as parents can become discouraged pretty quickly. If your listening audiences is just like me, you get these big push starts, but following through and finishing a book, keeping consistent family devotions, the reality is, you might say I fell off the family devotional wagon quite a few times.

Proverbs says that though the righteous man falls seven times, he gets back up again. What I encourage people is that falling isn’t failure. The righteous man falls, but he gets up again. He falls repeatedly, but he gets back up again. You want to do family devotions. You’ve set a goal to do it a lot of different times. You find yourself right now, not doing family devotions again, well, don’t let the enemy’s lies dictate your direction.

The enemy wants you to say, you’re a failure, therefore, don’t do it, you might as well just give up. What God says is no, falling isn’t failure. Failure is just refusing to get up.

I say, parents, rise up, give it another chance.

Then the second thing that, at least from my life, is I set out to do devotions, and my big thick study Bible is sitting there on the coffee table, laughing at me. “You go ahead and try to figure me out and teach your children.” What do I do? That’s why I say, use a resource like WonderFull so you don’t have to figure everything out.

Thirdly, when you do it, expect that your children aren’t going to listen. If we go in there and we think that the moment we crack open a book like WonderFull in our Bible, our kids are going to sit there with their hands folded neatly, and all listen with rapt attention. Then after we’re done, applaud, “Well done, mom, well done, dad. Cheerio, well done.”

WonderFull: Ancient Psalms Ever New (interview with Marty Machowski) Psalms for children family devotions

It just doesn’t happen. They’re going to fight, they’re going to argue. You’re going to be tempted to become angry.

Here’s what I would say: Our devotions don’t need to be fantastic. We just need to be faithful.

We need to keep ongoing. When we fall off the devotion wagon, get back up again, jump on, get started again. What will happen is, over time, it’s just like a tiny drop of water on a piece of granite will do nothing, but let that be a constant drip on the path of a stream over years, it’ll wear a hole in the granite. We, over the years, a little bit every day, keeping God’s word before them, doing the best we can with the most wonderful message in the world, the gospel is going to have its effect. Those are my encouragments.

Amy Sloan: Oh, that is such a good encouragement. I loved what you said there at the end, where it’s the gospel that is at work. It’s the Spirit who works in our children’s hearts. As soon as I take my eyes off of that, and I put all this burden on, I have to say all the right things to my kids, and be the perfect Christian parent, or I’m going to ruin my children or whatever. That’s just such a burden, and that’s a burden we’re not supposed to carry, because God is the one who loves our kids and is going to be working in their hearts through his Word.

Marty Machowski: Amen to that.

What is Marty Machowski reading lately?

Amy Sloan: I cannot wait to share this conversation with my audience, and I encourage everyone to go grab WonderFull, it will be a wonderful addition to your family life. Here at the end, I do just want to ask you the question I ask all of my guests at the end of our conversations, and that’s, what are you personally reading lately?

Marty Machowski: I’ve got a book that might take me a little bit to get through. I just got a copy of John Piper’s book, Providence, which is about that thick, but as I’ve begun to read it, I have found that I’m learning so much, and I’m so excited to, once again, remember that God controls everything. As a result, we can trust Him. We can trust Him to provide for us, to care for us. We can trust Him with our children, that the challenges and the trials that come our way aren’t by accident, and are not beyond God’s control. Suddenly, God’s up there going, “Holy Spirit, what do we do now?” He is in control of all our circumstances, and He is working everything in concert with His plan, and He can work it all together for the good and are called according to His purpose.

If we stay loving the Lord, and we look to be obedient, we know that everything will work out for our good. I would recommend it highly. It’s a book that I would say, if you’re daunted by a real thick book, read the first three or four chapters, and then after you’re done the first three or four chapters, go back to the table of contents and look for what you’d like to read, and you don’t have to read them in order, dive in where you want and it will be a great read for you.

Amy Sloan: Sounds like another one we’ll have to add to our family’s collection, for sure.

Marty, thank you again. Thank you for the blessing you’ve been to our family and to many others, as you continue to write and teach about God’s Word. I’ll talk to you later.

Get your own copy of WonderFull here!

Want more Biblical parenting encouragement? Check out this conversation with my husband, John Sloan, about family worship!

Want to learn practical tips and encouragement for singing the Psalms with your children? Check out this post “Singing Psalms with Little Saints” by Melissa Cummings.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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