It’s Christmastime again! All over the country parents are busy scouring the malls and toy stores to find the gifts that will make their children’s eyes light up with delight. I remember how much my own Mom enjoyed the process of Christmas shopping, picking out just the right gift, wrapping it, and then waiting to see our faces when we opened it. Of course, her excitement usually got the best of her and she usually ended up giving us a gift or two in the days leading up to Christmas. When we were really little and she had to wait (or blow the illusion of Santa Claus) she’d be the first one up bright and early in the morning waiting to open the presents!
It’s funny, but looking back, I remember some, but definitely not all of the Christmas gifts we received. Many of them were opened, played with, and long forgotten. However, the one thing that I can’t forget is my Mom’s excitement and enthusiasm as the giver of the gifts. She just couldn’t wait for us to share her joy for all of the gifts we were about to receive.
Of course, my Mom’s passion and excitement about Christmas gifts was miniscule compared to her the excitement and passion she had for sharing with her kids the greatest gift that she had ever received in her life: her relationship with Jesus Christ. You see, my Mom was a first generation Christian. The day that she accepted Jesus as her personal Savior was beyond a doubt the most momentous occasion of her life.
I can still remember the joy and intense passion in her eyes whenever she talked about that day in 1979 when our next door neighbor took her to a Sunday evening service. After the service, there was an altar call, and my Mom went forward. Even though the altar was packed with people, the evangelist that was speaking picked my Mom out of the crowd and asked her “Do YOU want to know Jesus as your Savior?”
My Mom said that on this day, for the first time in her life, she knew that she was really wanted and really loved. If God wanted her and loved her that much, then she would love Him with every part of her being from that day forward.
As I reflect back on her life, I can attest: that’s exactly what she did. From that day forward, my Mom was a 100%, radically-saved, follower of Jesus. On that day in 1979, she hadn’t found religion; no, she entered into a relationship. Not only was she completely devoted to feeding and maintaining her own personal relationship with Jesus, but she was passionate about passing that relationship on to her children. It was the legacy—the gift---that she wanted to give us more than anything else in the world.
Still, my Mom was a realist. She was well aware of the fact that giving your children the gift of a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t magically happen. All she had to do was look around her to see many second, third, or fourth generation Christians who had either completely abandoned the faith or grown apathetic toward religion, allowing their relationship with Jesus to fall into a vegetative state. Because this was the last trap that she wanted Adessa and I to fall into, she made it her mission to do everything she could to feed our spiritual lives so that our relationships with Jesus would grow, flourish, and develop strong roots that could never be shaken.
If you read last month’s article, you know that in it we started talking about the essential role that a parent plays in feeding their child’s spirit. We discussed the fact that like all living things, your child’s spiritual life and development needs to be fed and nurtured if it is going to survive and thrive as they grow into adulthood. We also talked about the fact that it is not the church’s responsibility to feed your child’s spiritual life.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Clearly, God puts the responsibility for feeding a child’s faith on the shoulders of the parents. It is not the church’s responsibility and you cannot expect the child to do it themselves without proper support and instruction from the parent. If you are truly committed to raising children who follow God wholeheartedly throughout their lives, then you, as a parent, need to accept your God-given responsibility to feed them spiritually.
So, other than taking your child to church, how can you feed your child’s spirit?
Well, last month, we talked about the role that Family Devotions plays in feeding your child’s spirit. (If you missed this article, you might want to check it out in our Archives Section)
This month, we’re going to look at the other key ingredient to feeding your child spiritually. That is teaching your child to feed themselves by having their own personal time of Devotions and Bible Reading.
As a former church kid, myself, I can tell you that teaching your child the importance of these two spiritual disciplines is the greatest gift you can give your child. In fact, I believe that training your child to implement these two practices in their lives on a daily basis is one of the integral keys in keeping your child from becoming one of the 70% of church kids who say “Adios” to the church when they leave their parents home.
Why do I believe that training a child to have a daily time of personal prayer and Bible reading is one of the main ingredients in keeping your child from walking away from Christianity and the church as an adult?
The answer is simple: personal prayer and Bible reading establish a personal relationship with God. When it comes to keeping church kids from walking away from God and the church, relationship trumps religion every time.
Think about it: when we pray, we are talking to God. We’re building a relationship with Him. We’re sharing our hearts, our emotions, telling Him about our joys and our fears. We’re taking our needs to Him and watching as He provides. When we read the Bible, we are listening to God. In both of these practices, a connection is formed, a bond is created, a relationship is formed.
Relationship moves us past a cold, lifeless, boring religion, and becomes a living, breathing, union. Like all relationships, there will be struggles, there will be disappointments, there will be challenges that make us question the heart of motives of the other person. There will be highs and lows, ups and downs. However, just like all relationships, when these difficult times come, it is the bonds, the ties, and the history that causes us to work through the struggles, to overcome, and continue the relationship.
This is not true of religion.
It’s easy to walk away from your parent’s religion. It’s heartbreaking to walk away from your own personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. Because prayer and Bible reading are the path to creating a living, personal relationship with God, teaching your child to have their own personal time of prayer and Bible reading are crucial to their long-term spiritual growth and development.
So, let’s move on to the next obvious question: How Does a Parent Train Their Child to Have a Daily Personal Time of Prayer and Bible Reading?
Well, I think one of the first keys is to start early. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever too early to start the habit of prayer and Bible Reading in a child’s life. After all, the earlier you start, the more natural it will be for them to form the habit.
My recommendation would be that as soon as a child is born, one or both of the parents spend 5 minutes a day alone with the child, praying for the child and then reading a passage of Scripture to the child.
As the child is old enough to understand, teach them to get into the habit of bowing their head and being quiet while you pray for them and listening quietly as you read a passage of Scripture. As they learn to talk, allow them to add a “Dear Jesus” or an “Amen”.
When they are old enough to form sentences, set aside a specific time every day when they “say their prayers”. Allow them to talk to Jesus about whatever they think He needs to know, and then teach them to ask Jesus for certain things. (Usually help Mommy and Daddy, help a sister or sister in school---basic things the child can understand.) Again, take the time to read from the Bible in a version they understand.
As your child grows older and advances into the preschool years, continue this practice of praying with them on a daily basis, but allow them to do most of the praying as their vocabulary allows and as they show an interest. Be sure to teach them that it’s okay to tell Jesus anything. Encourage them that Jesus cares about the things that they care about and He wants to hear what’s on their minds. After they are done praying, then you could pray for them, and read a passage of Scripture with them.
The important thing is that you are reinforcing to them on a daily basis that:
It’s important that we talk to Jesus every day.
Jesus cares about every need that we have and wants to hear what’s on our hearts.
We can talk to Jesus like He’s our Best Friend
We read the Bible everyday to hear what God is saying to us.
As your child continues to grow and mature, it’s important that you become less and less a part of your child’s devotional life. Obviously, as the parent, you know better than anyone else when your child is mature enough to move from “devotions with Mom” to “devotions on their own”. If I remember correctly, I think it was between first and second grade that my Mom started encouraging us to have our own daily time of prayer and Bible reading. (Most likely, if your child is old enough for homework, they are old enough for personal devotions.) Once you’ve started this practice, it should continue with your encouragement throughout the child’s life.
How can a parent “encourage” an older child to develop the habit of prayer and Bible Reading?
Well, the first way is to Lead by example.
Remember: Children will model what they see you doing. The best way to encourage your child to have an active daily devotional life is to set the example by having an excitement and eager attitude toward your own daily devotional life. As a former church kid, I can truthfully say that it was my Mom’s passion for her relationship with Jesus that inspired my sister and I to develop our own personal relationship with Jesus.
Another way that our Mom encouraged us to pursue prayer and Bible reading was by: Establishing Accountability.
From the time I became a Christian at 5 years old, Mom taught me that it was important to pray and read the Bible daily. As my sister and I got older, Mom trained us to keep this commitment by placing prayer and Bible reading on our chore charts. (Yes, she was a chore chart Mom.) As we outgrew the “chore charts” she would still hold us accountable from time to time by asking “When’s the last time you spent time with God and read the Bible?”
Can I be honest with you? There are still days when I’m super busy and I hear my Mom’s voice in my brain reminding me “Jamie, did you read the Bible today?”
You see, even though it’s nice concept to think that your children should just “want” to take time to pray and read the Bible without any prompting from you, the truth is that it’s an unrealistic idea. I mean, honestly, how often to your children voluntarily “want” to take time away from their play and fun to do the things that are good for them?
Probably never. As a parent, you realize that you have to say, “Honey, it’s time to make your bed…do your homework…take a nap.” Even though these things may not be your child’s idea or they may even whine a little bit about having to do them, you still encourage them to do the right thing because you know it’s good for them.
Well, the same is true when it comes to training your kids to pray and read the Bible. It will require some effort on your part. At age appropriate levels, you’re going to have to encourage them and hold them accountable by asking, “Did you pray today?” or “How’s your Bible reading going?”
Trust me, there is nothing in this world that will reap greater rewards throughout their lives than a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. A healthy combination of leading by example and establishing accountability will put your child on the right road to forming this priceless bond and most important relationship.
Here are a few more thoughts for ways you can train your child to feed themselves spiritually through prayer and Bible reading:
Provide Age Appropriate Resources
Who says that prayer and Bible reading have to be boring?
Not me! One of the best ways to keep your child’s devotional life fresh is by providing them with the age appropriate devotional tools. Some ideas might include:
---A Child-Friendly Version of the Bible.
The Adventure Bible by Zondervan is an awesome kid-friendly Bible in the New International Version. It’s filled with maps, pictures, devotional highlights, and best of all its large print makes it easy to read. As your child matures, there are Bibles for Teen Girls or Boys that provide the same resources only they are tailored to their specific ages.
---Daily Reading Guides designed for kids, tweens or teens.
---Child or Teen Friendly Worship Music
Just as adults listen to or sing along to worship music before they enter into their time of prayer, a child can do the same. Again, there’s an abundance of resources available to download for free online or to purchase at your Christian bookstore.
---Daily Devotionals for Children or Teens
Be Realistic About Time Requirements
As we said last month in relation to family devotions, when your children are small, expect their devotional lives to be short and sweet. Remember, young children have limited attention spans, and the goal here is not to fulfill a certain requirement of time spent with God, but rather, to encourage them to develop a relationship with Him.
As your child grows older, you may want to start encouraging them to spend 10, 15 or 20 minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading. However, I still don’t think it’s as important that you emphasize a designated amount of time, as much as you emphasize the practice of taking time each day to talk and share with their Heavenly Father. Like most relationships, some days your child may have more to say than other days. Remember: It’s about forming a relationship, not winning a prayer marathon.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when teaching your child to have a personal time of prayer and Bible reading, it’s important to emphasize Relationship over Religion.
It’s important that your child understand that they aren’t praying and reading the Bible to perform a religious duty, but rather, to form a relationship. It’s essential that you teach them that just like they form relationships with their friends and family by talking, sharing, listening, laughing, crying, and spending time with them, they can form a relationship with God by talking, listening, sharing and spending time with Him.
The reason that God wants us to pray and read the Bible is because more than anything else, He wants to have a close, personal relationship with us. That’s the reason He created man---the reason each of us was born---to have a relationship with God and find our purpose in Him.
Ultimately, this is the reason that it is so important that your church kid have their own personal time of prayer and Bible reading: To form their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Like we said before, it’s easy to walk away from your parent’s religion; it’s much more difficult to turn your back on a relationship that has been a part of your life for 5, 10, 15 or 18 years. Religion is something that you do. A relationship is a part of you. It shapes you; it means something to you.
Being completely honest, I would say that the greatest determining factor in whether or not a church kid will decide to become a follower or Christ throughout their lives is whether or not they had their own living, growing, and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I know it was the defining characteristic in my own life.
You see, the fact of the matter is that inevitably in every church kid’s life, there is going to come a point of decision. Like the second-generation Israelites in the book of Joshua, each church kid reaches the point in their lives where they must decide to choose who they are going to serve.
Will they serve the gods of the world around them?
Will they choose to serve themselves?
Or will they choose like Joshua to decide to wholeheartedly serve the Lord?
What I have observed in my own personal experience growing up in the church around church kids is that those who have developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, follow Joshua’s example and choose to serve the Lord. Those who never develop their own personal relationship but simply fulfill the requirements of their parent’s religion have very little trouble walking away.
Knowing this, I ask you: What could be more important that teaching your child to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus and providing them with the tools necessary to help that relationship grow?
In my opinion, nothing could be more important and there is no greater gift you could give your child. It’s the greatest gift my Mom ever gave me---a gift that continues to reap eternal rewards. I pray that this article will inspire you to give this same gift to your children---the gift of relationship---the gift that lasts forever.