Something we rarely discuss is the Christian disciplines as they relate to child rearing. How do we help kids grow in their faith? Sometimes we talk about prayer and Bible reading, but far less often do we discuss tithing, fasting, and evangelism for children. Why would we bother with the Christian disciplines?
These do not save us. They do focus our minds and hearts. “The disciplines are not the duties of the good Christian, nor are they laws or demands or requirements. They are merely the conditions in which the joy of God is experienced.” Mark Galli, Spiritual Disciplines: Duty or Delight.
These are the things that facilitate sanctification. What does this big word mean? Like many of you, I don’t like bad drivers. And I tell them so from the safety of my own car. I didn’t realize what I sounded like until my middle daughter, then 3 years old, told me, when someone cut me off in traffic, “Mommy, is that an idiot?” Fast forward 11 years when my youngest is also 3 years old in her car seat driving with me. She heard a ruckus next to us and calmly said, “Dude, you don’t have to honk. It’s okay, just keep driving.” Is that what I sound like? Sanctification!!
“Training the body has some value. But being godly has value in every way. It promises help for the life you are now living and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8. Faith training for children can be fun and creative!
At Rio Kids we promote the ACTS method of teaching children to pray. Adoration, confession, thanks, supplication. Here is why. It is modeled on the Lord’s prayer and it forces kids to think through categories of prayer other than what God can give them. Our prayers can quickly become a to do list, or a wish list of things we want from God. But God wants our hearts. And a focus on God’s nature or character changes us. A prayer of confession humbles us and puts us in right relationship with God. And seeing God answer prayer builds faith!
Fasting not often discussed in relation to kids. In his book A Hunger for God, John Piper writes, “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of superior satisfaction in God, it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.” Jesus is our example and he does it a number of times throughout the New Testament. Fasting grows faith!
Kids can do it. Not so much going without eating, that is not what I am recommending here. Rather, going without something – a purposeful self-denial. My teens are in the habit of doing this themselves when they are praying about something big now. Lent has become a period of self-denial that we look forward to each year, knowing how it sets up our hearts to focus on the amazing celebration that Resurrection Sunday really is!
Here is what we’ve been doing the last few years, and these are just ideas. There are approximately 5 weeks of Lent outside Holy Week. We each choose something for the whole family to fast. Sundays are a break from fasting. One year, my middle daughter, then 12 picked air conditioning! My husband put up a fuss! Wouldn’t you know it, that whole week was beautifully cool?
This year, we spent a week fasting screen entertainment. Another week we fasted sleeping until the last minute. And another week we fasted staying up late – my family has an issue with that. And I will tell you, we failed miserably at that one. Week four was fasting snacks.
And finally it was my 3 year old’s turn to pick. We explained that we were giving up something we like a lot, maybe too much. So what did she like A LOT? She said “Dunkin Donuts!” So I said, “Great, we will give up eating out of any sort this week. It will help us remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. So not going to DD, Starbucks, Chick Fil A, will help us remember Jesus gave up heaven for the cross, for us. That is a fast.” My little one said, “Great! Let’s go to DD really fast!” At this point I didn’t know if she was going to grasp this concept. But on Friday night her older sisters were at an event and my husband whispers into her ear, “Do you want to go out for ice cream?” She answers, “No, we are giving up!” She got it!
Saturday afternoon we went to beach. Traditionally we stop for a slurpee or something cold on the way home. As we pass 7-11 she says, “Mom, are we still giving up?” “Yes, until tomorrow.” She accepts that without complaint. But first thing Sunday morning when she wakes up she shouts, “YESS!!! WE ARE DONE GIVING UP!!!”
We speak of meditation as if the eastern religions invented it. But they did not invent it, they perverted it. Meditation is essentially telling yourself something over and over – repeating it and thinking about it. When Rebekah met Isaac he was out in the field meditating, considering God’s words, chewing on them, thinking about them, when God brought his bride to him. It’s a beautiful love story.
Memorizing God’s word, hiding it in your heart, is essentially meditating on it. Kids love to memorize. We think kids don’t because we don’t as adults; that gift of memorization diminishes with age. Now is the prime opportunity. It is far less effort for them. They will memorize things – ads, pop songs, sports statistics. You might as well encourage something that they can use for life. The Psalmist says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Scripture meditation grows faith!
I love devotionals for reading together as a family at night, but I want my kids to make a habit of reading the Bible on their own, when they read well, first thing in the morning. The One Year Bible, which mine break up into 3 years most of the time, in a great tool for teens. Start that habit early! In this age of technology when we read the Bible often on an app, make sure you crack open your actual Bible so your kids can see what you are reading. They can’t distinguish between browsing Facebook and reading the Bible app when you are staring at your screen. These habits are caught easier than they are taught, mamas!
When I spend time with God in the morning my preschooler likes to shove her books straight under my nose. We’ve worked on it and I’ve got her to the place she will wait a few minutes. Around Easter she very captured by idea of a crown of thorns. She says one morning, “I am gonna read the Bible to you. .. We’re going to read from Henry the 5th.” (my favorite Shakespeare play, by the way) “Belle put on her most beautiful dress. This was the day they were going to put a headband of prickles on Jesus.” It gets in there!
During Good Friday service I told her to stop fooling around and join in the singing. She did, got very serious about it but only knew the chorus and sang it at top of her lungs “I SURRENDER!” She was so into it, the song ended and she bowed her head and says, “Yes, Lord Jesus with the prickles!” Which by the way, sounded a lot like my mother in law, so grandmas, they are copying you, too.
This week she was eating trail mix with m&ms in it and got red and orange candy coating all over her hands. We walked in the front door and she wiped her hands on the doorframe! Before I could say anything she says, “Mom. Look! I am an Israelite spreading lamb’s blood on my doorposts!” How can you get upset at that? They are listening!
Tithing is teaching kids that everything belongs to God and we are stewards. There is a book my kids loved called Missionary Stories with the Millers and before the author begins to tell these brief, but amazing, inspiring stories of God at work all over the world, she starts with a story of a family, where a little God gives one dollar to the Lord’s work. She follows that dollar as God multiplies it into a much bigger gift.
We have give, spend, and save envelopes or jars when our kids were young and the GIVE envelope must always get filled first. We start using special gifts from grandparents and small extra chores when they are small and by the time they have a regular income, giving is second nature. Tithing grows faith in God’s goodness!
I was looking for something the other day and went into my senior in high school daughter’s room to look for it on her dresser. What did I see there but three fancy jars of money. Guess what they were marked? Give, Gas, and Car Insurance. She got the most important one.
When we share together at the dinner table what God is doing in our lives – the questions Pastor Tom asks at the end of the sermon or the questions in our personal worship or devotion time, we get used to sharing what is on our hearts and it easy to share when God orchestrated something that only He could or when He answered a prayer in a big way. It is practice for sharing our faith with friends and family. Evangelism is tough for many of us, yet it is the last command Jesus left with us. We save the thing we want someone to remember for last. It is the punchline. It is our job until He returns, and more than that, it is how He uses us to build His kingdom that will last forever. A great book on evangelism to check out is ANY 3.
If it is that important, we cannot excuse ourselves or our children from sharing our faith. To share the gospel it helps to know the whole story, how each of the often strange stories in the Bible connect and what they mean in the big picture. Some books that help us understand the big picture are: The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung.
This article is based on a talk given at Moms on a Mission.
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