Abide is a word kids only hear at church. It means to stay with, stick around, remain, or follow. How do we stay with, stick around, remain in or follow Jesus? Jesus prayed by himself and with his disciples, he knew the scriptures so well that he could quote them, and he was always obedient to the Father. We start by modeling those disciplines as parents.
At the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 21:2-4, we read John’s vision, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
To dwell with is to abide! Abiding is no joke. To abide with God is our ultimate goal. It’s the end game of the Christian life. It is the culmination of everything we have hoped for, longed for and persevered for. It is the ultimate reward, abiding with Him. So, if it is of eternal importance, how do we teach it to our kids? Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to children.
In John 15 Jesus uses the example of growing fruit to help us understand what to abide with Him looks like. And fruit is yummy. If you have any trees that grow fruit in your yard, it can help you illustrate this idea for your kids. We have a lychee tree in our yard. It only produces fruit when we prune it at just the right time. My oldest was about 12 the first time we pruned it severely. She cried. It was ugly and bare-looking compared to how lush it looked only a few hours before. All the climbing and hiding spots were gone. But that was the first year it produced fruit for us. It was an amazing crop – and the tree grew back bigger and greener!
So many of us tell our children that they must develop the fruit of the Spirit – just like they are good character traits we develop by hard work. But hang on a second! We are talking about the fruit OF the Spirit. It follows then that It is developed in us BY the Spirit. These traits are evidence of Jesus in our lives, not so much of hard work and personal effort. God goes to work on us through discipline, like a wise and kind gardener. Then the fruit of the Spirit grows!
Grab a pack of Skittles or Starburst. Blindfold your kids and play guess the fruit game. Put one in each kid’s mouth and have them guess what fruit flavor the candy is? Can they produce a fruit candy on their own? God doesn’t expect us to produce the fruit of the spirit on our own. He expects us to come to Him with our need. The fruit of the Spirit should be encouraged and praised in the lives of our children to help them see Christ working in them. Learn the Fruit of the Spirit song! My kids love it.
Kids think we want them to be good. We even make the mistake of saying “Be good”. That is behavior modification. We want surrendered hearts! We want them to abide, to draw close to the Lord, and to die to themselves in order to have abundant life in Christ. John 15:4 says that we cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Jesus. Our children should know that we don’t expect perfection from them because God doesn’t expect it from us.
My six year old struggles with this. She really wants to be good, but she has lots of conflicting desires that drive her to selfish behavior. She despaired of ever being able to stop sinning. I hugged her, “Oh honey,” I explained. “God understands that we are going to sin. The Bible says he knows we are but dust.” She looks at me. “Butt dust? Butt dust?” She cracks up. “God knows we are BUTT DUST? So, we are stinky dirt then?”
When we abide in Jesus, it influences us so that we bear spiritual fruit, the kind that lasts forever. The trouble is that for Christ to live through us, we must die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says “I am crucified with Christ, who lives in me; now I live by faith.”
Play a quick game of would you rather with your kids – would you rather eat celery or a banana? Would you rather eat broccoli or an orange? Radishes or grapes? Fruit is going to win every time. Fruit is sweet – we sweeten the world when we display the fruit of the Spirit! What is the opposite of the sweetness of the fruit of the Spirit and of abiding in Christ? Being a slave to sin.
When the Bible says we are slaves to sin, ask your kids what they think that means. What must a slave do? Obey his master – he doesn’t have any choice. John 15:14 says we are friends of Jesus if we do what He commands. But we have to obey our master when we are slaves to sin. Jesus must be our master so we can’t help but abide with and obey Him!
Here is a fun way to illustrate John 15 to your kids (inspired by DiscipleTown). Get Dad to act this out with you and they’ll NEVER forget it: Pick a sport they like- ballet, ice skating, basketball, soccer, martial arts. You play Coach, Dad or another adult or teen plays the kid with the backpack, and all your kids play the other kids trying out for the team. Make it a silly as you can. Play for laughs.
COACH: Welcome to try-outs for ____! I am Coach Gardener! Stick close to me, do I everything I say and you are going to be a great player! I hope everyone makes the team. Hey, Kid with the big backpack (Kid is not paying attention and is wandering away from coach). Put that backpack down. What is in it?
Kid: A big manual for how to be the best player, weights for working out, my giant Stanley for hydrating, extra equipment – everything that is gonna make me a top player!
COACH: No, that burden is gonna hold you back. Stay close and listen to me! Start by putting that down! Everyone, 10 jumping jacks. Now 3 YMCAs. Break dancing moves. (Continue with very silly exercises while Backpack Kid wanders and does his own thing, interrupts, knows better).
Now let the kids answer – should the coach prune or cut Backpack Kid from the team? Why? How was Coach like God? And how would sticking close, listening to, obeying, or abiding with Coach have helped backpack kid? How do we stay connected to our families? We talk, we eat together, spend time together, read books together. Is this different from how we stay connected to Jesus?
We talk to him in prayer, we have communion, spend time reading his word. Also we take time to listen. Kids need to spend time listening to God. This is such a tough discipline. Explain that we need to read God’s word, maybe a small section, a few verses several times. God won’t necessarily speak to us every time, but if we are waiting expectantly in prayer or with a notebook and pen to write down what thoughts come to our mind, we will be ready when the God does want to speak to us.
Teach your kids that when we keep hearing a verse over and over, on the radio, in church, from a friend, in family devotions, or even a particular word that stands out, write it down. The Lord may be speaking to them!
A lot of families share their highs and lows of the day at the dinner table. Also, occasionally ask what the Lord seems to be teaching your kids, or what verses or words are standing out to them lately. Ask your kids if they have been “pruned” lately. Consider sharing where you have been pruned and whether it was painful, or how it was beneficial. My kids needed to know the painful story of me losing a good friend because of something careless I said at 13 year old. The Lord had to prune me of my restless, loose tongue at a young age.
Where do they know they are slaves to sin? Where do they need Jesus to be a gentle, good master? John 15:4 contains the beautiful promise that if we abide in Jesus, he will abide in us. If we stick around, hang out with, and stay with and remain with Jesus, He will absolutely stick around with us, stay with us, remain with us until we are snuggled in His arms in that perfect Heavenly city where he shows us the meaning behind every moment of pain and shows us every tear he has painfully collected.
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