“Raising children should mean helping them to become what they already are in God’s eyes.”—Eberhard Arnold
The most important job as a parent is helping direct our child’s heart toward God and the awareness of His love for them. From the very beginning, even in the infant and toddler ages, we are helping establish a foundation for their spiritual development. We start them on this path of spiritual development that will lead them down a course of the basic awareness of a God who created them, loves them, protects them, has a purpose for them, desires a relationship with them, wants to be glorified through them, and commands them to live in a manner that draws others to God because of them. When these steps of spiritual development are in place from the very early stages, we are setting our children on a path of spiritual development that can be carried out through life, as the basis of who they are and what they believe at the very core of who they are.
As a preschool child begins to develop more communication skills, we begin to initiate those discussions about loving and worshiping God and the idea of asking Jesus into your heart. These early thoughts about spiritual development may be surprisingly simple and even repetitive as we answer the many why questions that accompany the age. As the school-age child begins to choose their activities, we begin to introduce the idea of spending time with God, reading your Bible, praying, and worshiping. It is also a key age that we start helping them understand how our actions, thoughts, and words can both honor and dishonor God. Making these connections helps them understand that serving and loving God is part of our decision-making process in everyday life.
Gifts and Talents
When our children start developing a greater sense of their personal traits, we can begin to introduce the idea of gifts and talents. In this way we begin to paint the bigger picture of a God who created them with a purpose and plan to glorify Him and how He equipped them for a bigger plan. By having a spiritual foundation in place, they begin to understand the relationship aspect of their spiritual walk and how God is central to the path they choose in life.
Our children range in age from tiny to teen to twenty-something. We have parented for 22 years and have another 15 years of a child being in our home. I would love to share some of the ways that we have been able to focus on the spiritual development of our children spanning the different ages and stages. The following are five key ways that we encourage the development of a real relationship between our child and God.
1. Focused Family Time—
Each night we gather as a family. Children take turns on their designated day to choose what we do during that time. They may choose to review our family rules and reminders of honor (based on scriptures), read a devotion, work on a memory verse, or sing a Bible song. Then we close in prayer, often letting each child choose one word that sums up what they want the family to pray for them (ie. Joy, leadership, good listening, respect, obedience, my diet, my grades, etc.) for the next month. (For more information on how we do our family times at night, be sure to sign up for future blog articles. I will be providing our list of family rules as well as the points of honor we talk about. I will also include a list of books or resources that we’ve used for our devotion time at night. These and other free resources come out weekly in an email for those who subscribe! Don’t miss out!)
2. Suggested, “Jesus Time”—
From the time our kids start reading, we encourage them to have Jesus Time (which is what Mom has called her devotion time since they were just little ones). During the summer, we have time each morning that the littles can look at or read their Bible or ask a sibling or parent to read the Bible to them. We may also choose to turn on Praise and Worship music or Bible songs and just listen quietly. As they get a little older, they are offered the chance to stay up fifteen minutes later if they’d like to do their devotion time. What kid doesn’t want a little later bedtime! A win-win for sure!
We introduce scripture memory from an early age. Surprisingly, we had a three-year old that had already learned 40 verses. We choose verses that are applicable to everyday life and easier to understand. Don’t underestimate the hidden talents of your children nor the benefit of learning memorization skills as they hide God’s Word in their heart! We also incorporate the use of those scriptures daily, whether in training or discipline, reassuring, encouraging, etc. For example: A scared child is reminded, “When I am afraid I will trust in You. Remember that verse we learned. So when you lie in bed and feel afraid, say that verse out loud. Let’s pray together. And then you can go back to bed and try it!” (See the link below to get your free resource, a list of some of the scriptures our kids have memorized with an easy three word prompt for reminders when practicing!)
4. Celebrate Spiritual Birthdays–
We keep track of each child’s spiritual birthday, the day they choose to pray and ask Jesus into their heart. We try to celebrate those with the special day plate, letting them choose a special meal, or the next restaurant we choose for a meal out together as a family. In this way, the younger children look forward to having their own spiritual birthdays and remembering the significance to the family and God.
5. Identify Gifts and Talents—Every child starts gaining an idea of what they are good at, but some need reassurance or understanding of how those traits are useful or effective. Click & Tweet!
Affirm your child in the gifts and traits that you see God has given them. Help them understand how those gifts or skills help lead us in life choices, career choices, and how we serve and give. Impart to them an understanding of how those traits are part of bringing God glory, which is the whole reason we are put on the Earth!
Just a couple weeks ago, I was sitting in the recliner in the living room doing some writing and my youngest sat near my feet playing. We had shut the television off and turned on some kid’s Bible songs. Bennett was singing along with the songs and my heart felt warmed. He was singing along with the words…”And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.” Suddenly he stopped. Wait, I don’t have Jesus in my heart!”
This had been a point of discussion at several family meetings as his sibling was praying that he would someday choose to have Jesus in his heart. I explained on several occasions that no matter how much we wanted that for him, that it must come when he was ready and not before. When siblings asked if he was ready, he usually just answered with a “No thanks. Maybe someday.”
So on this day, it suddenly struck him. But I didn’t want this to be some impulse decision. So I tried first to reassure him. “That’s ok. Someday you will choose to have Jesus in your heart. Right now, you can feel the joy and love of Jesus in your heart.”
“No! I want Jesus in my heart. Today!” He was adamant. And together we talked about what it meant to ask Jesus into your heart, discussed how we honor and love God, and how God gave His Son to die for us. Never underestimate how even the little things, such as Bible songs playing in the background as they play, may be those very seeds that spur more growth and understanding at their level.
Together We Walk in Truth
So with great joy, I can now say that the last of our seven kids has asked Jesus into his heart. And I must admit that of all the things I’ve done in the last 40 some years, praying with each of them as they begin their personal walk with God has been my greatest joy.
“I have no greater joy than to hear my children walking in truth.” Now, the journey to guiding his heart and training him in God’s ways takes an exciting turn!
Hearing the older children pray for their younger siblings to accept Jesus and the celebration as each one finally did is unforgettable. Let me encourage you to set the foundation for a strong spiritual development for your child. Let me also affirm the importance of nurturing that development so that as your child ventures out in life apart from you they are firm in their foundation and desire for an ongoing relationship that is uniquely their own.
Inspired to Encourage
Each week I try to think of one useful tool I might tuck into the blog article that can serve as some form of encouragement, action point, cheat sheet, or reference. This week I thought I’d share the list of some of the verses that our kids have memorized. Many parents are hesitant to use scripture memory with their children or don’t know where to start. We have found that even our two-year-olds could memorize many of these verses…and a three-year-old that had mastered over 40 of them at one point! Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to hide God’s word in their heart! We try to use a translation that makes it easy for them to remember
and understand. Many of these verses are used in training and discipline as well.
I would love to help you this coming year to step into that role and be intentional in how you connect with them. Showing them your love is important. Pointing them to God’s love might prove to be even more important! I’m here to help encourage and support you in the process!
Let’s do this!
P.S. Don’t forget the blog articles relate to the themes presented in each month of the Parenting Planner! If you haven’t downloaded the free concise version, you can do that here. And if you’d like the expanded Parenting Journal Planner, you can purchase that here.
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