Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Practical Side of Being Intentional

In our last post we talked about being Intentional regarding our children's Christian life.  If we find it beneficial to invest in our children's artistic, physical or intellectual growth, we should find it infinitely more important to set aside time to help them understand Biblical truth, and to come to know God's character through what He has revealed to us in His holy word. 

But intention, without action, falls short.  We may desire to help our kids learn scripture, and we may plan for them to engage in devotional times and great family conversations, but if we never sit down to teach them, or set aside time to do devotions with them, or even initiate those conversations, we have still achieved nothing. 

So today's post is going to reflect on practical ideas, for how we can move from simply intending to teach our children about God, to actively pursuing these things with them.  Some of these will be routine actions - things that you can do on a daily basis.  Some of them will be opportunity actions - things that you do out of the norm, but still intentionally.  See which ones you can start doing in your household (and work towards trying them all!)

*The first point is quite simple: read the Bible to your children.  Make a point of doing this regularly, from the time they are born.  A child under the age of 5 likely cannot read the scriptures for themselves, but God equipped them with an insatiable desire to be told stories - which fortunately, the Bible is filled with.  I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible, which helps tie in each Biblical story to the gospel, elevating these from mere feel-good stories, to snapshots of God's great rescue plan for His beloved people. 

Tip: remind your kids that the stories they hear from the Bible are really true.  This can easily be lost on kids who are used to hearing so many made-up stories, and watching cartoons where unbelievable things happen.  But the great part about Bible stories is that just because they seem unbelievable, doesn't mean they are!  It just demonstrates how great God is!

*If your children are coming to an age where they are old enough to read, help them learn by reading scripture.  This is a classic way to teach children to read, and it will also help with memorization.  I encourage you to get your children their own Bibles that they can read directly out of, rather than printing out individual verses on sheets.  It will help your children become familiar with how the Bible is laid out, where they can find different stories, and it will become an exciting thing for them to read their 'very own Bible'.  Some translations are easier to read than others, but remember, young kids are capable of learning big words, and this will also assist them as they transition to sitting in service for the sermons; if they've read the words themselves, they'll understand them as they come up in service.

* Read Christian literature.  The Chronicles of Narnia are very popular in Christian homes as they serve as a great teaching platform.  Abridged and illustrated versions of Pilgrim's Progress are available.  These can either be read aloud, or given to older kids for their own reading time.  It's recreational reading, with real substance. 

*Ask your young kids what they want to learn about.  We do this when we are on long drives with our family.  Sometimes the topic is airplanes, or sea creatures, or trees, or planets, but no matter what your children choose to learn about, ensure you teach it to them on the basis of acknowledging a Sovereign God.  For example: while talking about why giraffes have long necks, explain, "God designed giraffes to have long necks so that they could reach the leaves on tall trees," or if you're discussing trains, say, "God gave people the supplies and the knowledge they would need to build trains.  He helped people figure out how to make trains go, so that people could get to different places faster."  God is the centre of all things, and we can help our kids understand this; nothing that they can learn about is apart from God - He created all things so we can praise Him and glorify Him while we teach our children about anything. 

*Don't wait for the Sunday School teacher to teach your children memory verses.  It will happen, but it can happen much more effectively in the home.  Set up sticker charts and weekly verses for your children to work on.  Quiz them over meal times, and help teach them actions to some of the verses to aid in memorization.  And this is not just for younger kids.  Challenge your older kids to learn more than a verse at a time.  Aim for a Chapter.  Reward your children well for this skill.  Once they grow out of stickers, move up to funding a trip to the movies with a friend, or taking them out for Laser Tag or mini golf. 

*Teach your children catechisms.  Scripture memorization is wonderful, and key to spiritual growth and understanding.  However, we can support our understanding of Biblical truths through learning catechisms, which are in a Question and Answer form, and highlight key doctrines in to-the-point ways.  While my 4 year old may not be able to currently recall all of the corresponding scriptures, he can tell you that there is, "One God, and three Persons," in the Trinity.  As your kids get older, help them to learn to study the Scriptural support for each catechism question.  It's easy to bring up catechism conversationally.  Ask them a question, listen to their answer, then teach them the written answer.  Continue to ask them this question on a regular basis until they consistently get it right.  It becomes a bit of a game in our household, a bit like Jeopardy.  City Chapel has illustrated booklets of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for Kids that are available for each household. 

*Use times of discipline to emphasize to your children God's love, and grace.  Kids sin.  This is no surprise - we all sin.  But each time they sin, it's an opportunity for us, their parents, to help them turn away from that sin, and turn to God instead.  While disciplining your children, explain that they not only broke a rule from Mommy and Daddy, but that they also broke one of God's rules.  But don't stop there.  Explain that the wages of sin is death, but that Jesus paid that for us.  It's important that our children understand from an early age that they are bad, and that they need a Saviour, and it is likewise important that they understand that Saviour has come, and the ransom has been paid.  After talking with your children, help them to pray to God, asking for forgiveness, and thanking Him for sending His son to save us.  Get your kids to pray so they get used to talking to God.  With older kids, use scripture to help convict your children of their wrong behaviour.  For example, Romans 12:10 instructs, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Ask your older kids if they feel their actions aligned with the "Marks of the True Christian" that are outlined around this verse.  Help them to see that their actions were not in accordance with the Bible's instruction, pray over them that God would convict them, and ask God for His hand and guidance in their lives.

* Another built-in teaching time for children is when they are afraid.  Be it the dark, the noisy wind, or imaginary monsters, you can teach them the God is the 'biggest and the best' and that they don't need to be afraid because God is always in control.  Make sure you don't say, "so nothing bad will ever happen"... that just not true.  But help them to know that God is always with us, no matter what, and that if He made the wind, or the thunder, that He can control it.  Then pray with your kids and ask that God will take away the cause of their fears and comfort them. 

*Sing hymns together.  Many songs we sing in church are easy for children to learn, and quite catchy.  I noticed how quickly my kids could pick up on them while I was practicing to lead Sunday worship one week - by the time I had learned the song comfortably enough to lead, my kids could belt out the chorus easily!  If you don't sing in your house often, play worship CDs.  Kids will be fond of the music their parents listen to, and they'll learn the words, so be mindful about using that gift to their advantage (read: let them learn worship lyrics rather than the lyrics to Katy Perry songs.)

* Have Bible theme days in your home.  This is a great idea, especially if your kids aren't yet school age, or if they homeschool.  Read the Bible story and then work the story elements into your day. Some ideas:
Daniel and the Lions Den - play with stuffed animal lions, petting them, and let them go to bed for nap time.  Talk about how Daniel didn't need to fear them. 
Noah and the Ark - count your toy animals, go over the names of each animal, and build a cardboard ark for them.  Paint pictures of a rainbow. 
Fishers of Men - play fishing games (build your own by cutting out paper shapes and putting paper clips on them, then attaching a magnet to the end of a string on a pole), teach them the song Fishers of Men, and eat tuna for lunch!
The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock - great for the beach - collect rocks and set a toy on top.  When you pour water over the rocks will stand.  Then build up a heap of sand, put the toy on, and dump a pail of water on that, and watch the sand be swept away!

* Witness to your community together.  Kids brought up in Christian homes can sometimes be unaware that some people don't know or love God.  Explain that we should want to help these people know God, and that we can help show God's love by serving.  Let them help you shovel walks, bring bottles of water or slurpees to road construction sites, make cookies for neighbours, and write cards for politicians.

* One idea that came out of our Sunday School Curriculum training in the Fall was to have touchstones for your family - tangible things that remind us of God's faithfulness.  Maybe it could be trees we plant in our yard as reminder to say thanks for a specific blessing - then every time we look at the trees we can be reminded to thank God.  Or maybe you have a prayer photo album, filled with people we want to pray for, or fun times we can praise God for.  Maybe start a box of items that you collect on family outings so that you can go through them regularly and remember the blessings of those days. 

* Teach your children about God in your own life.  We've talked about how children love stories.  Tell them some of your own story.  Recount to your children the ways God has moved in your life, so they come to understand God is real, and He still works today.  It will also help your kids to see God's hand in their own lives. 

* Start a bedtime routine.  Most kids need a scheduled bed time, so take advantage of this and make it into a teaching time.  Read your Bible story now.  Pray with your kids.  Go over memory verses.  Do it together as a family, so that they know this is something special.  Make it a daily thing.

* Send your kids to a Christian school.  Now, this one might make some people upset.  Christian school is not essential to raising a Christian child.  Jesus + Nothing = Everything.  However, we need to acknowledge our role as the primary teachers in our children's lives; we are responsible for everything our children accept as true.  That doesn't mean we'll be the only ones teaching them, but that we need to be accountable for what they are taught.  If we say we want to be intentional about teaching our children that God made all things, and all things are to glorify God, and then they go to a non-Christian school where this foundational truth isn't acknowledged - or is even openly discredited - we are responsible for the confusion our children will inevitably feel.  Just because our kids go to Christian school does not mean we can relax our watch on what our children are learning, but if they are under Christian authority at school, many things will be easier in regards to their Christian education.  
Enrolling your child in a Christian school may not always be a viable option - private schools are often outside the financial reach of many households, and Christian schools in the public sector fill up quickly.  Aside from homeschooling, you may be out of options.  It is not sinful to send your child to public school.  But you must retain your role as their primary teacher, and help them filter through the bad information they will come home with.  Regardless of where our children are educated, we need to sit down with them every day and discuss what happened at school that day, and what they learned.  And just like when they were preschoolers in the car on a long road trip, help them to see everything through the knowledge that we have a Sovereign God, that created all things for His glory.

* Pray with your kids.  And over your kids.  And for your kids.  And for yourself, that you might know how to lead your kids.  Pray continually.  
We can do nothing good, but by God's grace.  If you have good intentions, but find it hard to move those plans to action, pray that God will help you with this.  And even when we are moved to action, even if we do everything possible to teach our children about God, our children cannot come to God without Him stirring their hearts first.  But we can have faith in our Just God, that even when we stumble, even when we fail miserably, He is gracious and will carry out all things according to His will. 

To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

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