Yesterday I attended a family ministry conference and saw a short video clip of a man and his little son walking hand-in-hand away from the camera. I was immediately struck by the simplicity of that image, the commonness of a dad and his son walking together. They weren’t walking toward anything special. They weren’t walking away from anything out of the ordinary. They were just walking along together.
And because of where I was and the topic of conversation for the day, I thought, “This is where we mess up when we are thinking about the spiritual training of our kids. We try to make it something extraordinary, something we have to schedule and plan for and prepare for.”
I remembered Deuteronomy 6 – the mission statement of our generation’s family ministry movement.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
There are two simple things I see here that, if followed, will make the spiritual training of your children as natural as taking a walk together on a warm evening.
1. Know and love God and His Word. Verse 5 tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. To love Him, you must know Him. To know Him, you must study His Word and pray. It’s an impossible task to lead your little ones to embrace a God and a lifestyle that you have not first embraced wholeheartedly. Does that mean that you need to be a Bible scholar? Does it mean that you have to know everything about God? Does it mean that your prayer life must be perfect? Of course not! But we are all called to be continually growing in our knowledge and love of God.
2. Talk to your kids about God. Anytime…all the time…naturally. As you are walking, do you see a particularly beautiful sunset? Can you say something like, “Wow, I am so glad God made that beautiful sunset for us!” When you are sitting in your house, can you lead your children to remember the blessings God gave through the day? When it’s bedtime, can you read a short Bible passage together and ask, “What does this teach us about God?” When morning comes, can you and your children thank God for another day to learn about Him more? Can you ask God to help you to remember to constantly point your family to Him in the daily moments of life?
Can I encourage you not to look for a “professional” to figure this out for you? Can I encourage you not to look for a book written by a children’s ministry “expert”? Instead, fill yourself up on God and His Word and then let it flow naturally over your little ones – moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
When to pray…what to pray…how often to pray…how to pray…how not to pray…wow!
So far in my quest to learn to pray I have read one book on prayer. I thought about telling you about the book, but I still have mixed feelings about it. Actually, it was confusing. Every time I thought I was following the author’s line of thinking, I realized that I probably wasn’t at all. To be fair, I think I need to read it again before I try to review it.
In spite of my confusion, I have learned a couple of things about prayer and have been able to practice them.
I have learned (or relearned) that the Holy Spirit takes up my attempts at prayer and perfects them before the Father. Even more than that, He prays for me in a way that is beyond me. I guess that’s really just common sense. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is God. But, oh, wait a minute, my head is starting to spin just thinking about that! For now, let’s just go back to the idea that when I don’t know how or what to pray, the Holy Spirit does. Can you take that in? The Holy Spirit prays for you.
I have also learned that while keeping a prayer journal with prayer requests can be helpful, I can just pray for requests as they come up. Last night a friend texted a prayer request to me. There was no need to wait for a formal time to pray about that request. I prayed as soon as I received it. And although I have not written it down, I have prayed about it again today. So, the basic idea? If you say you’ll pray for someone, why wait? God will hear us anytime.
I still feel like a raw beginner at prayer and some of the whys and hows send me on rabbit trails through dark woods and thick bushes, but I’m excited about this journey. I know God wants me to pray and I know that I can trust Him to teach me what I need to know.
What about you?
Did you know that the Holy Spirit prays for you? What does that do for your prayer life?
Do you promise to pray for people but forget to do it because you wait? Do you think it would make a difference if you committed to praying right away?
Do some of your questions about prayer lead you into more and more questions?
You’re not alone. Check back next week and I’ll let you know what rabbit trails I run down next as God teaches me about prayer.
They remind me of very different things – hot summer sun beating down on the boardwalk at the beach. Hmmm…such a nice memory especially on a January day.
But actually I was thinking of a more recent memory of other weathered wooden planks – the planks that made up the fence surrounding our backyard. Those planks had been standing there for thirteen years.
Thirteen years of blazing hot Texas summers and thirteen years of winter ice storms and thirteen years of prairie winds. They had survived the weight of various vines crawling over and squeezing between them. They had even managed to continue standing when our weeping willow tree died in the drought and fell on a section of the planks.
Those planks had been nailed and screwed back together many times. One section was held up with bungee cords and getting the gate to close properly took effort.
But…those weathered wooden planks stood for thirteen years and gave us privacy and protected our little dogs from coyotes. They did their job no matter how bad they looked.
They endured and persevered.
Did you know that as a parent you are called to do the same? You are called to endurance and perseverance.
So, what are endurance and perseverance and why do we need them?
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines endurance as “continuing Christian commitment in the face of difficulty” and perseverance as “the idea of energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trials.”
And we need these for parenting? Doesn’t that make parenting sound like a difficulty or pressure or even a trial?
Yes, yes, and again I say, yes!
I have four children whom I love dearly, but I would be seriously deluded if I did not admit that at times parenting those four children was difficult and sometimes there was a lot of pressure and there were times that being a parent seemed to be a trial.
Without perseverance and endurance my husband and I would not have survived. We needed something to keep us going when it seemed that nothing was working. The problem is that there are many things that suck the perseverance and endurance right out of our lives. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The 24/7 nature of parenting – Do you remember those old-fashioned merry-go-rounds on the school playground? Invariably one of the older boys would make the thing go so fast that you wanted to let go but were afraid you would whirl off into space if you did. I have felt like that some days as a parent. You can’t get off that merry-go-round. You must endure.
Change – Life is full of changes and most of them bring stress which can sap us of endurance and perseverance. New routines, new jobs, new babies, losses of all kinds. Through all the changes we have to keep on parenting.
Discipline – After you have disciplined a child for the twentieth time for lying (or whatever his besetting sin is), it’s terribly easy to give up. And, if you did get that particular problem under control, you know that another one will show up tomorrow.
Physical issues – Lack of sleep, living on fast food, illnesses – all of these make it difficult to endure.
Most of these things are not going to go away, so how is a parent to build up endurance when life is stealing it away every day?
After thirty-two years of being a parent, I can suggest nine ways to persevere through parenting.
1. PRAY – I prayed a lot about my kids, for my kids, and for our parenting, but no, I don’t think you can ever pray enough. If nothing else, you need to be connecting to the One who gave you those kids, the One who chose you to be the parent of those kids. God didn’t give you the job and then take off. He will equip you and give you the endurance you need. Just ask.
2. Read your Bible – You may not have time to do an in-depth Bible study, but you can snatch a few moments to read a verse or two and meditate on it. Think about that verse all day and expect God to use it to build you up to do His will with your children. You can trust Him to work through His Word.
3. Seek wisdom from older parents – This could be friends who have children a couple of years older than yours or it could be parents whose children are out of the nest or both. It has always been comforting to me just to know that other people have survived through the same things I am experiencing in my family. And a new perspective helps us to see our circumstances differently, enough to help us keep putting one foot in front of the other.
4. Sleep – I am really bad about this one myself, but I’m going to say it anyway. Get as much sleep as you can. If your kids are napping, then you should nap too. Which is better – a clean house or a mom who is refreshed and ready to keep up with the kids? And don’t stay up late to get in quiet time. This is where I mess up all the time. Kids don’t wake up later just because you went to bed late. Sleep!
5. Eat well – There’s a ton of nutrition information out there. Use it. Fuel up so that you can physically keep going..
6. Exercise – This goes along with sleeping and eating. If nothing else, take walks with your kids and wrestle with them on the floor.
7. Small treats – There’s no paycheck for parenting (at least not a traditional paycheck), but just like a paycheck every parent needs something to look forward to. For me it was a bubble bath all by myself every Tuesday. No matter what happened I knew I was going to have that little treat every week. It helped me to keep going.
8. Date your spouse – My husband was great at making sure that we had a weekly date night. Sometimes it consisted of getting a soda and driving around town, but we always had that time together to make sure that we were on the same page in parenting. Having a partner in this job is invaluable. If you are single, consider getting together with a friend every week to encourage and help each other. The time invested will help you to keep going.
9. Know your God – God is the ultimate parent. You can follow His example without wondering if you are doing the right thing for your kids. God faithfully endured as He continually brought Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob back to obeying and following Him. Regardless of the whining and complaining of the children of Israel, God persevered in His plan to bring them into the Promised Land. In spite of their continual rejection of Him for foreign gods, God kept on warning and rescuing His people during the time of the judges. And today, hasn’t He persisted in your life? Doesn’t He continue to teach you and to lead you and to love you when you don’t deserve it? Remember who He is and follow His example.
What you are doing as a parent is so worthwhile. You are raising children to love and follow and praise and glorify our great God. Don’t give up. Be like our old wooden fence – faithfully doing your job, allowing friends and family to prop you up and God to repair and mend you until the job is done.
Every Friday Kate Motaung issues a challenge to write for five minutes about a particular word. I think it’s a great idea, a good exercise…but so often I draw a complete blank when I read this week’s word. This week my thoughts weren’t a complete blank but they were pretty messy until…I remembered a beautiful little face, so this is my Five Minute Friday. Welcome to our world, my little darling grandson! Welcome to a world of butterflies and puffy clouds and sandboxes and long summer days. Welcome to a world of things to explore – dirt piles and water puddles and Pops’ tool box and maybe even a book or two. Welcome to a world where you can learn to play and learn to work and learn to study and learn to love. Welcome to a world where you have a Mom and a Dad and a big sister who love you. Welcome to a world where grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles are always ready to hug you and play with you and, yes, to spoil you a little bit. Welcome to a world in which you will find good days and bad days. Welcome to a world that will be fascinating and wonderful and sometimes frightening and confusing. Welcome to a world of sunny mountain tops and dark, foggy valleys. Most of all, little dear, welcome to a world where your Savior once walked. Welcome to a world where He still lives and reigns in the hearts of His people. Welcome to a world which He loves so much that He was willing to die for it – to die for you. Welcome to a world in which you can know Him, and love Him, and serve Him with us. Welcome sweet baby!