Friday, May 30, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Parenting- VI

Thou shalt teach thy children to pray.
“pray without ceasing;” I Thessalonians 5:17

When my kids were toddlers, I knew that there was no way they could wrap their little undeveloped brains around the abstract concept of God. It is certainly true, though, that God has made Himself evident within each of our hearts (Romans 1:19), because when the kids and I would pray together or talk about God, none of them ever once asked me who God was, even though they couldn't see, hear, or touch Him. Teaching our kids to pray fans that little spark of knowing God into flame. Start from birth, and help them to make it a lifelong discipline.

I'm not a big fan of "Now I lay me down to sleep", "God is great; God is good" and other memorized prayers. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with them, and they do contain some spiritual truths, but in my own experience the more familiar, rote, and repetitious something is, the less meaningful it can become over time. I think it's important to teach kids that prayer is an actual dialogue with God that should have meaning for our lives. We talk to Him. He listens. He talks to us. We listen.

When we teach children to pray, they need to know that they don't have to use "thee's" and "thou's" and a bunch of fancy language in order to be heard. There are millions of people all over the globe who wouldn't know flowery speech if it smacked them upside the head, and yet God listens to them just the same.

It is also essential that we teach them that while God is indeed our friend, He is also holy, and must be addressed with reverence for that holiness. When we recognize His holiness in our prayers by acknowledging Him as Creator of all things in the universe, listing and proclaiming His attributes (such as goodness, mercy, justice, grace, love, forgiveness, etc.), and humbling ourselves before Him, it puts us in the right spiritual attitude for doing business with God.

Another vital distinction to make is that God is not Santa Claus. He's not sitting up there waiting for our wish lists, granting them if we've been nice and denying them if we've been naughty. Kids are naturally self-centered, so it helps them to take that focus off the self if we teach them to thank God for the things that they already have, to pray for others, and to confess their sins.

Jesus gave us a great example of how to pray in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13):
  • Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. We humble ourselves before God, recognizing His position and submitting to His sovereignty and authority.
  • Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We intercede for ourselves as well as others. We ask that God's will, not ours or anyone else's, be done in each situation, and that He will receive the glory in every circumstance.
  • Give us this day our daily bread. We ask for God's provision for our needs and recognize that it is only by His hand that we have anything.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. We confess and ask forgiveness for our sins. We ask God to help us forgive those who have sinned against us.
  • And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We ask for God's protection and the strength to obey Him and resist temptation.
  • For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. We again recognize God's sovereignty, give Him glory, and leave all of our requests with Him to deal with as He sees fit.

Your 5 year old's prayer, encompassing these areas, might look something like this:

Dear Lord, Thank you for being good and loving. Thank you for my family and my dog. Thank you for making the park so I can play there. Thank you for the food we've eaten today, and please give us the food we need tomorrow. Please help my friend Jason to feel better and get over the flu. I'm sorry I hit my brother this morning. Please forgive me and help me to be kind to him. I love You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Of course, he probably isn't going to come up with all of that on his own. The best way to teach kids to pray is to pray with them. You might go first, praying a simple prayer, and then have him pray, or you might want to try what I call a "ping pong" prayer. You pray one sentence, and he prays the next, and so on, until you're done. For example:

Mom: Dear Lord, thank you for being kind.
Kid: Thank you for being forgiving.
Mom: Please help the Jones family because they're sad that their cat died.
Kid: Please take care of our missionaries in South America.

One of the ways we can teach our kids to listen to God is to keep track of His answers to our prayers. At our house, I was concerned that, while we were all praying together, the kids were not making the connection between their prayers and what God was doing in our lives. I decided a good way to help them make that connection would be to keep track of answered prayers as well as blessings we hadn't thought to ask for, and other ways God was working in our family.

It was as simple as a trip to the dollar store. I bought a piece of posterboard and entitled it "What is God up to?" It now graces one wall of our breakfast room. Every time we have an answered prayer (even if the answer is no), an unexpected blessing, or an obvious move of God in our lives, I write it down on the poster. It has really helped the kids to see where God is moving. I can tell, because now they are the ones to remind me of an answer to prayer or something else that needs to go on the poster!

It has also helped them to learn that our prayers don't just bounce off the ceiling. God does care for us. He does want to hear from us. We can bond with Him by spending time talking to Him. Those are priceless precepts for kids and parents alike.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Parenting- V

Thou shalt train thy children in the words of
the Scriptures.
"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. Deut. 6:6

My children are involved in a wonderful program at our church called Awana. (More information for starting Awana at your church here: They do lots of fun activities, and everything revolves around memorizing Scripture. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent listening to the kids recite verses so they can progress through their workbooks. I'm certain my kids have more Bible verses memorized than I do.

Training our kids in the words of the Scriptures starts with reading Bible stories to them, praying with them, and teaching them to memorize Bible verses, but it doesn't end there. The fruition of Biblical training is learning to apply those verses and Biblical principles to the situations that arise in our lives. If our kids never make the connection between the words of Scripture in their heads and how those words should affect what they do, we might as well not be training them at all.

Times of disobedience bring great opportunities to talk about the way God wants us to behave. We teach the kids the importance of praying and asking God to forgive them for their sins, as well as asking forgiveness from the person against whom they've sinned. It's also a good time to talk about Scriptures that should have (and should, in the future) governed the child's behavior. Some well-worn verses at our house include:

  • Ephesians 6:1 ~ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (NASB)
  • Philippians 2:14 ~ Do everything without complaining or arguing (NIV)
  • Ephesians 4:32a ~ Be ye kind, one to another (KJV)
  • Luke 6:31 ~ Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV)

TV shows, news items, other people's behavior the children witness, and the example we as parents set, whether good or bad, can provide other opportunities for discussion about the Scriptures.

If we want our kids to live lives of Godliness, we've got to take advantage of every opportunity we have to help them make the connection between, "What does God say about this?" and, "What am I going to do about it?" Not a bad thing for us parents to meditate on either!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Parenting- IV

Thou shalt make a pro-active decision that thy household will be a Godly one.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;” Ps. 127:1

When you build a house, you don't simply wish it into existence. You have to have plans drawn up, buy the right materials, find the right place to build, and actually get out there and start sawing and hammering.

The same is true of having a Godly household. It doesn't just happen by virtue of the fact that you and your spouse are Christians. You have to sit down together and make a definite decision, preferably before you even get married, that your home will be run in a Godly way.

Where will we attend church? How often will we have family devotions? What is our understanding of what the Bible has to say about what is and is not acceptable behavior for us as spouses and for our children? How will we respond when one of us sins or when the children are disobedient? What will we do if one of us feels that God is calling us to a new location or a new career?

Naturally, you can't foresee every scenario that might come up in the future, but if you lay a Godly, Biblical foundation from the start, you won't have to re-invent the wheel every time a new situation arises. You will have developed a Godly "policy and procedure" for facing life.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Parenting- III

Thou shalt have a Christ-centered marriage.
And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Eccl. 4:12

There are so many little details to attend to when you're planning a wedding. Will the guests throw rice or blow bubbles? Will the bouquets be wrapped with pink ribbon or white? Will the groomsmen wear bow ties or regular ties? For someone like me who has to see absolutely every option available to her before making a decision, it can be a daunting and time-consuming task. Such was the day I sat down to pick out napkins for my reception.

Before I undertook the planning of a wedding, I never would have guessed that it would take more than about 30 seconds to choose napkins. You just pick out some napkins that go along with the color scheme of the wedding, right? Au contraire. There are huge ring binders (yes, that's binders, plural) chock full of hundreds of napkins in every imaginable color, size and texture. Once you nail down those preferences, you have to choose what you want embossed on the napkins. There, too, the choices are nearly endless.

So, I flipped through page after page of embossment designs, finding them either too corny, too plain, or otherwise unacceptable. Finally, I came to a very interesting one that I eventually chose. It quoted the second half of Ecclesiastes 4:12, "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart, with a picture above the verse of a cord of three strands wound together. The ends of the outer two strands were tied to wedding rings, and the end of the middle strand was tied to a cross.

I had never noticed this little verse before that day, but thought it was a beautiful picture of a Christ-centered marriage. When a person is alone, she can quickly become overwhelmed. A spouse can help to bear the burdens of life, but the strength of a marriage of only two people pales in comparison to a marriage strengthened by adding a third partner- God.

Study after study has shown that children do best in a home where their parents are married to each other. They are physically and emotionally healthier, do better in school, are less likely to commit crimes, etc. When you add in the component of spouses treating each other in a Godly manner and striving to set a Godly example for their children, the quality of the home environment rises even higher. Just as putting God first in our own personal lives makes us better parents, so, putting Christ first in our marriages benefits us and our children exponentially.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Parenting- II

Thou shalt put God first in thine own life.
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Deuteronomy 6:5

It's kind of like having your car in the proper alignment. When you're a Christian and you're striving after God's heart for your life, even when problems arise, things tend to go much more smoothly and peacefully. If you're a Christian living in the flesh, there is going to be an undercurrent of feeling out of whack, like you're spinning your wheels. You're likely to be more irritable, fearful, and confused.

From which of these spiritual places do you want to come when relating to and rearing your children? Which is more beneficial to you and to them?

When you're in right alignment with God every day, He is working in you to fulfill all the potential He placed inside you from the moment He breathed life into you. He's making you a better daughter to Him, a better wife to your husband, a better mother to your children, a better friend to those around you, a better employee to your boss.

It's the Army's slogan, but I think it fits Christianity so much better: "Be all that you can be." Do it in Christ....for your own good......and to better serve your family.