I was raised going to church.
I thought it was boring. Except when I could pass notes to my friends and “talk” to them in sign language, but that only happened when my mother wasn’t watching! I did enjoy the youth activities-the beach trips, the hikes, the Saturday afternoons out with my friends, but the rest of it seemed like nothing more than a ritualistic exercise, a bunch of rules that made me feel “different”, that stood in the way of having fun.
To be perfectly honest with you, the big question on my mind was this: “Why do we need this stuff?” You see, I knew lots of other kids who didn’t go to church, and neither they nor their families seemed any different from me and mine. So why bother?
I wasn’t the only one asking these questions. My brothers and most of my friends eventually stopped going to church. I didn’t stop going. I was kind of scared to NOT go, but it all seemed so distant, so vague. If this was really such an important part of life, then why wasn’t it more meaningful to me?
I didn’t come to know Jesus as my Lord, Savior and friend until I was in my 3rd decade. Only then did I realize what I had missed. I now know that my pre-Jesus years could have been so much richer, fuller, and freer, that I could have avoided so many of the problems that I still battle, had I only developed a relationship with Him as a child.
Friends, being raised in church isn’t enough! It didn’t work for me or my friends, and it doesn’t work for the thousands of young people who leave the church every year! If we want our children to grow up knowing the Lord, they have to learn to stop playing church and learn what Christianity is all about. They have to learn that being a child of God isn’t about DOING something; it’s about what’s already been DONE-Christ’s death on the cross and His desire to give us His Spirit, to guide and direct us, to be our friend. In order to keep our children in the church, they need to learn to have a personal friendship with Him!
Remember: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 NIV)
Jesus wants to be our Friend, and when we let Him, we have access to everything that He and the Father have access to! But how do you go about teaching those kids this vital concept?
I’m afraid there is no simple answer to that question, but we will be exploring some ideas that have worked for me and my family in upcoming devotionals. The point I want you all to go away with today is this: If we want our children to stay in the Lord, a personal relationship with Jesus MUST be encouraged!
The remainder of this devotional looks at some specific things that we’ve done as a family to encourage our boys to know and love the Lord:
1. Encourage a personal, quiet time with Jesus every day. As soon as my boys were old enough to read their little picture Bibles, I encouraged them to not just read, but to ask God to tell them what message the various passages had for them.
2. Have family worship. Children are never too young to begin! One of our favorite worship exercises is this: “How have you experienced Jesus today?” It gets the kids to think beyond what they are experiencing. It makes them start to realize that Jesus is actively involved in every aspect of their lives.
3. Model in your own lives the truths that God is teaching you. You can’t teach it to them if you haven’t learned it yourself!
4. Encourage your kids to talk their problems over with you. Then you can guide them back to spiritual principles and remind them of what the Lord can do for them.
5. Bring God into everyday family problems and decisions. Whenever a decision must be made, encourage everyone to pray about it and then to report back. If you let God guide, He’ll tell the same thing to everyone in the family, and the decision is easy to make. This will encourage your children to get into the habit of taking all of their own problems to the Lord.
6. Encourage your kids to take a stand in faith. Remind them of what the Lord has already done for them, and be willing to take a stand in faith yourself!
These are just a few basic ideas for helping your child build a relationship with Jesus, and again, we will be looking at some of these in more depth in upcoming devotionals. To conclude this devotional, I want to leave you with a specific example of how my 15 year-old learned to have a relationship with Jesus.
When he was 7 years old, my son suffered from severe insomnia. We tried everything and nothing helped. I was frustrated, and I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t immediately take this problem to the Lord. When I finally did however, God gave me the solution. He told me to sit with my son every night and talk him through an imagery exercise where he would imagine himself walking and talking with Jesus. Through the imagery, he learned to hand his problems over to Jesus, he learned what the still-calm voice of Jesus sounded like, and he learned to love the One who could help him get to sleep! We called it his “walk with Jesus”. My son soon became independent with this exercise, and now, 8 years later, he still goes on his “walk with Jesus” every night.
One day recently I asked him what it was that he thought had been the most helpful in teaching him to have a relationship with Jesus. His response? His “walks with Jesus”! Imagine that! God used childhood insomnia to draw my son to Him!
God bless each of you abundantly as you seek to guide the kids in your life in the ways of the Lord!
(To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” devotional series, please click here.)