New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This must be one of the simplest children’s songs we sang in Sunday School when I was growing up. Bonus: it helped us learn our colors! Not that people are actually red or any of the other colors listed, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus loves the little children

SS Songs - Jesus loves children
My first Bible (c) Carole Sparks

When you think of this song, you probably recall Jesus blessing some children. Maybe there was even a picture like this one in your children’s Bible or hanging in your church. That situation happens in Matthew 19:13-15 (also Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17). It’s short, so let’s just read it here.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Why did the disciples rebuke (that means scold or correct) those parents? I can only think of one possibility: they thought Jesus had more important things to do. Maybe they were in a hurry, since the text says they left as soon as He finished blessing the kids. Or maybe the disciples just thought Jesus should focus on the grown-ups, the important people. Far more so than today, children in that culture had very little value. Luke says they were actually babies (Luke 18:15), who couldn’t even respond to Jesus.

But Jesus valued them. He stopped talking to the grown-ups; he delayed his trip a little. Why? So he could smile into their eyes, put his hand on their heads, and bless them. Would they even remember this moment? Only the older ones, but that didn’t matter to Jesus.

Yes, we must teach our children to respect their elders. Yes, we must teach them not to interrupt us constantly. Let’s be careful, though, not to imply by our actions that they are unimportant. Pay attention to the times you say “wait” and the times you divert your attention toward them. Make a conscious decision to train them in respect and/or patience at times or to reinforce their importance—their priority—in your life. This is the epitome of intentional parenting.

Personally, I hate to lose my train of thought (especially when I’m writing). I also hate to miss part of a good news story on NPR. So I confess that I react far more often that I respond thoughtfully, and I’m convicted by this children’s song. *Insert groan of frustration here.*

All the children of the world

Okay, get ready for more conviction. This one is tough.

“All” really means all: the impoverished kid in Africa with no diaper and no shoes, the refugee kid in Greece who will never return to his home, the child of a Muslim terrorist pressing his forehead to the mat in prayers this evening, the minority kid who needs ESL help in your child’s classroom. All these children matter just as much to God as your child. As parents, we’re hard-wired to protect and promote our own children above all others. But God wants the absolute very best for every child in the world. He wants it fiercely, as fiercely as you would fight for your own child!

I know we can’t personally rescue every child in a difficult situation, and I’m not suggesting we open an orphanage or move to the other side of the world. Really, what I know I need (and maybe you too), is an attitude adjustment. It’s so easy to insulate myself, to tie my understanding of God to what happens under my own roof, to think God’s priorities mirror mine. In that case, my kids would always get the best, even to the detriment of other children. The more we can see children (our own and others) with God’s eyes, the better balance we’ll have in this area.

I’m still working on it. If that was you and me near Jesus back in Matthew 19, you can bet I would have been elbowing you out of the way to get my children first in line for a Jesus moment. Pull out the cellphone cameras—this is way better than Santa! (Please infer the sarcasm I intended here.)

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight

None of us are really comfortable with these words any more.  I found one alternative online that said, “Ev’ry color, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace.” That’s pretty good.

At our house, we sometimes substitute the THUMB guide used to pray for world religions: Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and the Buddhist. That also works.

I already covered the meaning here in the section above.

Jesus loves the little children of the world

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

The next time you hear or sing this song with your little ones, take time to really listen to the words and let God bring balance to your parenting perspective.

Want to share?

Use Jesus Loves the Little Children to bring balance to your parenting perspective. (click to tweet)

Fresh thoughts (for parents) on an old Sunday School song: Jesus Loves the Little Children (click to tweet)

Attribution: Words by C. Herbert Woolston, lyrics by George F. Root (according to this website)

I’ve written about Jesus and children in the past:

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Still to come:

  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

4 Everyday Images for the Christ-life

Sometimes it’s hard to explain certain aspects of the Christ-life to our children. Their brains haven’t developed enough to understand complex, intangible concepts. Honestly, some of the same things are hard for us to understand even as adults. Not to worry; we have an excellent role model for these situations in Jesus. He liked to teach using parables and metaphors…imagery drawn from everyday life, and we can do the same.

The best way to use metaphors is situationally:

  1. When your child asks about the spiritual concept
  2. When you feel that your child needs a better understanding of the concept
  3. When you see or experience the tangible parallel

Today I offer you four such images to help you explain your faith to your children. These kinds of conversations create great discipleship opportunities. Praying they are fresh and helpful…

Fireworks / Jesus earthly life and death

Everyday Images 2
Fireworks (c) Carole Sparks

When you watch a professional fireworks show, it’s a thing of beauty, but noisy. You hear the brief thump as the small rocket shoots into the air. Sometimes you can see a trail of sparks following it. Then there’s that millisecond when the individual flame disappears. In silence, you hold your breath. You think it might have been a ‘dud.’ Finally, it explodes in color, light, and sound!

Jesus’ life on earth was like this. A minor thump at his birth (angels, Herod’s search), then a bit of light through his earthly ministry, then silence for those three days in the tomb. Even the disciples thought He might have been a ‘dud.’ But then! Oh, then! The spectacular resurrection that declared victory over every evil and even death itself: energy, celebration, broadcast near and far!

Popcorn / Conforming to the Image of Christ

Everyday Images 1
Popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Kernels of popcorn are like snowflakes: each one unique but easily recognizable. No one confuses popcorn for bread (because it’s white) or potato chips (because it’s crunchy) or peanuts (because you eat a handful at a time).

In the Church universal, there is incredible diversity—something I love! Each believer is unique; at the same time, believers are all being remade into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Just like we easily recognize popcorn, we recognize each other and those outside the faith recognize authentic believers. Read more about this in my post, Popcorn Conformity.

Walking the Dog / Guidance of the Holy Spirit

I’ve seen memes and commercials where the dog on a leash thinks it walks the owner. I once walked a huge bulldog that pulled me across the grass whether I liked it or not. My own example notwithstanding, it doesn’t matter what the dog thinks. The one holding the other end of the leash is actually in charge. (Sorry, no picture on this one. We don’t have a dog.)

In this example, we’re the dog, the leash is the Holy Spirit, and God is the dog-walker. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but go with me here.) As believers, we can break our connection with the Holy Spirit and run off into the woods, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. When we walk in the spirit (Romans 8:3-4), we are led by God Himself. We can’t see Him, and we’re often out in front of Him, so we must be sensitive to those gentle tugs on the leash. That’s how we go where He wants us to go…following but in front…hmm…

Mountain Trail Guide / Obedience

Everyday Images 3
Broken Path (c) Carole Sparks

I like hiking. I don’t do it much, but I like it—that sense of freedom, the cleanliness of the air, the views. It can be scary, though. If a storm comes suddenly or if you lose the path or if the mountain drops off suddenly right beside the trail, you can quickly start to think about your oh-so-safe couch and TV remote. A more strenuous hike sometimes requires that you hire a guide. No one climbs Mt. Everest without guides and a full support team, right?

In our lives as Christ-followers, we’re hiking a fresh section of trail every day. We’ve never been in this exact place before, and sometimes it looks treacherous. But we have a Guide who has been here before (Hebrews 4:15) and a God who knows everything before and behind us. It’s only reasonable that we trust and follow Him. (I’ve also written about this before. See Our Mountain Guide.)

4 Everyday Images for Discipleship in Parenting (click to Tweet)

Fostering Healthy Childhood Self-Esteem -or- Why I Don’t Let My Kids Beat Me at Board Games

I won another game of Settlers of Catan® the other night. When the four of us play, it’s like I can’t lose! Actually, it’s just that I refuse to lose on purpose. Even when the game was CandyLand, I played to the best of my ability (not that there’s much skill involved in CandyLand). Am I a mean and selfish parent who doesn’t care about my children’s feelings? No.

There’s this parenting/education idea floating around that we must do everything in our power to enhance our children’s self-esteems. The reasoning behind this idea is solid: that children should know their inherent worth. The application, however, is often misplaced. Parents and educators praise kids for nothing (I call it ‘plastic praise.’), allow them to “succeed” when they do the minimum, and tiptoe around difficulties in fear of hurting a child’s feelings. As a result, children develop a heightened sense of entitlement with no foundation in real skills or achievement. Lest you think this is just my opinion, a recent Scientific American article linked artificially bloated self-esteem with narcissism.

So I don’t fight to win every board game because I’m hyper-competitive…although I am competitive, but beating a ten-year-old just isn’t that impressive. I try to win because I care more about my children’s character than about their feelings.

3 Attitudes to model when playing games with your kids

  1. Do your best. I want my children to see me try hard because much of what comes easily to me (folding a t-shirt neatly, opening a bottle of water, math homework) is difficult for them. They need to know effort is always honorable and everything doesn’t come easily to adults. They need to internalize Paul’s admonition: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23). Sound a little over-the-top to apply this Scripture to a board game? I think it’s a great place to practice, where the consequences are, well, inconsequential.
  2. Win and lose graciously. Too many professional athletes and other media personalities just don’t know how to win—or lose—well. When my children see my humble response to winning, they learn that it’s okay to be happy but not okay to “rub it in.” When they see my honorable response to losing, they learn how to congratulate someone and be happy for that person even as they experience disappointment themselves. It’s never okay to stomp away, to pout, or to act in anger. We always talk about these things after the game.
  3. Play fairly. We don’t cheat. Period. Because winning is not the most important thing about playing. I would rather loose honestly than win dishonestly. And, if my son wins because I played less-than-my-best, he has won dishonestly—as surely as if he himself cheated. Sure, a board game isn’t a big deal, but look what Jesus said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). And this one applies so clearly to parenting: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (1 Peter 5:2).

3 Actions to practice when playing games with your kids

  1. Shower kids with praise whether they win or lose. We always encourage a good move, acknowledge improvements since we last played, and look for other specific praise-worthy actions within the game itself and regarding their behavior surrounding the game. This is affirmation, not the plastic praise I mentioned earlier. Then, even when they lose, they walk away confidently, knowing they are loved and safe.
  2. Emphasize the fun and togetherness. The point of playing a board game (or other family-centered activity) is to be together. We play to have fun, which tightens our family bonds. We don’t play for bragging rights or for power.
  3. Give advice throughout the game. I want our children to do as well as possible in the game (even if it means they beat me). This is Biblical; Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” We give each other advice, point out good moves, question bad moves, and generally foster a sense of collaboration despite the competition.

Both of my children are getting much better at Settlers and other games we play. I know the fateful day is coming when one of them actually wins, and his or her sense of accomplishment will go “through the roof!” We’ll probably take a picture for posterity. At that point, I’ll really have to focus on loosing honorably. It will be a good day.

I don’t let my kids beat me at board games -*Gasp!*- because I am more interested in their character than their feelings. (Click to Tweet)

What about you? What counterintuitive parenting approach has proven useful to you? Please! Share below.

What is Intentional Parenting? (Guest Post)

Oh, friends, you are in for a treat today as my wonderful friend and fellow Oswald
Chambers devotee, Mary Felkins, reflects on intentional parenting! I love her 
transparency and that little bit of sas...but you'll see. Let's just let her talk. 
Then you can read more about Mary at the end of the post.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

He (Peter) said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said,  “Feed my sheep.” -John 21:17

parenting pine cone“But Mom, I meant to.”

Believe me, that’s not the worst I’ve heard from any of my four kids, it’s just that this one particularly sandpapers my soul. Maybe because it sounds like code for, “I really didn’t give a rip.”

If they were ever to come home from a long day at school and find no food in the house, it wouldn’t go over well for me to say, “I meant to go to the grocery store, but, well, other things mattered more, kid.”

When I’m intentional about a matter, it gets done. I place my energy and attention on it, part the waters, and make it happen. To be intentional about a matter as it relates to my children means…

  • I must shuffle my priorities in order to invest in them, always keeping His purpose for them in mind, not what I hope they’ll become.
  • I must partner with God and pray for teachable moments.
  • I must place them on my radar.
  • I must reject the notion that my job is done when they reach a particular age, somehow believing that it’s okay to let things happen however they will once their training wheels are off and they begin to ride around on their own.

Intentional parenting means I need to make the children God has entrusted me with matter more than all that may be good in the moment and, instead, offer them the best.

When my daughter lugs her backpack into the car after school and climbs inside, I choose to be intentional and ask – with a smile – some kind of leading, non-threatening question.

“Can you tell me something good?”

I may get a non-answer. More often a connection is made and I get something good. It creates a safe place for her to share, and it softens the soil of her heart should the need for correction arise.

God certainly knows intentional parenting. He divinely purposed to be my Father and that I be His child. There’s nothing haphazard or random here. Similarly, He purposed that I be my child’s parent so that I may, in turn, be intentional and teach them about Him.

God purposed that I be my child’s parent so that I may, in turn, be intentional and teach them about Him. (click to tweet)

As my children have entered adolescent years, I’ve had to do less for them (can I get an ‘amen’?), but it hasn’t meant to teach less, to model less, or to neglect teachable moments in exchange for letting them fumble through on their own in order to see how my years of investment plays out before they leave home. They are still students beneath my roof.

However, there is a point beyond which a parent can become, well, too intentional.

There is a dreadful word tossed around like a hot potato at support group meetings and parenting Sunday school classes. It’s… enabling.

In my intent to teach, to instruct, to become involved and connect, it’s necessary to ask, Am I elbowing into my children’s hard places to ease their suffering? If so, that’s enabling and it produces a self-centered child who will grow to become a miserable adult.

It’s likely that the circumstances they face were engineered by the Lord to teach them, create a dependency on Him for all things. Maybe the Lord begs that I become quiet in order for my children to hear His voice. So, shhhhhh.

There are also moments – even seasons – when the Lord has simply invited me to serve them. With intention.

When one of my two sons texted: “Will you please scramble some eggs with grated cheese, chopped ham and fresh torn spinach?” (a pretty particular kinda guy, bent on eating well), at first I cringed and thought, “Now why can’t he get down here and do that himself?” The answer? He could. But in that moment, the Lord said, “Feed my sheep. Serve your son. He’s upstairs studying as he should.”

I’d like to think that morning’s intentional parenting moment was successful because several weeks later I heard the clink and clatter of dishes and flatware in the kitchen. He’d chosen to empty the dishwasher. Without being asked.

Basically, he gave a rip.

You can be sure I plucked a piece of “intentional parenting” fruit from that tree. Because years of, “Kid, I meant to” won’t taste so good once they’ve left the nest.

“So you love Me, Peter? Be intentional. Feed My sheep.”

 

Mary FelkinsMary Albers Felkins writes contemporary Christian romance. She considers scripture the most alluring romance ever written. She is a feature writer for Sophie Woman’s Magazine (www.sophiewomansmagazine.com) and for Polished Conference LLC (http://www.polishedconference.com/magazine.html), a ministry to teen girls and moms. She is married to Bruce Felkins. They have four arrows in their quiver, Anthony, Alexandra, Jonathan, and Caroline, as well as Dottie, a smooth-haired Fox Terrier and most faithful friend.

Upcoming…

Call To Love (working title). A self-reliant ER nurse has to choose between leaving her hometown to pursue a dream job and staying to help support her widowed mother’s struggling ministry. Even if it means facing the risk of falling in love with the kind of man she said she’d never marry.

And when two crisis-driven careers collide, who will be the first to answer the call to love?

For stories that stir the soul, visit Mary’s website www.maryfelkins.com

Connect via FB, Twitter @MaryAFelkins, Pinterest

Email: maryfelkins@charter.net

 

The Highest Calling of a Parent is the Shaping of Hearts (Guest Post)

So pleased to introduce you to a like-minded parent today: Kelly Smith. I 
first read her thoughts on The Glorious Table, and I immediately started 
following her. She speaks from the heart here, along the lines of Tedd 
Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart (one of the best parenting books 
around!); I know you'll be blessed and challenged. Read more about Kelly
(and connect with her yourself) at the end of the post.

The same scene keeps playing over and over again at my house. The child breaks a rule. The parent punishes. The child complies. The parent relaxes. The child breaks the rule again.

I live in perpetual frustration over this madness. My kid can’t be the only one repeatedly falling down. I am not the only parent on the verge of a hissy fit. I know you feel it, too.

Why is it we work so hard to make our kids do right only for them to turn around and commit the same offense all over again? It comes down to the heart. Parenting is about heart change, not behavior modification. We press down with consequences but there will be no real, lasting change in their outward behavior until there is an inward change.

Moses learned this important lesson when he faced Pharaoh. God sent him to Egypt to free the Children of Israel. Moses went before Pharaoh eleven times with the same request: “Let my people go.”

Initially, Pharaoh resisted. God sent plagues to show Pharaoh who was in charge. He turned the Nile to blood—no change of heart. Then, He brought frogs out of the water. This one made Pharaoh uncomfortable enough to relent. “Plead with the Lord to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord” (Ex 8:8 ESV).

Once the dastardly frogs were gone, Pharaoh hardened his heart again. He went right back to his stubborn ways. Through gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness, Pharaoh waffled between obeying God and standing his prideful ground.

Pharaoh never experienced an inward change. He wanted a way out of the discomfort of the consequences of sin while holding tight to that very same sin.

Matthew Henry says:

When Pharaoh saw there was respite, he hardened his heart. Till the heart is renewed by the grace of God, the thoughts made by affliction do not abide; the convictions wear off, and the promises that were given are forgotten. Till the state of the air is changed, what thaws in the sun will freeze again in the shade.

I see the same pattern in my children. My kids change their behavior when met with consequences but, without that inward change, they return to their foolish ways. The same is true for me. For example, I do not like the morning misery after a late night, but I find myself staying up too late over and over again.

The highest calling of parenting is the shaping of hearts.

This does not eliminate the need for consequences. It is through consequences our children see and experience the effects of their misbehavior. Shaping a child’s heart requires a connection of correction with instruction. Ephesians 6:4 tells us to, “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (ESV). John MacArthur points out:

[Instruction] refers to the type of instruction found in the book of Proverbs, where, as we’ve seen, a primary focus is on the training and teaching of children. Such training and teaching doesn’t have as much to do with factual information as with right attitudes and principles of behavior.

This type of instruction takes time, effort, and persistence.

A heart-shaping parent explains how the child’s behavior contradicts God’s word, instead of simply removing privileges

A heart-shaping parent uses the ordinary moments of the day to point their child to God and His plan for their lives.

A heart-shaping parent pushes through the Pharaoh-like stubbornness to free their child from slavery to sin.

A heart-shaping parent points out the need for God’s grace and mercy found through Jesus’ death on the cross.

A heart-shaping parent becomes an agent of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their children.

Will you stand with me as a heart-shaping parent? Will you declare freedom over your children? Say it with me, “Let my people go!”

 

Kelly Smith profilepicKelly Smith is a small town girl who married a small town man 17 years ago. She has three energetic blessings, ages 1 to 11. Her favorite indulgences are coffee, reading, writing, and running. Kelly believes we are created for community and loves to find ways to connect with other women who are walking in the shadow of the cross. She blogs at mrsdisciple.com.Mrs Disciple

 

The Unlecture

Reading Mark 9:33-37.

At the store with the kids

Jesus and the disciples are walking, as usual. (It feels a bit like that first Hobbit movie: walking with beautiful scenery, bit of action, walking with talking, more walking, freaky monsters to overcome, walking again, etc.) This time, their destination is Capernaum, Peter and Andrew’s hometown. On the way, the disciples get into a hushed but heated discussion—one that they don’t necessarily want Jesus to hear.

“Just wait ‘til we get home!”

Nevertheless, the moment they walk through the door of that house in Capernaum, before they even sit down, Jesus turns his piercing eyes toward them and asks the question they least want to answer: “What were you arguing about on the road?”

Silence. The disciples look at each other, shrug their shoulders, look at Jesus, and adopt their most innocent “Who me?” faces. (Yeah, you and I both know what that’s like.) No one answers. Not even Peter, if you can believe it. You see, they knew Jesus well enough by now that they could guess what topics would displease him, and this one—about seniority and position—would certainly be on the disapproved list. (In the disciples defense, all that “last shall be first” stuff hadn’t been said yet.) It’s obvious that Jesus knows the answer to His question and that He just wants them to confess. Still, they hesitate.

Time for the lecture

Here’s where it really gets interesting, and where we can extract a fantastic parenting application.

Rather than wagging his index finger in front of their noses and commencing Lecture #47 on Servant Leadership, Jesus looks for a comfy chair. Having taken a moment to breathe, He calmly makes a simple statement of truth (v. 35):

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Obviously, it’s easy to remember. Most of us learned it back when we were kids. Jesus, being so very wise, stops there. I don’t know about you, but I always feel the need to elaborate or at least repeat myself a couple of times to be sure I was heard . . . like maybe I have to say it once for each ear of each child in attendance. Sometimes I even repeat, “Do you understand?”

But Jesus just looks around for a tangible example. Let’s see, there’s a door . . . no, some dusty sandals . . . no, the sunlight through the window . . . nice but no. Oh, here we go: a few children (maybe Peter’s kids) are leaning on the wall over there, watching wide-eyed, trying to remain unnoticed. Jesus calls one of them over. Taking his (or her) hand, he pulls the child into the circle. That must have been a little frightening because then Jesus wraps His arms around the child in a comforting hug. Thus this anonymous child becomes the unforgettable object lesson. Without saying “no” or “you’re wrong,” Jesus challenges their thinking—even their worldview. (It would be interesting to dig into what He said and what it meant, but that’s not the point here. Maybe some other time . . .)

A Better Way

I think you get my point, but let me say it plainly just in case. The Proverbs (15:1) say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we can control our own tempers . . . if we can seek our children’s good rather than our own justification . . . if we sincerely want them to learn and change at the heart level, we will follow Jesus’ example. Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Pose the issue, preferably with a question.

I’ve heard it said that we all answer with our hearts first, and that answer is always honest, regardless of what we say.

  1. Proffer a simple, memorable statement of truth.

Bible verses work well here, but don’t use the Bible as an instrument of punishment. (I’ve written more about that *here*.)

  1. Present an object lesson to reinforce your point.

Just look around, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in the moment. I know of no other advance preparation that will work here.

  1. Pause.

After you make your point, let it rest there. Let them change the subject if they want to. That’s what happened to Jesus. In the next verse (Mark 9:38), John tries to divert Jesus’ attention.

  1. Place the ‘object’ in a prominent position.

While Jesus allows the change of topic, it’s clear that these ideas of children and of servant leadership are still on His mind at least through the end of the next chapter. Place your ‘object’ from the object lesson somewhere visible, where your children will pass it several times a day. They’ll get the message.

Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me*

If you’ve read any posts on this blog, you know that I’m a big advocate of talking to with your children—even the young ones (though the reasons are different when they are younger).  Talk about anything and everything.  And listen, listen, listen.

There are a couple of topics, however, about which we parents find it difficult to talk and the kids find it . . . awkward to listen.  Procreation is a big one.  Drug use is another topic with which parents struggle (sometimes because it means revealing their own histories).  Turns out, some parents also find it difficult to have authentic conversations about spiritual things.  So I thought it would be helpful to lay out some thoughts on discipling our children.  That’s why I choose this title.  Were they to speak with the wisdom of the ages, our children would say, “Wait, wait, Mom/Dad.  Don’t just tell me how to follow God.  Don’t just deliver a carefully-prepared lecture or a cleverly-constructed argument.  Work through all this with me!”  Because really, it’s about discipleship, not about unloading information.  You can’t have one God Talk and consider that topic covered.  (You shouldn’t have just one Sex Talk or one Drugs Talk either, by the way.)  Similarly, your kids don’t know what questions to ask about sex or drugs—at least we hope they don’t—so those ‘talks’ necessitate lots of information transfer.  But if you are taking them to church, maybe having family devotions, maybe praying over them, at least saying a blessing before you eat, then they already know enough to ask and/or answer questions about faith.

So.  Here are four thoughts/consideration/points on “Discipleship Begins at Home” (which was almost the title of this post, but it’s not nearly as good!)

1.  Elbow out spaces of intimacy with your children.

Sometimes you have to subtly fight for this.  Where can you grasp two minutes to speak Truth into your child’s life?  It might be in the car.  Turn off the radio and ask him or her to stop playing the game or reading the book.  It might be just before bed, and it’s partially a delaying technique, but it if you get a good talk, who cares?  It might be over the table at a meal time.  If you have already found a fantastic, regularly-occurring time to talk intimately with your child(ren), please share it in the comments.

This is an intentional thing, but the less formal you make it, the better.  Saying “Son, we need to have a talk” just sets you up for awkwardness and silence.  If this priority means you have to lay aside a personal project or rearrange your schedule a bit, it’s worth it!    See #3 and #4 for how to actually start talking when you get a little space.

2.  Make spiritual things a part of your regular conversations—whether the kids participate or not.

This is important.  It creates an environment in which spiritual life is an acceptable topic of conversation or discussion.  This was Moses’ point in Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  He said, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.   First, you talk about what is on your own heart or mind.  Second, you talk as you go about the normal routines of life.  From the time they are very young, your children understand conversations you have with your spouse.  Make a point of casually talking about your spiritual walk in front of them even when they aren’t actively involved in the conversation.  And don’t shy away from the things you struggle with (when appropriate).

  • Were you really challenged by something the pastor said?  Talk about it.  You probably won’t get any resolution, but that’s okay.
  • Are you working to understand a particular passage of Scripture?  You’re certainly not the first.
  • Do you know how to get answers?  Model that as well.
  • Did God bless you today?  He’ll get even more glory when you celebrate the story with your family.
  • What are you praying for?  Let your children see you learning to wait on the Lord and dealing with answers that weren’t exactly what you expected.  Let them always see you trusting God . . . or maybe working to trust Him more fully.
3.  No lectures.

Don’t just tell your kids about God or Jesus.  Don’t tell them what is right and what is wrong.  (I’m talking about double-digit-aged kids here.  Little kids need clear guidance on right and wrong.)  Engage them in Christ-centered conversations that are peppered with prayer.  When Joey gets brave enough to talk about the girl at school who sits beside him and cusses, pray with Joey for that girl before you ever give any advice.  Then ask Joey what he thinks Jesus wants him to do.  He may have no clue—especially the first time your conversation goes this way.  When you affirm his desire to honor Christ, however, he becomes more willing to hear from you.  Let him know that you trust the power of God in him.  Then, make a few reasonable suggestions that reflect that power.  Continue to pray for him, and follow up in the next few days with encouraging questions and further support.

4.  Ask random questions.

Start on Sunday.  Ask each child what they talked about in their Sunday school (or whatever you call it) classes.  If this gets you nothing but blank stares, give an advance warning for the next week:  “Hey guys, pay attention in class today because I’m going to ask you about it later.”  That’s not hard or high-pressured, so don’t turn it into a fact-finding mission.  Your goal is conversing, not receiving a report.  Whatever your child says about that day’s topic, respond thoughtfully, perhaps from something in your own study or life.  You may have to say, “Hmm.  That’s interesting.  How did you get that conclusion from that topic?”  But keep your tone friendly.  He or she may have a valid point that just takes a little explanation.  Just don’t attack or ridicule–no matter what!

You could also bring up a point from the pastor’s talk and ask what they think.  Don’t pick the most guilt-ridden point as if you are trying to point fingers at the problems in their lives.  Pick something that really made you think.  Then, if they don’t have any comments, you can at least share your own thoughts.  If your child is in youth group, I’m sure the youth leader would LOVE to text or e-mail you with the week’s topic; then you could ask more specific questions.  For example, “I heard that Steve talked about not lying in youth worship.  What did you think?  Did he say anything particularly good?”

Ask about books they are reading or movies they’ve watched.  Ask about their quiet times, about the spiritual state of their friends, about what’s on their minds.  Form your questions so that the possible answers do not include ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It’s not, “Did you do your quiet time?” but rather “What did you read in your quiet time?  What do you think about that?  Do you see a way to apply it in your life today?”  It will probably be awkward at first, but if you refrain from judging their answers, they will feel more comfortable about sharing more and more later.  They might even begin to look forward to it.

You have the right and the responsibility to hold your children accountable.  You can’t force them into spiritual growth, but you can create a healthy environment in which it happens.

5.  Here’s a free one: Pray Scripture over your children.  Out loud.  In front of them.  When they are awake.  (I like to lay hands on my kids and pray for them while they sleep, but that’s not discipleship.)  Let them hear you claim the promises of Christ in their lives.  It will give them the confidence to claim His promises for themselves.  You don’t have to memorize it; have your Bible open in front of you.  One of my favorites is Ephesians 1:17-20 (or 23) NIV.

 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you [my child] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .

Someone might say, “But my child isn’t a Believer yet.”  So?  That doesn’t change anything I’ve written here.  In fact, an increased openness to spiritual conversations in your home may help your child feel the freedom to talk/ask about following Christ specifically.

When you live like this, you are modeling the Christ-life in a way that lets your children know that it’s okay to be on-the-way, with no expectations of having already arrived.  And just so you know, we haven’t actually accomplished all this in our home.  We’re on-the-way too.

 

*This is the title of a hilarious quiz show on NPR.  It’s my favorite way to get news!