One of my greatest concerns as a mom is how I am nurturing my kids spiritually. Thankfully my husband and I have had many wiser people go before us, and we’ve gleaned some insights from them that we are now trying to (though not perfectly or completely!) put into practice in our family. This is not by any means an exhaustive list or a checklist, but hopefully an encouragement to you to press on in spiritually encouraging your kids.
1. Pray for them. In terms of you praying for them, the internet is full of good prayer points to help guide you in praying regularly for your kids. And one of the best books on prayer that I read, that changed how I prayed for my kids, was A Praying Life by Paul Miller. But praying for them should not just be limited to praying in quiet – it should include praying with them, for them. When you are praying with them, pray for their hearts. Let them see the prayers you are praying on their behalf. This shouldn’t be a time to preach at your kids through prayer, but a time to pray alongside them for things they are struggling with, concerned about, or happy about.
2. Teach them to pray. Beyond the basics that we normally teach kids, are you teaching them to pray for their own needs? A frequent prayer in our house is, “God, I need your help to obey!” Another thought: teach them to pray for their unsaved friends, it will encourage their burden for the lost. One very practical way we’ve made prayer a part of our nightly ritual is by having a prayer jar. We brainstormed all the different things we could pray about regularly, wrote them on slips of paper, and put them in a jar. Each night the kids get to choose a slip from the jar, and that is the focus of their prayer that night. It helps make it engaging and helps them pray beyond what they might normally think of in the moment.
3. Read the Bible to them, right from the start. And by start, I don’t mean from when they can understand, I mean from the day they get home from the hospital. Honestly, this is probably more for you than it is for them. Establishing patterns of prioritizing God’s Word and reading it as a family are so important. The longer you wait to add it into the schedule, the harder it will be to do so. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t yet started this habit. Just do it -- it doesn’t have to be elaborate to be of impact. Our favorite Bible for kids is The Jesus Storybook Bible, but there are many good ones available.
4. Memorize scripture. Have you ever noticed how quickly your kids pick up facts and tid-bits, even things you’d rather they not remember? They have an amazing ability to memorize, and it is great to take advantage of this skill and saturate their minds with scripture. My husband and I were both part of verse memory programs as kids, and all of those verses (and usually the hand motions or songs associated with them!) are still crystal clear in our minds. Our family loves “Seeds of Worship” CDs, which put verses, word for word from scripture, to music.
5. Don’t miss church. Aside from postpartum recovery, which is very important, make attending church a regular habit. Your kids are taught the value and worth of meeting regularly with other believers by how you prioritize and participate in not only attending church, but fellowship with other believers.
6. Involve your kids in ministry. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I certainly know that this advice can be misunderstood. I don’t think we should use our kids for ministry in a way that makes them Pharisees, or makes them resentful. But kids also shouldn’t be kept so separate from the ministry of their parents that as they grow up they don’t know what it looks like to sit in church, study the Bible, or love someone by praying for them or taking them a meal. Try to involve your kids in ministering to others, at their level. Include a picture from them when you are taking food over to a sick friend, have them pick out a welcome present for someone staying in your home. Better yet, encourage them to think about how they can minister to their friends – did someone have a bad day at school and take it out on your child? Help your child pray for them. If their friend is sick, let them create a care package for them. Show your child that ministry is simply loving others and showing them the love of Jesus, something they can definitely do!
7. Focus on the heart. It’s often easier to just put a stop to a certain unwanted behaviour or sin patterns through punishments or bribes. But every day we have an opportunity to take advantage of innumerable teachable moments, to identify the heart issues at play in our children’s lives. Of course, not every moment of the day will be a “gospel” moment, where you clearly connect their grumpy attitude with their need for Jesus, but whenever we can, we should. Discipline should end with the gospel, with a clear sense for the child of how selfishness, pride, and rebellion in their heart led them to sin against God and what it takes to be made right with Him – God’s grace through Jesus Christ!
8. Create memorable statements. I am not ashamed to admit that this practice has largely taken hold in our family because of the show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhoods! Each show has a key theme, diluted down into a catchy tune, and then repeated as the characters encounter situations they would need to remember the theme. On the show focusing on empathy, for example, the tune goes, “Think about, how someone else is feeling”. It’s easy to remember and helps the kids connect to the concept when they are in the middle of a difficult situation -- a great teaching tool for young kids! And so it is one I’ve applied to helping our kids understand Biblical truths (though not always to song!). One common statement in our home when we’re asking our daughter to obey is, “You need to listen and obey, with a joyful heart, right away, because Jesus loves you”. That statement is packed with deeper concepts, but after time and repetition, it has become a way for her to easily remember what is meant by obedience.
Ultimately, the best way to encourage our children spiritually is to mirror for them what our heavenly father has done for us – to bring them up in an atmosphere of grace. In discipline, in celebration, in silly times, and in getting ready for school times, are our kids being astounded by the grace of God and the hope He has given us? That is my prayer for our family, and for yours as well!