Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How We Have Devotions with our Children

The original model.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy post about how I have my daily devotions and, at the end of it, I promised to write a follow-up about how Adam and I lead devotions with our children. This is that follow-up--and forgive me for posting it later than I'd hoped.

And, fair warning: most of what I'm going to say here is a natural outgrowth of the content of that first post. I.e., our devotions with our children are really a continuation of our own devotional lives, and that's really what I hope you come away from this post remembering.

There are three main ways we lead our kids in learning about, praying to, worshiping, and serving the Lord, and the first two are stupidly obvious (but worth noting)--and the last one might be, too.

1. Go to church (live like Christians)

If your lives aren't centered around the Lord, your children will know it, regardless of whether or not you read them a Bible verse now and again. One primary way your children will know the reality of your devotion is by seeing how you spend your time. Do you make time in your days, in your weeks, for serving the Lord? Live like a Christian (because you are one). Be a part of your local church. Worship in community regularly. Let God's love permeate your life. When you sin against your kids or your spouse, repent and ask forgiveness. Love your neighbors. Work on all those good and terrifying lists of virtues Paul was always sticking in his epistles.

Be real. And by "real," I don't mean, "let all your vices hang out."  I mean, "really follow Jesus, and yes, that includes doing the real work, and letting your kids see that you don't always get it right, but that you always let Jesus pick you up and help you keep following Him."

(Note: I know church attendance is hard. And I know church people can be hard to get along with. And I know churches can get it wrong, and can hurt you, and... and all of that. Anyone who's been in church any length of time has stories about it. Keep trying. God loves these folks. Hang in there. We really are supposed to do it, and God gives grace for the struggle. You might be walking through a desert right now when it comes to church; keep walking. Keep your heart set on the pilgrim way, for God can make the desert a place of springs.)

2. Pray together regularly

This can be really simple: pray together before meals and at bedtimes. Thank God for your food and ask Him for good sleep. If you have trouble with extemporaneous prayers, use a formal prayer (at various times we've used the Lord's Prayer or the simple "Guide us waking, oh Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace"--the Book of Common Prayer has LOTS of other good ones, too, if you're looking for help).

This is an area, frankly, where I'm hoping to grow our family's own practice. We're very regular at praying, but not very... varying. I want to help the kids learn how to pray more for themselves, for others, how to use prayer to worship and to confess, to petition... but the good thing is, we do have a habit of prayer. And I think once you have a habit, you can build on it and refine it.

So start the habit, and feel free to start simply. Just start.

3. Teach them the Bible (out of your own devotions)

So, while this is probably as stupidly obvious as my first two points, it's the insight that's been absolutely revolutionary for me this year.

I've used, and still love and appreciate, devotional books like The Jesus Storybook Bible, or The Biggest Story, and I'm sure I'll keep using them.


But the very best teaching times we've had with our kids are when we teach them out of the passages we ourselves are studying. So, when I'm reading Luke in my personal devotions, at bedtime I'll read to the kids out of Luke, and I'll explain it to them. Or Adam will read to them some of what he's been pondering in the Bible recently, and he'll explain it to them. (Or we'll read whatever's in the lectionary that week.)

Recently, I was reading through Nehemiah, and so I read big chunks of that to the kids for a week or so, and explained to them what it meant. And it was wonderful, because right there in Nehemiah was an explanation of exactly what we were doing! In Nehemiah 8, the scribe Ezra reads the law to the people, and as he reads, a crowd of Levites stands ready to assist him. And how exactly do the Levites assist him?

"[They] helped the people to understand... they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (emphasis mine)".

That is what you can do for your kids: read to them from the Bible, and then help them to understand it.

And how do you do that? By making sure you understand it yourself. And for that, you have to be spending time reading it, meditating on it, studying it, and even listening to and reading good theology from people more learned than you are.

This is what I mean when I say that your children's devotions should grow out of your own devotions. Because you know that they're going to have questions. You know they're going to ask what it means, and what about this, and, Mom, does that mean that I should ...????

And that's the really good stuff. That's the stuff that sticks. And you're only going to be up to the task if you're regularly seeking the Lord's face yourself, regularly turning your own heart towards Him, regularly feeding yourself on His word.

Which brings us to ... food!  Food. Here is an analogy for you: think of how you feed older babies--babies that aren't really toddlers yet, but they're not just toothless breastfed babes anymore either. Yes, you may have a few foods for them that are really just prepared for babies (jarred baby food, etc.), but the older they get, the more you can just modify your own supper. You cut up the grapes, you mash up the main dish, you spoonfeed them a properly prepared version of what the rest of the family is eating.

It’s easier that way, AND it’s healthy. (Assuming your normal diet is healthy…and it should be.)

This is what it's like to modify your own devotions for your children's needs. Feed them what the rest of the family (the church) is eating. Just break it down enough that they can easily take it in.

Yes, there's still room for prepared devotional materials. They're so helpful--much like jarred baby food. I would not want to be without the excellent resources careful Christian authors have prepared to help children learn about God. BUT…you don't feed your baby just jarred baby foods. You help your baby eat what the rest of the family is eating. THAT is what your children's devotional life should be like.

(Also, I'm pretty convinced that Scripture memorization fits in here somewhere, too. But, to be honest, that's something I'm still trying to figure out how to incorporate regularly into our lives. I'll update as we keep working on it!)

One Last Note

I was talking to my own mother about composing this post, and I asked her if she thought I'd missed anything important. Her response was a thoughtful, "Sometimes each child is going to need individual discipleship."

It was such a good reminder that I couldn't close this post without sharing it. Yes, each child is an individual, and there are times when each of them will need attention, help, resources, prayer, time, thought, guidance, study... all of these good things, and that child will need them from YOU, the parent. So please, don't take this post as an end-all or be-all. I've only been a parent for about 12 years now, and if I have as much to learn in the next 12 years as I have in the last 12... well, I have a really, really long way to go.

So please take this post in the spirit it's offered: as a reflection from someone who's a ways down the road, but not that far down, and who wants to offer what she knows so far, just in case it might help someone else on the path. I know I'm missing things, and I'm sure somewhere in here I've said something wrong.

But we're meant to help each other on this journey. I pray the Lord lets whatever is good here stick in your heart and your mind, and that He graciously lets you forget and discard anything harmful. May you enjoy many, many rich times of prayer and study and discussion with your kids, as you lead them to follow you, as you follow Christ.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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