LEADING YOUR CHILDREN TO THE LORD
By Benny Phillips
Few experiences in life compare with hearing your child repent of sin and make a heartfelt commitment to the Lord. No venture, promotion, career or purchase can bring the joy that comes from watching a son or daughter begin the lifelong journey of serving God. Every Christian parent longs to see their children receive new life in Christ and grow in devotion to God. But praying before meals and providing Christian entertainment alone will do little to nurture spiritually mature young people. As parents, we must pay whatever price necessary to devote ourselves to biblical principles of child-rearing.
My wife, Sherrie, and I have been privileged to pray with four of our children to make this decision. Although we have made some mistakes along the way, we have learned some valuable lessons about leading children to faith in Christ. We hope our insights will help you in your task of leading your children to the Lord.
Nurturing Their Hunger for God
One way to stir our children to hunger for a personal relationship with God is by recounting to them the ways God has blessed our lives. The Psalms are full of references to the deliverance and provision of God spoken by former generations for later ones. Psalm 44:1 says: “We have heard with our ears, 0 God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago” (NIV). The chapter goes on to describe specifics of the protection and provision of God in former generations.This knowledge built hope for the difficulties the people were experiencing.
Our children enjoy hearing that Sherrie wasn’t supposed to be able to have children and received the healing touch of God. They are inspired by how He has provided for specific needs in response to our prayers. And they love to hear how Jesus moved miraculously in Uncle John’s life to bring him into a relationship with the Lord.
Another way we can nurture our young children’s hunger for God is by creating an atmosphere of spiritual warmth and receptivity. For starters, it might mean having family worship times, reading Bible stories and listening to Christian music. Developing an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth requires creativity as we build responsibility into our children’s lives, discipline them lovingly and model the Fatherhood of God.
This kind of environment can be enhanced by maintaining an orderly, peaceful home where stress is minimized and family conflicts are less frequent. We can also capitalize on our children’s teachable moments-those sometimes inconvenient times when they show an interest in something about Jesus or their relationship with Him. Using daily happenings as opportunities to talk about God encourages them to include Him in their everyday lives.
As parents, the best thing we can do for our children is first to cultivate our relationship with the Lord, and next, to continue to deepen our relationship with our spouse. Viewing mom and dad’s relationship as permanent build children’s trust in God’s covenantal love.
What about single parents? A single parent can still provide a warm, nurturing home atmosphere-and this is where a caring church family can be a tremendous resource.
Some churches organize support groups or special meetings for single parents. Others encourage families to reach out to single parents and their children, including them in family outings and vacations. In these ways and others, the church family can help offset the anxiety and isolation many single parents can feel.
Providing regular spiritual instruction is a third way we can nurture our children’s hunger for God. This means more than making sure they are familiar with Old Testament heroes. Our aim must be to train them in godly living, promoting the Bible as their guide for life.
The parents Sheree and I know who are the most effective in spiritual training are those who have assumed the responsibility as their God-given privilege and haven’t delegated it to others.
Churches and Christian schools can be helpful supplements, but we have the mandate from God to “train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Remember, Paul’s confidence in his disciple Timothy was not due to the influence of his youth pastor or children’s ministry teacher, but because of the excellent instruction Timothy’s own mother and grandmother provided for him (2 Tim. 1:5).
Maximum training is achieved when children are taught by both words and actions. Some years ago, we decided to teach our children character qualities by leading them in a study of the fruit of the Spirit. They may not remember talking about love, joy and peace, but they will remember the ways-positive and negative-that we demonstrate these qualities for them.
Praying With Your Child
Ultimately, every Christian parent desires to experience the fruit of their example by seeing their children make a commitment to Jesus Christ, Here are some steps that we recommend as your child shows an interest in making a commitment to follow Christ.
1. Discern your child’s readiness. From an early age, children will begin to ask questions about the Lord. At some point, they will show an interest in becoming a Christian. Evaluate whether their interest has been sparked by the desire to emulate a friend’s or sibling’s salvation or to participate in some church activity or whether it’s the result of a genuine conviction.
2. Respond positively to any interest. Even if you question your child’s readiness, affirm his or her interest. Here are some questions children ask frequently and some suggested responses.
* “Daddy, am I a Christian?”
“No, not yet. But someday you can become a Christian. Asking that shows me that you love Jesus very much and that we need to talk more about what it means to give your life to Him.”
* “Mommy, when can I become a Christian like my friend at church?”
“I’m so glad you want to become a Christian. That’s the most important decision you’ll ever make. And we’ll be happy to pray with you when you can understand why Jesus died for your sins. We’ll talk more about this tonight, OK?”
* “Why do people become Christians-do they have to?”
“No, they don’t have to become Christians if they don’t want to. God
doesn’t make people obey and love Him. But yes, we all have to become Christians to have a friendship with Jesus and be forgiven from our sins. Are you feeling a desire to become a Christian?”
3. Discern your child’s ability to understand his or her need for forgiveness and to make a sincere commitment. Many parents are quick to respond to their children’ s sweet desire to become a Christian. Yet we must resist the temptation to allow our young children to pray a premature prayer. In later years, it will be critical that their commitment to the Lord be sincere and genuine. Ask your child questions like:
* Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?
* What do you think sin is?
* Have you ever sinned? How?
* How does Jesus’ dying on the cross pay for your sins?
* What do you think the word forgiveness means?
* Does becoming a Christian mean you will never sin again? What should happen when you do?
Age-related questions like these (worded in a more mature way for older children) help us discern the timing of our children’s readiness. Our goal is not that they understand the gospel as an adult would, but that they are aware of their need for forgiveness and why Jesus is able to provide it.
4. Seize the opportunity to pray with them. The day will finally come when your child is ready to be born again. Whether you initiate the moment of decision or your child does, try to be prepared. Rehearse in your mind the confirming questions you will want to ask (similar to those above).
When you feel confident that your child is ready to trust Christ for salvation, lead him or her in a prayer of repentance and commitment something like this: “Jesus, I know I am a sinner. Please forgive me for my sin and come into my heart. Help me to obey You, and to share Your love with others. I want to follow You for the rest of my life. Thank You for forgiving me and making me a Christian. Amen.”
5. Celebrate the experience. Celebrating helps to seal the memory. You may want to have a special dinner or outing. Encourage your child to telephone another Christian relative or friend to share the news. Interview him or her about what happened on cassette or video, or document the experience in diary or on paper to file away safely for his or her future enjoyment.
6. Follow up with lots of encouragement and discipleship. After the conversion, look for fruit to affirm and encourage (“I’ve noticed how unselfish you’ve been lately. I’m sure it’s because Jesus lives in you now!”). Depending on his or her age, consider how you can disciple your child in character. Begin to spend some special time alone with him or her for encouragement, instruction and discussion of any questions about Christianity.
Passing the Baton
When our son Joseph was 4 years old, he began asking questions that indicated a growing interest in becoming a Christian. We answered his questions and affirmed his desire to know Jesus, but felt he wasn’t ready to make sincere commitment.
A year later, when his brother Jesse “made Jesus boss of his life,” Joey’s interest resurfaced. Again, we believed his desire was based on his brother’s conversion and the joyful celebration that followed. His responses to some questions confirmed our thoughts.
Several months later, the topic in the children’s ministry on a Sunday morning was the death of Jesus. They discussed why Jesus died and how His death makes forgiveness available to us. In following up on this after church. I saw that Joey was beginning to understand the reasons behind the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Over the following months, Sheree and I talked more with him about what he was learning. We answered his questions. His older siblings, realizing what was happening, read stories to him about Jesus and offered their insights to his questions.
“Mommy, I’m ready to become a Christian,” he announced to Sheree one morning.
“You are? That’s wonderful, honey. When Daddy gets home, why don’t you ask if we can talk about it after dinner. OK?”
“OK, Mommy,” he responded as he ran outside to play.
When I drove up, Joey met me on the sidewalk. “Daddy, can we talk about becoming a Christian tonight?” After dinner he offered a reminder:
“Don’t forget about our talk.”
Joey was waiting in the living room when the dinner dishes were done. I asked him some questions he had been asked several times in recent years. I didn’t want to put words into his mouth or prompt him about the answers, so I was careful to phrase my questions in ways that he could understand. This time there was a difference in his answers.
“You’ve certainly been learning a lot about the gospel, Joey,” I said.
“I think you’re ready to become a Christian!” “Oh, goody! You mean now?”
“Yes, son. Now.”
By this time, daughter Jaime and son Jesse had joined us. Our oldest son, Joshua, had gotten the video-camera and was standing discreetly outside of Joey’s vision. We were all aware of what a special moment this was.
The prayer of our 5-year-old left us all in tears of joy: “Jesus, please help me to obey You and forgive me of my sins. Help me not to disobey and please come into my heart. Can You forgive me? And thank You for making me a Christian. Amen.”
Every minute spent disciplining, encouraging, instructing, praying for, playing with or worshiping with our son seemed minimal in comparison to the blissful experience our family shared that evening. No event in this life compares with the fulfillment that comes from seeing our children receive new life in Jesus Christ, whether they are 7 or 17. Nothing can bring the joy that comes from watching our children begin the lifelong journey of serving God.
Yet conversion is actually both the start and the finish. Though it is the ultimate goal of all that we do as parents, it is only the start of a race that will take a lifetime to complete.
Someday, as we see our participating in the race coming to an end, we will pass the baton our generation is carrying to the generation we are raising. What a thrill it will be to see the hands of our children reaching out, their faces glowing with confidence as they sprint forward to fulfill God’s plan for their lives.
(The above information was published by CHARISMA, March 1993)
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