These days, my four-year-old son is learning a whole host of new skills, like writing the alphabet, singing in tune, riding a bike, and drawing ladybugs. He’s making up jokes and figuring out how to cut a sandwich (see picture) and covering his mouth when he coughs. He’s developing the desire and ability to be genuinely helpful with everyday tasks like getting dressed, setting the table, and getting the stroller out of the garage. Seeing him growing and maturing – and helping that process along – is one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced.
There are lots of things I want my kids to learn as they grow up. But what’s most important? What is the biggest lesson I want my kids to learn during these few years I have them in my home before they get launched out into the world?
As a Christian, I know the answer: the most important thing I can teach my children is to know, love, and trust in Jesus Christ. This means more than getting them to pray a one-off prayer asking Jesus into their heart; it means training them for a life of trusting and following him no matter what. It means nurturing a faith that will stand the test of time.
Nurturing my children’s faith can come in many forms. It happens when I rebuke them for self-serving and rebellious behavior, or when I ask them to forgive me for my own sinful actions and desires. It happens in everyday conversations about our gracious Creator when we’re looking up at the stars or talking about where cheese comes from. It happens when I sing over them while they’re falling asleep at the end of the day. It weaves its way into all of life; we talk about God and his goodness when we sit down and as we walk along the road and when we wake up and when we go to sleep (Deuteronomy 6:7).
A crucial part of my job of nurturing my children’s faith is the discipline of family devotions. While there are opportunities to disciple our children all throughout every part of our daily life, setting aside (i.e. “devoting”) a regular time to focus on God and his word is absolutely indispensable. It anchors and enables all our other efforts and spiritual nurturing. Stopping everything else to listen to God’s word consciously and explicitly demonstrates that God’s purposes are more important than ours. It reminds us all that faith in Christ is not some optional extra that we can just plug into our own agendas.
Just as my own spiritual growth and health depend on getting a personal daily devotional time, so my children need me to nurture their spiritual life by leading them in family devotions.
So, how do we do it?
In our home, we do devotions in a couple of different ways. Most mornings, Rebecca reads to the kids from a Bible storybook. (Our favorites so far are The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible.) Every evening after dinner we pray for one of the missionaries pictured on our fridge and then read a chapter of the Bible while we eat our dessert (because God’s word is sweet!). Then we talk about what the Bible said, pray, and get ready for bed.
There are, of course, lots of pre-packaged devotional resources out there. Some of them can be helpful, and like I said, we do read Bible stories out of picture books in the mornings. But we really want our kids’ main devotional diet to be the Bible itself. They don’t understand everything, of course, but that’s OK. They’re picking up things as they go, and we help them by re-telling the story and explaining the message. (A bonus of this is that it forces us to really think about and understand the Bible ourselves. Knowing you need to answer someone else’s questions is a great motivator!) And there will be opportunities for review; we’ll cover all this material a couple more times for each of our kids before they turn 18.
Advent is actually the one time of the year when we don’t just read straight from the Bible. Instead, we go through The Advent Book, which contains a slightly-reworded version of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth hidden behind 24 exquisitely-designed paper doors. This year, we’ll also be reading some passages about Jesus’ first and second comings on the four Sundays of Advent. On November 29, we’ll read Isaiah 40:1-11; on December 6, we’ll read Isaiah 9:1-7; on December 13, we’ll read Isaiah 11:1-9; and on December 20, we’ll read Revelation 21-22.
If you want to develop a practice of nurturing your kids with regular family devotions, Advent is a great time to start! You can follow the same plan we do, find another one you like better, or make up your own. Whatever you do, get your kids (and yourself) into God’s word; then watch them grow in loving and following Jesus.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).