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Strategic Parenting: Being Intentional in the Spiritual Development of Your Children

I recently received several emails—one being all the way from Australia (I so appreciate my Aussie readers! Can I come visit you one day;)—all inquiring about our devotional time with our children and just wanting for information and direction how this special time works in our family. For many parents today, we live in a busy culture with little or no guidance on how to “train a child in the way he should go” so that “when he is older he will not wonder from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I in NO WAY profess to be an expert on this topic, but our family is passionate about it, and family devotionals with our children and investing into their spiritual lives has been a priority for Richard and myself…and we want our lives to be an open book…a ministry and a light to be used for the glory of God. I want to always remain teachable—so if you have something you feel led to share with our family, we always welcome your ideas and would like to share them! Today’s post is at the request of many of my readers—so I hope someone can take something from it that blesses your family. With any book, blog and friend–I think you can learn something…but at the same time not everything will work the same for each family just as each child and family is unique. If you think of another question while reading—please comment that or email me and I’ll be happy to share in any way I can!

Keep in mind our children are ages 1, 4 and 5—so this will look different as they grow.

First, in order for us to be teachers of the Word and to help the stories come ALIVE for our children—we have to be in the Word. Daily. Often, I have tried to teach stories to my children based on head knowledge–and because I didn’t spend time re-reading the story, praying for the Lord to direct my time teaching them and asking for Him to make this story real to me–I have caught myself being drab or quickly running through the story with little or no application. So–if you want to pour into the spiritual lives of your children and be a teacher of the Word–get in the Word and ask Him for guidance.

That is the MOST important thing. If you read nothing else. Stop here–and get that alone. For the Word and His power in it is enough, enough, enough.

If anyone understands the difficultly of finding time being in the word daily—it’s Andrea Young. Hi, my name is Andrea Young, and I struggle with being in the Word daily. YET, He never ceases to blow my socks off as I ask Him to help me create time. He is the author of time–and as you seek Him in creating time for Him…it will be available. It might be work at first–but the more you drink of it, the thirstier you become! Priortize your time with my “when I’m 80” principle. I simply say this about everything I do: “When I’m 80, I’ll be glad I ________”. This little phrase has helped me filter things that don’t need to be in my limited schedule—and begin to live a life with my motto: no regrets, no retreats, no reserve. “When I’m 80, I’ll be glad I…watched Lost.” TV off. I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard it’s addicting;). “When I’m 80, I’ll be glad I…read books to my kids every night. Then, I go for it. You get the idea…I have done this for years as a parent, and it’s helped me create more margin in my day and be more intentional about how I spend my time and guard my own mind and time. Being intentional with your children starts at being intentional with your priorities, your spiritual growth and remaining emotionally healthy.

Once I have been filled with the Word–and my cup runneth over…it is natural to pour into my children and easier to know where to begin. YET, some times I’m in need of resources which I want to share with you…some of my “go to’s” when I need ideas and creativity…

The Content…
During the afternoon, I focus on relational time with my kids—just being intentional with getting to know their hearts. Tell me about your day…What do you want to be when you grow up…Is there something cool we could make together…What did you dream about last night…and dinner time we try to always share our hearts by taking turns around the table sharing what made us happy today and what made us sad today. At first, your kids might not want to play or even know how to share—but as you model this for them and it becomes normal, it will be natural and fun for them. I know a local pastor who did this with his children even when they were in high school and they loved it even as teenagers. This time may seem really simple, but one day this will serve as open doors for them to share things that are really heavy on their hearts. We are starting young with heart probing–but it’s NEVER too late to start building this kind of trust and vulnerable relationship with your children!

If you want to take meal time to the next level and it’s easiest to do devotional time at the table while everyone is already there, Focus on the Family has created an incredible family devotional series called Family Mealtime Devotionals. You can see an example of a mealtime devotional here and you can purchase the Mealtime Devotional book here or you can print off 52 of the 150 mealtime devotionals from the website also just to see how your family likes them before purchasing the book. Cool, huh?! And if you love the book and want more…they even came out with ANOTHER book with more devotionals!

Finding special time…As far as WHEN you do your devotional, you really have to do what works best for your family. For now, we currently do our devotional time after dinner and bath time. We have a time where we read a scripture story—during Christmas time and Lent we do the Jesse Tree or the Lent Tree (see my craft section for how to on this so you can prepare for next year!). In between, we keep things fun by mixing things up–we some times use Betty Lukens felt story boards to retell stories and discuss them as a family. Other times, we’ll read sweet Max Lucado children’s books and connect them with scripture as we discuss application to their lives. And we always end with practicing our memory verse. When our children turned 2 years old, they were old enough to start memorizing a Bible verse each month. We usually chose verses that are currently areas we are trying to work on…sibling conflicts? We might memorize “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult but with blessing” 1 Peter 3:9 Bragging? “Walk in humility and consider others better than yourself” Philippians 2:3. Scared? “God said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” Hebrews 13:5. Don’t want to spend time scrambling in the back of your Bible for the perfect verse for issues you are dealing with? I would recommend the easy chart by Ginger Plowman Wise Words for Moms. I keep mine in my reading room on my magnet board so it’s easy for me to find throughout the day.

I had a reader ask how we handle focus issues with young children during our devotional time and if we ever have discipline problems with our kids during this some what intentional, more quiet, focused time. Actually, our kids pay attention 100% of the time;). JUST KIDDING! I WISH! As I said before we have kids ages 1, 4 and 5—so our 1 year old is often asleep…and for now his spiritual growth consists of listening to mommy sing hymns to him at night, listening to mommy praying outloud (his sweet little hands melt my heart!) and dancing when we put on praise music. On a serious note, we do have times when our kids will get silly and as with anything we redirect them and remind them that this is a very special time as a family and we need to be respectful. Some times their disengagement is a redflag that the material I chose may be over their heads and I may need to tweak things to get them more engaged. Because my kids are younger–I have discovered they are more visual learners right now than auditory…so when I see cool Bible figures I buy them or I’ll use my felts to reinact stories as a special treat. THEY LOVE THIS! But, to answer your question–kids will always be kids…so I say “age appropriate, age appropriate, age appropriate” as you choose your teaching curriculum. For my preschoolers, I’m sticking to Bible stories in children’s books, my Betty Lukens felt stories and seasonal things like my Jesse and Lent tree.Yes, there will be nights where there is silliness—but I just encourage you to be consistent with your devotional time and consistent with how you handle silliness and remind them that this is special family time and they need to be respectful of this time and honor their mom and dad during this time by listening. (Now…when they are teenagers, this might look different;).

For families with children over 6 years old, I would recommend looking into materials by Precept Ministries. If you click on “children/kids” there are tons of Bible studies you can do with your children with a variety of fun topics. Precept Ministries also has a lot of Bible study material for teens too…you can check them out here. Preteens is also a key time to invite a mentor into your child’s life…as—um—sorry to break it to you…but you won’t be as cool;). For 4 years in college (um—that was over a decade ago;), I mentored a precious girl starting in her middle school years to high school and it was amazing how I saw the Lord work in our time together. What a wise mommy to seek our an older girl, meet with me and ask me if I was up for the challenge. Wise for her to let go and trust the Lord to use another in her child’s life. We met once a week for several hours–prayed together, challenged one another and held one another accountable. It wasn’t the responsibility of the teen, the youth pastor or church to find the right mentor to her child—she prayed about it, got to know the college group girls and carefully selected a mentor for her valuable gift from the Lord.

I think the key to anything when it comes to growth of any kind–is to have a plan.

The investment into your child’s spiritual journey will be the most important task you ever do as a parent. We find time to search on the internet for HOURS for the best deals, the most fun vacations and the most interesting people—yet few spend intentional planning time with their spouse creating a plan in being intentional with the only thing that has lasting value in the lives of their children.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO BEGIN BEING INTENTIONAL. (Are you a grandparent saying, “Stink. I missed the opportunity?” No, you didn’t. It’s never too late. Pour into your children. Encourage them. Challenge them. Support them.)

So…when I’m 80—will I regret doing this?

Absolutley not.

It will be the one thing I will cling to NO MATTER HOW MY CHILDREN TURN OUT. I will know that I ran the race well…and I can leave the rest up to God to do the work. And hopefully—hopefully—hopefully…I can look back and say, “No regrets. No retreats. No reserve.”

{Today’s scripture reading is Judges 16, 17, 18}

Jenny - April 5, 2010 - 10:57 pm

Wonderful post and can I just say… I love you! You are a breath of fresh air! I am a teacher and sometimes work with women who claim to be believers but sometimes have such ill will towards me and I think it’s just because I long to serve Him… your post always make me feel like I’m not alone. thank YOU!

Jenny - April 5, 2010 - 10:59 pm

Also, we use books to teach our children. We’ve finished the Narnia series and are now reading Little Pilgrim’s Progess… my boys are 6 and 5 and they LOVE it! It’s been so awesome to try to delve deeper into the meanings in some of those books.. I’ve also learned a lot.
AND of course we’re still reading through the Bible with you and have read many of our readings out loud to the boys.

Elle J - April 5, 2010 - 11:03 pm

Love this post, Andrea!!!

admin - April 5, 2010 - 11:05 pm

JENNY…we are reading Narnia RIGHT now!!! They are 4 and 5 and LOVING it! Were we seperated at birth;)?!

julie@Flitterbugs - April 6, 2010 - 7:49 am

Love this post Andrea! HUM…..ladies are emailing you for advice on teaching tender little hearts in the daily….I do see that book in your future:) My husband and I have been shocked at how much our kids absorb when we simply read scripture to them. (Even the OT “hard” stuff!) At 2 the big “rite of passage” occurs in our home…we don’t let the kids go to nursery or children’s church….we worship together as a family. We are shocked that by the time they hit about 4, they can accurately tell us what the sermon was about. Man, kids are soaking it all up! Which is kindof scary…what are we surrounding tham with to soak up?!? Love this post 🙂 And I cannot wait until your book comes out….I see in it the future baby gift I give to all of my friends 🙂

Lara - April 6, 2010 - 11:04 am

Great post! I actually struggled with finding appropriate verses for my 3 year old to memorize. You gave some great ideas here! It is so tempting and easy to just go on auto-pilot with kids and get through the day without stopping to consider my children’s hearts.

Christina - April 6, 2010 - 12:56 pm

Loved your post today. Was lead to your blog by Jenny and so glad that I came over for the read. Such an encouragement and a great reminder of the value of our families. We use the Ginger Plowman chart as well and I love the ease to finding information that we face DAILY! I enjoy taking verses out of the chart for a specific issue that maybe we’ve really struggled with at that time (oh wait – did I just admit my family struggles – oh, yes I did) and printing them to hang in our home. At the top of the page I try to put a “life applicable” quote (from myself) that helps them see how this goes from scripture to application, then I put the verse. We will work on it this way for just a week talking through it and memorizing. The next week – I add the heart probing questions from the chart at the bottom to help teach them how to handle sin when it happens. I want them to learn how to confess and repent, but also how to do it differently next time. It’s been good for us all! I will have to look into the mealtime book – that looks great! We have children 7, 6, 4 and at Christmas we decided this last year to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 every night from December 1st through Christmas….I was amazed at my oldest two quoting the scripture and my youngest filling in so much of it along the way. They soak it up and what an investment! Blessings to you and yours.

Lisa - April 20, 2010 - 12:06 am

Dear Andrea, Finally I have gotten to reading properly thru your post, I have had a crazy 2 weeks here (school holidays here in Oz). Thank you thank you for all your great tips and humble manner of encouraging us. You are truly being used for God’s glory. I was really blown away by your life motto – I have been trying to live a more regret-free life lately; hadn’t thought, though, of the when I’m 80…… so I’ll add that into my thinking too now.

Sharing Wiphan… » Babe of my Heart - April 24, 2010 - 12:15 am

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