Flashback Friday: 7 Prayer Requests for Your Children

Photo Credit: wnd.andreas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wnd.andreas via Compfight cc

This is a flashback to a popular post on praying of your kids from February 2012:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-13, ESV) 

How can we really see change in the lives of our children? The starting place is prayer. We start with prayer because it is God who works in our children not us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have to choose–though I doubt you do–between discipling your children and praying for them then you should prioritize prayer.

So how should we pray for our kids? Should we pray for them to be bright, athletic, good-looking, healthy, happy, and above average? Maybe. Or, we could set a higher bar and pray for them to grow in godliness. That’s how Paul prayed for his spiritual “children.”

We can have confidence when we pray Scripture because it’s God’s Word and reflects His heart for His children. Take the passage above and turn it into a prayer for your kids. I have built my prayer for my children over past 13 years on the verses above. You can try it right now, just place your child’s name in these sentences:

  1. Lord, fill my child with spiritual wisdom and understanding (for salvation or for spiritual growth if they are already believers).
  2. Lord, help my child to have this wisdom so he/she will walk (live) in a way that is worthy of you and pleasing to you.
  3. Lord, help my child to bear spiritual fruit by doing good works.
  4. Lord, help my child increase in his/her knowledge of you.
  5. Lord, strengthen my child with all power, according to your glorious might.
  6. Lord, give my child endurance, patience, and joy.
  7. Father, thank you for my child, and thank you for qualifying us through Jesus Christ to share in your inheritance of eternal life. (Or, for the hope of that inheritance for the child not yet saved).
So, don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be. Model your prayer after God’s Word and trust, not in the prayer, but in the One to Whom you are praying to answer for His glory.

Putting Santa in His Place

throne of lies
SPOILER ALERT!! This post is for adults only! Secrets will be exposed, so hide yo’ kids.A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a tacky Christmas party. Ugly sweaters abounded and there were even men in tights. Yes, tights. No, I’m not kidding (hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wife). Christmas may never be the same, but that’s another story. Seeing that I’m usually accidentally tacky and not creatively tacky I just wore a t-shirt with a picture of Santa and the words, “Don’t stop believin’.” All of you who are Journey fans just went to a special place, didn’t you?It was all fun and games until a friend of mine stated her surprise that I, a Christian, would have Santa come to my house. My friend is sincere about her unbelief and I appreciate that we have been able to have real talks about faith over the years without it being disagreeable. This time, though, I was caught off-guard. I have known some Christian families who did not have anything to do with Santa Claus. I appreciate their sincerity and I respect their freedom to parent as they see fit. This was the first time, though, that I had ever been challenged by someone who is not a Christian on why a Christian would include Santa in their Christmas traditions.Circumstances prevented us from finishing our conversation, but my friend helped me to understand that people are really curious about faith and practice. The conversation also helped me to think about where or even if Santa belongs in our Christian Christmas tradition.I think Santa has a place, but we need to put him in the right place. After all, the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the acts of a Christian–Saint Nicholas–who gave lavishly to people he found in need, especially children. So here are six key principles to remember as you consider what place Santa has in your family:

  1. Focus more on Jesus than on Santa. Jesus really is the reason for the season. Go to great lengths to help your kids understand that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and with his coming, he brings the gift of salvation. In our home, the Nativity Scenes have more prominence than Santa.
  2. Fantasy is different from deception. I understand the argument: If kids find out that Santa isn’t real will they think the same about Jesus? The logic of that argument is faulty, though. Most people, as they mature, have very little trouble separating fact and fiction. Actually for children, stories and fantasies can help them learn about morality and virtue. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error).” I believe his point was that we can use fiction to help us understand key underlying truths using make-believe. The key is keeping the mystery alive without lying (see the next point)
  3. When your kids ask, tell the truth. The day will come when children begin to put the pieces together about the truth of Santa Claus on their own. When they ask you if Santa is real, you can answer that question with a question: What do you think? There’s that mystery idea from #2. As they develop, eventually they will understand the truth. Affirm them as they begin to realize the truth and take the opportunity to talk about Christ as the reality of Christmas.
  4. Respect those with a different viewpoint. Many Christians do not celebrate Santa. We should not discount these brothers and sisters as legalists if their decisions are made out of conviction and not obligation.
  5. Think it through. It is important for Christians to know why they do what they do so that they can explain to a watching world what makes Jesus so special. We should also know why we have Santa in our celebrations and how we help our families see the difference.
  6. But don’t over think it. There are enough big issues to stress over as parents. Let’s not let others’ opinions of us add a burden not worth bearing. Have fun! Decide what is best for your family based on biblical principles. Use traditions where possible to point people toward the gift of Jesus.

So enjoy Santa this Christmas, or don’t. Either way, put him in his place.

The Father Factor

As you celebrate dads this Sunday, please don’t miss an opportunity to encourage the fathers around you to be faithfully present in the lives of their kids. It is the nature of a man to question his significance. We want to do things we will excel at, things we are confident in, and things that will make us feel of worth or value.

father and son [1]
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Gilles Guerraz via Compfight 

This near-obsession with significance leaves us intimidated by the specter of failing as fathers. So, some dads don’t even try because they aren’t sure what to do when they show up. Of course it’s important to learn the skills of being a good father, yet the reality is that just showing up matters. Study after study reinforces the critical place fathers play in the lives of children and their mother. In an editorial last fall, Tony Dungy observed that nearly one in three children lives apart from their biological fathers, and those kids are two to three times more likely to grow up in poverty, suffer in school, and have health and behavioral problems. They are also at a higher risk for child abuse.

When God designed the family He factored in fathers. He gave lots of instructions to fathers about passing the torch of knowledge and relationship with God. The bottom line, dads are important. At times it seems to call out the importance of dads is taken as an insult to all the moms in the world. It should not be seen this way. Of course we celebrate moms, particularly the single mother who is carrying the weight and responsibility of two parents. But just as the mother is unique in the family, a father is equally irreplaceable. Consider the words of Christian artist Lecrae in a recent Christianity Today article in reference to growing up without a father in the home. “I grew up and still didn’t know what it meant to be a man.” Lecrae’s story and the statistical evidence only bear out the reality of God’s model and the importance of fathers in the context of discipleship (See Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, for example).

Leave no doubt in the minds of the men in your life about the significance they have for their families. Encourage them, honor them, praise God for designing them.

 

You Can Help Your Kids Dream Big Dreams

As we grow up society can suck the dreams right out of us. We are told to be realistic, not to get our hopes up. By the time they reach college or work age, most kids’ dreams have been managed down to a very narrow window of opportunity based on perceived skills or academic achievement. We send conflicting signals. On the one hand children are told to follow their dreams and that they can be whatever they want to be. On the other hand, when they share those dreams adults can start to tame them under the good motive of not wanting children to be disappointed.

Zoned Out
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Lily Zhu via Compfight

Last week our family spent time sharing our hopes and dreams for the future with one another. I must confess that I have not done a lot to cultivate this area of my kids lives. Children have wonderful imaginations, hopes, and dreams. But I’m afraid I have been more concerned with what they need to know for growth in godliness than I have been with hearing what God is doing in their hearts already. Simply put, I’ve done more talking than listening.

The idea came from a podcast by Michael Hyatt encouraging people to dream big. Hyatt’s insight was very helpful, but I wanted to try to help my kids not just dream in the abstract. I wanted them to begin to dream and pray towards God’s best for their lives, not just their own whims and desires. It’s good to set goals and have dreams, but these can easily become self-centered unless we see them through the lens of Scripture.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

This year, our family adopted Ephesians 3:20-21 (above) as our theme verse. We have seen God do amazing things around us in answer to prayer over the last few years, but I was convicted by this Ephesian doxology that we had not prayed big enough prayers. We worship a God who can do more than we can ask or even imagine according to His power and for His glory! I want my kids to have faith in a big God who can empower them to do magnificent things as they seek to obey and glorify Him.

So, here’s what we did for our family devotional time last week:

1. Dream – I sent everyone (including me and Brandie) off with a sheet of paper and told them to write down 5 things they wanted to do in their lifetime. I told them that nothing was off limits.

2. We gathered back together and took turns sharing one dream each at a time around the circle until we heard all 5 from everyone. Not all the dreams were super-spiritual. They included things like playing in a rock band and traveling the world. But also included were things like going on mission trips, serving special needs kids, helping in a nursing home, and seeing God’s will accomplished in our neighborhood.

3. Once we had heard all the dreams I read Ephesians 3:20-21. Then, I asked us to consider which of those dreams were God-sized. Each person shared a little more and we talked about how God can do more than we can ask or think.

4. Then we prayed and asked God to be glorified and help us to dream the dreams He had for us as individuals and a family for His glory.

I learned things about my kids and my wife that I had not known before. They also learned some things about their dad they didn’t know. Now I have a better insight into who they are and how I can serve my family as a father and husband. I can help channel those dreams toward godliness. I can pray more specifically for my family. I can ask better questions to help them focus on Christ and His glory based on their God-given passions.

What’s next? Our goal for the summer is 100 dreams each. Perhaps some of these dreams will become goals. Maybe others will be the seeds to greater focus later on down the line. Some don’t seem realistic, but that’s the point of dreams anyway right?

So, how about you? What are your dreams for your family? What are their dreams? You won’t know until you ask!

 

How family discipleship can make your job easier

The not-so-subtle assault on families in our time is real. This should drive us to be intentional in making disciples of our children so they can know biblical answers to the moral questions they will face. For decades Christians have looked to the church as the primary institution for instilling faith and values into our kids. Here’s a simple question: How’s that working for us? A solid family ministry strategy that is intentional can help parents and church leaders be effective at making disciples of the next generation.

Timothy Paul Jones is a major voice in creating a new culture where churches are more intentional in partnering with parents. The second part of my recent conversation with Timothy is now up at www.churchandfamilync.org. I hope you’ll take time to listen. There are take-aways for parents and church leaders that are super-practical and encouraging. Here are my top 10 (5 for parents, 5 for church leaders):

As Parents:

  1. Take your own discipleship seriously.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect. Be genuine and sincere.
  3. Start a Family Faith talk at least once a week. Keep it simple and gear it to the age of your kids.
  4. Don’t see the church staff as the main disciple-maker, but see them as partners to help you take that role.
  5. My favorite: Consistency matters more than content! Your kids will remember the time you spend with them more than the teaching itself.

As Church Leaders:

  1. Ask your leaders, are you doing this in your home?
  2. Start a family ministry team.
  3. Don’t blow up the bride of Christ. Love people to change, don’t try to force change.
  4. Re-culture the church. Create a new culture, not just a new strategy.
  5. Provide the tools. Give parents simple resources they can use to do family faith talks at home. This can simply be a take home question or two from the sermon.
Recently, I encouraged some friends to start spending time in prayer together as couple. The husband said, “When should we start? The wife said, “How about tonight?”
The same question is a good one for family discipleship. When should you start?
How about tonight?

 

How to Help Families Focus

Family values always get lots of attention, especially in the church. The only thing that is clear about family ministry is that there isn’t a lot of clarity! I have spent over 20 years in ministry to families in one way or another. I wish I’d had access to a book like Family Ministry Field Guide when I started. The author, Timothy Paul Jones, recently joined me for the Church and Family Connect Podcast with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Here are five big take-aways for me:

  1. We shouldn’t focus on the family, we should help families focus on God and the gospel.
  2. Most parents know they are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most parents aren’t doing anything to fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Churches know that parents are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most churches aren’t sure how to help parents.
  4. Busyness does not mean effectiveness. Churches need a strategy for family ministry.
  5. Youth and children’s ministries CAN be structured to help train, involve, and equip parents.

Listen and share your big take-aways:

Timothy Paul Jones, Part 1

 

A Grandfather, Siberia, and a Bible

He removed the 110-year old family Bible with care from a simple white plastic bag. With his most prized possession in his hands, Alexander told the story of his grandfather with tears in his eyes. His grandfather was a pastor in the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union where it was illegal to teach the Bible and preach the Gospel. The grandfather was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia for preaching the Gospel. Before he was arrested, he was able to hide the Bible with a friend. Not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive, Alexander’s grandmother continued to teach her children using that Bible. The grandfather barely survived Siberia but was released after he completed his time. When he returned home his family didn’t even recognize him after all the years of neglect in the prison camp.

Now Alexander is a pastor in Moldova and uses the family Bible to teach his grandchildren about Jesus Christ. I was able to meet Alexander last week and had the privilege of preaching in the church he planted and pastors. Our entire mission team was treated to dinner in his kitchen where he told of his grandfather. When he told the story I was moved to tears. I was witnessing first-hand the impact of generational discipleship. The family Bible was a physical reminder of the commitment of a man to pass his faith down from generation to generation.

I thought about Psalm 78:5-7:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

Christians in the Soviet Union didn’t have the luxury of a church down the street to handle the discipleship of their kids. The church was underground and it was up to parents to pass faith along to their children. In fact, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to those parents to rely on someone else to teach their children about faith.

What about you? Are you teaching your kids to love God through His Word? Do they know about your faith? What if you were separated from your family like Alexander’s grandfather? Would your family know to set their hope in God?

Today, we’ve been conditioned to look for helps like devotional books or curriculum lines to help us know what to say to our kids. Those tools can be helpful to be sure. But it seems that believers in places that don’t have access to other literature are doing just fine with God’s Word alone.

So, try this:

  • Read a chapter of the Bible yourself.
  • Make a note of a principle or promise you need to apply to your own life.
  • Share that chapter and principle or promise with your kids.
  • Pray together as a family, asking God to help you walk in His ways.

Train your kids to know the Word even if your not around!

Read more about Alexander.

Find out more about the NC Baptist Moldova Partnership.

 

The Family that Prays…

Recently, my wife, Brandie, and I had a conversation with a friend who was wrestling with how to encourage her teenager to be involved in their family prayer time. She and her husband have made a practice of leading their family to pray using the A.C.T.S. model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication/intercession), but as their kids are getting older they are facing the challenge of keeping them all engaged in the prayer time. Although it was a challenge for them, the important thing is that this dad and mom were gathering their children for prayer and were intentional in how they were praying.

Teaching kids to pray through an intentional prayer time is vitally important, but what guidelines can we use to help us?

1. Be Real – Jesus warned against prayers that were merely vain repetitions to impress others (Matthew 6:8). By extension, those we try to impress with our prayers could be our own kids. We shouldn’t worry about saying the right things when we pray as parents, we should focus on sincerity of heart. Remember, we’re not praying so our kids will hear us, but so that God will. We pray within our kids’ hearing so they will have a model of sincerity in prayer.

2. Be Relevant – Jesus encourages His disciples to ask him for the things they need (Matthew 7:7). Pray about the needs you have and encourage your children to do the same. Your kids’ requests may seem silly or “unspiritual” to you, but don’t discourage them from asking what is really on their hearts. As you hear them pray and reveal what’s on their minds, then you have information to help you attend to their needs and guide them into more mature, less self-centered prayers.

3. Be Relational – Praying out loud as a family can bring you closer in your relationships with one another as well as with the Father. Prayer is a tangible way to keep Jesus Christ in the center of your family. Your faith as a family will be emboldened as you experience the Lord answering prayers you’ve heard one another pray just as the early church experienced together God’s power through their corporate prayers (Acts 4:31).

4. Be Realistic (not legalistic) – As your children grow they will go through stages of involvement and disconnect. It is good to have a model (like A.C.T.S.) to help guide them, but above all teach that prayer is an honest dialogue not a formal recitation. Keep their ages in mind and encourage small steps like sentence prayers of thanksgiving. And if a child does not want to pray out loud, don’t force them. Be careful not to set prayer out as a religious requirement but as a precious privilege. Encourage them to know that hearing their prayers is a way to grow in intimacy with one another, but emphasize that they don’t have to speak out loud to talk to God. Praying out loud may be a source of embarrassment for people because they’ve never been taught how. The home is a safe place for kids to prepare for public prayer at their own pace.

So, start tonight. Pray as a family. Remember, it’s not how you pray with your kids, but that you pray with your kids which is important! What about you? How do you pray with your kids?

 

7 Prayer Requests for Your Children

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-13, ESV) 

How can we really see change in the lives of our children? The starting place is prayer. We start with prayer because it is God who works in our children not us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have to choose–though I doubt you do–between discipling your children and praying for them then you should prioritize prayer.

So how should we pray for our kids? Should we pray for them to be bright, athletic, good-looking, healthy, happy, and above average? Maybe. Or, we could set a higher bar and pray for them to grow in godliness. That’s how Paul prayed for his spiritual “children.”

We can have confidence when we pray Scripture because it’s God’s Word and reflects His heart for His children. Take the passage above and turn it into a prayer for your kids. I have built my prayer for my children over past 13 years on the verses above. You can try it right now, just place your child’s name in these sentences:

  1. Lord, fill my child with spiritual wisdom and understanding (for salvation or for spiritual growth if they are already believers).
  2. Lord, help my child to have this wisdom so he/she will walk (live) in a way that is worthy of you and pleasing to you.
  3. Lord, help my child to bear spiritual fruit by doing good works.
  4. Lord, help my child increase in his/her knowledge of you.
  5. Lord, strengthen my child with all power, according to your glorious might.
  6. Lord, give my child endurance, patience, and joy.
  7. Father, thank you for my child, and thank you for qualifying us through Jesus Christ to share in your inheritance of eternal life. (Or, for the hope of that inheritance for the child not yet saved).
So, don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be. Model your prayer after God’s Word and trust, not in the prayer, but in the One to Whom you are praying to answer for His glory.

Four Ways Churches Can Help Parents

It is clear in Scripture that parents have the primary role in the spiritual formation of children. We have affirmed this and noted that parents ought not outsource this responsibility to the church. But what is the place of the church in partnering with parents?

 It is true that Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78 and other biblical texts place the onus on parents for discipleship, but in those same passages we should note that these parents aren’t discipling kids in a vacuum. In fact, this command to parent discipleship is given within the context of a broader faith community. In the Old Testament, this faith community is the nation of Israel. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 begins, “Hear, O Israel.” The command was given to the whole nation, not just the family. Implicit in this is the idea that families need support from the broader faith community. Today that faith community is not a nation, it is the church.

The church should not replace the parents, but parents should not undervalue the church’s role in discipleship. A few years ago the motto for The Home Depot was “you can do it, we can help.” As I have studied the role that churches should play in discipleship for the family, I think that is an excellent motto that could be applied. Churches should affirm that parents are the primary discipling agent, but that the church can encourage, equip, and resource them.