If we want our children to have a faith that influences the way they live their lives — and the critical life decisions they make — then in our homes we need to be modeling faith through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I once led a workshop with David Anderson titled "Nurturing Faith of Teenagers." I set the stage for the workshop by helping the parents identify the characteristics of teenagers as well as the issues they commonly face today. Dr. Anderson then took it a step further by asking the parents, "How many of you wish your teenager had a stronger faith?" Every hand in the room went up. He then made a comment that I'll never forget. He said, "While it's good that everyone desires that our teenagers have a stronger faith, the truth is that what we see in our teenagers' faith is a mirror image of our own faith. So, the issue is not their faith, but your faith."
The makeover in your family begins with a makeover in your own heart. If you want your children to have a personal relationship with Christ, you need to have a personal relationship with Christ. If you want God to make over your family, the makeover must begin with you. You need to move from having knowledge about God in your head to establishing a personal relationship with God in your heart. Only then can God affect how you live your life, raise your children and make life decisions. So ask yourself:
Take every chance you can to practice faith-talk with your children — and remember that faith-talk doesn't need to end when they grow up on their own. My dad once said to me, "You never stop being a parent." In the same way, faith-talk is a never-ending dialogue with your children. You can make a lasting impression on your children and the generations of children that follow.
In today’s world, time is one of our most precious commodities. In our increasingly busy lives, we must make the best of the time that we have. So when is the best time to discuss our faith with our children? The only reasonable answer is anytime.
The reality is that you do have time to talk about faith with your children. You just need to take advantage of some of these slices of time. Yes, you’re busy, but keep in mind that time is what you make of it.
Effective faith-talk is as much about listening and receiving as it is about talking and giving. All of us are growing in our relationship with Christ, and no one has all the answers. Accept your children and the unique gifts that God has given to them. God has a purpose and plan for them — and His plan may not be the same as your plan for their lives.
In the same way, children need to learn to accept their parents as the people God has given them to shape and mold their lives. You’re not perfect, but you should stress to your children that God commands that they accept and love you. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' — which is the first commandment with a promise — 'that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth' " (Eph. 6:1-3).
My mom and dad have been lifelong examples of this to me. From the day I was born, my parents accepted the call that God had on my life. When I felt God leading me to take a year off after high school before going to college, my parents accepted my decision. They rejoiced when I graduated from college. And they accepted each call I received in ministry — even the call to pastor a church in California, which meant taking their one and only granddaughter 2,000 miles away!
However, it was on one of the darkest days in my life that I felt their acceptance the most. I'd just finished the last final of my sophomore year in college. My car was packed and I was ready to make the 90-minute drive home. My roommate asked me to join him at the campus bar for appetizers and a beer before I left. Before I knew it a few hours went by — and a few beers as well. As I prepared to leave, my roommate admonished me to stay because he thought I'd had too many drinks to drive. But I ignored him and went on my way.
As I headed out of town, a police officer turned on his lights and pulled me over. When he came to the window, he asked me to get out of the car. Eventually, I was asked to take a breathalyzer test. When the police officer read the results, he told me to put my hands behind my back, because I was being arrested for DUI. Later that evening, as I sat in a cell room, I was overcome with the feeling that I'd let my parents down. I would have to tell them what happened.
I was allowed to make one phone call, but I couldn't bring myself to call my parents. So I called my sister in Chicago, and all we did was cry together. I was completely humiliated and devastated, and I didn't sleep at all that night. The next morning, I was released.
The 90-minute drive home turned into a three-hour drive. I couldn’t bear the thought of facing my parents. When I pulled into the driveway, I couldn't even get out of the car. I was ready to hand them the keys and take whatever punishment they wanted to give me.
Then something happened that I never expected. My mom and dad came running out of the house to the car, opened the door, wrapped their arms around me and said, "Mark, we love you so much! We're glad you're OK. Come in — we have a big meal waiting for you. We love you, and we’ll help you get through this."
I think at that moment, for the first time, I really understood the unconditional love of God. I realized that my parents not only accepted me in the good times, but they also accepted me in my lowest times.
Faith-talk requires that we intentionally involve ourselves in the lives of our children. Many parents have said to me, "My teenager won’t talk to me. She won’t tell me what’s going on in her life." My reply is usually pretty blunt: "Try again! And don't stop until she talks to you."
When my wife, Maria, was a freshman in college, she informed her parents that she intended to quit school at the end of the year. This didn't sit well with them, because they’d worked hard to save enough money for her to attend a four-year private college. Over spring break, Maria's dad asked if she would help him with some roofing work that he was doing on the garage. It wasn't unusual for her to help her dad with projects like this, so Maria climbed up the ladder to the garage roof. "Where do we start, Dad?" she asked.
Maria's dad walked over to the ladder and kicked it off the garage — meaning they had no way down. He sat next to Maria and said, "It's time for us to talk about you and college."
To make a long story short, after the talk, Maria committed to completing college. But what she remembers more than the ladder crashing to the ground was that her dad cared enough to talk with her about her struggles in college. She'll always be grateful that he intentionally involved himself in her life struggles.
In addition to being intentional about communicating with your children, be intentional about modeling and sharing your faith with them.
What does intentionally showing your child how to live God’s way look like? It looks like tiny steps taken every single day. It requires joyfully showing and telling them some of the same things over and over. It is being transparent with them from day one so they not only understand what the goal is, but they will also desire it themselves. It starts with the faith in your own heart. It starts today, whether your children are tiny or taller than you are.
Perhaps you've never prayed with your children. But no matter how old they are, it's never too late to start. It helps to remember that prayer is simply a conversation with God.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1) Newspaper Prayer. Try this idea at the beginning of the day as you're eating breakfast. Have each family member take a portion of the newspaper and circle items that he or she feels need to be prayed for. Then ask family members to pray for the things they circled in the paper.
2) Sentence Prayer. You can help your children pray aloud by giving them a sentence to complete, such as:
3) Highs and Lows. Ask your children what their "highs" were from the day, and then ask them about their "lows" from the day. Share your highs and lows as well, and then pray for them together.
4) Prayer Journal. Share your prayer requests with the other members of your family and then record them in a prayer journal. One person can pray for all the requests you've listed for the day. The next time you pray together, look over the requests you listed previously and update any changes and answers. This is a good way to see how God has been active in your prayer lives.
5) A.C.T.S. Prayer. This is a well-known form of prayer that is easy to remember:
One of the keys to faith-talk is repetition. Do you know what the word "Deuteronomy" means? (It's OK, neither did I!) It means "repetition of the law." If you read all of Deuteronomy, you’ll find that Moses continually repeats the basic commands of God to a very stubborn group of people who wanted to live life their own way instead of God's. Does that sound familiar? Perhaps we need a similar teaching style today in which we continually repeat the basic truths of God to our children.
Rolf Garborg, author of The Family Blessing, started a ritual of saying a blessing over his daughter every evening. When his daughter was an infant, he would go into her room as she was sleeping and say a blessing over her. As his daughter grew older, he continued the blessing ritual throughout her teenage years. Rolf admits that during one period of time when his daughter was a teenager, he would wait until she was asleep to give her the blessing. But he kept up the ritual.
Rolf and his wife dreaded the day that they would have to leave their daughter at college. To make it through the day, they came up with a plan to unload her stuff, quickly say their goodbyes in the dorm room and then grab each other's hands to head for the car with no looking back. The plan worked to perfection — until they were almost to their car. In the distance behind them, they heard, "Mom, Dad, wait." Rolf and his wife stopped in their tracks and turned around, and as their daughter came running up to them with tears in her eyes, she said, "You forgot to bless me."
Right there in the parking lot, Rolf and his wife huddled together with their daughter and said, "May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you. May the Lord continue to make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord continue to look upon you with favor and give you peace. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen."
Guess what my wife and I started doing immediately after we heard this story? Before Malyn goes to bed, Maria repeats the above blessing to her. Malyn hears this blessing every evening. If we're separated for an evening, Maria will share the blessing over the phone. There have even been occasions when Malyn has said, "Don't forget to bless me, Mom!"
(Maria) I didn't know then what a complete joy it would give me each night I blessed her or how this simple thing would transform our family. I just wanted her to be connected with God; and in turn, I got to be connected with her. Every night, even as a 13-year old now, Malyn announces, "I’m ready for bed now." I give her the blessing that God has given me to share. Mark prays with her. She never worries about how her day will end. Even when our time together during the day has been less than stellar, we always come together as a family and end it well. It rinses the day away and sets us up for a new tomorrow.