Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring -- The Season Of Spiritual Renewal For Our Family

Photo: Jason Paluck
Spring is a universal symbol of renewal. It's the season of physical rebirth and surrounds us with new life.  It is also a common time when Christians take a step back, consider the state of their spiritual lives, and experience spiritual restoration.  We have begun the habit of carefully examining our entire family's spiritual health during this season.

Every spring we reflect on the past year, including spiritual growth and challenges.  We also look forward to the coming year, consider our spiritual needs, and plan a strategy to achieve new goals.  Spring is a beautiful time to inventory my family's spiritual development.  We try to gain a godly perspective by looking at the big picture and then compare it with where we are on our spiritual journey as a family.  This practice of annual analysis helps me focus on what is important and be intentional in the spiritual leadership of our family.

Here are some of the categories I evaluate and specific questions I ask each spring:

Each Child As An Individual
What growth has occurred for each of my children this past year?  Am I actively preparing them to be servants of our Lord?  What positive character traits do I see in my children?  How can I use these strengths as building blocks for their faith and further character development?  What are their character weaknesses?  What potential stumbling blocks lie ahead for them?  How can I prepare them for those challenges?

Photo:  Code Poet
Family practices
What new strategies for family worship and spiritual instruction have we tried?  What worked well?  What didn't work well?  Is there another way to try to achieve the same goal?  Was there a strategy that was working for us but was abandoned along the way?  Do we need to implement it again?  Am I providing my children with a solid foundation of Biblical understanding?

Do we participate in regular family worship of God in our home?  Are we praying together?  Are we going through the motions--treating family worship as something on our "to do" list--and missing the heart of worship?

Relationship with God
Is each family member growing in their relationship with God?  Are we neglecting praise?  Are we communicating with God through prayer?  Are we listening for his Spirit to speak to us?  Am I nurturing our children's heart connections with God?  Am I focusing on behavior and knowledge to the exclusion of impressing a love of God on the hearts of my children?  Or am I giving that mandate the daily attention it requires?

My Role As A Parent
How healthy is my personal spiritual life?  What am I modeling for my children?  Trying to look like the perfect Christian?  Or sharing the Christian journey of struggling with personal weaknesses, relying God in the face of real problems, and making spiritual growth a life priority?  Am I seeking God and allowing Him to lead my family?  Or am I seeking to take control by myself?

Photo:  Pink Sherbet Photography
Have I allowed Satan to discourage or distract me from my primary mission as a parent?  Am I making time for academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities while treating my children's spiritual development as an "extra" activity that is easily neglected?

After this evaluation, I decide what baby steps can I take when a change in direction is needed.  What small change can I make to align our current focus and routine with God's plan for our family?  I feel encouraged by Reggie Joiner's words in Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide...: "A little change in the rhythm of a family's time together can make a lasting impact on the heart of a child . . . . Most parents cannot do everything, but they can do something more.  That 'something' can make a huge difference in the life of the family and in the spiritual growth of a child." 

When I try new ways of leading my children spiritually, I often experience feelings of awkwardness.  The final questions I must ask myself are Am I willing to deal with my own feelings of discomfort to be an instrument of God?  Am I willing to lay aside my ego so God can accomplish His work in my family? 

When you are examining the status of your family's spiritual development, what other categories and questions are important for you?  

Photo:  PresentationPro

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nurturing Your Child's Heart Connection with God

Photo: Microsoft Images

Recently, I wrote a post about teaching my children to pray.  This is something we have made a priority in our family.  What I've learned in this process is that it's simple to teach the mechanics of prayer.  It is more challenging--yet incredibly important--to foster a heart connection between my children and God.

My children don't need to follow a specific formula to pray "correctly."  What I truly want is for my children to want to talk with God.  Sally Clarkson says it so eloquently in her book The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity, "I want [my kids] to leave my home with a hunger and passion to know God personally and to be used by him to accomplish great things for his kingdom."  This is what I want for my children.  And you know what?  It's what God wants for them too.  There will be times in his life when my son will feel distant from God.  At those times, I want him to feel that some vital part of him--something at the very core of his being--is missing.  I want him to fervently search for that missing piece and not rest until his relationship with God is deepened.

I am always striving to cultivate a stronger heart connection between my children and God.  Here are a few ideas I've tried:

Emphasize Common Traits and Interests
Photo: Chrisianphotos.net
My oldest son has a tendency toward intense enthusiasm.  When he expresses fervor for his latest lego building project or his passion for something new he has learned in science, I try to use those events to connect him with God.  We talk about how much God loves creating and all the wonderful things He has made.  We discuss the Author of science and wonder at God's incredible mind.  I want him to know that God is eager to hear about the things that are important to him.

Silent Prayers with Prompts
Occasionally, we do silent bedtime prayers.  I prompt my son to talk with God about various things that he might tell a friend (even sharing a funny joke).  When he has finished his silent response, he taps my hand to indicate that he's ready for another prompt.  Silent prayers remove feelings of self-consciousness as our children explore new ways of talking with God.

His Mighty Warrior & His Little Princess books
His Mighty Warrior: A Treasure Map from Your King and His Little Princess: Treasured Letters from Your King (His Princess) are beautiful collections of intimate letters from God to a boy or a girl. You can read my full description and review here.

Creative Prayer Journal
Kay Arthur's book Lord, Teach Me to Pray for Kids (Discover 4 Yourself® Inductive Bible Studies for Kids) inspired us to start a creative prayer journal (or "logbook").  This a great idea for children who are artistically inclined or who have a difficulty putting their thoughts into words.  Here are a couple of the pages from my son's prayer journal.

Short Spontaneous Prayers Throughout the Day
We have a routine of praying at specific times--meals and bedtime.  Instead of telling my children that they can talk with God about anything at any time, I've made a real effort to model this for them.  When we see a particularly beautiful sunset, we say a quick prayer to of praise.  If we encounter an obstacle, we turn to the One who is ready to help at all times.  When we encounter a small blessing, we immediately share our appreciation with God.  We are striving to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17) on a day-to-day basis.

Nurturing my children's heart connections with God is something I am actively working on.  Please share your thoughts and ideas!

Photo:  Christianphotos.net