By Peter Stone
If you expect your child to automatically develop a relationship with Jesus because of taking them to church, Sunday School, and the church youth group, you will very likely find that this does not occur.
One of my earliest memories is when I was three years old, very sickly with bronchitis. I was so weak that I was lying on the lounge room floor, half under a low table, while I cuddled a plastic doll. But I was looking at the ceiling and talking to Jesus, my ever present Friend.
In some of my childhood years, I spent almost half the year sick in bed. But I was not alone--Jesus was with me. My mother constantly encouraged me to tell Him my burdens and troubles, and He always comforted me. I came to know Him very well during these years, and my relationship with Him became the foundation upon which my life was built. When I reached teenage years, I did not go through a period of rebelliousness. In fact, my walk with Christ strengthened through that time.
The Bible gives us the key to raising our children in Proverbs 22:6. "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."
How do you go about this?
Introduce your child to Jesus by…
If you want your child to meet another student, how would you seek to achieve this? Would you send them to the same school and hope they meet? No, of course not. The first thing you would do is to tell your child about this student, about their good points and strengths, so that your child wants to meet them. Then you would introduce your child to this particular student, and once they have been introduced to each other, they can begin to build a relationship.
This is the secret for raising a child in the way of the Lord--parents need to introduce their child to Jesus. There are a number of factors involved in this process.
…wearing your faith on your sleeve
The first is that parents need to wear their Christian faith on their sleeve. Let your child see your relationship with Jesus. Pray to Him in an intimate manner that shows how much you love Him and how much you appreciate His love for you. As soon as your child is interested in learning to speak by copying you, lead him or her in copy-prayers to Jesus. Again, not mechanical prayers, but prayers from your heart. Show your child your heart and zeal for God. As your child grows older, take turns. You pray one sentence, then they pray.
A good format for praying with your child is first to tell Jesus how much you love Him, then to thank Him for various blessings He has given you, as well as for specific blessings received on that day. Next, pray for each member of the family, for friends, and for those in trouble.
Tell your child that Jesus waits for them to come to Him in prayer, and delights in them when they come. Matthew 26:15, "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise."
…praying with your child wherever you are
Pray with your child when driving to school or church. Pray before meals and at bedtime. Whenever your child brings a problem to you, such as something that is weighing heavily on their mind or trouble with children at school, do not just offer advice. Sit down with your child and pray together about the problem, inviting Jesus to help them through it, to cope with it, and to help deal with the problem itself. John 14:12-14, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
…admitting when you make a mistake
Another important part of wearing your Christian faith on your sleeve is to admit to your child when you make a mistake.
I was driving my car the other day when another driver very dangerously cut in front of me, causing me to break hard to avoid a collision. In anger I snapped, "Stupid driver!" I immediately knew I had stepped out of line. Both my children were watching me, and they both remembered me telling them not to call other people stupid. So, convicted by the Holy Spirit, I said, "Sorry kids, I should not have said that. I was impatient, and I should have said, 'That driver was in a rush and drove unwisely.'" After that, I prayed out loud, "Dear Lord, sorry for losing my temper. Please help me to be patient with other people, as You are patient with me."
You should also apologize to a child if you feel you were too hard on them; perhaps they asked you an innocent question and because you were exhausted, you snapped at them in response. Forget your pride--your child will respect you more if you apologize to them, not less.
Teach Your Child about Jesus by…
The next important aspect of introducing a child to Jesus is in the manner that you teach him or her about Him. You must recognize that it is your responsibility as a parent to teach your child about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Do not entrust this task to a church, Sunday School, or Christian School. These institutions are of course important, but how can you monitor what subject matter they are covering? The only way to ensure that your child is being taught the full gospel and the full spectrum of Biblical principles is to do it yourself.
…reading them the Bible
As soon as your children are able to understand basic sentences, which is most likely when they are two years of age, it is time to read a children's Bible to them every night at bedtime. Start with a simple children's Bible with lots of pictures, and as they grow older, progress to children's Bibles with more and more content, until finally they move onto the actual Bible, probably around the ages ten to twelve.
…helping them to memorize Scriptures
Please note that it is also important to teach them to memorize Bible verses from a young age. Children of all ages are very proficient at memorizing verses, and the Word of God is real food for their spirits.
…pointing out what a Bible story teaches
When you read a Bible story to your children, do not merely read the story. Ask Jesus to show you what point He is teaching us through the story. Then as you read the story to your children, weave this point into the story. Make sure your children understand why God allows things to happen, why God does what He does, and especially point out the mistakes Bible characters make, and how they can be avoided.
Teach your children through these Bible stories all the concepts of the Bible. Why man sinned, why Jesus came to the world, and what He accomplished on the cross. Never simply present Bible stories to your children; tell them why it is saying what it says.
Example: Noah's Ark...
When you read about Noah and his family locked up in the Ark for days and days before land was found, explain how often our lives have dark patches with no visible help in sight. But like Noah, we can trust in Jesus. He is holding our lives in His hands, just as he was holding Noah's boat in His hands. And just as, finally, Noah found land, Jesus will lead us through the dark and difficult times in our lives too.
Example: Abraham and Isaac...
Consider the story in which Abraham was about to kill Isaac before God sent them a ram to sacrifice in Isaac's place. Explain how Isaac represents each one of us, deserving to die for our sin. But God sent a special ram to die in our place. And His name is Jesus.
Example: the Israelites in the Desert...
If reading the story of the Israelites in the desert when they ran out of water, explain that after having just seen so many miracles in Egypt, as well as the parting of the Red Sea, the people should have praised God for His faithfulness and asked for His help. Had they done so, God would have been pleased by their faith and, in His perfect timing, would have provided for them. Then read what actually happened. The people grumbled and complained. They looked at their suffering instead of at God's faithfulness. This resulted in God keeping them in the wilderness, a place of suffering, until they learnt to trust Him instead of complaining.
Further your own education if you need to.
If, as a parent, you feel you do not have enough Bible knowledge to recognize what God is teaching through each story, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do a one or two year Bible College correspondence course. This will not only enhance your own Christian walk and improve all areas of your own life, but it will give you the knowledge you need to train your children. The Bible says in Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." Sad, but true.
Explain the 'why' to your children.
Do not simply tell your child what to do. Explain why they should do what you are telling them to do. Do not say to your toddler "Don't touch that heater." But say, "Don't touch that heater. If you do, you will get burnt, and it will hurt very much." Perhaps do a little role-play with them, showing what the pain would be like if they touched the heater.
Do the same with all Biblical instruction. Don't just tell your children not to lie, but explain to them why not to lie. Tell them what bad things happen in their hearts when they lie, that God is sad when they lie, and that relationships are damaged by lies because trust is broken.
Prepare for the teenage years now.
Do not wait until your children reach their teenage years to explain teenage concepts to them. Prepare them for this time well in advance. Teach them to respond to aggression with kindness and love. Teach them about peer pressure, why to avoid cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, and about why they must date and marry only a strong Christian. Then when they reach their teenage years, the strong Biblical foundation built in their lives by the Lord during their childhood will see them through it without experiencing any rebellion or backsliding.
Jesus will reveal Himself to your children.
As you introduce your children to Jesus, He will reveal Himself to them, even while they are infants. John 14:21, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." My parents did this for me, and I have done this with my children.
All scripture taken from the New International Version of the Bible.
PETER STONE has an international marriage, two children, and a cute, insane cat. He came to know Jesus closely through a sickly childhood. Peter currently suffers from epilepsy and otosclerosis but praises God through it. A Bible College Graduate, he teaches Sunday school and plays the piano in church. If you would like to write to Peter, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.