Encouraging parents in their efforts to raise their children to be enthusiastic servants of the Lord.
Author: Thereasa Winnett
Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.
One of the more odd stories from the time Jesus spent on Earth is found in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-25. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that Jesus would destroy a tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t even the correct season for it! Yet when you connect the story to what happened immediately after it in the text, it becomes a little more clear. Jesus and God expect those serving them to bear fruit and there will be consequences for failing to produce any. It’s a similar lesson to that found in the Parables of the Talents and Minas and in other scriptures in the New Testament.
So what does it mean to bear fruit and why is it important that your children understand the importance of bearing fruit as Christians? There’s a fun family devotional you can have to start the conversation. Before the devotional, purchase some fruit at the grocery store. Pick one or two that are favorites and then perhaps one or two that are new to your children.
Read your children the two parables. Explain that often the first four books, the Gospels, tell the same or very similar stories – either from a different point of view to reach a different audience of readers – or perhaps because Jesus did or said similar things more than once during his ministry. Ask your children why they believe Jesus destroyed the fig tree. Explain that when stories like this are in the Bible, God wants us to learn something from them. What do they think they are supposed to learn from these parables?
Point out that right after the parable in Mark, Jesus cleansed the Temple. What might be the connection? Jesus was angry at the Priests for taking advantage of the people and trying to make a lot of money, rather than ministering to the people which was supposed to be the fruit they were bearing. The fig tree was to teach the apostles an important lesson that could help them better understand – and later teach – what was about to happen at the Temple.
Read Matthew 28:18-20. Explain that some Christians are confused. They think that being a Christian is only about avoiding sin. In reality, it is also about producing fruit in the Kingdom. Ask them what clues these verses give us about the types of fruit we are supposed to bear. Read Galatians 5:22-23. Explain that these are more types of fruit Christians should bear. These particular ones let others know we have the Holy Spirit within us (Note: You may need to explain this concept to your children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to us when we become Christians during our immersion in baptism. It does not feel scary to have the Holy Spirit in us, but rather the Holy Spirit is a helper God gives Christians to help them make good choices.)
Ask your children why they think Jesus got so angry when the tree and the priests didn’t produce fruit. Explain that God will also be angry with Christians when they don’t produce any of the fruit that you have studied in the verses you read. Sitting in church or even calling yourself a Christian means little if we don’t produce fruit. Works don’t help us earn our way to Heaven, but is rather the expectation of God from people He has already saved and a fulfillment of our faith. Read James 2:17-26 and ask your children to explain what it means in their own words.
Bring out the fruits you purchased. As you are eating them, Google to find out how they are grown and what happens to the fruit trees that don’t produce fruit after interventions. Orchards can’t afford for space to be taken up by unproductive trees. If a tree has no hope of producing fruit again, it will be destroyed and a new tree planted in its place. End your time by explaining God has much He wants Christians to do on Earth. He needs us to be productive so the work can all be done. Brainstorm some ways your family can produce fruit for God now.
One of the root causes of sin is when the desire to have something we want clouds our judgment. We want what we want, when we want it – which is usually now. When that doesn’t happen, sinful attitudes and behaviors often result. The ability to accept delayed gratification can help your children overcome many of the temptations to sin in life. Of course the ultimate delayed gratification – an eternity spent with God in Heaven for remaining faithful to God – is the very underpinning of Christianity.
There’s a fun devotional you can do to help your children begin to understand the importance of accepting delayed gratification in living the Christian life. Before calling your children together, take a few moments and think of examples in today’s world when waiting for something has better results or conversely, demanding what we want now can have negative consequences in the future. A simple example would be eating a seed instead of planting it and waiting for it to provide entire pieces of fruit or lots of vegetables to eat. Having this list prepared will make the activity easier for you to lead.
Call your children together and tell them the story of Jacob working for Rachel found in Genesis 29:14-30. Point out that Jacob loved Rachel so much he was willing to wait seven years to marry her and work for Laban for seven additional years as a result of marrying Rachel right after Leah. Point out where it said the seven years seemed to him like only a few days. Ask your children why that might be true. Point out that if Jacob had not been willing to work for Laban for fourteen years, he would not have been able to marry Rachel – the love of his life. To Jacob delayed gratification was worth it.
On the other hand, point out that in the story of Jacob, Esau and the lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34), Esau was not willing to wait to eat stew. His unwillingness to endure delayed gratification meant he lost his birthright to Jacob.
Give your children one of the examples you thought of earlier. What are the rewards for waiting and/or the consequences for failing to wait? Make a game of it using more of the examples own your list. See if your children can think of other examples. Mix up silly ones – like eating uncooked food – with more serious ones that can lead to sinning. Have fun with it, but throughout the game, emphasize the importance of taking the time to think about what might happen if they waited to get what they wanted a little longer. Would waiting actually be better in the end?
Your biggest fear as a Christian parent is probably that your children grow up to reject God. Or claim to be a Christian, but then refuse to obey God’s commands. You may wonder why some parents seem to raise children who are faithful as adults, while others who appear similar have children who reject God and His commands. There are some surprising reasons why this rejection or rebellion happens.
Your parenting style. Authoritarian parents have lots of rules and strict consequences for disobeying them and aren’t very nurturing of their children. Permissive parents have basically no rules and don’t give consequences when the few rules they may have are violated. Authoritative parents have rules and boundaries that are consistently enforced and fair, logical consequences are given for disobedience. They are also nurturing, engaged, loving parents. Our children often grow up to believe God reflects the parenting style of their parents. Authoritarian parents raise children who reject God because He is harsh. Children raised in permissive homes may not reject God outright, but feel no need to obey His commands because they have been raised to believe rules are optional, nor do they fear any consequences, because they assume there won’t be any. Authoritative parents are more likely to raise children who have an accurate view of God and stay faithful.
You disobey God’s commands with no signs of remorse or repentance. Do your children regularly hear you lie or commit some other sin without showing any remorse that you sinned? Do you rationalize disobeying one of God’s commands? Do they never hear you ask God or anyone else for forgiveness? If so, you are setting the example of a rebellious life they may very well copy.
You haven’t taught them what it really means for God to be Lord of their lives. If your children don’t understand what it truly means to be servants of the King, it’s no wonder they think they can make their own rules for living life. As God’s humble servants, God makes the rules and our job is to obey His commands and ask for His forgiveness when we rebel against them. Your children don’t get to disobey the commands of God because they don’t like them.
They don’t thoroughly understand the consequences of rebellion against God. Many Christian parents are afraid of teaching their children about Hell for fear of traumatizing them. Most churches rarely mention Hell. In fact, most young people raised in Christian homes don’t believe in Hell as a real place or possible consequence for rebelling against God. While you want to teach them about Hell in age appropriate ways, they need to have a clear understanding that Hell is real and it is a place in which they do not want to spend Eternity. As much as we want to believe obedience to God is only about love and gratitude, it is also built on an awareness of God’s power and knowledge that eternal consequences will be given for rebellion against Him.
Most of what they think they know about God and His commands was learned from the secular world. The world has a very inaccurate idea of God and His commands. About Christianity in general. Even supposedly “religious” characters in movies and shows spout some of the most unChristian dialog or represent Christian beliefs inaccurately. Books are even worse at times because they have the leisure of pages to really make an anti-Christian point. If your children aren’t receiving a lot of teaching from the Bible at church and home, the bulk of what they believe they know about God, His commands and all things Christian will come from these secular, inaccurate sources – designed to pull them away from God.
The good news is that you have the power to counter all of these influences that can pull your children away from God. Don’t wait to make the changes you need to make so your children don’t fall prey to these faith killers.
Spend five minutes out in public and you will probably witness multiple acts of selfishness. Wars and conflicts are often rooted in selfishness. Food insecurity, extreme poverty and other social problems take longer to resolve because money that could be used to help others is tied up in selfish ways by those who have more than enough things. And who can miss the thousands of references a day to the smaller problems caused by “entitled” people?
No one plans to raise a selfish child (at least I hope not), but many people do. The problem is we are often blinded to the selfishness in our own children. We can’t correct what we don’t notice and uncorrected selfishness eventually hardens in their hearts, creating adults who have more in common with pre-ghosts Ebeneezer Scrooge than Jesus.
So what are some perhaps surprising signs you are raising children who are becoming more selfish by the day?
Whine and complain a lot. Whining and complaining are rooted in disappointment that things aren’t going the way your children wanted them to go. It’s a selfish mindset that believes everything should always be exactly like they want it to be… or they will whine and complain in hopes of things being done their way.
Don’t say “please” and “thank you” without prompting. Every child needs periodic reminders, but if those words are rarely heard without prompting, there is a problem. Why “please”? Because the word expresses the understanding that they are not entitled to whatever they are asking of the other person. It’s a form of pre-gratitude.
Have difficulty sharing and taking turns. Very young children naturally struggle with this and must be taught and reminded. Once they are old enough to attend school, however, sharing and taking turns should come naturally.
Are poor losers when playing games. Poor losers are vocal about their assumption that they should always win everything.
Have long wish lists for birthdays and Christmas. If your children can rattle off a long list of things wanted the second they are asked for a gift suggestion, there may be a problem with selfishness.
Have trouble letting others be the center of attention. Let’s be honest. We all enjoy being the center of positive attention from time to time. If your child is clearly miffed when someone else is the center of attention (assuming your child gets enough healthy attention on a normal basis), there may be a problem with selfishness.
Have trouble celebrating with others when good things happen to them. It’s okay for your kids to hope that they too will one day win a free trip around the world, but that shouldn’t stop them from being super excited for the person who just did.
Melt down when told “no”. No one likes to hear the word, but your children should accept it most of the time. Asking to appeal your decision is one thing, but having an immediate meltdown every time is problematic.
When denied something, sneak or lie to get it anyway. This is a serious warning sign of selfishness – the inability to accept the denial of any whim and the willingness to sin to get what was desired.
Have a strong focus on money and/or things. Part of growing up is learning how to handle money in godly ways. That includes the idea of generosity. If the focus becomes on getting more money and spending the vast majority on oneself, then selfishness has overwhelmed generosity.
Shopping or window shopping IRL or online is a favorite past time. Your kids can’t want what they don’t know exists. Spending too much time in environments where things can be claimed as one’s own can create a desire for things your child doesn’t really need or under normal circumstances would even want.
Don’t seem to notice or care when their wordsor actions hurt others. There is a caveat to this one as some children with special needs struggle to notice the cues that someone is upset. Even they can be taught the cues, however, and change their behavior, apologize and make amends when they have hurt someone.
Are reluctant to take personal responsibility for the outcomes of their choices. If everything is always the fault of someone else, a selfish heart is quite probably a serious issue.
Make sure their needs and desires are met first before attempting to help or attend to others. This selfish trait is tricky, because on the surface it may look like they are helping others. Look more closely though and you will realize their needs and desires are met first and only then will they give their excess time, attention, money, etc. to others.
Our world is miserable because of the actions of selfish people. Don’t make things worse by raising more people who will operate from a position of selfishness. If your children consistently have the symptoms mentioned above, call it for what it is and take action to help them change their hearts. Otherwise, it won’t end well for them or anyone who is touched by their lives.
I always love it when social scientists stumble across something that is good for our mental, emotional and physical health that has been in the Bible since it was written! In recent years, numerous studies have found that having a grateful heart can reduce depression, lessen anxiety, support heart health, relieve stress, improve sleep (UCLAhealth.org) and make us more optimistic and hopeful (health.Harvard.edu). And those articles don’t even examine the spiritual health benefits of gratitude, which I believe are humility, faith, patience, perseverance, love and a host of other positive spiritual results from a consistent spirit of gratitude. In fact, “give thanks” is one of the most common phrases after “fear not” in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows being grateful is in everyone’s best interest.
This post is coming out right before the month of November as an encouragement to celebrate Thanksgiving all month. The truth is that your family can and should do these activities throughout the year. Some you may only do once or occasionally, while others may become a daily practice. Not only will you begin seeing the benefits listed above, but you may just find parenting becomes easier as whining and complaining give way to gratitude!
Here are some of our favorite ways to bring more gratitude into your home.
Gratitude Journal. It is important to be intentional about noticing things for which to be grateful. There are several different ways that you can do this. Have each of your children decorate a spiral notebook or composition book as their personal gratitude journal. You may also want to keep one as a family. At the end of each day, take a few moments and have everyone name one to three things for which they are grateful. (I recently found a gratitude journal for children to use with questions to guide their thinking at Five Below.)
Gratitude Jar. This is more of a long term activity. Decorate a gratitude container and place it on your kitchen table or somewhere where everyone will see it daily. Place slips of paper and pens beside the container. Encourage your children to write down something they are grateful for at any point in time and place the slip in the container (non writers can draw pictures instead of writing). You may want to encourage them to create a slip any time they are excited about something. (“That would be a great thing to put in the gratitude jar, wouldn’t it?!) Be sure and place slips in the jar as well. Don’t be afraid to put some unusual slips in the box about gratitude for things that seem negative, but in which you saw something to be grateful. Periodically take all of the slips out of the jar and read them to the entire family. End the time thanking God for His blessings.
Facts in Five Gratitude Game. Draw grids that are 5×5 on a sheet of paper for each person. Pull out those scrabble tiles or make little slips of paper with a letter of the alphabet on each. Going down the left side of the grid, write categories of things for which you can be grateful. For example: objects, people, places, food, books. Along the top of the grid, write the five letters pulled from the pile. Set the timer for three to five minutes (depending on the age and abilities of your children). At the word “go”,everyone is to fill in as many boxes on the grid as possible…. for example in the space where “object” and the letter “B” intersect, someone may write the word bike, while someone else might use the word Bible. The winner is the person with the most spaces filled in. (Many kids absolutely love this game, so you may want to be prepared with extra grids and lots of categories.)
This website has a lot of great gratitude printables for activities including a gratitude scavenger hunt. (Please note that any of these links do not serve as an endorsement of the sites as an entirety or their creators, merely an acknowledgement that these are a few great ideas you can use. The sites and their creators may indeed be fine, but we did not take the time to deeply research them.)
This website has some printable gratitude conversation starters. These often work well at meals with unfamiliar or quiet relatives to get the conversation going or just for your own family dinner.
This website has a cute gratitude game using pick up sticks.
Ask to join our Parenting Like Hannah Facebook Community and get our daily gratitude discussion prompts during the month of November.
Teach your kids to be consistently and constantly grateful. It’s how God created them to be.