Top Tips for Raising Kids With Servant Hearts

I was reading a parenting book by a secular author who was amazed to stumble across a home in another culture where a child saw dirty dishes in the sink and got up to wash them without being asked. As she had a secular mindset, her book then looked at all the parenting differences she thought might create children who were equally helpful. I smiled to myself a bit as I immediately recognized what had happened in that home. The parents were raising the child with the heart of a servant.

Children with the heart of a servant think about how they can help their family and friends before they think about how they want to spend their time in leisure activities. When they see someone at work or struggling in some way, they jump in to help and make the load lighter. They are the helpers and encouragers in their worlds. They are a parent’s delight – even though they still make mistakes and sin.

So how do you raise children with servant hearts? It takes more intentionality, but in the end actually can mean less work because you aren’t having to do everything yourself or nag and punish to get the help you need. It can also mean a more peaceful home as your children focus on helping each other over protecting their “rights”. It can also make your kids stronger Christians as they understand that being a servant of The King (God) means obedience and not getting their own way.

Here are some of our top tips for raising kids with servant hearts.

  1. Teach them what it means to be a servant in the biblical sense of the word. In our modern vernacular, slave is probably closer in meaning to the word often translated as servant in the Bible. Christians with servant hearts obey God’s commands – even if they don’t understand or agree with them. They understand God gets to make the rules and we get to obey them – because God knows what is best for us and by obeying Him we have the best possible life in a fallen world.
  2. Let your children see your servant heart. If they see you consistently obey God, serve others and share your faith humbly, they have a great example to follow. If they understand why you “don’t look out only for your own interests, but the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-5), they may just follow your example.
  3. Help them learn to see the needs around them – even the subtle or partially hidden ones. Raise kids who don’t have to be asked to help. Who see someone with a sad expression and ask how they can help. Who notice when someone drops all of their papers and help to pick them up without being asked. Often, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it is easy to pretend we didn’t help because we never saw the need. Raise kids who see the need.
  4. Teach them they don’t personally have to solve every problem they see, but they should at least try to find someone who can help. If you take first aid classes, the first thing they teach you to do is to look around, point to someone and tell them to call 911. If not, a huge crowd can be standing around watching the medical problem and no one calls 911. Teach your kids how to help when they can, but it’s just as important to teach them how to quickly and efficiently get other people helping, too. If not, they may burn out trying to solve every problem by themselves.
  5. Teach them to think of others before themselves. This always gets a lot of push back in our culture. Our world believes we shouldn’t raise doormats who allow everyone to walk all over them. Or people pleasers who care about pleasing others more than taking care of their own basic needs. Thinking of others before yourself, however, is a command and not a suggestion. It should be a constant discussion of what it truly means – especially when looking at the life of Jesus. It’s not an easy command and we shouldn’t ignore it or pretend like how to live it is always obvious and easy.
  6. Help your children be encouragers. We tend to breeze right by the scriptures commanding Christians to encourage one another. The world can be a tough place. Encouragers make it a little easier to hang in there and make good choices. Raise encouragers.
  7. Teach your children to assume the best in others. I understand the importance of teaching kids how to be safe around strangers in a dangerous world. It’s a philosophy, however, that assumes the worst in others merely because some adults are dangerous to children. As they get older though, the attitude of assuming everyone is dangerous needs to be tempered a bit or they will never serve others and share their faith. It’s also important to teach them that when they feel offended by someone in some way to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the teacher had a really rough morning and was a little more curt than normal – rather than the teacher hates me. Even if the teacher dislikes your child, coming at the conversation willing to assume the best rather than the worst can make discussions a bit less heated and easier.

While it may take some time before your children jump up to help you without asking or are kind to their siblings, it’s worth taking the time and effort to raise kids with servant hearts. Those are hearts God finds it easy to work with to do His Will.

Easy Way to Study the Bible With Your Children and Teens

Parents are often intimidated about studying the Bible with their children. Often they will look for a book designed for family devotionals. There are a lot of choices out there and many of them are a great way to help your family get in the crucial habit of daily Bible study.

The problem is that many of them only last for a few weeks or months or they may be too simple for your older children and teens. Or maybe you just don’t have the money to keep buying new devotional books. Whatever the reason for wanting to study the Bible without a devotional guide, there’s a fairly simple way to study the passage of your choice and have some structure and depth to the conversation about it with your kids. It’s a common method suggested by many groups with a few tweaks I’ve added to make it a bit more specific.

The first task is to choose what book of the Bible you want to study. I usually suggest story heavy books for beginners or books like Proverbs and James with lots of practical advice in them. Most families only have time for a few verses to a chapter each day. If you try to cover more chapters, it can overwhelm your kids and they may not learn anything because you are trying to cover too much in one time period.

Read the chosen passage out loud. The reason we suggest an adult reading the passage is so you can stop at unfamiliar words and concepts as you are reading to make sure your kids are understanding what is being read to them on the most basic level.

After reading the scripture, ask one of your kids to sum it up in his or her own words. This gives you a chance to correct any misunderstandings about what was read. Once you feel fairly certain your kids have understood what you read, ask the following questions for your discussion of the passage.

  1. What stood out to you in these verses?
  2. What can we share with other Christians from these verses that will help/encourage/challenge them? Bonus: Name one Christian you will share this with this week.
  3. What can we share with non-believers that will help/encourage/challenge them? Bonus: Name one non-believer you will share this with this week.
  4. What changes do I need to make based on what we read in these verses? Bonus: What is one thing I am going to do this week because of what we read in this passage?

These four questions take the verses from a lesson to a practical roadmap for living the Christian life. It encourages personal spiritual growth, encouraging other Christians, serving others and sharing their faith. It also trains them in one method they can use when they have personal Bible study time or lead a small group Bible study of their own. It’s a great way to dig deeper into scripture with your older kids and teens.

How Your Efforts to Help Your Kids Have Positive Self Esteem Can Backfire

It’s hard to be an informed parent and not have read or at least heard something about the importance of your kids having healthy self esteem. You probably know that self esteem that’s too low can hold your children back in a number of ways. Did you know, though, that if your kids have self esteem that is too high, that can become entitled and narcissistic? That while kids with low self esteem can become bullies, kids whose self esteem is too high can be just as cruel?

So what is the perfect balance? More importantly, what kind of self esteem does God want for your children? If you look at the Bible and all of the scriptures about how to view ourselves, a clear picture emerges. We are the dearly loved creation of God. God sent His son to die on the cross for our sins so that we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We have each been given gifts and talents by God to use in service to Him. We are to view ourselves as humble servants, putting the needs of others before our own and loving others – treating them as we would want to be treated. We are to reflect the image of God while being aware we will never be equal to God and bowing to His majesty, commands and wisdom.

Godly self esteem is balanced – recognizing how deeply we are loved and of the gifts we have been given to serve Him, while recognizing our weaknesses and sins and repenting – including trying to be more like Jesus every day.

Parents often make mistakes that throws this balance off in some way. Here are the most common traps to avoid.

  1. Refusing to recognize gifts from God in a child under the guise of encouraging humility. Gifts should be recognized and developed. The balance comes from recognizing these gifts are primarily given for us to serve God – often by serving others. They were not given merely to gain wealth and/or fame.
  2. Focusing on physical appearance. You probably are beginning to realize good looks don’t last forever. Focusing too much on appearance can create self esteem issues when your child gets a pimple, has a bad hair day or eventually ages. An occasional compliment on appearance is fine, but your kids shouldn’t think the only thing they have going for them is their good looks.
  3. Encouraging the use of secular affirmations. Please be very careful what you encourage your kids to say to themselves every day. “I am enough” and other popular affirmations may sound good on the surface, but are spiritually bankrupt at their core. Using scripture (in context) is a great way to make sure your kids are memorizing and repeating the things God wants them to know.
  4. Exaggerating or lying when giving complements. Even little kids are smarter than people often given them credit for being. They know they are not the “best artist in the world”. When you overdo it regularly in your praise, either they believe they are better at something than they actually are or they don’t trust you when they really need to believe they are loved, have talent or whatever. They will think everything you say is because “you have to say that because you are my parent”. It’s plenty just to say you love the drawing with enthusiasm, giving a hug and displaying it on the fridge…. don’t overdo it.
  5. Failing to remind them their strengths are gifts from God. They didn’t create in themselves the ability to be a phenomenal artist (or whatever). God gave them that gift. The byproducts of your children’s gifts are a result of the gift from God and the credit should go to Him. They also need to understand those gifts weren’t about them gaining fame and fortune, but using them to serve others and teach them about God.
  6. Constantly putting down others in an attempt to make your kids feel better about themselves. It’s tempting when a child you think isn’t as worthy as your child gets some accolade rather than your child. You can encourage resilience in your child without knocking down other kids in the process.
  7. Not expecting your kids to work on their weaknesses. “That’s just the way you are” – especially when describing a character weakness or sin is never acceptable. It may be really difficult for them to overcome it. They may need outside help, but you should always encourage a growth mindset – God does.
  8. Using negative “you are” statements when you are angry with them. Telling children “You are bad”, “You are stupid”, etc. can cause them to begin to actually define themselves with those words. Children make bad choices. Telling them they are bad may lead them to think it is impossible for them to make better choices or that it is hopeless even when they do because everyone will always think of them as a bad person.
  9. Allowing your kids to think of themselves as the best – even if they are better than everyone else they know at something. Nobody is the best at everything. The better your kids are at something, the more you need to work with them at sharing their gift, encouraging them to help others trying to become better at it and humbly realizing it is a gift from God that should be used to serve Him in some way. It also can help to remind them that they can’t be the best at everything – even if they are better than the average person at most things. Humility is crucial for living the Christian life. Besides, it’s also important to let them know it’s okay to let others see they really stink at a sport or singing or whatever – it makes them approachable.

Go ahead and help your kids have a healthy self esteem. Just make sure it’s balanced and godly.

Fun Family Kindness Challenge

It always makes me a little sad when I am kind to a worker in a retail store or restaurant and they thank me like I’ve just given them a million dollars. Their reaction tells me it may have been a very long time since a customer treated them with just the very basics of kindness.

Let’s get real. Most of us have little margin in our lives. We don’t get enough sleep or exercise and we don’t eat as nutritiously as we should. So when a retail worker doesn’t move as quickly as we want them to or there is the slightest little issue, we snap. Ah, you may say…. but the person wasn’t doing their job properly or was rude to me. Yet, Jesus said we are to love even our enemies and treat them with kindness, too.

For Christian parents, our rudeness has another problem attached. Our kids are watching everything we do. They are soaking it in like little sponges. If they see you routinely being unkind to retail workers or bad drivers, they are going to be rude to those who annoy them in their lives. Soon it becomes a really bad habit for your entire family. A bad habit that draws no one to God and is a poor reflection of God’s image.

Why not have a family challenge to break bad habits and add some kindness to the world (kindness can have a ripple effect too). Gather your kids together and read a few verses like Luke 6:35 and Ephesians 4:32. Ask your children why they believe God wants us to be kind to others. Look at 1 Corinthians 13 and start making a list of ways to show kindness to others. Then add to the list concrete things like giving sincere compliments (preferably on character traits and not just appearance) or helping someone carry things.

Write each idea on a little slip of paper, fold them all and place them in a container. Every day for the period of your family kindness challenge, someone draws the slip of paper for the day. While hopefully your family is more focused on doing all of the things you listed, the act on the slip drawn is the special focus for the day. Everyone should go out of their way to do whatever it says as many times as possible during the day.

That evening at dinner (or before bed) have everyone share their experiences with the kindness act of the day. How hard was it to do? How often were they able to do it during the day? Could they do it so many times they lost count? How did people respond? (Not everyone will respond to kindness with kindness or gratitude. The response should not keep us from continuing to be kind to that person.) Don’t forget that family members should be kind to each other as well, so make sure you encourage them to be kind to each other each day.

How long your Family Kindness Challenge lasts is up to you. If you have enough ideas and keep it going for long enough, however, you may find that kindness has become natural for your entire family.

Resurrection Cookie Family Activity Easter Eve

I am reposting this annual family favorite to give you time to gather the ingredients together before Easter weekend.

Resurrection Cookies are a great way to review the story of Jesus’ death with your children. I got the recipe from one of my neighbors years ago and suspect it is one of those that has been passed around all over the country. I would love to credit the creator, but have no idea who that would be. We did this every year the Saturday night before Easter as one of our family traditions when our daughter was younger.

You will need a Bible, preferably an NIrV version for younger children. Preheat the oven to 300* and make sure it has reached 300* before you start cooking. Your bowl and beaters need to be grease free for this to work well. We have used pasteurized egg whites and they work fine although it is more difficult to keep the yolk out of the whites. It is best to do this right before the children go to bed, but aren’t so sleepy they won’t enjoy it. It can take up to thirty minutes at night and about five or ten minutes the next morning.

For ingredients you will need: 1 cup of whole pecans, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (apple cider vinegar), 2 egg whites, 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt. I am numbering each step with its scripture to make the recipe easier to follow with your children.

1. Read John 19:1-3. Place the pecans in a large baggie and seal it. As your children beat the pecans with a rolling pin, discuss how Jesus was beaten by the soldiers after his arrest.

2. Read John 19:28-30. Allow the children to smell the vinegar and taste it if they are brave enough! As the vinegar is placed in the bowl explain that when Jesus got thirsty on the cross and asked for something to drink, he was given vinegar.

3. Read John 10:10-11. Add egg whites to the vinegar. Explain to your children that eggs represent life. Discuss how by Jesus giving his life up on the cross, he gave us the hope of eternal life.

4. Read Luke 23:27. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it. Put a pinch in the bowl. The salt represents the tears of those who loved Jesus when they realized he was dead.

5. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Add the sugar. Tell your children that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because he loves us. He wants us to become Christians and spend eternity with him in Heaven.

6. Read John 3:1-3. Beat the mixture on high (stand mixers work best) for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed (when you turn off the mixer and lift the beaters it leaves stiff little mountain tops). Discuss with your children how the color white stands for purity. Jesus’ blood allows us the chance to be cleansed of our sins and be pure again.

7. Read Matthew 27:57-60. Fold in the pecans. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment covered cookie sheet. Explain to your child that each mound represents the tomb where Jesus was laid.

8. Read Matthew 27:65-66. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Let each child place a piece of tape on the oven door (or roll a large rock in front of it!). Explain how the soldiers sealed the tomb of Jesus.

9. Read John 16:20 and 22.  As you send your children to bed, explain you know they may feel sad about leaving the cookies in the oven over night. Ask them if they can imagine how sad the followers of Jesus must have been when Jesus was sealed in the tomb.

10.  Read Matthew 28:1-9. When your children wake up the next morning, allow them to open the oven and take out the cookies. Have them break open the cookie and see the empty air pocket. Remind them how surprised and excited the followers of Jesus must have been on that first Sunday morning after the cross when they found the empty tomb and realized Jesus was alive.

This is a fun reminder of the resurrection for any time of the year or you can make it an annual tradition. The goal is to create a memorable experience that will place the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection firmly in the minds and hearts of your children.