Very young children may not be aware of their thought process. As they begin to realize they can control not only their thoughts, but the words that come out of their mouths, they are ready to better understand how to filter their thoughts and reject saying things that are not loving, kind or productive. This fun family devotional can get them started.
Begin by explaining to your children that Jesus had some half siblings (Mary was their mother and Joseph was their birth father). James who wrote the book of James in the Bible was one of those siblings (not James the Apostle). James’ book was written to encourage Christians to live a life that would make people want to learn more about God.
One of the topics James mentions quite often is our speech. Read James 1:19-20, 26, 3:1-18 and 5:12. Ask your children to list all of the things James said we should control about our speech. If you have the time, you may want to read other verses in the Bible about our speech like, Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 15:1-4, Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 16:24, Ephesians 5:4, Matthew 12:36, Luke 6:45, Proverbs 10:19, Ephesians 4:15, etc.
Give your children a large sheet of plain paper. Have them draw the outline of a person’s head on it. They should draw the brain in the head. Have them glue a coffee filter on the head between the brain and the mouth. They should draw one arrow that goes from the filter to a ”trash can” and another arrow that goes to the mouth.
In the trash can, they should write the types of words that should not be spoken (not specific curse words). By their mouth, they should write words describing the types of words God does want them to use. After they are finished, make sure they understand what is covered by each category. So called ”mild” curse words may be considered acceptable by your older children while your child in kindergarten may think “stupid” is a curse word. With older children, this can also lead to a deeper discussion of what our influence might be on people if we use certain words and whether or not saying them is important enough to risk having someone reject God because of the things we say.
End the devotional by brainstorming ways you all can improve your speech. Revisit the topic periodically to see how well everyone has learned to tame their tongue!
Children and teens are learning how to navigate the world around them. One of the most difficult areas of life for them to master is interpersonal relationships. In fact, most of us adults are still trying to be more loving and godly in our relationships with others, too. If your children are old enough to spend time with people their age, you have probably already seen them struggle with the conflicts that often occur in relationships.
Perhaps the most difficult of relationships for Christian young people to understand and live out in their lives is the idea of loving and praying for your enemies. We live in a world that increasingly encourages everyone to destroy not only enemies, but anyone who thinks differently from us on a wide range of topics. In a world that believes it is tolerant, your children will be exposed to people who counsel them to do things that are far from loving.
So what are some things you can do to raise children who are counter cultural and love their enemies as commanded by God? Here are some of our top tips on the subject.
Teach your children God’s views on the topic and discuss it regularly. Your children will struggle to obey God and love their enemies if they don’t realize or remember that it is a command from God. I met a young man recently who had grown up in a war torn area of the world. Even though his father had been a soldier and watched as the enemy burned their family home to the ground, he regularly reminded his children that not only did he expect them to avoid saying anything negative about the enemy country and its people, but he also told them he would hold them accountable if he ever heard them doing so. Loving your enemy needs to be part of your family DNA as well as a command from God.
Define enemy for them. An enemy is not someone who disagrees with them or holds an opinion that is different than theirs on a topic. Enemies are people who actively seek to do us harm. They need to learn that the word enemy is a very strong way of describing someone in a negative way and it should be used very rarely in describing another person.
When they do believe they have an enemy, encourage them to pray for that person, but also make a point of your entire family praying for them as well. I believe God commands us to pray for our enemies because it is very difficult to simultaneously hate someone and pray for their benefit. Our brains don’t like contradictions, so praying for their enemies will make it more difficult for them to actively hate them. If your entire family prays for the enemy of one member, you also are reminding your children that your family is a team for God, not just individuals who happen to live together.
Don’t forget to teach your children the rest of the command. Luke 6:27-28 also says to do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and to not just pray for, but also love your enemies. Discuss and find ways to do good to any enemies your family has. Discuss what it means to bless those who curse you. How can your family do that on a regular basis also? With so many good things your kids will be doing for their enemies, it will be difficult for hate to take root in their own hearts.
Be empathetic about the pain your children’s enemies cause. I think Psalms shows us that it is natural to be hurt and even angry in the immediate aftermath of an enemy’s blows. Show empathy for that pain, but also put a time limit on it. Continuing to revisit the same grievance over and over is what can lead to sinning in one’s anger.
An enemy may never become a friend, but encourage your children to try and thaw relations when possible. It can be extremely difficult to act kindly towards an enemy. Most children, teens – and even adults – either try to avoid the person or snap back with their own anger. In potentially dangerous situations, avoidance may indeed be wise, but for the average childhood enemy situation, encourage your child to see if they can improve the overall relationship even a bit. Frenemy wouldn’t be a term if it were impossible to at least broker a truce of sorts.
Set a good example. If you are always criticizing your own enemies – or even worse – plotting revenge, you cannot expect your children to love their enemies. Setting a good example will make it easier for them to understand how loving your enemies is done.
It may never be easy for your children to love their enemies, but it is possible. They will need your help though in learning how to do it. Coaching them through the process will help them become who God created them to be.
Recently, a mother I didn’t know was frustrated with her child’s need to constantly talk. It was causing issues at school and at home. She was clearly frustrated – and to some extent understandably so. When I shared that I believed her child’s talkativeness was also a gift from God, everyone in the conversation looked at me as if I had three heads!
I went on to explain, that with guidance, her child’s stumbling block could be developed into the gift God meant it to be. This bright, talkative child could be great at evangelism. She was comfortable talking to strangers – about anything apparently – and knew how to keep a conversation going. With some guidance and training, she could use her gift from God as it was meant to be used. Not to get in trouble for talking in school, but to serve God by telling everyone she meets about Jesus, with ease and giftedness.
After that exchange, I began thinking. What other traits do children have that adults find annoying or troublesome, but are actually clues to the gifts God gave them? With guidance, teaching and coaching, these same traits could be used to serve God. It took some creative thinking, but here are a few more ideas to get you started.
Quietness/shyness. Have a child who frustrates you because he or she is so quiet and shy? Perhaps this child’s gift is listening well. Anyone in ministry can tell you the world needs more Christians willing to take the time to actively listen to others. Helping this child perfect the art of listening well and teaching the child basic emotional and spiritual first aid skills can mean this child is valuable to any ministry.
High energy. Does your child leave you feeling exhausted from his or her boundless energy? There are a lot of ministries that are frankly grueling and require a lot of stamina from those who serve in them. Mission work in low income countries, urban ministry, youth ministry and others may be at the top of the list. Help this child find ways to use that boundless energy to serve God – starting now.
Fastidiousness/hyper organized/particular about where their things are placed. These children are often given by God to parents who have an opposite view on organization! Many, if not most, ministries are in desperate need of volunteers who can organize them. Whether it be schedules, projects, supplies, book keeping or one of dozens of other organizational type tasks, your child can be taught how to use these traits to make ministries more effective and impactful.
Seems to constantly get into trouble in unusual ways. Believe it or not, this could be the sign of a very creative child. Ministries often need people who can think outside of the box and help them find creative solutions to problems that are hampering their ministry. This child just needs encouragement to use that creativity for good, instead of for getting into trouble!
Takes things apart without warning or obvious purpose. This child is probably analytical by nature and may also have a gift for building, repair work on anything and everything, architecture, engineering, medicine and other similar areas requiring an understanding of how things work. Many ministries need people talented in these fields – especially in low income countries. Help your child find what interests him or her – not just in taking it apart, but in putting back together or creating.
Bossy. This child is often a born leader, but struggles with the servant part required by God. Encouraging leadership skills, while simultaneously helping this child develop a servant heart can help mold a future ministry leader or one who leads others to Christ with ease. (In some cases, this child may also have the gift of teaching.)
This list isn’t extensive. There are other troublesome traits that can be clues of God’s gifts to children. The next time your child’s trait annoys you, stop and think. How could this trait be trained and molded so it can be used to further God’s Kingdom? Then help your child change that troublesome trait into the gift it was meant to be!
“He made me do it!” “It’s not my fault!” “I didn’t have a choice!” Blaming others when bad things happen – especially things that can get one in trouble – is a game that is often learned in childhood. Mind you, it’s not a game that’s taught, like Monopoly, but is learned either by observing others or by accident. If not addressed early, it can become a habit, that when bad enough can cause a separation from God.
The problem with playing the blame game is that it encourages lying and can eventually help the blame shifter develop a victim mindset. It can also lead to blame shifters refusing to repent – because in their minds, no sin is ever their fault. Even if the issue in question is fully the fault of another person, choosing to focus on blaming instead of working to correct the issue can cause the blame shifter to get stuck – never forgiving or moving on. Over time, a victim mindset can leave people stuck in an incident from years past, angry, bitter and any spiritual, emotional or other types of growth hampered because of the amount of time and effort spent ruminating on the past.
So how can you help your children learn to accept responsibility for whatever their part was in a negative situation, while also forgiving those who may have shared the blame (or even been truly totally to blame)? There is a family devotional you can do to launch periodic discussions about blaming others.
Gather your children and tell them the story of King Saul playing the blame game, found in 1 Samuel 13. King Saul wanted to celebrate his army’s victory over the enemy. As part of the celebration, he actually wanted to do something good – thank God with a sacrifice. The Law, however, stated that only a priest like Samuel could actually perform the sacrifice. So Saul waited for Samuel to appear.
Days went by with no sign of Samuel. Finally, King Saul got tired of waiting and did the sacrifice himself. Literally, just as he finished the sacrifice, Samuel finally arrived. Samuel was furious that King Saul had so blatantly broken God’s Law about sacrificing. When he confronted Saul, what did the king do? Blamed everyone else of course!
Now King Saul was not the first, nor the last person to try and blame others for their poor choices or sins. Adam and Eve were the first and people will probably still be trying to blame others for their poor choices until Jesus returns. Notice though how severe the punishment was for Saul’s disobedience. The Kingdom would not be ruled by his family in the future, but by another family. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but one cannot help but wonder if things would have ended differently if King Saul had at least accepted full blame for his sin and repented.
Point out to your children the probable lie in King Saul’s blame game attempt. Saul was king – a king who had successfully led them to victory. Why wouldn’t they wait for Samuel if Saul asked (or told) them to do so? Also note that although it might look like Saul took some responsibility for what happened, notice how it is phrased – “I felt compelled to do so”. Point out that what Saul said is very similar to when we say somebody “made us” do something. Explain that in any situation, we have a choice. We might not like the possible consequences of either option, but there is always a godly option. Even, if like many first century Christians, we find that making the choice to obey God ends up in a bad consequence (prison or death in their case), God still wants us to choose to obey Him.
Explain to your children that the problem with playing the blame game is that we can become so good at it that we don’t even realize we are playing it after awhile. Blaming others for everything bad that happens can become a really bad habit. It can become so bad that we don’t believe we need to be a Christian or repent of our sins, because we are never responsible for making sinful choices.
The first step in breaking the blame game habit is the ability to recognize how easily and often we blame others instead of taking responsibility or working to find solutions. Give each of your children a piece of paper or a little notebook. Explain that for the next week every time they catch someone or themselves trying to blame others instead of taking responsibility for their part of the problem or focusing on blaming someone instead of working to find a solution, they should pay close attention. For each incident, they should record enough information so they can discuss what happened at the end of the week. They can use examples from streaming content, books, newspapers and of course real life. (As the parent, try to capture every example of them or you and your spouse blaming others for something.)
You may want to kick off the exercise by watching a kid’s movie or show that depicts people trying to play the blame game. Help your children identify the incidents as they happen while you watch it together. After it’s finished, discuss any consequences that happened because of characters trying to shift blame (Be sure to point out any unrealistic scenarios that may have also occurred.) This is especially important for younger children who may have a difficult time understanding the concepts you are teaching.
At the end of the week, discuss what everyone observed. Did the exercise make you more aware of how often the blame game is played in our world? Did it make you start to notice how playing the game hurts the blame shifter in the long run? What could people have done differently in some of those situations? How does the blame game relate to God’s commands for us to repent of our sins? Have fun with it, but help them see how blaming others will only hurt them in the long run. (Note: Rare children may overthink this and begin doing the opposite – blaming themselves for things that were not their fault. Work with them to understand the godly balance needed. Taking the blame unnecessarily for others is often not in the other person’s best interest either – as they may need to learn to accept responsibility for their actions, too.)
When Christians talk about the term stewardship, it is usually in regards to money. Historically, a steward was hired by someone wealthy to help them manage their entire household. The person would be charged with improving the financial holdings through savings and income, but would also be responsible for making sure everything owned was well cared for. For example, if the wealthy man had a vineyard, a manor house and servants, the steward might be in charge of caring for all of those things.
It is crucial your children understand not just the financial aspect of stewardship God expects from His people, but also how to be good stewards over their entire lives. There is a fun ongoing devotional you can do as a family to get everyone in the habit of thinking about being good stewards over everything God has given you to steward.
Call your children together and tell or read them the parable of the minas found in Luke 19:11-27. It is a variation of the more familiar parable of the talents. It’s a little bit edgier, because it also covers those who reject Jesus entirely and their fate. I suggested this particular parable, as it is one most children never hear, but you can also do the other one if you prefer.
Explain to your children the concept of a steward. Tell them that although we may no longer refer to people as stewards, wealthy people and companies have people they hire to manage their assets. These people, just like in the parable, are held accountable for how well they do their job.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:2. Ask your children to list some of the things God has given them stewardship over. Younger children will struggle and may not be able to name anything. Some children will mention money after hearing the parable – especially if they get an allowance or earn money in some way. Rephrase the question a couple of times to see if they can think more deeply about the idea and generate a few more ideas. (What do you think God wants you to take good care of? If God came back today, what might He ask you about, like the master in the parable asked his servants?)
Help them understand stewardship goes beyond just money. God wants them to be good stewards of their health, their time, their influence, their possessions, nature, etc. As you think of new areas, write them on a sheet of paper that you can keep posted on the refrigerator or another place where everyone will see it regularly.
Ask your children to pick one area from the list you made or write each category on a slip of paper. Fold the papers and place them in a bowl, then have either someone choose a paper for the entire group or each person choose a different category.
Regardless of how you choose categories, the challenge is the same. Over the course of the next week you are to figure out what it might mean to be a good steward of that area and make efforts to improve stewardship. For younger children, you may want to discuss what it means to be a good steward in that area and together plan specific things you each want to work on that week to become better stewards in that area. Each person may have different goals depending upon the topic. For example, if the area chosen was being a better steward of my health – one person might decide to exercise more minutes a day while another decides to cut out sugary snacks.
Older children and teens might want a bit less guidance up front and more ability to explore the topic before discussing it as a family. Encourage them to do some research and think about how each of you can become better stewards in that area. Because this may mean breaking bad habits or starting new ones, this may also be a great time to talk about goals and habits.
Have fun with it, but regularly rotate areas to explore what it means to be a good steward in that aspect of life. Look at Luke 12:48 together. What does it mean ”to whom much is given, much will be required”? This topic especially needs to be explored in areas where your family or your children are particularly blessed. It can be easy to coast and give the bare minimum when there is plenty to give. A million dollar gift from a wealthy person may be less than 1% of their wealth, while a million dollar gift from someone poor would be more than they might earn in an entire lifetime. How might this also apply if your children are gifted intellectually or with various talents?
Christians are stewards of more than just money. Teach your children how to be good stewards of their lives and they may just help turn the world upside down in a good way!