The spiritual training of children consists of more than just character training and Bible memorization. If we want our children to develop a relationship with God of their own, we need to let the Spirit of God lead in their training and instruction. Only He knows the heart of each child and the way that they will best relate to Him. This means that we have to have a close enough relationship with God ourselves that we can hear Him speak and recognize His voice. Sometimes we start out as parents vaguely feeling nudges in our spirits (or consciences) that let us know what God is trying to say to us as He directs us in all things, including the training of our children. But as we grow in our walk with the Lord, we learn to ask the Lord to speak to us more clearly, and we seek to draw closer to the Lord. And we get disciplined and trained by the Lord ourselves. As the Lord parents us, we learn to parent our children better.
What I have observed is that people are training children to live in a people-centered way instead of a God-centered way. And the relationships that they are fostering and encouraging are self-centered. Children are taught to use other people to get their needs met. They try to impress other people and gain their admiration or envy. They are encouraged to compete and compare themselves with others. And they learn to emulate others that they consider attractive and cool. They learn to control and manipulate, and they are rewarded for it. Parents don’t know what to expect from children because parents don’t know how to build good relationships themselves!
And it’s not just parents; it’s most adults, including teachers, Sunday School teachers, pastors, other church leaders, coaches, and leaders of groups that train children. They can’t teach what they don’t know. And not many people know how to build relationships based solely on love for the other person with no self-interest or self-seeking. We teach our children by example that it’s okay to “use people to gain approval for yourself by parading your abilities and making arrangements to spend time with people who seem to like you or be impressed by you.” Barbie Poling was convicted of these things in her own life as God was parenting her and bringing her into a greater understanding of His ways. She works with Marilyn Howshall of Lifestyle of Learning and writes about her process of learning how to train her children spiritually. God showed her how unloving her behavior and attitudes were, and she stopped doing those things.
And as she learned these things herself and changed, she began to work in the hearts of her children to help them become more Christ-like.
She encourages us to “Cry out earnestly to the Lord for revelation so that you can repent and become free to love with His kind of love which is void of self-interest and self-seeking.” And as she learned these things herself and changed, she began to work in the hearts of her children to help them become more Christ-like.
The thing we need to keep in mind at all times is that We should be teaching our children to do everything out of love, not selfishness.
This ministry that emphasizes relationship training and helping children develop proper heart attitudes is Lifestyle of Learning with Marilyn Howshall and Barbie Poling. I highly recommend joining their membership site if you want to learn more about this topic here .
I wrote a lot about this subject in this post.
Values and Standards
Of course, we also need to model and teach good values and standards of morality. The Bible says we are to be separate from the world – in the world, not of it. But many times, we parents who live this way with our children find that even churches try to influence us to let our children be more worldly when we are teaching them to put spiritual things first. They criticize us for not letting our children participate in things that have the appearance of evil or expose them to images and behaviors that may contaminate their purity and take away their innocence.
As parents, we must be careful not to feed our souls on immorality. We must refuse to be led by the culture. We don’t have to watch every new movie that comes out or read every book that becomes a bestseller. We are to be the leaders and change agents of culture, not be influenced by it ourselves. We have the opportunity to set higher standards in our own home, and we should do as the Lord leads in what we watch, listen to or even think about. We should model modesty and teach our children about loving our neighbors enough to not tempt them by the way we dress or act.
We should model high morals in our daily lives. We are called to live a life of integrity and honor. We should be loving and faithful to our spouse. We are supposed to be our children’s heroes. Let’s give them something to live up to. Let’s give them a lasting legacy of love and virtue that they can be proud of, and that will ground them in the truth of God’s word and His ways. The way they view their parents is the way that they will view God.
Now to get more specific about what to actually do when we’re training our children spiritually. The family is a microcosm of the Body of Christ. So we should do in our home what the Bible admonishes Christians to do. The things that many people leave to the church to teach and to practice.
1. Pray together as a family. And pray alone, and let your children see you doing it.
2. Read the Bible together. And read the Bible alone, and let your children see you doing it. Share with them what the Lord revealed to you during your time with Him.
3. Teach about God’s ways throughout the day. Use examples from nature that illustrate spiritual principles, situations that happen during the day, tell stories like parables and teach Jesus’ parables and connect them with your daily lives.
4. Listen to worship music. As they get older, your music and their music may diverge. I’m discovering this. What I consider pleasing and uplifting is not enjoyable to my children at all. It’s hard not to be offended, but I’m learning to get over it. Still, there are some types of music that we agree on, so we keep looking and listening until we find something we can both worship to and enjoy God’s presence in.
5. Sing and worship together. If you have a child or children who play an instrument, ask the Lord to help them learn to play and sing songs of worship to Him that the whole family can sing. We sing in the spirit together sometimes. We just let Anna play her guitar. And then wait. She strums – and waits. We hum or sing whatever we hear in our spirit. She sometimes gets amazing and beautiful spontaneous worship songs. We can join in or hum along with her. You can do this without an instrument, too, but the sound of an instrument helps to get the juices flowing.
6. Take Communion together as a family. This accomplishes exactly what Jesus said it would. Every time we take Communion we are remembering (and teaching) the Gospel, the good news of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We have found this to be one of the best teaching tools and times of spiritual closeness in our family.
Letting God Lead Your Life
The very best way to teach children to put God first in their lives and follow His will for their lives is to lead them by example. This means that we have to pray about everything. We must inquire of the Lord the way so many people in the Bible did. We must spend time with the Lord asking Him what He wants us to do. If you desire the life that He intends for you, fulfilling the purpose He put you here for, you may be surprised by the training and trials you will have to go through. But if you want His will more than your own, you will be willing to do whatever He tells you and endure with patience whatever He allows to come into your life. It’s all training and preparation. Everything in this life is about our relationship with God. Drawing us closer to Him, teaching us His ways and making us more like him – that’s what this life is for.
Is that what’s happening in your life? Is that how you view life? If not, seek Him and find out if you’re missing something in your own life that is keeping you from being able to lead your children to the Lord.