“Daddy, don’t let the giant get me.”
“Sweetie, the giant isn’t going to get you. It was just a dream…”
I had already come in to comfort my daughter, Elly, several times that night, but feeling suddenly inspired I decided to seize the “gospel” moment.
“…and besides sweetheart, Jesus is stronger than giants and everything else that’s scary. He defeated all our enemies on the cross, so when you feel scared, you can pray and ask him for help.”
I quietly congratulated myself on my applied spiritual insight in parenting as I watched my three-year-old process this.
“Daddy, is Jesus going to put me in a boat?”
I floundered for a moment then realized she was remembering the picture of Jesus in the boat with His disciples from her storybook Bible.
“Yes honey, Jesus is always with us. Even in the boat.”
“Will He push me in the boat?”
“Um… Jesus loves the little children, sweetie. I think He’d give you a push.”
“Daddy, is Jesus going to wear a swim suit?”
“Goodnight Elly. Go back to sleep.”
Rarely do spiritual conversations with your children go the way you envision, especially when they are little!
A child’s short attention span and limited comprehension can make these parent-child interactions slightly comical, but I’m convinced the effort is worth it. Sooner or later, ideas will start to stick. The conversations we have today will form a framework for understanding later on.
Any Christian parent who wants to learn to talk naturally with their children about Jesus can start by identifying teachable moments in their daily routine.
The following list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start.
1. When You Sing Together
Kids love to sing. Shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood revolutionized children’s programming with this insight. So why not be intentional about the music you play and the songs you sing at home and in the car?
I grew up in the 80s listening to Psalty the Singing Song Book. (And I was delighted to discover these CDs are still available online.) But today there are many more options to choose from.
The new favorite in our family is the Slugs and Bugs collection from Randall Goodgame, in particular the CDs of “Sing the Bible.” It’s just the right balance of silly fun with spiritual depth. We love that our kids are learning actual Bible verses, as well as the books of the Old and New Testaments.
2. When You Read Together
Educators keep telling us there is nothing better to prepare kids for future academic success than reading to them when they’re little. Why not take advantage of story time by reading books that will teach your kids about Jesus?
Our girls LOVE The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I don’t know if it’s a common experience for other parents, but after we finish reading a story to them, our girls like to flip back to the beginning and retell it in their own words.
And when we turn out the light, the Bible story we just read is a great place to start our prayer time.
“God, thank you for sending your Son as a baby…”
“Jesus, thank you that even the wind and the waves obey you…”
“Jesus, thank you that you rose from the grave and are alive today…”
3. When You Pray Together
Many Christian families pray before meals and at bedtime. Prayer time is an easy opportunity to teach your children to pray and, in the process, teach them priceless truths about God.
Our three-year-old is now at the point of wanting to pray at meals, but she doesn’t know what to say. So my wife or I will pray and, phrase-by-phrase, she repeats our words. Most days it sounds something like this:
“Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us this food. Thank you for Daddy, and Mommy, and baby Hannah. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for sending Jesus to save us from our sins. Amen.”
4. When They Are Scared
Most kids get scared when they wake up in the night. When they call out your name for comfort you have an opportunity to talk to them about “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
When they’re afraid of the dark, you can remind them that Jesus is the light of the world and a light for us when we’re in the dark.
When they’re afraid of monsters (or giants in my daughter’s case), you can remind them that Jesus is bigger and stronger than anything scary. In fact, everything evil is afraid of Jesus, because they know He’s in charge.
When they just want Daddy or Mommy you have a chance to talk to them about God the Father, who loves them even more than Daddy and Mommy do.
And any scenario like this gives you the chance to pray with them and over them!
5. When They Do Something Wrong
Discipline is one of the most stressful aspects of parenting. And our parental reactions when a child does something wrong reveals a lot about our own assumptions.
When I hear myself say, “Why would you do something like that?” or, “I just don’t understand where this behavior is coming from!” it’s an indicator that I’m forgetting the core of the gospel.
According to God’s Word, she’s not inherently good. She knows how to lie, be sneaky, impatient, mean, and more without having to learn it from others. It comes naturally because, like every person on earth, she was born sinful. She’s sinning because she’s a sinner, just like me. (Ephesians 2:3)
Rather than being surprised by our kids’ sin, we should expect it and have a game plan for addressing it with gospel truth. When your child sins it can be a God-ordained moment to talk with them about how much they need Jesus. That only by His death and resurrection can they have God’s forgiveness, the ability to run from sin, and to desire to do what pleases Him.
Growth in godly parenting requires intentionality and self-scrutiny. Here are several outstanding books that have made a difference for my wife and me.
6. When They Are Wronged by Someone Else
Much of our parental energy in discipline goes into addressing the sinful behavior of the offending child, but we also have an opportunity with the child who was wronged.
This can be your chance to help them understand what it truly means to forgive – that it’s not easy, that the person who wronged them needs their forgiveness, and, most importantly, that we forgive because, through Jesus, God has forgiven us too.
It’s worth the time for you and your spouse to talk through each of these six daily opportunities to point your child to Jesus. Decide what you want to convey ahead of time.
Of course, it will never go exactly according to script, but over time it will pay off as your child learns the vocabulary of grace and spiritual conversations become a natural part of family life.
(Article originally posted April 20, 2015)
David Wollen is the Vice President of Client Services at Douglas Shaw & Associates, and he also hosts ANCHOR Today, a one-minute radio devotional syndicated on over 200 radio stations in the United States and Canada. David has a passion for discipleship within the church and for sharing the grace of Christ with all nations. David, his wife, Marci, and their two daughters live in the greater Chicago area.