My goal as a parent is to listen to advice from the so-called “graduated” parents—those who are launching their children, facing empty nests, and assessing where they went right and where they could have done better. These parents have lived through fads and trends and seen what lasts. Here, there is wisdom to be found for younger parents.
One of these mothers told me she wished she had taught her children how to do their own personal devotions. She always read the Bible to her children as they grew up. She decorated her house with Scripture, memorized verses with her children, and set family worship times together. Now that her son and daughter are in college and on their own, however, they wish she’d taught them how to study the Bible for themselves.
What a gift it is that she shepherded them faithfully all those years, and I’m glad her children can engage with her now and ask for further help. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late, parents.
If you want to start the process of helping your children own their faith and its practices earlier, here are some ideas:
1. Model for Them
Habits are more often caught than they are taught—a painful maxim for parents at times. However, the proverb advises us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This doesn’t mean that we can save our children—that’s the Lord’s work. It does mean, though, that if you model a discipline of time with God in his word and in prayer, they will not easily shake off that example. I heard of one man who remembered his father getting up early every day and making coffee while reading the Bible; this father was showing him the way the son should go. Even a prodigal child from that house might associate the smell of coffee with God for the rest of his life and someday be called back to the Lord.
2. Explain What to Do
Here’s the part I think we often forget: telling our children what to do and why. Why is it that we need to read the Bible daily? What does prayer look like? How long should prayer be? Should you do a 365-day reading plan or buy a devotional book to guide you? Answer these questions for yourself so that you are prepared to answer them for your children.
There are many helpful structures and mnemonics able to assist; for example, with prayer, try ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. And with Bible reading, try these questions: What is the context for this passage? Where do you see Jesus in this passage? How does this passage apply to you?
3. Start Handing Off Responsibilities Early
Teaching personal devotions is just like teaching anything else: you have to build incrementally. As you gather for family devotions or in one-on-one time with your children, start asking them what they want you to pray for. Then ask them to start praying. Then ask them to read the Bible passage out loud or to choose a hymn. Build piece by piece, in your own way, as God leads you with your unique family dynamics and children. Some children will be ready for some steps early; others will need more time to grow.
4. Treat it Like Any Other Habit
Habits take time to develop. It’s often helpful to have habit trackers and rewards for achieving goals. It’s also helpful to hook a habit onto a time and a place. For example, when your son unloads the dishwasher in the morning, ask him to play a book of the Bible on audio in the kitchen. Or, maybe you require Bible time for 30 minutes after school or before you say good night. Where is the best time in your day to start training?
Wherever you are in the process of passing on the faith to your sons and daughters, know that God is faithful. For many years, I wished that we were doing “more” spiritually with our kids than we were, or I wished our spiritual moments looked a certain way. But instead of focusing on our successes and failures as parents, let us praise the Lord who is sanctifying us! He will not leave nor forsake your children on their own walk, wherever they are. Even as you do your best to pass on your faith, remember, they are his children, not yours.