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Growing up in a pastor’s home, loving Jesus seemed to come naturally. Fast forward a few decades, and now I’m realizing that love for Jesus would not have been there without the intentionality my parents showed to teach me about who He is and what He has done for me. I don’t remember the time when I first learned about Jesus or God because they didn’t wait until I was old enough to remember. Every day of my life, they told me, showed me, instilled in me who Jesus is and how much He loves me. Every day.
Now, as a mom to two wonderful little boys, I am realizing the very real challenge and responsibility of doing the same for my children. There is something inside of me (be it laziness or Satan) that creeps in my thoughts telling me things like, “It’s not a big deal right now. They won’t understand or remember, or we can talk about Jesus when they get older.”
My answer to all those, though, it a big, fat NO. If nothing else, loving Jesus IS the MOST important thing in all the universe. He is their only hope. Not me, not their dad, not money or success or fame or comfort. Just Jesus.
Knowing this, my husband and I (and the wonderful family and friends we have around us), find moments throughout the day and week to be intentional about teaching our children about who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, and all about God’s love and salvation. We hope to show them in a real and genuine way the real and genuine God who loves us deeply. And while these are not simple tasks, and we are still just beginning to grasps these concepts at times as adults, there are a few methods we use to help us journey along with our kids.
Methods of Being Intentional in the Discipleship of Babies & Toddlers
Children love music. My youngest baby refuses to nap without it, and my toddler will sing and dance all day if you let him. Music is such a big part of life and can be used to open up new avenues of thought and emotion. We sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and many more, all the time. During the day, right before bed, when we are excited or when we need to settle down, we can sing.
However, we don’t just leave it with the children’s songs. Our children hear our adult worship music as well. They see us sing worship at home and in the car. My youngest has a “magic” song that instantly calms him and helps him sleep, which talks about how God will carry you through tough times. It’s cinematic in sound and beautiful. You can listen to it here. All this singing opens the door to talking about what the song is saying and what the lyrics mean, which leads to my second point…
- Talking Points.
Almost every moment can have a talking point about God. While we tend to miss a lot of these moments, God in His grace has helped me see some important ones. As my toddler is helping me water our tomatoes and feed our compost worms, I talk to him about how God made all those plants and made the worms to eat the waste and feed the plants. We talk about how He feeds us and takes care of us, just like the plants. If some pests have come to destroy the plant, I use that time to talk to Him about how there is a “bad guy” who wants to do the same for us, but God is like our gardener and is bigger than the “bad guy” and can snip him off and save us.
When my toddler is in trouble, we have a conversation about doing the right thing, obedience, and even grace. He knows that no matter what action he has done to be in trouble, Mommy and Daddy always love him, and God always loves us no matter how we mess up to. And if Mommy loses her cool, I get to very humbly ask for forgiveness and talk about grace some more. Then, if his baby brother makes him angry, we can throw in some more lessons about grace and forgiveness (and sharing and kindness, most of the time).
It doesn’t have to always be deep. Small observations and simple things like, “That cloud is so beautiful. Did you know God made clouds?” or “It’s raining! God is watering his plants and cooling us down by sprinkling us with rain!” can go far with little ones.
At night, especially if my toddler gets scared, we use that as an opportunity to talk about how big God is and how He protects us. He is learning that “God can do anything” and “God is even bigger and stronger than Daddy.” We talk to him about how much more God can protect him than us, and we teach him about talking to God. Which leads to our next method…
- Pray with your children.
I love to pray. I feel like I was raised to know you don’t have to get in some solemn position to pray. There is always a constant conversation going on in my head with God, and this is what I hope to teach my children: God is ALWAYS listening.
We have been teaching our toddler how to pray before meals and before bed, and he definitely listens. It’s actually kind of amazing because we never watered down our prayers that he heard as a baby, and now he is praying in such a mature manner. As a three year old, I’m hearing him pray before a meal, saying, “Thank you for this food. Thank you for our family and our friends and for helping keep us safe. Thank you for opening doors for a job for Daddy. Thank you for helping us find Eden (our dog who decided to take a stroll around town one day). Thank you for Mommy and Daddy’s job and for providing for us.” He says these amazingly observant prayers.
Yes, you can use songs and rhymes to teach the basics of prayer to your children, but be intentional about teaching the reason for prayer. The reason we pray is to talk to God and to thank Him and cast our cares on him, not just to have a rhyme we say before we eat or sleep. This is why we pray out loud together in a real prayer, saying the real things we are praying even if they are not necessarily something a little child will always understand. We know he is always listening and learning that even Mommy and Daddy talk to God about big things that make them scared or worried or stressed or joyful or overwhelmed or thankful or anything in between.
- Reading Books Together
This is probably one of the easiest ways (tied with singing songs) to begin to teach your children about the stories of the Bible and who God is. Choose Bible story books that are age-appropriate and have fun, colorful images. We love to read before bed, and then talk about what we read as we fall asleep. Our absolute favorite are: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Alice in Bibleland series (which has many books), and My First Read And Learn Bible by Scholastic Inc. There are also devotionals like Say & Pray Devotions by Thomas Nelson, and A Believe Devotional for Kids: Think, Act, Be Like Jesus by Zonderkids, which you can tailor for your child as well.
All of this information may make it seem like we have it all together as discipling parents. We do not. There are many times we miss opportunities and mess up, but I’m learning that you don’t have to wait to be perfect or do it perfectly in order to raise godly kids. That is where God comes in with His unfathomable grace and provision.
I’m constantly praying for my children, for wisdom in raising them, and for grace to cover us all. Using these methods above also helps to be more intentional in the hope that our kids will be captured and captivated by the love of God at an early age and choose to follow Him all the days of their lives.
What are the methods you use with your children? Leave them in the comments below!