Over the last year, many of us who are parents have been more up-close and personal with our children than ever before. Often it has been a real challenge, particularly with home-schooling, and I think we are all more grateful to teachers now than we were before!
We are also more aware of our spiritual responsibilities. Without the support of Sunday Schools, Kids’ Clubs and youth groups, suddenly ‘spiritual education’ has returned to the home too. As parents, if we don’t do it, who will?!
Thankfully, the Bible has very practical advice to help us through these times. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 says:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds… Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
What strikes me about these instructions is how normal they are. It talks about teaching God’s Word to our children as we sit at home, go for a walk (or as we drive in the car), at bedtimes and breakfast times. I believe this is the secret to teaching them to listen to God too – it has to be a normal part of life.
Am I listening to God regularly?
We can’t teach our children to listen to God unless we are regularly hearing from Him too. In my book, The Treasure Man, eleven-year-old Sienna begins to listen to God after watching her mum’s example. They meet a homeless man who says his name is Jimmy, but Sienna hears Jesus say his name is Jamie.
‘I’m just trying to figure out why you would ask Jesus because the name didn’t feel right,’ pondered Mum.
Sienna looked at her in surprise. ‘But you taught us that! Do you remember two weeks ago, you were checking the bank account and you said it felt wrong, so you asked Jesus what was wrong, and then you realised a shop had charged you twice?’
Sienna saw her mum talking to and listening to God, and so that became her default as well, and it powerfully impacted the young man. Our kids are watching us more than we think (especially in lockdown). If we are making a habit of asking for God’s help, taking a moment to listen to Him, and if our kids are seeing us spend time in the Word, then listening to Him will become a normal part of their lives too.
Am I telling my kids about my chats with God?
As we can see in the extract above, Sienna’s mum had told her about the problem with the bank and how God had intervened. Maybe this is the biggest leap. I want my kids to know that I am a safe place, that they can always come to me, but if I admit that I don’t always have it together and need God’s help, will that make them feel insecure?
This is a tough issue. As a family, we decided to be honest with our children about our failings and our reliance on God. Instead of making them feel insecure, it has meant that they are learning to trust and ask Him as well.
A couple of years ago, during a time of unemployment in our family, my daughter wanted to go to the summer youth camp Soul Survivor. When she asked, I said she could go if God provided the money, but she had to ask Him for it. (‘Ask the Parent with the biggest bank account’ is the phrase we usually use!) She told no one and prayed. Two days later at church, a dear elderly lady came over and told me that God had told her to pay for one of my children to go to Soul Survivor.
I want my children to grow up dependant on God, not on me. I will not always be able to help them, but God will. If we are honest with our children about our reliance on God, they will grow up to rely on Him too.
Letting them ‘practise’ in a safe place
When our children are learning to walk, we make sure that it is safe for them. We remove the glass-topped coffee table and put up stair gates to give them the freedom they need to practise their newly-developing skill.
It is the same when we are teaching them to listen to God. We need to create safe places for them. One time, with our children, we discussed giving some money to a family in need. Seeing this as a training opportunity, we asked the kids to ask Jesus how much money we should give, and we all wrote down the amount we felt was right on a piece of paper. As it turned out, both the children had the same amount, and it was more than my husband and I had put down! So, we honoured what the children had heard and gave the larger amount. This was a safe place; they weren’t going to be ridiculed if they got it ‘wrong’, there was no ‘test’, just the chance to hear from God and bless a family.
You may have noticed our family’s examples so far have focused on money. That’s because it is easy to see. If you need a financial miracle, you know it – and when God answers, you see it clearly. For us, we have found this has been the most practical way of showing the children how God wants to be involved in our lives.
In The Treasure Man, Sienna moves from responding to those everyday Holy Spirit nudges, to stepping out in faith and giving someone a clear message from God. When sometimes things go wrong, she is able to talk to her mum about it, without being afraid of what Mum will say. Keep the channels of communication open. Our kids may make mistakes, they may mis-hear. Don’t we all at times? Let’s keep talking and keep encouraging them, and be willing to share our ‘mistakes’ as well as our ‘successes’.
Hearing from God is the biggest adventure we can go on. Let’s go on it as families, bringing our children with us, and learning to experience God’s voice in the everyday together.