If you work with kids, or have kids, or know kids, you are sure to come across a broken-hearted child: one who has a downcast spirit due to the actions of someone else. It might be after one (or more) of their peers has been cruel to them, or maybe it’s after someone talks behind their back. It might even be a foster child whose own mom or dad has broken the sacred trust of parenthood.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27
In His image. Three words we are so used to hearing, they may not really register anymore. Take a minute to let them soak in once again. Every person. Every single one is an image bearer of the King. Let’s do a quick rundown of who this includes:
- your spouse
- each member of your family
- the widow next door
- the homeless man downtown
- the wealthy Hollywood starlet
- the self-destructive addict
- the politician you adamantly disagree with
- the criminal on skid row
- the co-worker who drives you crazy
- the barista who crafted your morning blend
- and most certainly, every child that crosses your path
Yes, sin was invited in, so now each one has been distorted from its original design, but every one still bears His DNA (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). Do we see people this way? Can we?
Are you ready for a beautiful, radical idea? Caesar Kalinowski, executive director at GCM Collective, says that he actively looks for the ways those around him display the image of God and he TELLS THEM. Can you imagine it? Instead of “Hey, I like the painting you did,” you might say, “I just love how creative you are. It reminds me of how God came up with all the amazing colors to paint the sunsets.” How simple is that? None of it is made up; all of it is true. But it redirects the glory from the person onto the Creator. And hearing a compliment framed in that way gives the person a sense of whose image they were formed in. This is especially beautiful for those who do not have a relationship with their Creator. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to plant a seed of the divine creation into those who errantly believe their existence is a random collision of stray molecules? And to do it with a compliment disarms as it educates. You can’t get a better plan than that. Let’s all keep our eyes peeled for the Imago Dei so we can intentionally draw attention to it today.
When a child asks you to pray for them, don’t wait. Whenever possible, pray right then and there. And if the child doesn’t mind, include some of their peers.
One of our small group leaders reported something pretty wonderful that occurred over the past few weeks:
“A few of my 4th and 5th grade girls have been sharing during prayer time about some specific bullying they have been experiencing. Some had experienced it themselves and one girl shared how she saw it happening on the playground to one particular child. We have prayed about these situations each week. When the next week comes, I always ask them if they have anything to share about how God has answered prayer. Last week, there came an amazing answer to prayer in ALL of those situations: God had taken charge of the bullying and it was stopped.”
As a group, these girls lifted up each situation, trusting that God knows all the ins-and-outs of each heart (including the bullies’) and that He could do something about it. And as He tends to do, God worked all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Not only did the girls’ situations improve, but even more importantly, their faith increased when they saw the Creator of the universe step into their personal situation and save the day. And to top it off, the wonder wasn’t confined to just the girls who had their needs met. Each girl in the group benefited. They had prayed together and now they had answers together. This calls to mind the close-knit community of the very first followers of Christ.
The believers studied what the apostles taught. They shared their lives together. They ate and prayed together. – Acts 2:42
That’s how we share our faith! Of course, we have to use discretion in knowing what can be shared aloud; we never want to embarrass a child. But with issues that are less confidential, or in the confines of a group that has grown close to one another, shared prayer time can be a huge faith-builder for all involved–including the leaders!
Someone once asked Michelangelo how he was able to craft the magnificent sculptures he chiseled out of stone. “In every block of marble I see a statue as though it stood before me, shaped and perfected in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
Somehow, in his mind’s eye - in his imagination - Michelangelo could see the completed statue before he ever touched the massive block of stone. In a way, he could picture the beautiful future of the stone. Then he would simply chisel away everything that wasn’t part of the image he envisioned, so that everyone else could see the figure the way he had pictured it. Michelangelo was certain his insightful imagination was a gift from God.
“Many believe - and I believe - that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.”
A blessing is born out of a very similar process. A blessing is the ability to see into the future of a person, and picture the beautiful things God has in store for him or her. The children under your leadership might be rough on the outside. Maybe no one else can see the talents and qualities God has placed inside there. But you know the many promises God has proclaimed for them in His word. And you can ask God to show you His plan for each child.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. - Ephesians 2:10
Ask God to help you see every child this way (especially the ones you have trouble seeing this way right now). Then make a habit of praying blessings over the kids in your life. Speak the blessings out loud over them. It might feel a bit awkward at first, but it is ever so Biblical (from Genesis to Revelation) and kids will remember you as the one who always believed their future would be beautiful.
It might be something like: “Lord, I see the way Lucas’ peers look to him to get his opinion before they form theirs. I ask you to develop his leadership abilities and that he would always use his God-given influence to lead people to Jesus and works of justice.” Or: “Lord, I love watching Katie with her little brothers and sisters. Thank you for her nurturing heart. I ask you to expand your kingdom through the way she cares for people.”
Then continue to pray for God to bring the blessing to fruition! Ask God to strip away everything that hinders the divine transformation He has in mind. Set a goal to bless each one of your kids before this school year ends.
If we ever wonder how God feels about His children, we need look no further than Luke 15.
So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
In your mind’s eye, can you picture this respected, gray-haired land owner stooping down to scoop up the ends of his robe so that he could run – RUN – to greet his son? One by one, the servants in the fields probably froze in place as the scene unfolded. This father set aside his dignity for the delight of his son. The good father owed his son nothing. But the good father couldn’t get to him fast enough.
And how did the son respond? We aren’t told in detail how the story ends, but we know the son is greatly humbled and we are left with the impression that the son would never stray again.
This is how Jesus described His Father. So how do we emulate these actions? The truth is, we have to be like God to act like God: not concerned about our dignity, not at all wrapped up in what’s best for me, not needing anything from those under our leadership. Ask God to fill any insecurity, so you are free to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1).
Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy. - Ephesians 4:24
You are the one who will model this kind of love to the kids you lead. You are the one they will look forward to seeing when you lavish them with this kind of acceptance. Keenly hone in on the kids in front of you. Make the effort to seek them out in a crowded room. Squat down to converse with them. Take time to go to their ball games or dance recitals. Let them know they are treasured in spite of their actions (good or bad).
The story in Luke 15 is referred to as “The Prodigal Son.” But since the term prodigal is defined as spending resources extravagantly, it might be more accurate to call it “The Prodigal Father.” After all, he lavished his son with an extraordinary amount of love and grace. We can do the same. Kids will be eternally impacted when you scoop up your robe and run toward them.
Years ago, comedian Mark Lowry told his story of growing up in a less-than-happy home. He was hyperactive and most adults did not know how to handle him. He was constantly in trouble at home and at school. He joked that his dad worked out a “two for one deal” with his teacher. When he got a paddling at school for misbehaving, he would get one at home as well! While Mark has many stories of the teachers who were endlessly frustrated with him, he recalled one teacher’s assistant who had a very different reaction. When Mark was fidgety or disruptive, this sweet older lady would take him for a walk. They would walk (or skip or jump or bounce) down the halls and talk. As Mark expelled his energy, the wise woman would manage clever ways to talk through the lesson that he was missing in the classroom. On a very serious note, the comedian would say that this woman changed his life. She was the first person who made him feel valued.
Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ – Luke 15:3-6
Jesus told this story in the context of salvation, but it really reveals the heartbeat of His Father. Every individual is incredibly valuable to Him. Every single one matters.
So how do we mirror the heart of the Father? First, we agree that it is worth our time to go after every child. Especially the difficult ones. Shouldn’t church be the one place that they aren’t constantly in trouble? Shouldn’t church be the one place where they feel valued? Shouldn’t church be the place where we look deeply to find the wonderful traits God has knit into them and call those to the surface? This in no way implies permitting disruptive or disrespectful behavior! It just means that we need to go out of our way to find out what triggers the unwanted behavior, give grace for what we can, and let each child know how valuable he or she is to God.
Here's a good place to start:
1. Find a way to connect with the parent outside of church to see what’s going on at home and to work together to set the child up for success. And when you see success–no matter how small–go out of your way to share it with the child and the parent. Positive reinforcement is a strong motivator (and one word of encouragement to a parent of a high-needs child can be the fuel they need to get through an entire week.)
2. Small Group leaders, talk to your co-leader and leadership team if you have one. They may see something you are missing, or may have experience with the child that can give you insight. Everyone should be on board with the plan you put in place.
3. Oftentimes the “one” will need individual attention. Find a volunteer who can be your go-to person when a child needs some space and grace. This will be a person with an abundance of patience who will take the child out of the group and pour into him or her individually. (Remember, an adult and child should never be alone in a secluded place. This one-on-one time should be done in an open, very visible space.) It may seem overwhelming to find yet another volunteer, but ask God and He will provide. There might be a gifted adult who loves a challenge, or one who prefers one-on-one discipleship. It might even be someone who was once this type of child. You never know how God will meet the need!
Of course, throughout the process, pray. Pray that these kids reject any lies that they have heard about who they are. And pray they believe the truth that they are the apple of God’s eye (Psalm 17:8), uniquely knit together to know Him, love Him and praise Him.
It’s the end of a long day. Your to-do list at work (or home) didn’t seem to get any shorter today, as more emails came in and more requests were made of you. Almost nothing got scratched off. And tomorrow has it’s own list. You certainly could use a night to catch up on all the “urgent” things you need to do. But instead, you’ll spend a night investing in kids–kids that you did not birth, but kids that God has clearly set in your path.
You’ll bend down to listen to them, because that’s what the Father does (Psalm 116:2).
You’ll ask them heart-felt questions, because that’s what the Father does (Genesis 3:11).
You’ll love them unconditionally, because that’s what the Father does (1 John 4:19).
Years from now, those to-do lists will be long-forgotten. But the truth you sow into those kids will become a foundation on which they will build an abundant life. One of those kids needs to hear that God truly values her. One of those kids needs to know that you see real leadership qualities in him. One of those kids (yeah, that really quiet one) needs to know that she is heard. All of them need to know that our ever-faithful God is with them no matter where they go.
So trust that you are making the right decision when you give yourself and your time to the next generation. Be assured, you spent wisely.
Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. – Matthew 6:20
Ask anyone who Eve is (even those who don’t claim to be especially religious) and 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear that she’s the one who ate the forbidden fruit. Everyone knows that, right? Eve’s identity is: the first sinner. And sin, as we know, leads to death. Eve’s decision led everyone toward death. So that has become Eve’s identity. But that’s not the plan God had for her–far from it.
Eve’s very name means “life.” God created her, unique from Adam, to be the means by which every other human being would come into existence. She would birth the very first babies on earth, and all other children would come from them. God’s identity for her was the very essence of LIFE.
So what turned the tide? What caused Eve to live out an identity so utterly opposite of what her loving Creator planned for her? Simply her belief. When she stopped believing the truth about God, and instead believed the lie that He was withholding something good from her, she stepped into the devil’s snare.
The same was true of Saul of Tarsus. When he believed lies about Jesus–that he wasn’t God's Son, and that he couldn’t have been resurrected–Saul’s identity was that of a vengeful murderer. Everyone in the greater Jerusalem area knew his reputation, and believers fled the city because of him. But then, Saul came face-to-face with the glorious risen Jesus. Suddenly Saul knew he had been dead wrong about everything. He had seen the light (in every sense) and he stepped into the identity God created him for. “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) What beautiful words: chosen, instrument, messenger. The old identity, born of lies, led to death. The new identity, illuminated in truth, led to life.
It’s the same for our kids today. God has created each of them with unique gifts and abilities perfectly suited for the identity He has planned for them. But the enemy has an opposite plan in mind. As their parents and leaders, we have the blessed opportunity to guide them toward truth and away from lies. When we teach them the authentic word of God, we train them to quickly identify any counterfeit. When they confide in us, we can help them single out voices they hear that are not in line with God’s. When we hear them murmur disparaging words about themselves that were hurled at them by a peer, we can remind them that the Creator of the cosmos sings over them (Zephaniah 3:17). One of the most profound questions we can ask a child is, “What does God say about that?” Pointing our kids to God’s truth and praying they encounter Jesus is the very best way to help them discover their true identity–the one that brings abundant life.
When teaching men to pray, the first thing Jesus said was, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” The Greek word for hallowed is hosios. It means sacred, consecrated, treated properly, right, purely. God’s name–His reputation–is of the utmost importance.
God cares about His reputation for a very good reason:
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” - John 17:3
Knowing Him is eternal life. Knowing Him accurately is all that matters. God is good and generous and truthful and patient and kind. When we are exposed to God, as He truly is, that is the motivation to follow Him.
We can’t take teaching lightly. We cannot come into this with a lens that is not 100% Biblical. We cannot bring our tradition, our legalism, our parent issues–nothing but Him. When we do it wrong, kids grow up thinking the wrong things about God. Do you feel the weight of that?
Pastor Buddy Hoffman, recalls being taught as a young boy that on judgment day there would be a giant movie played of our whole life for all to see–even our mothers! Not only would the terrible things we had done be on display, but even the bad things we had merely thought about doing. With wide eyes he chuckled, “That scared me to death. I had quite an imagination!”
I’m sure that a well-meaning Sunday School teacher taught that narrative in an effort to coerce good behavior. But it does not portray God as He is! Certainly, God will judge sin that is not atoned for by the blood of His Son. But is God One who spends His days taking fastidious notes on our behavior in order to humiliate us, or did He send His Son to remove our sins as far as the east is from the west? Does He long to rub our faces in our failures or are His mercies new every morning? The Bible screams the latter (Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:3-9; 1 John 1:9).
As teachers and small group leaders, we should be quick to ask God to take away any false perception we have of Him so we cannot pass it on to the next generation. We should dive into His word so we recognize the heart of God and convey it accurately to the young ones under our care so they will know Him–as He is–and have eternal life.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:15-17
Take note. When this conversation took place, Eve had not yet been created. Only Adam heard the clear warning from God. God gave Adam freedom to eat his fill of every tree–except one–or he would surely die. Then God said that Adam should not be alone, and then He crafted Eve from Adam’s rib.
As Eve’s husband, one of his main tasks would be to protect her. God entrusted Adam with His command. It was Adam’s job to pass on the truth God spoke to him. It was his honor to convey the beautiful, lavish heart of God’s provision, as well as the dire consequences of disobeying. Did he?
It was some time later when Eve was wandering in the garden, near enough to lay eyes on the forbidden tree. We can imagine the sly intonations of the serpent as he cast doubt on what Eve had been told. “Did God really say you must not eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) It’s interesting to note that Eve’s reply entails her adding extra words to God’s command (Genesis 3:3). Within moments, Eve was convinced that the serpent’s plan was better for her than God’s. She took; she ate; she offered it to her husband.
We are not privy to Adam’s conversations with Eve. We don’t know whether he failed to convey the word and the heart of God accurately. But we certainly know how important it was for him to give it all he had. It’s hard to imagine Eve being so easily swayed if Adam had spent the previous days walking her through the lush garden, excitedly pointing out how good and creative and kind God must be to bless them with the rich bounty of delicious fruits He had given them.
As leaders of kids, we have the same mandate as Adam. We have been entrusted with God’s word and it’s up to us to share it accurately: nothing added and nothing taken away. It’s up to us to express the good, faithful heart of God so our kids have every reason to trust Him when temptations come their way. It’s our honor to be God’s messengers. Let’s ask Him to empower us, because there is so much at stake.
It has been said, “We cultivate what we celebrate.” So at KidzLife, we’d like to celebrate the abundant fruit God brought forth in 2014. In each of our curriculum series, we present kids with the opportunity to respond to Jesus (always in their own words). We’d love to share just a few of their responses.
And several of our churches ended the year with baptisms during KidzLife! Families were invited to attend as these precious young souls proclaimed their faith in front of their friends and leaders. What an exciting time it was for everyone who lovingly invests in these kids.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the celebration in the presence of angels! (Luke 15:10)
Try this experiment. Verbally list ten random items (pen, baseball cap, coin, apple, etc.) Then have a child repeat them back to you. Now, with the same items, show the item as well as saying it’s name. How many items can the child repeat back to you now? Lastly, have the child pick up each item and use it. (Bite the apple, write with the pen, wear the cap, flip the coin). Now how will they do? Experts will tell you these three methods stimulate the three different types of learners. Common sense will tell you the more exposure, the better!
Auditory learners hear. They process information best when it is explained to them verbally. Visual learners see. They comprehend and remember the sights their eyes take in, be it a prop, a picture in a slide, or charts and graphs. Kinesthetic learners touch. They are all in for “hand-on.” They might have a hard time sitting still, but touching, feeling, and manipulating an object will keep their attention.
Any time you teach a group, you are bound to have all three types of learners in your audience. Present your lesson or small group in a way that appeals to all types of learners. The younger a student is, the more reliant he is on one style. As he matures, he should start to use a combination of the styles to process information. By telling, showing, and inviting kids to a hands-on experience, you help all your listeners to process the information easier and you give them the tools to retain it longer. As a side benefit, you will also help expand kids’ capacity for using the other styles, which can only help them in their life-long venture of learning.
Each KidzLife lesson and small group is written keeping all the styles in mind. We seek to grab the attention of all of our young participants and trigger the learning mechanism that will make God’s truth stick for a lifetime.
Jesus famously said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Do you ever wonder why we so often rob our kids of this blessing? We unwittingly train our kids to be little takers instead of givers. It permeates our culture in America. Kids can’t go out for lunch (which, in itself, should be a treat) without clamoring for a toy to go along with the meal that was purchased for them.
Years ago, for our Wednesday night program, our system was to set up a “store” in which our kids could “spend” the credit they earned by memorizing verses. The result? Kids pick out two or three trinkets that would wind up under the back seat of the SUV before they arrived home that night. At best, it was a momentary perk; at worst, we were valuing the Word of God with a ten-cent plastic ring or smiley face pin.
Then we stumbled onto to something better. Much better. We can’t take credit. We borrowed the idea from another church who graciously answered all of our questions. Now our kids earn the ability to give to those in need. Yes, they still get a chocolate kiss for instant gratification, but long term, they save up paper dollars (one earned for every verse recited) and a few times a year, they choose items to buy for others. Whether it’s a mosquito net to protect a family in India, a baby chick that will grow up to supply eggs for a family in Nairobi, or a soccer ball for a school in Peru, our kids are giving items that matter. And oh how they love it.
This is not an inexpensive venture, as our beloved congregation substitutes a real dollar for every dollar earned. But as we see our kids excitedly pooling their resources together and debating which items would help someone the most, our spirits bear witness to the truth Jesus spoke, and our kids feel the blessing.
You may have heard it said that a person’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness. You probably see this principle played out all the time. For example, someone at work is incredibly efficient. You rely on his ability to get things done (and done right). However, he might come across a bit too pointed and direct when it comes to personal matters. Or maybe you know someone who is the life-of-the-party type. And while you love hanging out with her at social functions, you have given up on expecting much deep one-on-one time with her.
Now, no one can be all things to all people, and God has certainly given each person specific gifts. But there is something beautiful about being well-rounded. If we are gifted in one area, we cannot allow that gift to go unchecked and become a stumbling block to others. I once heard a woman declare of her lack of compassion, “I have the gift of prophecy. I can’t even spell mercy!” She meant this in jest, but still, I believe Jesus would have us strike a balance (Colossians 3:12-17). Paul says our goal is–along with unity and faith–to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:13
So self-evaluate. Ask those who know you best what your strengths are (and if you’re very brave, ask about your weaknesses too). See if your strengths have overpowered what should be a well-tempered tool used for God’s glory.
When pairing small group leaders, it’s a great idea to match up two leaders who have different gifts. Partner a social butterfly with a Bible Scholar. Match up a talker with a thinker. First of all, they will balance each other out, giving their small group the best of both worlds. And secondly, they will learn each other’s traits, making each of them a more balanced person.
We've all been in the situation. It's time for corporate worship with our kids. Most of our kids are singing, perhaps doing motions, lifting praise to God. But there are a few kids who are distracted (or distracting). When is the right time to intervene?
Worship is responding rightly to the revelation of God, and we believe it’s an integral component of kids' ministry. The best thing you can do to encourage kids to worship is to teach them the amazing goodness of God. Then, during worship time, be engaged yourself. Kids will follow your example. If leaders are hanging back and talking to each other, kids will naturally assume it’s time to talk to friends. But if they see you focusing on the Lord and singing His praises, they will likely do the same.
A good rule of thumb is: Of course you can’t force a child to worship, but you should step in if he or she is distracting another child from worshiping. (The same could be said of listening in large group or participating in small group.) If a child is talking, rough housing, or otherwise calling attention to himself, a gentle correction is in order.
I remember walking into our middle school room during a beautiful worship set one morning. Almost every student had their hands up or eyes lifted upward, singing and considering the goodness of God. But as I slipped in through the back door, something quickly caught my eye. About four rows from the back, one of the boys was reaching over several other boys in an attempt to grab a friend’s baseball cap. With the grabbing and wrestling that ensued, every eye in the four rows behind them was focused on them, not on God. This is a time to intervene.
But rather than giving a sharp word or disapproving look, take time to get to the heart of the matter. Gently pull the disruptive child aside and with genuine concern, say something like: “You know, worship is the time when we give God the attention and gratitude He deserves. All of the kids around you want focus on God right now. But when you draw attention to yourself, you are actually stealing the attention that God deserves. I would hate for you to be in the position of taking something that belongs to God, so why don’t you sit next to me and we can worship together.” (Malachi 3:8) This approach shows your love and concern for the child while you quell the distraction.
We have a saying around here: Church can either be a cruise ship or a battleship. It can either be a place of light entertainment, or it can be a place to ready its inhabitants for combat. If this sounds over-dramatic, please consider the words of Jesus, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10a) Our kids are under assault. The enemy craftily conspires to steal their innocence, destroy their families, and take their very lives. And the weapon he most readily uses is deception. He can accomplish his mission when he entices our kids to believe his lies. The only counter to lies is truth.
This is not to say we don’t have fun! Quite the contrary, our kids love coming to KidzLife and they often invite their unchurched friends. Our evenings are loud with the style of music kids love, and it’s even crazy at times. We incorporate technology and we strive for excellence in all that we do. But we never lose our focus of presenting God’s truth, because the enemy is on the prowl.
So often children’s workers believe we need more bells and louder whistles, when what we really need is truth. Rest assured, the truth is irresistibly attractive when we teach it accurately:
The God of the universe is so crazy about you that He gave His very life to make a way for you to enter His kingdom (Romans 5:8-10). He wants you to live a righteous life because it is the best possible life, and the only way for you to be fulfilled (Proverbs 13:9). His way is not a list of rules that we strive to keep through our own power (Romans 3:21-28). His way is a changed heart set free from sin and empowered by His very Spirit (Romans 8:2). As Jesus concludes, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b)
Our kids have been prepared for the battle. They have been groomed for victory. They are armed with the truth of the Living God. Therefore, we should not be afraid for our kids to step out into the world; the world should be afraid of our kids!
Our entire walk with the Lord comes down to one key principle: Belief.
And when He took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. - Revelation 5:8
While this passage is deep with symbolism and meaning, consider this one simple thought: God keeps our prayers. In gold bowls, He keeps our prayers. Why do our meager thoughts and utterances mean so much to the Creator of the Cosmos? It may be because our prayers are ultimately proof of our faith. When we pray we are telling God that we trust Him. Why else would we ask for His help? Why in the world would we waste our time and energy coming to Him if we were not convinced that He IS and He holds all the power? Indeed, our prayers are little scraps of evidence that we believe. Therefore, He stores them like precious mementos in a treasure box.
Belief is what God wanted from Adam and Eve in the garden. We can almost imagine God begging the question (in a very humanized paraphrase): “I told you this would harm you. I know best. Why won’t you believe Me?” And several millennia later, Jesus echoed His Father’s sentiments. When asked what works could be done to please God, Jesus answered, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:29).
This core principle of belief is what we must impart to our kids. Our goal is not moral kids who tow the line and look clean-cut on the outside. That would be far too shallow an outcome! No, we want kids who BELIEVE God. When they truly grab hold of His goodness, they’ll trust His instruction, and their behavior will (super)naturally fall in line. And, much more importantly, they will live in relationship with God as He designed it to be (Leviticus 26:12, John 15:4).
We often hear the phrase “share you faith” in the context of evangelism, using a gospel presentation such as CWT or Romans Road. But consider how the disciples shared their faith in Acts 3.
Peter and John headed to the temple to pray. On their way, they passed a man who had never been able to walk. He could only beg for his basic needs because someone placed him next to the temple. Day in, day out, he knew the drill. As he sat on the ground, his line of sight, if you can imagine, was fixed on all the healthy legs walking past him. He had no hope of ever walking himself. He was resigned to the cold, hard, fact that he was–and would remain–a cripple. His highest expectation was a coin tossed in his direction. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This fellow had no confident assurance that he would ever walk. But along came two who did!
Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. – Acts 3:4-8 NIV
Peter didn’t have material wealth to offer; he had something far greater! He had faith. He was certain that Jesus would heal this man. Where the beggar had no hope, Peter reached out and shared his, as if saying, “I am sure. Lean on my assurance.” And sure enough, the no-longer-lame man’s faith exploded! Then he had faith to share (verse 10).
That’s what we do. As parents and as children’s ministry workers, we share the confidence and hope that God has given us with those who come behind–those who haven’t experienced what we have, those who need a faith to lean on.
We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders… so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. – Psalm 78:4,6 NLT
The Psalmist cried out, “Lord, give me understanding according to your word!” (Psalm 119:169)
Have you ever read a verse to kids and then realized the words were way over their heads? I still remember, several years ago at church, a 3rd grader recited Hebrews 10:7 to me verbatim. Job well done. But when I asked, “Do you know what ‘atonement’ means?” he shrugged his shoulders with a very matter-of-fact, “No.” In fact, most of the words in the NKJV translation he had committed to memory were foreign to him. He might as well have been studying another language. And the saddest part was, he had grown so accustom to this practice, he didn’t even seem to realize that the words might actually have meaning behind them.
So I began to explain each word and its definition. Now, there is nothing more fun than describing the incredible work of Jesus–especially to a child! But what I realized was, I was basically translating the translation he had memorized. I became a “middleman” of sorts. I was, on the fly, pulling words together to replace the words that were encrypted in his mind. Wouldn’t it be better for him to memorize words he already understood? I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Our team set out to find a translation that kids could more easily understand. We discovered the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which is written on a fourth grade level. Based on the NIV, but referring back to the best and oldest copies of the Hebrew and Greek, the NIrV is simple and easy to understand. Shorter words are used in place of long or complex ones, and lengthy sentences are shortened. The highly skilled translators of this Bible poured over the original texts for untold hours and used the most appropriate words they could find. When a child reads this version, he understands for himself. When he memorizes it, he gets the meaning, and it can begin to transform his heart, and therefore his actions–no “middleman” required!