A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: methods (page 1 of 5)

Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: (Relatively) Painless Ideas to Help Kids Share Their Faith

New to this series? For the thoughts behind it, start here.

It was yesterday, walking to a train, that we met her—I’ll call her Gretchen. Conversation unfolded among us in the blistering sunshine. We were all drawn in by the details of her home country; the stories of her life there. At thirty, Gretchen is pretty and successful. She vacations around the world.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by both my daughter and my son after disembarking the train, when she’d warmly wished us well and waved to us out the window. Completely separately, they asked me if we could pray for her, that she’d know Jesus, too.

I could tell you this is because I’m some kind of fantastic parent, but if anything, I hope you’ve picked up through this blog that I’m muscling my way through this parenting thing like anything else. (I’m sure perfect parenting is on the next blog over from mine.)

Spiritual disciplines, after all, are about cultivating, right? Richard Foster, author of The Celebration of Discipline, writes that in all these disciplines, we just prepare the soil of our hearts (and our kids’). It’s the Holy Spirit who moves. Or as the verse read which my sister neatly painted around the rim of her terracotta plant pot: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

And really? That’s what sharing our faith is about, too. When I was trained as staff with Cru, they taught that evangelism is sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results up to God.

THE KEY: For kids to be confidently equipped and constantly ready to give a reason for the hope that they have—with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). We encourage them not to view evangelism less as a single, isolated event, more as an ongoing lifestyle of bold love. The point is not for friends to pray a prayer. It’s for them to become true and lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Here are a few ways I see this unfolding with the kids in our lives.

  1. First, the heart. This is the most long-term of any of these ideas. Any child—any human, for that matter—naturally wants to share what’s fantastic in his or her life. When a new cousin’s born, your daughter can’t wait to share it with her class at show and tell. So before sharing our faith comes the experience that our faith is unstoppably worth sharing! Kids who are excited and filled by Jesus won’t share their faith as much as a have-to as a natural outpouring of who they are. To share the hope that they have—first, they must have that hope.

 

And if I may be so bold—a lot of that is a tone set by us as parents, right? Ours is not dogged religion that “works our way to heaven”. Grace is what makes Jesus different from every other religion on the planet. Kids growing up in homes where faith is authentic and grace-motivated are equipped every day to know what their faith looks like in any given situation.

 

  1. I shared in this post about how not to share your faith, and how it’s critical love must fuel all “agendas” for evangelism (please read this post for more). My kids found the video on that post, as well as the one below, hilarious. (Note for Protestant readers: This video has a minor Catholic thrust.)

My husband and I used these to generate conversation about why these methods can be off-putting for the majority of the population. As much as tracts and other tools can give kids brilliant steps and thus boldness to share their faith, I am of increased conviction that traditional methods can actually distance people from our kids because the methods are socially alienating to a modern Western audience–which can hinder loving them well. That’s not the Cross that’s getting in people’s way. That’s our lack of understanding of people—the whole “clanging cymbal” thing.

You may remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple. The former’s prayer is essentially, Thanks, God, for making me better than him. The vital message for our kids: We are not the savior, but the saved. We’re about humility, not results.

  1. Equip them. (I know, I know. Now she gets to the practical part.)
    1. Help your kids to articulate their faith. For weeks in our family discussion, we’d quiz our youngest: What’s grace? We’d ask application questions, too. No, it’s not a quiz. But our kids talking to their friends first means they truly get the idea of how God saved us inside and out. Not with confusing platitudes—“I asked Jesus into my heart!”—but in ways that communicate in kid-language what Jesus did.
    2. I found this video to be a great jumping-off point for discussion with my middle-school kids. You might also try this one on sharing your faith without being pushy.
    3. Together, memorize verses that equip kids to talk about the Gospel. Here’s a good top ten list of them. You might find the music and free printable memory cards from Seeds Family Worship’s Seeds of Faith.
    4. Another gem from Cru: “The Gospel flows best through the holes in people’s lives.” In other words, people are most receptive to Jesus in the areas and seasons where they most feel their need for His answers. Talk with older kids about how to compassionately listen and come alongside friends in hard times–with true hope and comfort.
  1. Make your home the locus. Did you know that a significant portion of evangelism in the book of Acts happened from homes? In the past, I was always coached to invite people to church—and this is still a great idea! But the nuanced culture of churches can, depending on the person, occasionally increase the feeling of our friends feeling like outsiders. We’re not inviting them to a social club with all the trimmings. We’re inviting them to Jesus. I wrote here about practical ways to make your home an “open house,” and here about ways to live “sent” in your community.
  2. Pray often as a family for those around you to know Jesus. Let your prayers communicate true love and humility, and that it’s God who is the great Softener of Hearts. After all—He softened ours! He’s bringing us from death to life—and He works the same in our friends. (Prayer changes our own hearts, too.)

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11 Ideas toward More Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.

One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).

Never underestimate the impact of a healthy home.

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Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fun Ways to Study God’s Word (with FREE printables)

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out these on Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, Simplicity, Solitude, Service, and Fasting.

 

Okay, so if it’s not obvious—problem numero uno may be getting our kids to study anything, right?

Maybe.

Because the truth is, our kids will naturally study whatever they’re interested in. My eleven-year-old, for example has wanted to be a zoologist ever since he knew what one was. It’s why I’m lugging back from Africa no less than three animal encyclopedias; why I know the name of nearly every bird perching in our yard. Any teacher will let you know that kids are self-driven to study whatever they’ve got the bug for. (This is a key concept in this series!)

If our disciplines for God don’t lead to joy…we need to take a serious look at them.

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Guest post: God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray

Of the many nuggets I’ve gleaned from my father-in-law, perhaps one I am most grateful for is his response to my husband’s teen years.

A lot of people find merit in Mark Twain’s quip: When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.

But my father-in-law wasn’t one of them. Those tornadic years of my not-yet-husband’s were a signal to pull out the outdoor gear, summit as many of Colorado’s fourteeners as they could knock out, and tack on some decent kayaking, cycling, and snow caving along the way. My father-in-law saw the rippling strength of the teen years as a chance to explore manhood together.

teaching teens to pray

As people have forecast heartbreak for these years of parenting—and I realize my portion will come—my husband and I loved our six years of youth ministry. It was a little like working with wet cement, these textured, gravelly years of becoming. We could hold gut-level conversations about real, heartrending issues. Our faith offers unmatched answers to the question marks looming in the teen mind: unfathomable meaning and purpose for their lives, far beyond themselves.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray, offers ideas to come alongside teens in prayer.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

 

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Ideas to Be Your Spouse’s Wingman

If you’re thinking of Goose and Mav, you’re getting my idea. How can we be our spouse’s “intimate ally”*? Get this: The word God used to describe Eve in the Bible (ezer) translated as helper—is most often used in the Bible as either as a term for a military ally…or for God Himself, helping us. Here are a few practical ideas—for husbands and wives–to act as your mate’s shield, advocate, and protector. (Like this? Be sure to check out 50 Ways to Inspire Your Wife and 50 Ways to Inspire Your Husband.)

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Simple Ideas to Teach Fasting

I’m posting this in part for families who’d like to fast for Lent. A few believe Protestants shouldn’t; but Matt Chandler offers this perspective–so it’s your call! At any time of year, I feel families can benefit. Here’s why.   -Janel

fasting for families spiritual discipline

Yeah, I bet you were wondering what I was going to write in this one. (I was, too.)

It’s hard enough for adults to get the idea behind fasting, I think. But I like how John Piper phrases it: Fasting is about demonstrating a hunger for God. It’s like saying, God, I want you this much. Remember how man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God? Fasting—much like its sister discipline, simplicity–is like putting down the bag of Cheetos in our lives that mutes our soul’s shouting to be filled. (My refugee students could likely out-fast me any day, simply because they’ve lived life without being constantly satiated.) Kids aren’t likely to understand this easily, so let’s put it this way.

 

What it is

THE KEY: Fasting is a sweet offering to God of choosing against something we really like for a little while, so we can be satisfied by Him rather than all the pleasures in our lives.

God made those pleasures as good gifts! But He never means them to get more important than Him. Fasting helps us step away from them a bit, to spend time thinking of Him and praying more.

We keep it quiet, because fasting isn’t about making us look all spiritual. It’s about our private walk with Him, like a special secret between the two of us.

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Guest post: 9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage in Tough Times

It’s been one of the most pressing seasons for our marriage.

We’ve been navigating a crux of major life decisions—only one of which included the continent we’d be living on. And our marriage that has been characterized by fairly fluid teamwork can at times be pulled taut by our diverging passions, longings, and reasoning.

“Stressed” doesn’t begin to cover it.

The most pleasantly surprising discovery of such a thin, exhausting stretch of marriage:  Despite all we were juggling–by God’s grace, we have remained (as Dan Allender calls it) intimate allies.

Ever wonder how to pray for your marriage in the thin, challenging times? This post is for you.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com, explore what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, “9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage,” gives some uber-practical ways to move in prayer toward what’s always a good decision: being more married, more one flesh. …Even, perhaps especially, in the tough times.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fairly Painless Ideas to Teach Kids Service

Catch earlier posts here on Solitude, Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, and Simplicity. Find initial concepts for this important series here.

Part of what I love about living in Africa: opportunities for my kids to serve are everywhere. As in, next door. I admit to being concerned about this when we landed in the U.S. six months ago. How was I going to draw a dotted line for my kids from compassion in Uganda to compassion in Colorado?

Awesome thing is, there are opportunities to serve–in really fun ways–in every zip code, from Salvation Army bell-ringers, to running a booth at the Fall Festival for the community, to the military family across the street whose dad’s deployed. Serving transforms our homes into aircraft carriers as its members are nurtured, then launched into the community.

The question often becomes how much we push our kids

into what they don’t want to do.

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #5-7

Missed the first post, on phone skills, table manners with a guest, conflict resolution, and greeting? Grab it here.

5. Gratitude.

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