Too many parents today approach the question of personal devotions (how to do them, when to do them, who should do them, etc.) with guarded trepidation. We believe it’s something that is reserved for each individual’s personal walk with God, and therefore shouldn’t be discussed in the open. Unfortunately, in today’s church, most church-going Christian adults still do not have their own regular, personal devotional times with God.
It’s incredible: we don’t think twice about having our kids practice piano for thirty minutes each day, to keep up with their lessons; or take batting practice or shoot free throws in order to make the starting line up on their respective teams. So, why isn’t it a priority for today’s Christian parents to train their kids to do likewise when it comes to their relationship with Jesus Christ?
In the Tague family, we make a big deal about when someone “GETS” to do their own personal devotions. We take an eventful trip to the Christian Book Store and let them pick out their own “big boy” or “big girl” journal, Bible or devotional. Now, keep this in mind: we are not forcing Christianity on any of our kids. They will grow up and make their own decisions, as my older three have and have all chosen to walk faithfully with God. We are merely training, or discipling, our younger three kids in the same way we did our older three, just like you’d train your kids in any other endeavor, from brushing their teeth to making a layup in basketball.
We start when they are very young. Pretty much as early as six-years-old, or when they are able to read, write and sit still for 10-20 minutes at a time.
Time FOR and WITH the family is essential for effective devotional time. Without this, there simply isn’t enough time in the home for devotions to take place. This will often mean scheduling time in the morning or evening, saying “no” to certain activities in order to maintain that special time.
So, here’s what we do to teach our kids how to have their own personal devotions. We set aside about 15-30 minutes each morning (or evening could work, too… depending on your family’s schedule). Once your children have learned the basics of reading, writing, and sitting still for a little while, they can start having their own devotional time. Anyway, simply put, we start them out in Proverbs or John – something they can easily read and understand. We have them read about three verses, then write down (copy) the last verse in their journal.
Now, as with any typical six-year-old, when they write down even the shortest of verses, it may take up a whole page of their journal… and that’s great! You don’t have to explain to them the meaning of the passage, or how they will apply it to their lives, just have them simply copy it down on the page. It doesn’t have to be deep, or Spiritually revealing, but it should be celebrated by you, their parents, just like if they were to be bringing home a “refrigerator worthy” project home from school. Then, at dinner, or sometime during the day, ask them about what they read. Ask them what it was that Jesus might have been saying, and help them get a better grasp on what it was that they read. (Parental tip: avoid Proverbs 4-7, they speak about sexual immorality and may be inappropriate for your younger children.)
As they get older (8-9 years old), have them read one story (usually a paragraph or two) then ask:
- What does the story mean? What is God saying or doing in the story?
- How did the people react to God and how did He respond to their response?
- What does the story mean to me?
Don’t know where to start? I recommend the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), Proverbs or 1 John. They’re easy to read and rich in text that will help them grow in their spiritual walk.
Only around 10-20 minutes of time is typically necessary to accomplish devotionals like this, including time for: prayer, reading and responsive writing.
Once they get a bit older (12-14 years old), you’ll notice them get deeper in their understanding and application to the Scriptures in their lives. It could be situational (what’s going on in their or their friends’ lives), it could be prayer requests, it could be deeper understanding of a passage they’ve read before or a connection between two different passages… the list goes on and on.
The key is that they learn how to – and continue to – interact with Scripture, allowing God to speak to them through His Word, and they learn to speak back through their prayers and journaling.
Now, I have to stress this point: Teaching them to have their own personal devotional time with God WILL NOT GUARANTEE that they are going to be walking faithfully with Jesus Christ every single day for the rest of their lives. It’s not a magic pill that promises that you will have perfect Christian kids. In fact, out of my six children, five of them have begun doing their own devotions (one is still too young), and at one point or another, all five of them have treated this like a chore to get done so that they can get on with the rest of their day; or a thing they have to do to just pacify their mom and dad.
And guess what? That should totally be expected. That’s called childhood. Many times, it’s no different than playing piano, or doing homework, or doing the dishes… And just like when they don’t want to do those other things, as parents, you work through it with them, continually communicating with them the importance of what they are doing. And you’ve got to be lovingly and compassionately relentless! Convey to them how Jesus is the most exciting person in the world and you can’t wait to share more and more about Him with your kids!