Much teaching and training go into shaping the soul of a child. Worldview, attitudes, priorities, desires, and habits all emerge as a result. We can teach children what God wants – obedience, service, sacrifice, etc. We can even teach children the character of God – His faithfulness, mercy, unending love, holiness, etc. And yet those things, while important, are not enough. Alone, they cannot reach the child’s heart.
Children innately have the God-given capacity and longing to know and draw close to God. They too were made for intimacy with Him. But they need training and instruction to help them navigate this friendship with God.
They need to know how God relates to them personally, how He sees them. They need practical ideas of how they can interact with Him. They need to know His heart for them.
There is a myriad of truths God wants to convey to the hearts of His children. The ones below are a good place to start. As you look over these truths, you will find ideas for Scripture, Activities, and ways to Model each one.
As you consider modeling these ideas, it’s important to remember that children will learn more from your tone, demeanor, and interaction with their heart than they ever will from the words you use to instruct them. You are their first example of the way God relates to them!
Truth #1 – God is a God of delight
If we’re not careful, the Christian life can become simply a list of duties to fulfill, behaviors to avoid and commands to obey. God’s heart is not drudgery or rule-keeping. His heart is a heart of delight. He delights in us, His children. He desires for us to delight in Him. He gives us gifts every day to bring delight, joy, and pleasure into our lives.
God’s delight is not merely for our enjoyment. God’s delight is not given based on anything He sees in us. His delight is because of His own heart. He gives joy from Himself. He rejoices because it is in His nature to do so. He exults from an overflow of who He is.
Delight touches a child’s heart. While young, children are still unencumbered and free to delight in what we, as adults, often overlook or see as insignificant. Children are often eager for others to enter their delight, and God is more than ready to oblige!
Here are some ways to help children internalize this truth.
Scripture: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
In this verse, we see God’s delight through rejoicing and exulting. You can say to children, “God enjoys you!” and “God sings with shouts of joy because of you!” Be careful not to tie this delight to actions or attitudes that are exhibited by the child. God’s delight is given from Himself and can be received every moment of every day.
Model: Watch for a time when a child is enjoying something, and take time to enter into the delight with them. Be exuberant! Use words to imagine with them how God might be feeling or acting towards them. You could say “I think God is so excited that you found this treasure. He loves to watch you enjoy it!” or “You make God smile. He loves watching you grow and learn new things!”
Activity: Use Psalm 17:8a to teach children that they are the apple of God’s eye. This phrase is used to indicate that a person is cherished, loved, treasured, enjoyed above all others. The Psalmist feels God’s pleasure towards him in this way and never wants that affection to change. Help your children feel this too!
For older kids, plan a time to bake your favorite apple dessert, bob for apples or even go pick them if it’s the right time of year. Start a conversation during or after the activity about this verse and how God feels towards them. Ask them how knowing this truth about God makes them feel.
For younger kids, make an apple craft with a paper plate. It’s SUPER easy and my 3-year-old LOVED it! I then added a picture of him in the middle to remind him that he is the apple of God’s eye! There’s also a song for this verse by Dana Dirksen on her Songs for Saplings CD. (You can stream this FREE with amazon prime.) My guy loves this song too and asks for it on repeat!
Truth #2 – God accepts you
Every person longs for acceptance. This has been true since the beginning of time. People’s acceptance can be different than God’s acceptance. We tend to accept conditionally, based either on another’s behavior or on our own capacity. Our acceptance can change quickly which leads to the need for others to try and earn it in some way.
God’s acceptance is unconditional. He accepts us on our good days and on our bad. He accepts us when we are loving towards Him and when we are struggling against Him. His acceptance is freely given, never earned. He accepts us for who we really are, not on the basis of what we do or don’t do. His acceptance is based on His nature and His abundance. It has nothing to do with us.
Acceptance lays a strong foundation for children. It allows them to be the person God uniquely designed them to be. It enables them to embrace their quirks or differences. It brings freedom to be an individual that is fully known and still loved, valued and adored.
Here are some ways to help children internalize this truth.
Scripture: “to the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He did make us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 6:1)
God’s grace – His favor, His kindness, His activity in our lives – is what enables us to be accepted. When we believed in Jesus, we were imputed His righteousness which allows us to be with God and in fellowship with Him. Children need to know that because of Jesus and HIS perfectness (not their goodness or behavior) they are accepted into the family of God. They can enjoy fellowship and friendship with God all the time because Jesus’ goodness that was given to them will never be taken away.
Model: The best way to model acceptance is to give acceptance. Accept a child’s quirks or unique personality, don’t try to change it. Don’t show irritation. Welcome children. Verbalize to them the way God accepts and can use their personality traits. Have a talker? Say, “God has filled your mind with so many ideas and you love to share them with everyone. I wonder how He’s going to use your words to encourage others as you grow up?” Put children and their idiosyncrasies in a positive light. God does!
Activity: Ask children to share 2 things they love about themselves and 2 things they don’t enjoy. This will give you insight into areas in which they are struggling to be accepted. Take children to Psalm 139 to show them they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remind them that God made them exactly as they are and has great plans for them. Imagine with them how God might take something about themselves that they don’t like and use it to help others and bring Him glory.
Truths to Remember as You Shape the Souls of Your Children
- You must believe these truths before you can pass them on. If you have a hard time feeling God’s delight or acceptance, take some time first to let Him work in your heart in those areas. It’s hard to pass along truth that we have not received ourselves. (If you want some thoughts about God’s delight, you can read my discoveries here.)
- You will not do this perfectly. You are as human as the children you are teaching, after all! You need Jesus just like they do. You will have bad days when you blow it and that’s ok. …which leads us to the last point…
- This does not depend on you. God uses us to accomplish His will. We are only His instruments or agents along the way. He is the One revealing truth. He is the One changing hearts. He is the One that will pursue the children you influence and accomplish what He desires in them.
A Closing Prayer for You
God, I pray for the mom, dad, teacher or mentor who is reading these words today. I pray that You would ignite in their heart a desire to lead children into intimacy with You and not just into knowledge.
I pray that you would fill their hands with tools, their minds with ideas and their hearts with longing so that You can use them to influence the children around them.
I pray that You would draw near to them as they draw near to You. I pray You would allow them to feel Your delight and unconditional acceptance.
Give them eyes to see the potential in their children as You do. Give them words to speak hope into their lives and stability into their souls. Cause them to rely on You and look to You. And fill their days with the delights of Your love.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.