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 (Manna 36: Prayer)
Eat Right and Exercise for Spiritual Fitness
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Proper nutrition and adequate exercise go hand in hand to promote physical fitness. As concerned parents, we begin early on in our children’s lives to teach them how to eat right and exercise. This principle also applies to our children’s spiritual fitness. When our children feed on the Word of God and exercise their faith in Him, they will grow strong in the Lord. A mother shares insights from her parenting experience.

Give Your Child a Suitable Bible

God’s word is in the Bible, so give your child a Bible of his or her very own. When you do this, you want it to be a Bible that he or she can read and understand. A very young child would be able to "read" a picture Bible. He or she can look at the colorful pictures while you re-tell the story in words the child can understand. Little children enjoy having their favorite books read to them over and over again. So, for example, each time you read the story of the Creation, you once more impress upon your child the all-important truth that God made this world and everything in it. Some picture Bibles come with easy-to-read stories. These are suitable for the young child who has learned to read. They are not too difficult that he becomes frustrated, and they are not too easy that she becomes bored. Many of these come with Bible verses. The child who has learned to read will have the opportunity to look them up in your "grown-up" Bible.

A child who is in elementary school is ready to have his or her own Bible. Bibles for this age group come in a wide variety. Many are available online and can be purchased from the convenience of your home. However, you might want to take time out of your busy schedule to browse through the shelves of a bookstore in your community. Whether you make the final selection or have the child go with you into the store, the important thing to consider is that the Bible you purchase is one that the child will read. A Bible that sits on a bookshelf or on a tabletop in your child’s room is like food that sits on a refrigerator shelf or on the dining table. Your child will still be hungry until he or she has eaten some of the food.

When my children were in elementary school, I bought each of them a grown-up Bible. I wanted them to have a Bible they could bring to Sabbath services and practice looking up Scripture verses during sermons. If I thought those Bibles were a little too grown-up for them, I imagined they would grow into them soon enough. But a time would come when I realized that I wanted my children’s copy of the Bible to be a book they could "dig right in!"

One day, I discovered a Bible in "giant print" at a Christian bookstore. Being at that age where tiny print was becoming a strain on the eye, I was pleasantly surprised at my discovery. I grabbed the Bible and made an immediate purchase. Following that eye-opening experience, I began looking for Bibles that I thought would meet my children’s specific needs. The search took a while. I scrutinized advertisements in Christian magazines, checked out catalogs, and visited bookstores, Eventually, I found what I considered an appropriate Bible for my junior higher. Called The NIV True Love Waits Bible, it sent a message to young Christians that it was okay for them to be different from those of their peers who thought otherwise. Considering the stranglehold the sexual revolution had on popular teen culture, I saw this particular Bible as the perfect tool with which to arm my junior higher.

As for my other child, I selected a Youth Walk Devotional Bible, New International Version. Three years younger, and still in elementary school, the pressures of popular teen culture made no impact on her world. All the child cared about, beside going to school and doing her homework, was whether there was another good book she could "sink her teeth" into. My new purchase filled an urgent need. A voracious reader, the youngster devoured the 365 devotions in one day.

Instill a Love of Reading in Your Child

Unlike eating, reading does not come naturally. It’s a skill that needs to be taught and encouraged. Unless you homeschool your children, most of us depend on teachers to teach ours how to read. However, moms and dads can help their children develop this new skill in the home. This is not an option really. If your child attends a school where one teacher is responsible for thirty students in a room, you want to take an active role. A child who does not learn the basic skills of reading at a young age will find reading the Bible a very difficult thing to do.

Is reading a normal part of everyday life in your home? Where reading is a natural activity in the home and good reading materials are in plentiful supply, a child learns to develop a love of reading. If your children are very young, look for books that attract their attention and hold their interest. You also want books they can hold in their hands. Books made from fabric available at discount stores meet this need. These specially designed fabrics come with instructions and can be sewn together with a little effort. Best of all, they can be washed and ironed, again and again. You also do not have to worry that your child will crumble the pages or tear them out. Books with laminated pages that you can wipe clean are also a good investment. They don’t tear easily either. Give your little ones permission to pick them up whenever he or she feels inspired to take a bite. Make reading a fun experience. If a child learns from the start that reading is fun, studying the word of God becomes a natural and positive thing to do.

In addition to an appropriate Bible for your child, help her put together a small collection of appropriate reference materials, like books and magazines. Keep these in a place where the child can reach for them. Let him drink in the attractive pictures. Let her savor the bite-size pieces of facts and figures. All these lay the foundation for in-depth study later on.

One reference book that still gets a lot of use at our house is called, It’s Fun Finding out about Bible Times. A lot of basic information is packed into its thirty-five pages. Its front cover alone offers a great religious education. One picture tells the story of Jesus preaching to the people. Another picture tells the story of Paul on the road to Damascus. Then there’s the picture that tells the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We also see the picture of a man driving the kind of oxen cart known to exist in the days when the Romans occupied Bible lands. There’s a farmer plowing the field. Look at those jars of clay. This is only just the beginning. Inside more pictures bring the Bible to life. A few capture the stories of God’s relationship with Abraham, Moses and David. Others show how people traveled, what they wore, what jobs they had. Living as we do in the twenty-first century, pictures of weights and measures used mentioned in the Bible or pictures of the different stages of the farming year in Bible lands help to orient parents and children alike in our study of the Bible.

Reference materials can take a big bite out of your budget, so do not rush out on a big shopping spree. Build your collection over time. Keep it small. Only buy what your child will read and understand. A favorite will be read and re-read, over and over again. To help you get started in your search, visit your church library for some ideas. Also find out what church publications you can subscribe to. If you happen to live near a large bookstore, invest some time scouring the shelves marked "clearance." These are new books that the retailer sells at very low prices. Many public libraries sell used books and magazines donated by patrons at token prices. Garage sales in your neighborhood are another place to take a look. Don’t forget the folks at church who have books or magazines they want to give away. Reference materials that help your children digest God’s word are timeless treasures. You, too, will be greatly edified. In this respect, you cannot actually place a dollar amount on the value of your child’s collection of reference materials.

Encourage Your Child to Experience God's Word

This is the hard part of the eat-right-and-exercise equation. But as the saying goes, "No pain, no gain." Before you imagine yourself a drill sergeant, I can tell you it doesn’t quite work that way, even though we have a mission to train our children to be spiritually fit. We are not in control. God is in charge. Let Him take charge.

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, And great shall be the peace of your children (Is 54:13).

This verse came alive for me when my older child had just turned six and the younger wasn’t quite three. One night, my husband was stricken with nausea and severe abdominal pains. As the evening wore on, he became increasingly ill. I stood and watched in terror, unable to help. When he finally asked to go to the hospital, I moved in a blur to prepare for the drive to the emergency room. Before leaving, I looked for the children. They were in a corner of the room, away from the commotion. I do not know how long they've been there, but the older child was on her knees and tugging at the younger one to imitate her.

I didn't know it then, but that was the first exercise of faith my children would experience, as if, in a total spiritual fitness program, designed, as was only possible, by a personal trainer, eminently qualified, and perfectly aware of the unique needs of each individual client.

To say that my children's needs were great is but an understatement. Although having been born into a family where three generations of womenfolk claimed membership in the True Jesus Church—while their husbands each claimed membership at different churches of other denominations—I was more versed in the ways of the world than I was in the ways of the Lord. But a parent blind to the grace of God is not equipped to guide his or her children out of the darkness of this world. They will both grope in the dark, even if the sun is shining at its brightest. However, God is merciful. He can "open the eyes of the blind" (Ps 146:8).

When I was expecting my younger child, I stumbled upon a Bible written in contemporary language. For the first time in three decades of existence, I was able to make some sense out of chapters and verses in the Bible. Still, at a time of crisis like that evening, I was ill prepared to cope. Perhaps God should have thundered commandments from heaven to snap me out of the stupor. Instead, He attended to the frightened children and taught them what to do.

If God will teach our children, what is there for parents to do? In my experience, the Lord has kept things simple. All that He requires of me is "impress upon the children" to listen to Him and obey Him in all things, all day, and every day. This should not be too difficult, except that I am sometimes better at making matters complicated than I am at keeping them simple.

These days, my older daughter is looking for a college major that will point her toward her career path. Once in junior high, she thought that she could be an orthodontist. But when she discovered in her first year of high school that she didn't enjoy biology, she quickly put that thought out of her mind. Then one day in the summer following her second year of high school, she heard someone say that there was a need for Near East Studies majors to help in the holy work at church. Although I expressed concern about her chances of finding gainful employment, she felt it her duty to give this some careful consideration. After much research, she applied to two universities that offered this major. She decided that if she received admission and funding to either one of these schools, she would know that it was God's will for her.

As it turned out, my daughter found herself at a university that actually welcomes, encourages, and supports the entering freshman who does not as yet know what his or her calling in life is. In his speech during convocation ceremonies, the university president promised students and their parents that those young men and women would embark on an intellectual exploration and discover what exciting thing it is that they want to do with their talents. He assured everyone present that they had come to the right place.

I want to believe that the president was a messenger from God. I imagine my daughter did, too. Not knowing what the future looks like is hard. I seek comfort in the miracle of my daughter's unexpected and smooth transition from an under-performing public high school lodged in a disadvantaged part of town to a prestigious private university nestled in the heart of affluence. The stark contrast is unnerving. I’ve overheard my daughter say, "There’s no one ghetto like me." I'm sure she was exaggerating, if only a little. But I've read that God is good at this sort of thing, like that time in the Old Testament when He brought an obscure shepherd boy from the open pastures to live with royalty in a fine palace (1 Sam 16:19-22).

Still, that story is no clear sign from heaven. If taken literally, it only adds to the confusion. As a result, the search for a major has remained a matter of relentless pursuit. Actually, it never let up. When my daughter knew that it was not God's will for her to go into Near East Studies, she continued forward in her struggles to figure out what it is that she is supposed to do with her life. This was especially telling the summer before my daughter went off to college. During this time, she attended the two-week long National Youth Theological Seminar. When it was over, I went to bring her home. Once seated safely in the privacy of our minivan, she blurted out, "God said I don't have to be an engineer."

"Where did that come from?" I teased.

But her outburst told me that my daughter had been in prayer about her late father's wish for her to follow in his footsteps. Despite the revelation, she felt obligated to be a dutiful daughter. It also seemed logical. A student with a passion for math and science, she had been awarded every math and science award in her high school graduating class. She had also spent three of the four years of high school in a chemistry class, first as a student, the second and third as a teacher’s assistant. Consequently, she set out to explore the makings of a chemical engineer. But a few weeks into her second quarter, when mid-term examinations rolled around, it quickly became clear to my daughter that this was not God’s will for her either. This time, she was devastated. Then, as if to sear the significance of this revelation into my mind, I heard myself say, "It's now between you and God."

But the pressure to conform and perform to general expectations is always there. Voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in her graduating class at high school, she wonders if the major she ultimately finds herself in will earn her a good living. Visiting with some high school buddies their first summer home from college, my daughter eyed her friends with a twinge of envy as the group talked about their majors and spoke of their earning potential. Looking wistfully into her own future later that evening, she asked, "Mom, what rich major you want me to pick?"

I think that was a rhetorical question. I don't think my daughter expected me to give her an answer. I suspect that, in spite of the rhetoric, she is pleased at how things have turned out. There was evidence of this, when just before leaving home to begin her second year, my daughter confided to relatives, "It's really amazing how as time goes by, I realize what sort of amazing opportunities attending [this college] has opened to me." Although this statement does not so much declare that my daughter knows exactly what exciting thing it is that she wants to do with her life, it tells me that she is excited to follow God's lead and check out all these wonderful opportunities He has in store for her.

I tell her to go in peace.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church
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