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
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
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.