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Children and Spiritual Growth: Faith That Figures

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How do you figure if children are growing spiritually? Use 2 Peter 1:3-8 for a faith that figures.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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— 2 Peter 1:3-8

He was the rock, the disciple who was always first to proclaim his faith and then leap out on it. When he was with Christ, Peter faithfully walked on water, hot-headedly slashed an ear in Gethsemane, and cowardly denied Christ. Yet after all that, Jesus tenderly and mercifully asked Peter, “Do you love me?…Then feed my sheep.”

Peter knew faith, and he knew forgiveness. More than that, though, Peter knew what it meant to grow by the divine power of God. As he discipled God’s children, Peter wrote a guide for growing faith in 2 Peter 1:3-8 that stretched Christ’s followers and still challenges us today. God’s promise is that if we follow this guide, it’ll keep us from being “ineffective and unproductive” in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How do you evaluate if children are spiritually effective and productive? Do you measure Scripture memory, faithful attendance, good behavior, bringing a Bible to class, or something else? While these may be outward expressions of inward realities, we must look deeper to ensure that we and our children are truly growing.

With Peter’s guide, we can cultivate qualities that add up to spiritual growth. Start here, and then dive into the passage for exponential possibilities in faith.

START WITH FAITH

In 2 Peter 1:5, Peter calls us to start with faith — the act of believing in Jesus Christ. Peter doesn’t explain how to get faith or find faith; he just assumes that there’s at least a small seed of trust somewhere in his readers. For growth, he says, start with that seed.

Peter explains that through God’s glory and goodness, we receive his “very great and precious promises.” Faith, as Hebrews 11:1 states, is being sure of the promises we hope for and certain of God’s answers that we do not see.

Building faith in children is perhaps the simplest thing to do because kids are trusting creatures. Newborn babies instinctively know that trusting mom and dad is paramount for survival. For kids, faith is a way of seeing the world. And it’s that trusting and unpretentious faith that Jesus calls all of us to emulate — to become like children.

SUM IT UP

Since faith hinges on the person and promises of Jesus Christ, be intentional about presenting the claims of Christ to children. Help children understand that they must respond in faith to what Jesus did for them on the cross. For growth to occur, we must start with faith.

Beyond that initial step, introduce children to God’s “precious promises” — not just Bible stories. When children receive and believe the promises in the Bible, they’ll grow in faith. As children share their needs and prayer requests, encourage them with promises from the Word of God. Then each week ask them which of God’s promises they relied on during the previous week.

As children’s ministers who long to make a difference in children’s lives, we may lose faith at times in the One who brings about growth. We may begin, instead, to trust ourselves and our abilities. If so, we’re operating in unbelief. The weight of a child’s spiritual growth rests not on us but on God. We must never forget that God is the one wielding the power to open little hearts and give children the discernment and courage to do what’s right.

ADD GOODNESS

On Mount Sinai, when Moses asked God to show him his glory, God responded, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

God’s very nature is goodness, yet the lavish mercy and compassion we experience are still only a hint of his glory — a glimpse of his “back” as he passes by us. Even with those glimpses of mercy and compassion in our lives, something in us doubts God’s goodness when our circumstances don’t make sense. In the garden, the serpent persuaded Eve to believe that God was denying her something. She didn’t believe that God had the best for her in mind because she couldn’t see it. She didn’t trust that God’s heart was good. It’s our Christian journey, in part, to remember that God’s heart is good and worthy of trust.

God promised his people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” That soft heart and new spirit enables us to trust God’s goodness and grow in goodness. When we realize that we can’t cultivate goodness on our own, we rely on the Holy Spirit to bear that fruit in us.

SUM IT UP

As God interacts with us, mercy and compassion are two of the ways we can see God’s goodness. To help children have an accurate perspective of God’s goodness, help them see God’s mercy and compassion. When circumstances in kids’ lives don’t make sense in light of what the Bible says about God, acknowledge their doubts and then dive into the Bible together to find examples of God’s goodness. Encourage kids that God’s love for them is more powerful than anything else in the world.

Children’s growing goodness can be demonstrated through obedience as they learn to do what’s right. Teachers and parents can more easily teach children goodness if they first cultivate obedience. Cheri Fuller, in her book Opening Your Child’s Spiritual Windows (Zondervan), writes, “Parents want obedience from their children. Not an outward ‘I’ll obey because I’ll lose privileges or get punished if I get caught’ obedience, but obedience from the heart. To a parent, obedience from the heart says, ‘I know that what I want to do isn’t what my parents would want, and it’s not good for me anyway, so I’ll make the right choice and not do it.'” When children learn to respond with obedience, they not only learn to practice goodness; they learn how to respond to God with obedience as well.

ADD KNOWLEDGE

Knowing God is certainly a lifelong, unconquerable task. And children daily add bits and pieces of knowledge to their understanding of God. Reading the Bible, knowing the biblical accounts, relating to other Christians, understanding how God interacts with humanity — all these things contribute to a knowledge of God.

Yet in her new book With All Their Heart (Moody Press), Christine Yount, executive editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine, writes that we’re at risk of becoming immune to God’s Word simply because of familiarity. “That’s a risk for our children as well,” she writes, “especially if as Christian parents we have surrounded them with quality Christian education at home and church. The stories they’ve heard from infancy may be just that — stories.”

We must help our children know the Word and understand it. They must see behind the actual words to interact with the Author of the words. Christine writes that we must teach our children to listen to the Word of God. “What does it mean to listen to God’s Word?” she asks. “The obvious answer is obeying what God’s Word says, but a more subtle agent that hardens hearts is simply not getting it. Missing the point. Not understanding fully. It is listening to biblical accounts and walking away entertained but not affected by the real truth revealed.”

To help kids fully understand biblical truth, we need to avoid teaching the Bible as mere stories. Rather, we need to present accounts of God’s encounters with his people that reveal the truth about who he is. As teachers, we need to ask God to reveal truth to us first. Then we can discuss with children what each biblical account reveals about who God is so they truly grow in knowing God.

SUM IT UP

As teachers and shepherds, we can never underestimate how much impact the Word of God might have in a child’s life. Help your kids understand one piece of the puzzle at a time. Occasionally, you’ll be blessed to see a child have an “aha” moment — large or small. Those moments give you a little window into the work God is doing in a child’s heart.

Four-year-olds’ “aha” moments aren’t quite epiphanies, but they’re cause for praising God just the same. In our class of 4- and 5-year olds, we made a collage banner of all the things Jesus is Lord over. Jacob called me over to show what he’d drawn by his section of the collage.

“This man is Jesus,” he explained. “And this is a heart by Jesus because I love him.” Sunday school teachers, parents, and loving family members certainly plant seeds, but I’m convinced that God takes full responsibility — and glory — in those “aha” moments.

ADD SELF-CONTROL

Self-control is a virtue that adults sometimes expect of kids automatically, even when some types of self-control aren’t realistic for certain ages. Children need rules and structure to help them ultimately develop self-control. However, what you can expect from a preschooler in the area of self-control is much different from what you can expect from a preteen.

When you introduce rules to your children, don’t forego the opportunity to introduce grace too. Cheri Fuller writes that “Obedience and grace fit together like a hand in a glove. You can’t teach one without the other. Exemplifying obedience to God without communicating a reliance upon God’s grace portrays a law-oriented gospel that will obstruct your child’s spiritual growth, making her unable to move on to serving God from the heart. Heart obedience develops only within the context of a firm grasp of the grace of God.” Be consistent when enforcing consequences and rules for children, but be lavish with grace.

Parents implement all sorts of systems to reduce and prevent bickering between siblings, and mine were no different. In one system, our family drew a grid on a bulletin board. When we started, my brother and I each had a colored push pin in the center of the grid. For each time we fought, our pins moved to the left (and toward grounding), and for each day we went without arguing, we moved toward a reward on the right. Although my parents were consistent with discipline and the reinforcement of consequences, there was no grace in our system. There were no “do-overs,” no chances to start in the center again. All my life, I’ve had to struggle against this graceless understanding of the world to offer grace to myself and others.

SUM IT UP

Children need logical consequences. If a child throws a fit in class about a toy, don’t deny her a snack as punishment. That’s not logical to the child. Instead, remove the toy and quietly explain why the child’s behavior isn’t appropriate. Giving instruction after a logical consequence helps the child make the right choice next time. Children ages 2 to 3 may not understand concepts such as sharing, so it’s better to remove the child or the object in question than to punish the child for something he doesn’t understand is wrong. For preschoolers and kindergartners, explain why behaviors such as hitting or throwing food aren’t okay, and children will begin to incorporate appropriate behavior. Finally, elementary-age children can help create rules because they know what acceptable behavior looks like and can more adequately control themselves.

Children and Spiritual Growth: Faith That Figures
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