Faith That Figures

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“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.” — 2
Peter 1:3-8

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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.

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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.

ADD PERSEVERANCE

Peter knew that Christians would need incentive to keep
believing when things got tough. Perseverance means not giving up
on God and not giving up on faith, even when what you expected or
wanted didn’t happen.

Because we’re each broken by sin, God starts with gentle
persuasion to change us. But sometimes conversation isn’t enough,
says Larry Shallenberger, a children’s pastor in Erie,
Pennsylvania. Sometimes God has to reset some of the broken bones
of our character. This involves a re-breaking and a re-healing.
Perseverance is trusting that God acts out of love toward us even
when our circumstances seem to tell us otherwise. It’s the
confidence that on the other side of suffering, we’ll begin to
think and behave a little more like Christ.

The book of James teaches that perseverance comes from the
testing of our faith. As Larry notes, “That’s a euphemism for
old-fashioned pain.”

SUM IT UP

True perseverance is a tough concept for most American children
to understand, since they live in a fast-food, microwaved world.
Prayer, knowledge of Jesus’ suffering, an understanding of others’
stories, and opportunities to debrief feelings can help children
learn to persevere.

Get kids out of their comfort zone so they can see what life is
like for other people. Take them on a mission trip to a third-world
country or to an inner city. Introduce them to people with
disabilities who’ve overcome obstacles. Then talk about what it
means to persevere daily as Christians.

You might be surprised at what kids are experiencing at such
young ages. Larry realized recently that he had two children with a
terminally ill father, a girl whose father is in jail, and several
children with divorced parents.

“I think that as children’s ministers and teachers, we need to
allow time for children to talk about their pain and respond to
it,” Larry says. “We need to create shepherding experiences in
which children can share their frustrations and challenges.”

ADD GODLINESS

Growing to be like Jesus is a lifetime pursuit, but there are
moments in our lives when we see our growth in godliness. To be
like Christ, we must know Christ. And we must see ourselves through
his eyes. Although we’re created in God’s image, we still live in a
fallen world. Seeing ourselves for who we really are means
recognizing our sinfulness and seeing God’s glory working in
us.

Jesus knew who he was, and out of that knowledge, he could see
straight into other people’s hearts. He often asked the questions
that seemed most obvious but most important. “Do you want to get
well?” he said to the man at the healing pool. His question pierced
to the very core of the heart of a man who’d been disabled for 38
years. Jesus helps us know how much we’re in need of a Savior, how
powerful he is, and how we’re to respond to him.

Larry notes that in walking with Christ, we begin to discover
that God’s laws are like lines on a map that direct us to
understanding God’s nature. Cultivate godliness in children by
helping them understand the moral reasoning behind the rules we
teach them.

“We need to trust children’s capacity to be motivated to want to
please God because they love him and want to be like him,” Larry
says. “We need to give them a heart for godliness that will
endure.”

SUM IT UP

Godliness can’t happen without God at work in us. Glynis Belec,
a children’s minister and author from Ontario, Canada, says, “I
truly feel godliness is a condition of the heart and cannot be
absorbed from the words of parents or teachers…I do think,
however, that an ‘apprenticeship program’ begins when a parent or
teacher is a godly example for Christ. When a child observes adults
living lives consistent with what they’re learning through the
Bible rather than through worldly example, wonderful things
happen.”

Glynis recommends that we ask ourselves these questions:

• Is my perspective from the world or from God’s Word?

• Do I show a lack of restraint in my life, or do I control
myself and strive for upright living in the eyes of God?

• Does my life and teaching impart a vision of sacrifice and
serving the Savior, or do my needs come first?

Beyond providing an example of godliness, Glynis encourages us
to remember that godliness is a heart issue. “I really feel it is
more important to develop the hearts of our children,” she says,
“than to develop a rigid set of rules in our homes and Sunday
school classes.”

Mysteriously, godliness comes when we
stop trying to make ourselves holy and instead let the Holy Spirit
do the refining work in us. As Paul said, “I no longer live, but
Christ lives in me” — that’s godliness.

ADD BROTHERLY KINDNESS

Brotherly kindness, or kindness toward other Christians, in part
involves compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. All three work
together to represent Jesus’ character in the body of Christ.
Children can more fully understand Jesus’ sacrifice by interacting
with other believers in compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. When
a child comprehends how others feel and explores how she might feel
in a similar situation, the foundation is laid for empathy. Out of
this empathy comes compassion for others and a desire to forgive
and be forgiven.

Children first learn what forgiveness is by experiencing it
firsthand. As children experience the feeling of being forgiven,
they can begin to forgive those around them. Eventually compassion
will compel them to forgive as Christ calls them to — whether the
people who hurt them are sorry or not.

Sheila Walsh, in her new book A Love So Big (WaterBrook), tells
a story about her son, Christian, learning to forgive his friend.
“Perhaps my son would find it easier to forgive his friend if
Trevor were really sorry, but it galls Christian to be expected to
forgive someone who isn’t sorry at all. I find that galling too.
But how sorry are we? I am convinced that most of us have no
concept of what we have been delivered from or what our sin cost
Christ. And it is impossible to appreciate how much we are loved
unless we realize how much we have been forgiven.”

SUM IT UP

We teach children to say “I’m sorry,” but forgiveness is a bit
more. Forgiveness costs us something, just as it cost Christ
something on the cross. When we forgive, we resist our urge to
retaliate, to get even, to make someone pay for their mistakes. We
step into vulnerability as we allow that person back in. And that’s
a big part of loving others.

Help children understand that unless they obey Jesus’ command to
forgive, they can’t fully experience his forgiveness. Jesus said in
Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not
forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your
sins.”

ADD LOVE

The Apostle John gives us a clear picture of what love looks
like in 1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus
Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our
lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees
his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God
be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but
with actions and in truth.”

In many classes and clubs at school, children are learning the
importance of service. Because our society values philanthropy,
teachers and parents — Christian or not — encourage service and
charity. In fact, service has nearly become its own religion: While
I cause good for others, I feel good about myself. In faith
development, however, service is an act of worship rather than an
end in itself.

SUM IT UP

Encourage children to serve at school and in their community.
Organize service projects they can get involved in at church as
well. Distinguish the service you have kids do with the cause of
Christ. Feed the homeless with physical food and spiritual food.
Clothe the poor with sweaters and grace. Share your care and
Christ’s love with the elderly. Use service to develop in children
not only generous hearts but also a viable understanding of Jesus’
selfless acts of love — especially his sacrifice on the cross.

MULTIPLY EVERYTHING

Peter writes, “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.” We’re to possess the
qualities Peter names in increasing measure — constantly growing
in our faith.

Years ago, Benjamin Franklin, who countered Puritan thought and
might well have been the father of what is now the modern self-help
movement, intended to acquire 13 virtues. He attempted to master
one at a time in succession by marking in a little book each time
he failed to be committed to the virtue of the week. Ultimately,
his graceless system led him to say that he hadn’t achieved moral
perfection: “While my care was employ’d in guarding against one
fault, I was often surprised by another…I concluded, at length,
that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be
completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping.”
Our desire to be like Christ doesn’t make us holy; despite his
promise of redemption and heaven, we’re still sinful.

Peter’s call to possess these qualities in increasing measure
stands as the antithesis of Ben Franklin’s aspirations. Peter
doesn’t say we should master faith before we master goodness — in
fact, he speaks nothing of “mastering” anything. As children grow
physically and socially, they also grow spiritually, and they can
daily increase their understanding of what it means to be like
Christ. Our joy is to labor with God to add these qualities to
children’s lives — and multiply their faith.


Misty Anne Winzenried is a Sunday school teacher and a
former editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine.

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