Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to Really Impress Them (when you lie down)

You are about to read the 4th post in my "How to Really Impress Them" series. Based on Deuteronomy 6, God commands parents to impress his Word upon the hearts of their children, to teach them diligently while they sit at home, when they are along the road, when they lie down, and when they get up.

If you're just jumping in now, I recommend catching up with the first three posts:
1. How to Really Impress Them (an intro)
2. How to Really Impress Them (sitting at home)
3. How to Really Impress Them (along the road)

In today's post, I'm sharing how I impress God's Word on the hearts of my children when we lie down. My goal is to encourage and challenge you as a parent to be obedient to God in diligently teaching your children God's commands. I hope you will do the same for me.

First, and probably most obvious, "when we lie down" consists of our pre-bedtime routine. But before I get to that, I must ask - just how giddy do you get when the kids are finally quiet in bed?? :)  Nothing compares to that feeling of closing the last bedroom door, half skipping-half dancing down the stairs and making a bee line to the coffee pot. But the 30-40 minutes prior to that can be some of the most treasured moments of the day.

My goal is to have the girls bathed, pajama'd, tooth-brushed and in their room with dim lights 7:30PM so I can be shutting their door by 8:00. (This is for the 4-5 evenings a week we are not out later.) I usually start shouting out orders to get ready for bed around 7:00 and honestly, its a good night if they can do what should take 10 minutes in less than 30. They still need a lot of prodding to accomplish their simple bedtime routines in a timely manner.  I think I have the world's most distracted seven year old. Tips? Anyone?

On those rare occasions when they are actually ready for bed before 7:30, they each get to pick out any one short book for us to read to them first. When we've finished those or if we've skipped them, we always read a chapter from The Bible Story by Arthur S. Maxwell. I want the Bible freshest in their minds when they fall asleep.

Apparently we started the 10-book series 18 months ago because I wrote this post when we first began reading them. Its the story of how I found these treasures, what I paid for them and why our family really likes them. And it mentions another amazing resource for teaching your children Biblical truths  -  one we used to use for dinner-time devotions before we started reading The Bible Story series.

I'm not going to waste my time writing the same things twice, so I strongly suggest reading that post about The Bible Story books before you continue. (It's not as long as some other recent posts!)

Just pretend that post is inserted here. (Go on and read it!)

Back? Okay, here's where you left off.

It's amazing to compare how much my kids have changed in the 18 months since we started The Bible Story series. My then two-year old, who couldn't pay attention for 20 seconds and would be doing gymnastic moves the entire time, is now four and mostly listens with minimal wiggling. My then five year now seven year old has always been engaged but she now begs for me to keep going. "Don't we have time for just one more chapter mom! Come on! PLLEEEASSEE!" And sometimes I oblige. She asks questions and is so curious about the context of how each story fits into the whole storyline of the Bible.

If you're interested in The Bible Story series, you can find them on Amazon, with full sets ranging from $70 - $250 depending on condition and year of publication. Mine were published in 1953 and so the quote scripture from the King James version of the Bible. My hubby and I sometimes paraphrase if there are too many "thee," "thou" and "...est" words but we also want our kids to be able to understand this older language so sometimes we read it as is. A friend of mine who knew how much we loved the series chose to buy a set published in the 1980s because it uses the New International Version translation for scripture quotations and its more modern language is easier for kids to understand (and parents to read).

There's another Bible story book that was given to our family that we love but have not sat and read through yet - The Gospel Story Bible. The stories in The Gospel Story Bible are fewer and shorter than in The Bible Story series and the illustrations are not as beautiful or detailed, but it does have a major one-up. Every single story ends with at least one paragraph explaining how that story is relevant to the big-picture gospel story of the entire Bible. Every story is connected to Jesus and God's plan of redemption and salvation for mankind. It takes the seemingly separate an disjointed stories and weaves them into the web of God's one big HIStory. Another bonus - at under $26, its easier on the wallet than The Bible Story series. It's a book I've often referred to when I want help tying a Bible story into the big gospel picture.

Do you read the Bible itself or Bible story books with your kids before bed? If so, which do you prefer? Do you have a favorite resource or routine that helps you teach them diligently while they are lying down? One of my dear friends uses that snuggle time before bed to ask her daughter if there is anything she was wondering about or wanted to ask her about. Whatever is on her daughter's mind can be asked, answered and explained about without fear or judgment. Her mom or dad have those bedtime conversations with her in light of what God's Word says about the topic.

So, no bedtime routine is complete without saying prayers, right? For the longest time, my kids would each get a turn to pray out loud with us before bed. It was before bed that I first taught my kids how to pray. Well, eventually this pray-out-loud-together-before-bed routine can I say this....out of control??! There were fights every night about who would get to go first. Or someone would refuse to pray. Or the both of them would take 15 minutes each to thank God for everything they own and everyone they know. When family prayer time consistently ends in kids crying and mom's blood boiling, something needs to change!!  So we finally put a squash to the family pray-aloud before bed. It had to be done! Now, if they want to pray in their mind after I leave, great! I hope they do. I hope they pray like that throughout their day. Instead, we have other scheduled times for personal and out-loud-together prayer during the day. So before bed - its only my hubby and/or I that pray out loud.

I've found that its important to model for my kids how to pray. There is always what we refer to as The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 ("Our Father, who art in heaven..."), and I will teach them that eventually, but I've used the simple ACTS acronym so far:

Adoration -  teach them to praise God FIRST. It gets their mind focused immediately on God's character and not what they want. I remember when I first started reading scripture to my oldest - we kept a notebook for all the words or names we'd discover in the Bible that describe God. It was like a treasure hunt every time we read the Bible. And every time we found a new one it was a good place to pause and talk about it. What does it mean that God is our high tower? Our Rock? Our Fortress? What does it mean that He is our shepherd and we are His sheep? What does it mean that He is the vine and we are the branches? What does it mean that He is our Father and we are His children? When I'm modeling this in my prayer I try to praise God for His character traits that I've specifically experienced that day.

For the longest time, my oldest daughter refused to pray out loud with us. She used to be SSSOOOOO stubborn! She's God's work in progress.  But she is also SSSOOOOO competitive. So one night - I think she was about three years old - I came up with a game for us to play before I prayed. How many words to describe God could she come up with? I'd say, "God is..." and she'd reply with, "Good!!"  "God is..."  Holy!!"  I'd do that until she couldn't think of anymore and it became a routine for several nights. Then one night I told her that now she was going to say it all - "God is good!  God is holy!" etc. And she'd rattle off one after another, eager to keep learning more and impress her mom. That became routine for a little while.  Then one night I said, "Okay, tonight instead of saying it about God, we're going to say it to God. We're going to tell God what we know He is! Let's go back and forth until one of us can't think of anything else to praise God for. I'll go first. God, you are good!"  And she responded, "God, you are holy!" And so on. Over time I was able to see what started off as a competitive game turn into a love for truly praising God for his amazing attributes. After several years of reading the Bible and learning together, her list of things to praise God for continues to be first and longer than any other aspect of her prayer. Her example has since inspired a love of praising God in her little sister.

Confession -  After lifting God UP, its also important to humble ourselves LOW. Kids need to know and understand the basic gospel message. They are sinners. They fall short of God's glory and holiness. Their sins deserve death - eternal separation from God. They need to know what their sin looks like, that its serious. Not just in actions, but in their heart. They are born with a sinful nature and they choose sinful actions. They have a heart of stone until God's Spirit softens it. When they are very young, they need us to point out the sin in their life, so they can learn to identify it, agree, tell God what they've done, express sorrow, repent, and expect forgiveness.

Once my oldest became comfortable praising God out loud with me, I introduced confession. After we each praised God together out loud, I would first confess some of my sins to God. The ones I could share usually had to do with me being impatient or angry or not asking God for wisdom - specific actions and attitudes she was likely to have witnessed it me. It's important to show your kids that you admit you're a sinner too.  Surprisingly, each night this dear daughter was quick to come up with a list of all the things she'd done wrong that day! For a while, I felt like her priest. I was often amazed at how she'd fess up before bed, not fearful of judgment, just happy to confide in me and bring it before God together. And after her praising, "God you are loving! And merciful! And forgiving!" it was easy for her to confess to Him.

Over the years as she grew older, she started having trouble remembering any of her sins. Or at least not any she wanted to share with me! So of course I'd help her out with the ones I could remember. ;)  And we also talked about how sometimes even I can't remember all my sins in a day. So I taught her how we should ask the Holy Spirit to convict us by helping us remember our sins and to please forgive the sins we do not remember. After a while, her confession prayers consisted only of those two things - rarely a specific sin would she confess out loud with me, and eventually she began asking if she could just confess her sins in silent prayer. I no longer require my seven year old to lay out all her sins out loud before me because, really, only Jesus is her priest - not me or any other person. She knows what to do, so its between her and God now. There are times when she sins against me and I still require an apology towards me, but that's all. So now, when we are praying out loud together, after she finishes praising she announces that she is confessing and takes a few moments of silence to do that in her mind.  My four year old and I still pray and talk about her confession out loud. As long as she'll let me, I want to instill this important daily habit.

Thanksgiving - This is the easiest to teach and the most fun to listen to. I remember the days when the girls would glance around their dim bedroom, thanking God for every toy they could still see. They still thank God for everyone in our family, by name, every day. I had a good internal chuckle the other morning when my four year old thanked God for yard sales and her school work. :) Kids naturally want to thank God for the physical blessings in their life so don't forget to teach and model for them how to thank God for his spiritual blessings as well. It's my appropriately-named middle child who has a heart that already overflows with thankfulness to God for these spiritual gifts. We're all just as guilt of often loving the gifts more than the Blessing-Giver himself, so that's a good conversation to have with your kids when talking about thanking God in their prayers. It's one thing to feel thankful that you have something good. It's another thing to tell the One who gave it to you that you are thankful to Him!

Supplication  - This just means asking - bringing your requests to God. For a lot of people, this is the meat of their prayers. They need or want a lot of things from God. It's what drives so many to Him in prayer and, sadly, that's the only thing He ever hears from them. I want my kids to know this comes LAST. Strangely, this is the area my kids struggle with the most in their prayers. They can never seem to think of anything to ask God for - for themselves or other people! I like to remind them of the amazing fact that they know the most powerful, one and only true God, for whom nothing is impossible, who loves them more than anyone else ever will and who actually listens to them - what would they like his help for? I also like to remind them that they have not because they ask not. (James 4:2) If she can't think of anything else, my oldest will at least ask God to help her be a joyful girl. (Because sometimes she struggles with attitude and she knows it!)

When its my turn to ask God for things when we pray out loud together, I always ask Him to protect my girls, and not just their bodies, but their hearts and minds. I ask God to fill their minds with His truth to protect them from Satan's lies and to guard their hearts with His peace to protect against Satan's fears. I specifically ask God to direct every thought that enters their mind while they fall asleep and are sleeping. I also LOVE to use the Praying the Scriptures for Your Children book (previously mentioned here) while praying with them.

I included prayer in today's post because I started teaching and modeling prayer while they were lying down before bed. However, praying with your kids should happen anywhere and everywhere! I mentioned in a previous post that I often will do this pray out loud together routine in the car if we're heading out in the morning. And in my next post, you'll see its now usually something we do at home in the morning after we wake up.

My dad was the one that prayed for me by my bedside every night. This taught me how to pray, helped me learn about who God is, and resulted in great peace and comfort as I drifted off to sleep. (Just another reason I have the best dad EVER!) How have you taught your kids to pray? When do you find is the best time to pray out loud with your kids? What are the typical components of your bedtime prayers? What areas of prayer have your kids most struggled with and what have you done to help them overcome that? Please share so my readers and I can learn from you!

Now I do have a little more to share about how I teach my children diligently when they lie down. But, as usual, this already a REALLY long post. So I'm splitting this one in two and will continue this topic soon.

In the meantime, I am late in announcing the winner of my first {{{GIVE-A-WAY!}}} for the 7-CD set from Seeds Family Worship! Congratulations to Beth who gets to share these scripture songs with her family for FREE! For those of you who did not win, you can purchase your own set via the above link. You would get 14 CDs (7 for you, 7 to "sow") for $70 - that's $5/CD (plus S&H) - a great deal. Thanks to all of you who shared this blog series on Facebook.

On that note, expect How to Really Impress Them (when you lie down) "continued" soon and God Bless!

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