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Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Formation

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Regarding the faith of our children, the win, or the it, was for each of them to develop a faith of their own. Specifically, we wanted them to develop a Christian faith of their own.

We wanted our kids to acknowledge and embrace a sense of personal accountability to their heavenly Father as early as possible. Then, as they got older, our hope was that they would actively follow Jesus. These simple wins clarified and defined our role in the process.

The win wasn’t Bible scholars, so we didn’t conduct in-depth Bible studies. On the other end of the spectrum, the win wasn’t simply for our children to become Christians. So the finish line wasn’t a salvation prayer and baptism. Our desire was for each of our children to have an active personal faith of their own that matured as they matured. With that in mind, our role was pretty straightforward: to inspire and equip our children to trust God and follow Jesus.

We did a variety of things through the years to facilitate this outcome. Rather than list everything we did, we’ll focus on the few things our kids say made the biggest difference. But before that, this.


When you consider the faith of your children, what’s the win? The finish line? What are you hoping and praying for? These are important questions because...

  • Your win will determine your role in the development of your children’s faith.

Or it should, anyway.

For many Christian parents, the win is to get ’em in —  namely, to ensure their children end up in Heaven someday. Put another way, the win is to eternity-proof their kids. When that’s the goal, the parents’ role is reduced to ensuring their kids dot all the salvation i’s and cross all the salvation t’s in accordance with their faith tradition — catechism, baptism, recite a prayer, First Communion — all of which usually happen before kids are even old enough to have a genuine faith of their own. Once the kids are in, Mom and Dad’s role comes to an end. But in many instances, their children’s faith comes to an early end as well.

Heaven-someday faith is easy to deconstruct and abandon.

Heaven-someday faith rarely survives the rigors, distractions, and disappointments of young adulthood. When a son or daughter walks away from their Heaven-someday brand of faith, Christian parents are understandably distraught. But often they are unwitting accomplices in the undermining of their children’s faith. Here’s why I say that: as it relates to the endurance of your child’s faith,

  • what happens at home is far more catalytic than what happens at church.

What happens at home is more catalytic than your child’s baptism, sinner’s prayer, or catechism. If your faith doesn’t make a practical difference in your life, odds are your kids will grow indifferent toward all things religious. If believing doesn’t impact living, why believe? That only amounts to needless guilt. Who has time for that?

Somebody who’s not you can teach your children the books of the Bible and the stories contained within them. But only you can demonstrate day by day, season by season what it looks like to allow the teaching of Jesus to shape decisions and relationships. Nobody has a better opportunity than you to model for your children the sustaining power of faith in God during difficult times. For the record, Heaven-someday faith is not the version of faith Jesus taught or modeled. He taught and modeled a “follow me” version.

So when it comes to the faith of your children, what’s the win? Heaven someday? Or practical, enduring faith every day? If you hope to provide your children with an enduring, robust, real-world faith of their own, you have an ongoing role to play.

Relational Faith

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, we did a variety of things through the years to help our children develop an enduring faith of their own. The following are the things our kids said made the biggest impact.

One of the first prayers we taught our children was this:

Dear heavenly Father, please show me Your will for my life.

This was one of the first prayers my dad taught me as well. He would say, “Andy, God has a plan for your life, and you don’t want to miss it.” I certainly did not. Teaching me that simple prayer was my father’s way of introducing me to the idea that my first line of accountability was to my Father in Heaven. The habit of praying this simple prayer every night before I went to sleep had a profound impact on my sister and me. So every night I would conclude my bedtime prayer routine with, “... and please show me your will for my life. Amen.”

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Unfortunately, during that same season, my parents introduced me to the disturbing piece of narrative from the Old Testament when God speaks audibly to young Samuel in the middle of the night. Familiar with that story? If not, here’s a quick recap. Hannah had trouble getting pregnant. She and her husband, Elkanah, had tried for years, to no avail. But Elkanah had two wives. Adding insult to injury, Peninnah, wife number two, had no trouble getting pregnant. So Hannah was greatly distressed. In her desperation, she vowed to God that if he gave her a son, she would give him back to serve in whatever manner God saw fit. In time, God granted her request. She had a baby boy and named him Samuel. And true to her vow, she took him to the prophet Eli and left him there to serve God alongside the aging prophet.

So far, so good.

Then one night young Samuel hears a voice calling his name. He assumes it’s Eli, so he runs to Eli’s bedside. Turns out it wasn’t Eli. This happens two more times. Eli realizes something is up and tells Samuel that if he hears the voice again he should respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Sure enough, it was the voice of God. And God gives Samuel a glimpse into his will for Samuel’s life.

The moral of the story, according to my parents, anyway, was to be listening on the off chance that God chose to speak to me the way he did to little Samuel. And if so, I was to respond as Samuel did. However, I’m confident if God, or anyone for that matter, whispered my name in the middle of the night, my parents would have had to change my sheets in the middle of that same night. Theirs as well. I most certainly would have spent the rest of the night sandwiched between them.

In spite of all that, I continued to ask God to show me His will throughout my life.

If I’m honest, sometimes I hoped God was busy showing somebody else his will for their life, because I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with mine. And I was confident our wills didn’t line up. But even then I continued to ask God to show me his will. This simple habit kept me looking up and looking ahead. It provided me with a sense of destiny. If God had a will or plan for my life, I didn’t want to miss it. If God had a plan for my life, what could possibly be more important?

So it’s no surprise this was one of the first prayers we taught our children to pray. And as I did, they tacked it on to the end of their nightly prayers: “... and please show me Your will for my life. Amen.”

And no, I did not use the story of little Samuel as a selling point.

People of faith have long debated whether God has a specific plan for each individual. A case can be made for both sides of that debate. But at sixty-four, I still ask God to show me His will. You’d think I’d know His will by now, right? So why ask? For the same reason I’ve always asked: it keeps me looking up and looking ahead.

Garrett, our middle child, is twenty-eight and married. Recently, he and his wife, Danielle, went to look at a house for sale in a neighborhood they’ve had their eye on. The good news was they loved the house. The bad news was there were four full-price offers in the queue. On their way home they called Sandra to chat about it. Sandra mentioned that she and I were willing to make it possible for them to make an all-cash offer, pretty much ensuring the owner would accept their offer.

I hope Dave Ramsey isn’t reading this.

Garrett called Sandra back a few minutes later. “Mom,” he said, “that is so generous of you and Dad. But we feel like that removes the faith element for us. And I don’t want to eliminate the opportunity for God to close the door.” Translated: We want God’s will for our lives more than we want this house.

That’s it.

But as it turned out, that house wasn’t it.

Directing your children’s attention to God’s will for their lives is an important first step in helping them develop a relationship with their heavenly Father and accountability to their heavenly Father. Once that relationship is in place, look for opportunities not to make decisions for your children, and encourage them to look to their Father in Heaven for guidance. In this way, you help them develop the habit of looking up, not just over, for direction.

~ Andy

Excerpted with permission from Parenting and Getting It Right by Andy & Sandra Stanley, copyright Andy Stanley and Sandra Stanley.

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Your Turn

Let’s pray with our kids and teach our kids to pray, “God, show me Your will for my life.” What we do at home and who we are at home with our kids is more important than any other teaching they get! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily