It is never too early to begin teaching our children to love God. From the very moment of their birth we can use the small, everyday activities we enjoy together as opportunities to introduce the Lord into their young lives. I’d like to share with you some practical ways we did this in our own family.
Babies enjoy music, so what better way to familiarize them with Jesus, than to sing simple songs about Him? Our babies, even in their earliest weeks, quieted their sobbing, as they listened to Mommy singing, Jesus Loves Me, This I Know or I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb. The very presence of the Holy Spirit moves in to comfort these little ones, as we sing about the Savior. Diaper changing time is a wonderful opportunity to sing and talk about the Lord. After my husband prayed for them at bedtime, we played soft, soothing Christian music for them to go to sleep by. Michael Card’s lullaby album, Sleep Sound in Jesus, was a favorite.
I frequently walk back and forth through the house while having my personal prayer time, and when our children were infants, they often went with me. Riding on my hip, baby saw and heard Mommy praising the Lord. She watched and listened intently, learning by example how to talk with God. I did this for as long as I could comfortably carry them. At nine months, our younger daughter wiggled with delight when I asked, “Would you like to pray with Mommy?”
At about six months, I began helping baby pray. I told her to pray in her heart while Mommy said the words. I said a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for her, as though she were doing the praying. I asked for blessings and protection for her. Our girls enjoyed this, and it definitely taught them the pattern of prayer. We also helped our children thank God for their food as soon as they started eating solids.
We have several pictures of Jesus around the house, which we pointed out to our babies, as we told them the gospel story. We explained that Jesus loved them and that He gives us everything we need. We told them that God made them and gave them to us as special blessings. How could a little child not love the Lord after hearing Him connected with so many good things?
When Sunday and Wednesday came, we built expectation in our babies: “We’re going to church today! Won’t that be fun? We get to worship Jesus with all the other people who love Him! We like our church so much!” We kept our second child with us during the service, rather than putting her in the nursery. This became such a blessing for our family. Little ones can learn quite early to behave well in church, and they absorb so much from the worship.
By the time our children were a little over a year old, I read short children’s Bible stories to them. We also read to them directly from the Bible from the time they were around eighteen months old. Our older daughter was usually good about sitting and listening, but our younger girl found this hard to do, so we let her play or color quietly while we read.
It is important to help our children gradually grow into being able to pray and read their Bibles independently. We started by praying for them, then encouraged them to say some of the prayer themselves, giving hints and ideas about how to pray, until eventually they were capable of having a private prayer and Bible reading time of their own. Both of our children started praying without our help when they were about nine years old. Many children are capable of doing so at even earlier ages. However, even after children can pray independently, it is still important to pray and read the Bible together as a family.
My husband and I prefer to use the King James Version of the Bible. We read this translation when we had family Bible time together, when we studied the Bible for school, and when we memorized. I felt that it was important for us to familiarize our children with the King James language and for them to memorize the verses in that form, because it is still used by many millions of people in the English speaking world. KJV quotations and references are abundant in classic literature, and the child who is not intimidated by King James English will have an excellent vocabulary and the ability to read with ease the challenging literary works of the past. We took the time to explain archaic words and expressions, so that our children would have a better understanding of the King James. However, when they expressed a desire to use a more modern translation for their personal Bible reading, we did not insist that they stick with the King James. After a little research and discussion, we settled on the New King James Version, because of its readability and reputation for accuracy.
When our younger daughter first began to read, she loved the Living Bible paraphrase. Although it is not the most accurate rendering, it is much more accurate than most children’s Bible storybooks, and has a more flowing reading style as well. If we had it to do over again, we would have dispensed with Bible storybooks entirely, and just used the Living Bible paraphrase, or its successor, the New Living Translation for those preschool and early reading years.
I would like to encourage all mothers and fathers to begin teaching their children to love Jesus right now, no matter what their age. It is never too late, never too early. Even the littlest ones can love Jesus, and we should never assume that they are too young to learn about Him.