Family devotionals are an area that we have done a great deal of experimenting in, re-evaluating, and then trying again. I knew that I wanted to ensure that the family had a time when they could share and talk to each other without the TV on. I also knew that I wanted the children to know that God is a good and loving God. I hoped that the children would develop a true relationship with Jesus — not only trusting in Him as their Savior but as a friend they can turn to. In addition, I knew that each child had come from a very turbulent background, and I must teach each of them that God does not make bad things happen. He wasn’t punishing them. He loves them even more than I do. However, we live in a world where God has allowed us to have free choice and sometimes people make choices that are harmful or hurtful to themselves and others. This was no small undertaking but well worth it. We must have faith to get through the tough times in life and to become the people we are meant to be. This life is more than doing dishes and going to work each day. I knew that I must teach the children that there is hope, and there is something better than this world as we know it.
My mother passed away in 2008. My faith in Christ is the only thing that has gotten me through. I want my children to have the same kind of faith. So, how can you nurture an environment where faith
We made several attempts that didn’t work. Below is a summary of what did work:
We began to do what are called “family nights.” This is another idea that I got from Heritage Builders. I purchased a book called Simple Science Family Nights Tool Chest by Jim Weidmann and Mark DeNooy with Kurt Bruner. This method is based on hands-on activities children can do that have a Biblical or moral lesson built in.
One of my favorite devotionals was designed to teach the children about lying. Basically, for this particular lesson you would get a large blanket and spread it out on the floor. Then, you would tell the kids that you were going to have pizza that night for dinner. You would place several large pizza boxes on the blanket. Gather the kids around with plates and drinks ready to eat. However, when the kids open the boxes, they are full of carrot sticks. The kids are disappointed, and you talk about how they felt when someone lied to them and why it is wrong to lie. There are Bible verses to talk about, additional activities, and discussion ideas that relate to lying as well. When you have finished teaching and talking, have real pizzas hidden in the oven and share them as a family.
Another idea they had that I liked related to Jesus. This would work for a family with a two story house or a stepladder could be used if needed. Essentially, the parent would stand at the top of the stairs and the children would be at the bottom. The parent would tell the children if they could get up the stairs but not touch the stairs or the railing, the whole family would go out for ice cream (or anything else fun). The kids think and eventually figure out that although they can’t get up the stairs on their own, there is nothing preventing the parent from coming down the stairs and carrying the child back up on their back. Then the children would be taken up to the top of the stairs but would neither touch the rail or the stairs in doing so. This is related to Jesus. We can’t get to God on our own because we have all messed up and are sinners. God is perfect and cannot be next to sin. Therefore, the sin has to be punished, forgiven and forgotten so that we can be with God one day in heaven (represented by the top of the staircase). Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. When He died on the cross for our sins, He essentially took our sins and us upon His back and brought us up to God. The picture of the child trying to reach the top of the staircase but being unable to do this on their own is a picture of our needing Jesus to be “carried up” to God. We can’t do it on our own, but with Christ, we can be made right with God.
You can also talk about how this makes Christianity different from any other religion because it is the only religion where God lifts us up to Him instead of our trying to earn our way to God (to be good enough), which is impossible for any of us to do. It is also a good time to talk about guilt with the kids. Many foster kids have so much guilt for things that they can neither help nor change. You can talk about how God doesn’t want us to feel guilty. He just wants us to do our best, and when we mess up, try to do better the next time. He is a God of forgiveness and love. When we commit our lives to Jesus and ask Him to forgive us for what we have done wrong and save us, we are forgiven for everything we have ever done wrong and everything that we are ever going to do wrong. There is no need to go around feeling guilty, only to keep trying and doing our best even when we mess up. If the child has never prayed to commit their life to Christ and would like to do so you can lead them in a simple prayer such as this:
Jesus please forgive me for all I have done wrong. I believe that You died on the cross for my mistakes and You rose again. I believe that You are the only way to heaven and I need You. Please come into my heart. I trust You as my savior. I commit my life to You.
If you have never prayed to commit your life to Christ, you can pray the same prayer:
Romans 10:9-10 says:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. (NLT)
This is the reason that we should have a time when we tell God that we believe in Jesus and need Him to be saved. Yes, of course, He is God and already knows our hearts, but He wants us to have a time when we reach out to Him, admit that we are sinners and that we need Him. That’s the point of praying this prayer. It is the moment when you know that you are forgiven, saved and one day will go to heaven to be with Christ. Just know (and tell your kids) that you must really mean the words to be certain that you are going to heaven. It’s not the words themselves that save you. It is the fact that you are trusting in Jesus alone to go to heaven, admitting that He is the only way and that you need Him.
The hands-on family nights are so much fun and memorable for everyone. There are devotionals for practically every topic and struggle a family might have. In addition to the books, sample devotionals can sometimes be found on their website at www.heritagebuilders.com or in their newsletter.
In addition to occasionally doing the family nights listed on Heritage Builders, we have integrated another step in our system. Often at night we get together for a quick devotional. We gather around and one person asks, “Does anyone have anything they want to pray about or anything that they want to thank God for?” The kids often like to lead, so I keep a running total of who gets to go next. If they don’t ask to lead, I don’t ask them to. It’s their choice. Then everyone that has something to pray about or thank God for shares his or her thoughts. There is no particular order and if you don’t want to say anything it is okay. There is also a lot of talking and laughing during this time. I let things float off topic because we are relating to each other as a family and enjoying spending time together, which was one of the goals from the beginning. Next, we go around and each person prays for or thanks God for something that we had just listed or anything else on their heart. This really helps the younger ones who often like to pray but just don’t know what to pray for. It gives them ideas but still lets them think on their own. Then we read a page from Kids’ Book of Devotions by Mark Littleton or any Bible passage the child leading selects. The devotions are only one page long and have a simple Bible verse and description that kids can understand and relate to. There are 365 devotions included in the book and they focus on doing the right thing or encouraging children to keep going during tough times. I think the messages are perfect for foster kids.
This may sound like a lot of extra effort when you are already tired, stressed and short on time. I can assure you, though, these are the times when your family is bonded together and you learn to love and relate to each other so that when the tough times come there is a relationship to work from instead of only rules.