Is there such a thing as teaching faith to children? I mean faith is one of those things you really have to experience to get good at. Sure an infant has “faith” that someone will feed him, especially if he cries loud enough. A toddler has “faith” that a parent is going to snatch him up by his ear if he throws himself down in the store screaming for a candy bar.
But if faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1), then older kids (and adults) can only learn faith by doing it. Living it. Failing. Believing anyway. And finally seeing it trickle in and eventually become strong and sustainable. Some might never have a gully-washer faith, but it won’t be because God isn’t faithful. It might be because they never took a chance that required faith to succeed. Am I the only one raising her hand here?
So, practically, what can you do to teach a child faith? There probably isn’t an exhaustive list of faith-building lessons, but here are a few things to consider:
Ask God for something.
There is kind of a duh factor here. If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get much. Now, God does know our needs even before we do, but I think He sometimes waits to provide until we are aware of the need and ask for His help. This is an important lesson to teach our children.
A parent’s core duty is to provide their children the basic necessities of life, i.e. food and a safe home. Many families experience times where the extras beyond this can be a challenge. So, when my kids want an extra that isn’t in the budget, I tell them to pray for it. We have been blessed often with an item at just the right time. No one knew about the desire but God and the child, and God came through. They see that God sees and cares.
Likewise, when they don’t get everything they ask for, they learn that they are not the center of the universe.
Select a cause, and pray for it.
I wouldn’t suggest praying for an end to world hunger as your first cause. Choose something personal and specific, like the resolution of a conflict with a friend or provision for a ministry. We have several friends who go on short-term mission trips. We like to support them financially and with prayer. We follow their adventures and are excited about answers to many prayers during their trips.
Prepare for rain.
In the movie Facing the Giants, a man tells Coach a parable of the two farmers who prayed for rain. Only one farmer prepared his fields for planting. That farmer had faith that God would answer.
I encourage my children to prepare for an answer to prayer. You can’t pass a test without studying, regardless of how much you pray. Not that I’d know anything about that.
You can’t learn a new skill without practicing.
I ask them, “When God gives you an opportunity, will you be ready?” Conversely, the opportunity may never come if they haven’t prepared.
Step up with some sweat equity.
Prayer can be hard work, spiritually, emotionally and physically. When a child is praying for a provision for a need, don’t be surprised if God makes them work for it. Doing odd jobs for extra money or pitching in to help doesn’t demonstrate a lack of faith, but a willingness to work with God to answer the prayer with any means necessary. Getting dirty makes someone appreciate the outcome.
Or if they really want to make a dent in that world hunger problem, serve at a soup kitchen or food pantry. That food doesn’t magically fly off the shelf into people’s bags.
Be willing to accept an unfavorable answer.
Prayer isn’t like rubbing a bottle and getting three wishes from a genie. Children need to learn that their perfect answer to prayer may not be God’s plan. Our family recently prayed for more than a year for direction on our living situation. We researched and explored and tried many different alternatives. The answer finally came without any fanfare or neon signs. We are very excited for the answer, but it wasn’t the one we first started praying for. And that’s okay.
Too often we, or at least I, have a scenario all worked out in my head for how something is going to go down. My way rarely works out, and if I will accept the alternative solution another way opens up. No is still an answer to prayer.
Teaching faith is about letting children exercise a little faith in order to build a stronger faith. Ask God for necessities, and even extras. Never underestimate how God will use a child’s prayer on behalf of someone else. Prepare for an answer even before they know what the answer will be or when it will come. Let a child roll up her sleeves and work. It makes the prayer and its outcome a lot more real. If God doesn’t provide or in some way changes the plan, then you have an answer. A “no” can be a great answer. There is a “yes” somewhere else.