When my son David was 4 years old, he asked for a WWJD bracelet. As I purchased one, I explained that the bracelet was to be worn as a reminder to ask himself, What would Jesus do? in every situation. After strapping the bracelet on his wrist, David was extremely good, playing nicely with his brother and sister and doing as he was told for the rest of the day. The next morning, however, I heard my daughter crying. Danya, then 6 years old, explained through tears, "David hit me!"
I looked at David questioningly. "What did we talk about yesterday, son?" I asked. "Did you remember to ask yourself WWJD?"
"It's OK, Momma," he said in all innocence. "I'm not wearing my bracelet today."
Reaching the heart
At that point, I realized I needed a better plan for teaching my children how to think like Jesus! A bracelet might serve as an outward reminder, but it does not have the power to change your heart. Jesus explained that evil thoughts come from the heart (Matthew 15:19). It is not so much about what Jesus would do, but it is about sharing His heart. Reaching my children's hearts is the only way I will be able to teach them how to think like Jesus. A transformed heart will lead to changed lives that reflect what Jesus would do.
John A. Younts, author of Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally About God With Your Children, agrees. "Christian thought will lead your children away from the desires and works of the flesh and toward the fruit of the Spirit," he explains. "It will lead to change in actions, attitudes, and words." But it will not happen without your help. You must guide your child in learning to think like a Christian, relating every aspect of life to Christ and how he can best serve and glorify Him.
A child's life is full of choices, although he may not see it that way. While he does not choose what school he attends or what neighborhood he lives in, he makes decisions concerning his own conduct every minute of the day. "God designed the Bible to address all of the events of your child's life," notes Younts. "So familiarize yourself with the passages of Scripture that address the issues your child faces each day in school, at home, at church, and in his life. Then bring these principles and truths into the daily world that your child inhabits."
A child needs to realize that he makes a choice when it comes to the way he treats others. For example, he determines whether he shares or adopts a me-first attitude. He does not understand that he has a choice to make unless you show him. Telling your child, "You are choosing to be selfish when you refuse to share that toy," defines his selfish behavior. It puts a name on his action. Explaining then, "God wants us to share with one another and be generous," shows your child that there is a right behavior that he can choose - a choice that will please God.
Think on these things
Younts encourages parents to follow the direction of Paul in Philippians 4:8: "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things." "Take the time to point out the things that are excellent and then focus your child's thoughts on those things," Younts advises. "Of course, parents must set the example."
You cannot expect your child to learn how to think like Jesus if you are not actively pursuing that mind-set yourself. "Use the seemingly ordinary events of life to encourage Christian thought," explains Younts.
- A new baby in the family can lead to a conversation about God as the giver of life.
- An afternoon spent tracking down a lost pet can facilitate a discussion on how Jesus came to seek and save people who needed Him.
- A scary thunderstorm or an unsettling news story can be used to lead your child to understand that God is sovereign, working everything together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Relate everything to the active presence of a personal God who is involved in every aspect of life.
"Christian thought is, first of all, redeemed thought," explains Younts. "The goal for Christian thought is expressed in Psalm 19:14: ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.' " When your child is ultimately concerned with whether or not his thoughts are acceptable to God, you will reap the following rewards of Christian parenting.
- A child who knows that God is watching him even when no one else is looking
- A child who feels it when his heart is pricked by sin and weighted down by lack of confession
- A child who senses God's power and marvels at His overwhelming presence in his life
"One important goal of parenting is to teach your children to think God's thoughts," reminds Younts. "Each day provides fresh, new opportunities to challenge your children to embrace God's thoughts as their own."
All quotes taken from personal interviews by Rebecca Ingram Powell.