God calls us as parents to be key disciple-makers in our children’s lives, but if we’re honest, some days it’s a battle just to get them dressed and ready for school on time. How can you mold their hearts when sometimes you can’t even find their shoes?
In Total Family Makeover, author Melissa Spoelstra gives parents a way—a sort of spiritual track to run on—when it comes to building family discipleship. She focuses on eight key habits of growth:
• Spending Time in Prayer
• Reading God's Word
• Growing Through a Mentoring Relationship
• Finding Community in the Church
• Serving Others
• Taking Time to Rest
• Giving Back to God
• Sharing Your Faith
Disciples are made, not born. Whether your children are babes in arms or teenagers getting ready to leave the nest, making disciples at home starts with you! Give your family a makeover with this practical approach to helping your children learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
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About the Author
Melissa Spoelstra is a popular women’s conference speaker (including the Aspire Women’s Events), Bible teacher, and author who is madly in love with Jesus and passionate about helping others to seek Christ and know Him more intimately.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is a contributor to Girlfriends in God online devotional as well as Proverbs 31 ministries First Five app. She is the author of seven Bible studies (The Names of God, Romans, Elijah, Numbers, First Corinthians, Joseph, and Jeremiah) and four books (Total Family Makeover, Total Christmas Makeover, 30 Days of Prayer for Spiritual Stamina, and Dare to Hope). Melissa makes her home in Pickerington, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
Read an Excerpt
Total Family Makeover
8 Practical Steps to Making Disciples at Home
By Melissa Spoelstra
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Spending Time in Prayer
My twelve-year-old daughter sobbed as she asked why all of her hair was falling out. I held her close and wept with her. She told me she talked to God about it all the time, but he didn't seem to be answering. It can be rough to help our children learn to hear God's voice — especially during seasons when he seems silent.
The good news is that we don't have to make excuses for God or be embarrassed about his apparent lack of communication. He is real, and he does speak to us. At times we may not understand, but we can help our children learn to seek God in prayer.
When my daughter's hair was falling out due to an autoimmune disorder called alopecia, I searched his Word to hear what truth we could cling to in the situation. He doesn't promise to always heal, but he does say that he is a rewarder of those who sincerely seek him (Hebrews 11:6). God's Word also says, "The eyes of the Lordsearch the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (2 Chronicles 16:9a). These are truths we can rely on — especially when God may seem quiet in our difficult circumstances.
Kids are great about being honest when they don't feel as though they hear God. Recently I taught a Sunday school class the story of Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, God says he will show himself to Elijah. First there is a mighty wind, then an earthquake, and afterward a fire. Yet God was not in any of those things. He was in the still small voice. I encouraged the boys and girls in my class not to always look for God in big, showy ways but to spend a few moments every day getting quiet before him. We took a minute to just sit quietly and practice listening. I loved it when a sweet six-year-old boy jumped up immediately afterward and proclaimed, "Well, I didn't hear God say a thing!"
There is no magic formula for hearing God. There's no checklist that will guarantee a message from the Lord. Still, we can cultivate a relationship with God that creates room for dialogue. When we know someone well, our conversations move to greater depth and intimacy as we share our joys and fears with them. But how do we get to know a God we can't see? Just as we deepen our relationships with others through spending time together and dialoguing about things that are important to us, so we can get to know God better by spending focused time with him.
Let's look at the example Jesus set for us by spending time in prayer.
1. Jesus intentionally pulled away from other responsibilities to spend time alone with the Father.
Jesus left some very worthy pursuits to make time with his Father a priority. His disciples needed direction. The sick needed healing. The hungry wanted food. The crowds were anxious for teaching. Yet Jesus purposely abandoned these tasks to demonstrate our need for time alone with God.
Sometimes Jesus prayed in the early morning hours: "Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray" (Mark 1:35). Other times he stayed up late into the night to pray: "After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone" (Matthew 14:23). We also learn from Luke's Gospel that Jesus prayed frequently: "Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer" (Luke 5:16, my emphasis). Jesus set the example for us, showing us our need to connect with God in prayer. I believe that in addition to communing with the Father, Jesus wanted us to know that time spent talking and listening with God is vital to a disciple of Christ.
As parents, our greatest enemy of time in prayer is often the endless list of tasks and responsibilities. The laundry buzzes; the phone rings; the baby cries; the work e-mails pile up; and someone always seems to need another piece of us. The tyranny of other things can be our biggest barrier to time alone with God. Yet Jesus, the Son of God, who went place to place teaching, healing, and feeding people, found it important to take time away from those pursuits and make prayer a priority.
As you think through your days, what is God calling you to pull away from for just a few minutes every day so you can spend time with him? God would rather have a few minutes with you than none at all.
I've often made prayer too complicated. I think that if I don't have a good block of time or complete privacy, then I can't pray. Susanna Wesley is said to have sat in her rocking chair with a shawl over her head to spend time with the Lord. When my kids were little, I would sometimes steal away to my room in desperation to get on my knees and pour out my heart to God. After just a few minutes, they would break into the room and climb onto my back, using me for a jungle gym. That was okay. Even just a few minutes of connection with God gave me the strength I needed for the moment. I decided that I would rather have interrupted prayer times than no prayer times at all — and that it was a good thing for them to see me praying.
Making time for prayer may mean getting our sleepy selves up a little earlier in the morning or burning the midnight oil. If we're honest, we make time for what we value. When there is a television show I really want to see, I find the time to watch it. If my budget finally allows for new carpet, I somehow find the time to research the different choices and colors available. If we really want to know God and hear his voice, we will make the sacrifices necessary to connect with him. Jesus modeled it for us so that we could learn to talk with God. In the same way, we can show our kids that prayer is a priority in our lives by doing it.
When was the last time your kids discovered you praying? Whether you were on your knees, on your face, or in the car with your eyes closed while you were waiting for them, your example shows your children that you talk to Jesus regularly. We can model the importance of spending time with God by intentionally laying aside other tasks and pursuits — even good things — to make prayer a priority.
2. Jesus communicated to his disciples that he was praying for them.
Another way Jesus set an example for us was by talking about his prayer life. Now, Jesus was no prayer bragger. Unlike the Pharisees who recited their spiritual pedigrees, Jesus didn't feel the need to make himself seem spiritual by mentioning his long hours in prayer. In fact, it is only because others observed him praying and made mention of it in the Gospels that we have a record of his prayer life. But Jesus wasn't ashamed to tell people he was praying for them. Jesus encouraged Peter with prayer: "But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32).
How do you think it encouraged Simon Peter to know that Jesus was pleading in prayer for him? Has anyone ever stormed the gates of heaven on your behalf?
When my daughter was five years old, she was very ill and spent six days in an intensive care unit. She breathed with a ventilator and fought for her life. The outpouring of support from our church family with meals, notes, and much prayer on her behalf was incredible. But the most memorable and tangible encouragement for me during that time was from a man I had met only once. He sent a note saying he had felt led by the Spirit to take a day off work to fast and pray for my daughter. I still get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. It meant so much to know that someone else was seeking God so fervently on our behalf. Our daughter was healed and completely restored to health. As the years have passed, I've never forgotten the sacrifice of that man.
As I've watched friends, relatives, and my own children walk difficult roads, at times I've communicated with them that I was taking some time to fast and pray on their behalf. When we feel helpless to do something to ease the burdens of others, we can always pray. Prayer is not "nothing." It is a big something!
Not only did Jesus pray for those around him when he walked the earth; he also prayed for you! Jesus had a lengthy dialogue with the Father in front of a crowd after teaching about the coming of the Holy Spirit and future events. He said, "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me" (John 17:20-21).
Jesus prayed for everyone who would believe in him. He prayed for you. How does that encourage you? Do you regularly let your children know that you are praying for them? While they may roll their eyes or brush it off, it means something to them.
We occasionally have a family meeting where Sean and I ask everyone to share one prayer request. Then I record their answers in my journal and try to follow up with them later. I want them to know that their dad and I pray for them. The blessing for me is that when I pray more, I tend to worry less. What we model for our children can be caught easily, and I want my children to catch the habit of prayer rather than the habit of worry.
I remember when our youngest daughter used to say the word ridiculous as a three-year-old. We all laughed because it was my husband's word of choice when he saw a mess left in the house. He didn't work with her on saying that word. She just heard him say it and started using it herself. That memory makes me laugh, but it also reminds me that I don't want my kids to see me worrying and pick up the habit.
Sometimes it's so hard not to worry, isn't it? Right now I've got a few things rolling around in the back of my mind, threatening to send me into full-on worry mode. Is my son doing okay in college? How are his grades, his laundry, his friendships? How will I respond to that e-mail with tact? Will my daughter ever see God's love in the midst of her alopecia? I want to trust God with every bit of it, but I must wrestle in prayer to actually turn it over to God, just as each of us must.
I can help my kids learn the power of prayer as I tell them how I am praying for them and then back up my example with faith instead of fear. I can be honest with them about the struggle to trust rather than worry, but I must ask myself which one I will let win — faith or fear? Kids are smart. They know when we are wearing a mask and when we really believe what we say. As we lift up their struggles to God, we model for them a life of dependency and trust instead of worry.
* * *
A Practical Approach: Praying for Your Child
What is your child facing right now that you need to pray for more consistently?
What's a practical way you can make a more intentional effort to pray for your child?
How will you let your child know that you are praying for him or her? Here are a few ideas:
Set an alarm on your phone to pray for your child daily. If you have more than one child, choose a different time of the day or a different day of the week to pray for each one.
Keep a prayer journal with your child's requests.
Pick one day of the week that you will communicate that you are praying for your child or children.
Choose one word for each child as a prayer theme for the year. I have four children, and I am praying for purity for one, humility for another, obedience for another, and healing for my daughter with alopecia. I present specific requests to the Lord as well, but these key words help me focus on broad needs.
* * *
3. Jesus taught us to pray in faith.
Jesus told a story to teach about persistent prayer:
Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: "Suppose you went to a friend's house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 'A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.' And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, 'Don't bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can't help you.' But I tell you this — though he won't do it for friendship's sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence" (Luke 11:5-8).
Shameless persistence! He wants us to ask and keep asking. Jesus went on to say, "And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:10-11).
If we want our kids to be the kind of Christ-followers who pray this way, we need to model shameless persistence. We don't give up when the going gets tough as parents. We pray with shameless persistence:
when our child is sick again
when our marriage gets tough and tougher
when the finances don't add up
when we feel like getting a black-and-white-striped shirt because all we do is referee arguing
when friendships end
when we have to move
Whatever it is, we keep asking, seeking, and knocking. Rather than a last resort, prayer is what we do with shameless persistence.
Is there an area in your life that seems out of control?
How have you been trying to manage it, manipulate it, or fix it yourself?
How can you begin to model shameless persistence and include your children in the prayer process?
Jesus's story about persistent prayer communicates to us that nothing is too small a reason to beat on God's door. We are not nagging or irritating him when we pray persistently. When my kids ask continually for something, I have to admit, it drives me nuts. But God isn't like me. He is patient and loving and wants us to know that our shameless persistence isn't an irritation. In fact, he welcomes us to confidently come to him: "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:16).
It's so incredible to know that we find mercy at God's throne — not judgment or condemnation, but grace when we need it most. Even when we are questioning and doubting, God wants to help us believe. Thomas was one of the disciples who didn't believe Jesus had risen from the dead after the crucifixion. He said he wouldn't believe unless he put his fingers in the nail holes of Christ's hands. Here's what happened: "Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. 'Peace be with you,' he said. Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!'" (John 20:26-27).
Notice that Jesus didn't shame Thomas but helped him believe in the midst of his doubts.
How does Jesus's reaction to Thomas encourage you to press on in prayer?
In what situations have your doubts kept you from coming to God?
Take a few moments now to bring any doubts and fears to God, asking Jesus to help you trust him when you can't see.
I hope it encourages you to remember that we can pray and seek God even in the midst of our doubts.
4. Jesus prayed out loud in front of others to build their faith.
We find several instances when Jesus offered public prayers. When his friend Lazarus died, "Jesus looked up to heaven and said, 'Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me'" (John 11:41-42). Did you notice why Jesus prayed out loud? He did it to increase the faith of those around him.
When it comes to our own prayer lives, many of us are uncomfortable praying out loud. We feel it is a personal thing. If we are shy and don't like praying in large groups, that is understandable. But when it comes to our own children, we would be wise to get over ourselves and learn to pray alongside our kids. They need to hear us talk to God reverently but also personally and authentically.
Your prayer life can be one of the ways God chooses to build the faith of your child. God can use anything. He spoke through a donkey once, and even the rocks will cry out with praise if we don't worship him. Yet he desires to use us. God calls us to be his hands and feet in modeling prayer and training our children in this important habit.
When is the last time you prayed with your child? It's never too early to start. You can start a bedtime prayer routine as you are rocking your infant. It's also never too late. You can begin a daily prayer time with your child at any age. Our family has done different things in different seasons of life. When I drove the kids to school every day, we prayed in the car on the way. We've also had a nighttime prayer habit because it's the most consistent routine of our day. Check out the practical prayer ideas in the Practical Approach section on page 12.
Excerpted from Total Family Makeover by Melissa Spoelstra. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
"Foreword by Sarah Mae",
"Introduction: Your Kids Are Not Your Report Card",
"1. Spending Time in Prayer",
"2. Reading God's Word",
"3. Growing Through Mentoring",
"4. Finding Community in the Church",
"5. Serving Others",
"6. Taking Time to Rest",
"7. Giving Back to God",
"8. Sharing Your Faith",