NE OF OUR FAVORITE family traditions is taking the birthday boy or girl out to eat at his or her favorite restaurant. Once our rowdy bunch has finished the meal, we take turns expressing love and appreciation to him or her. It might sound cheesy, but it’s a wonderful way to express our encouragement and affirmation in a way we don’t normally do.
After the words of encouragement, we finally get to the song and the cake. We’ll sing at the top of our lungs (usually way off key) and party like it’s 1999 as we cheer for the guest of honor. It’s usually a wonderful time . . . but sometimes the restaurant server turns our celebration into uncomfortable awkwardness.
The awkwardness happens when the server recruits coworkers to gather around our table and force some false enthusiasm as they sing a birthday song. It creates quite a contrast. My family is singing passionately and joyfully at the top of our lungs to honor the birthday boy or girl . . . while flanked by people singing the same song to the same person, but without any heart.
The contrast comes because one group of singers knows and loves the one they’re singing to, while the other group does not. The family is celebrating a loved one within a bond of family intimacy and love, while the workers are going through a mindless ritual because it is part of their duty. They don’t have any desire to know or love the one to whom they’re singing. They’re simply hoping to get something out of it (a bigger tip) if they’ll clap their hands and chant the words like they’ve been taught.
What’s the point here?
Sadly, many churches seem to be full of people who sing to God with the half-hearted enthusiasm of singing servers at a chain restaurant. The lack of joy might be because the churchgoers are singing to a Stranger! They’re singing to Someone they don’t know in the hopes that maybe they’ll get a “tip” (some kind of blessing) as a result of carrying out their duty.
Nobody (including God) enjoys that kind of “worship.” God is looking for loving family members around the table with Him, joyfully learning and singing and enjoying His company. He wants to give us much more than a “tip.” He wants us to inherit the keys to His kingdom. He wants our worship to flow from our love for Him. He wants to give us a relationship — not a religion.
Out of that relationship, you’ll begin to discover that every part of your life can be an act of worship. Connecting with God is not confined to Sunday mornings or youth camps. He will be a constant presence in your life, and as you grow in your love for Him, your life (and your songs) will develop an intimate sense of love, passion, and joy for God.
These are the simple lessons on faith and worship that we’re trying to teach family. We want our kids not only to know about God; we want them to know God. We don’t want them to see worship as a once-a-week ritual to be dutifully performed, but rather as a lifestyle of growing closer to the One who loves them more than anyone else does.
Here are four basic principles my wife and I are trying to teach our kids (and trying to learn ourselves too).
1. Pray, for your voice is the sweetest sound in the world to your heavenly Father.
Relationships grow through consistent communication. Your relationship with God is no different. The Creator of the universe wants to hear from you. He wants to do a lot more than just bless your meals; He wants to communicate with you daily. Pray often.
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Eph. 6:18 NIV).
2. Worship through your lifestyle, not just in a weekly service.
Gathering together with the church to worship corporately is an important part of the Christian life, but it’s also important to remember it’s only one part of the Christian life. The other 99 percent of the week is important too. Everything we do can and should be done as an act of worship.
We don’t visit God at the church building; we carry His Holy Spirit within us everywhere we go. We are the church building for His Spirit, and everything we do should be for His glory.
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31 NLT).
3. In response to God’s love for you, love Him.
Jesus did not come to invite us into a religion; He came to invite us into a relationship. The more we love God, the more capacity we will have to love other people.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:36-38 NIV).
4. Worship from your heart regardless of your abilities.
If we see worship as just singing songs or doing performance-based activities, we may feel unqualified to worship. We think, I’m not much of a singer or a preacher, so my worship doesn’t count as much. God is looking at our heart, not our ability.
My kids’ artwork proudly hangs on my refrigerator because they colored it with love and gave it to me as a gift. To me, it’s more priceless than any Picasso. If God had a refrigerator, your pictures would be all over it.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 NIV).
Make worship a celebration, just like my family’s birthday gatherings. Look for ways to point your children to the truth of God’s Word as often as you can. It doesn’t have to happen in “formal” lecture-style lessons. It can happen while you’re coloring pictures, jumping on a trampoline, throwing a ball, eating your breakfast cereal, or telling a bedtime story. Each day presents countless opportunities to share God’s love and God’s truth in practical ways.
Your kids will learn some of these lessons in church, but the most powerful lessons about faith should be taught at home.
As you teach your children these lessons, make sure you’re striving to live them out. You might feel unqualified, but we’re all unqualified apart from God’s grace.
When you blow it (like we all do), don’t try to cover it up. Instead, use it as a teaching moment by talking about God’s grace and forgiveness. Our kids aren’t looking for our perfection; they’re looking for our authenticity so they can be pointed to God’s perfection. He’s the only perfect parent.
Dave Willis is associate pastor of Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia.
From November, 2015