Do My Kids Love Jesus, or Are They Just Doing What I Tell Them?

My husband and I prayed and prayed for a child of our own.
Once our baby was born, I felt a new weight.

“God, please surround her with Your love. Teach her who You are, and draw her to You so that she will follow you all the days of her life.”

I pray this prayer fervently and desperately. I’ll admit, I pray this prayer because I still struggle with fear—a fear that cycles on the question, “Will my kids love Jesus?” I worry her faith will be borrowed, her worship will be hollow, that she’ll just be going through the motions to fit in instead of as a result of a real, transforming connection with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

How will I know if she loves Jesus, or she’s just doing what I tell her to do?
On the one hand, I feel like I’ll never know. The Bible tells us it is God who knows the heart, not man. The best I can do is look at her outward actions and listen to her words.

I don’t love that answer, but I don’t let it leave me without hope, either. God has entrusted me with this precious little girl, but He loves her even more than I do because His love is perfect. He is love. As I pray, God will guide me and give me wisdom to train her up in the way she should go so that she will turn to Him when she is older.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit back and just let life take its course with my baby girl. There are good, practical ways to lead our kids to have an authentic faith in God instead of a hollow, contrived faith that falls away. There are conversations we can have that can reveal how God’s working within them.

Here are some practical ideas to think about when you ask yourself the question, “Do my kids love Jesus, or are they just doing what I tell them?”

How do you model authentic faith? Your kids will have a much harder time seeking God for themselves if they don’t get the chance to see your personal walk with the Lord. Be open about the time you spend reading the Bible, talk about the prayers you’ve been praying, and let your kids know when you’re using the Bible App on your phone instead of social media. Include your kids! Pray with them, read the Bible with them, worship with each other, and ask them what they believe God’s telling them.

How wise are your kids? Make a habit of sharing a Bible verse God used to speak to you, and ask your kids what it means to them. Ask your kids to tell you something they’ve learned about God recently, and buckle your seatbelt! It is incredible the wisdom and maturity God can put within our kids. It is even more incredible when you hear it come out of them. And if your kid isn’t there yet? Don’t worry—pray! Take heart in the fact that the practice of talking about the things of God will guide them in the direction they need to go.

When your kids do something good, where is their heart? Do your kids think doing good things will make God love them more? Are they afraid of punishment for doing the wrong thing so they overachieve? Do they think you’ll love them more when they’re “good”? Or do your kids love Jesus, and that’s what motivates them? Ask your kid what they think is so important about “being good.” Read 1 John 4:17-18 together. Let your kids explain what they think it means. Ask them what they think the difference is between obeying out of the fear of punishment, and what it’s like to obey because you love somebody. Your kids’ answers might surprise you!

What is church about for your kids? Do your kids think church is just for fun—or a terrible chore? Whatever place their heart is in, meditate on 1 Corinthians 12:27 as a family, and don’t neglect church attendance until they “get it” or until they “like it.” Be grace-filled as you attend every week as a family. Don’t punish or shame your kids into compliance, but look for ways to make church more enjoyable for them. Where can they volunteer to find purpose? Who can they build relationships with so they look forward to showing up each week? If your kid isn’t onboard yet and attending is difficult, think about it this way: You wouldn’t let your kid out of brushing their teeth just because they didn’t want to, right? Don’t let them neglect the health of their spirit by making church optional, either.

Do your kids know what’s in the Bible? Read Bible stories together. Memorize Scriptures. Make a habit of being in God’s Word, together. Talk about what you’ve read, ask questions, even hard ones, and see what your kids have to say. If you’ve learned something new about a story or verse you all enjoy, share it, and encourage your kids to do the same. If your kids’ knowledge isn’t expanding from super-concrete and literal, know that building a foundation of knowledge of God’s word is not in vain. His Word is alive, powerful, and transformative. He will bring a favorite Bible story or verse up at just the right moment for your child, even if they just read it or memorized it for fun (or for stickers—stickers always help!).

Does your kid have a script that holds up in the real world? Keep walking with God anchored in reality. Play “What Would You Do?” games, interspersing silly scenarios like, “Would you rather eat only ice cream or only cookies for the rest of your life?” with scenarios that would actually happen, like, “Would you rather forgive somebody or get revenge?” Whether the situation is a silly one or a real one, ask your kids to talk about the choice they made. Discuss the choices characters make in books, on TV, or in movies, and ask your kids what advice they would give to them. If your kid enjoys acting, do a little improv. Throw some challenges your kid has been facing (or will potentially face) into a hat with a Bible verse that might help. Draw one out, and act out a scene. Whether your kid takes it a silly direction or a real direction, it’s an outlet for them and a way to practice for the future.

Are you doing this alone? The simple answer—no. You have God. But this isn’t ever a simple question, is it? When you’re single or you feel like you are because you’re estranged from your spouse; when you’re trying to work full time, go to school, and keep it all together; when you’re sick; when you’ve had to move away from your friends and family, and you feel like nothing’s going the way you planned, parenting can feel very lonely. Recognize that loneliness for what it is—a lie from our enemy, meant to hold you back and steal your hope. God did not entrust you with the precious children who live in your home and then leave you to your own wits. This leadership, this care, this love, this nurturing is a partnership. Submit to God. Worship Him. Beg for His direction, and trust that each glimmer of hope, each new idea, each connection you make with another believer is God-ordained. Make Colossians 3:23-24 NLT your banner:

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

The inheritance is great, fellow parent. Not only will we experience the presence of God within us and for eternity in Heaven, but we will see our kids experience the same glory. There are no words to express the joy we will have to see our children following after the Lord!

I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth. 3 John 1:4 NLT

Resources and Discussion Questions for Talking to Your Kid About Spiritual Disciplines at Any Age

Here are some quick links to free resources about spiritual disciplines for your kids at each developmental level. You can also try these discussion starters to begin a conversation with your kid about spiritual disciplines.

For Your Preschoolers (Or Verbal Toddlers—It’s Never Too Early to Start!)

  1. Start this Bible Plan together.
  2. Go on the Bible Adventure called “A Voice in the Night” together with your little ones. Each time they watch it, they’ll pick up new things.
  3. As you work through this topic together, try asking some of these questions:
  • Why does God listen to you?
  • When’s the best time to pray?
  • What can you tell God about?

For Your Elementary Kids

  1. Start this Bible Plan about spiritual disciplines.
  2. As you work through this topic together, use these questions as a jumping-off place:
  • What do you think it means to be “close to God”?
  • How do you think you can tell if you’re close to God?
  • What do you think you need to do this week to get closer to God?

For Your Preteens

  1. Start this Bible Plan about spiritual disciplines with your preteen. If they have their own Bible App account, invite them to join you in a Plan with Friends.
  2. As you work through this topic together, ask the questions below:
  • Read Matthew 6:9-13. How is the prayer Jesus prayed an example of how you can pray?
  • Do you have a Bible verse you love or a Bible story you find encouraging? If so, what is it?
  • What are some ways God can give you wisdom?

For Your Teenagers

  1. Encourage your teen to start a Bible Plan with their friends. Here are a few plans they could try: Make Room, Everyday Worship, and God So Good.
  2. Talk to your teen about what spiritual disciplines are all about. Try asking the questions below:
  • How often do you have space to just sit and think without distractions? To just be present in the moment? Why is that?
  • Read Hebrews 12:11 together. Any initial thoughts? Tell about a time when your discipline was worth the effort put in. Is there an area of your life where you know you need to be more disciplined, but you aren’t? Why do you think that is?
  • What disciplines do you need to start to help you put God first?

Written by Samantha Lowe from Life.Church.