Creating Space for Children to Listen
In Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby he teaches that “God is always at work around you”. As Christ followers we can be assured of God’s presence. He is at work, and he is present. In John 5:17 Jesus says, “my Father is always working, and so am I”. He is at work around us regardless of our age. Our job is to be on the lookout for his work and to be listening for him. As we are discipling world changers it’s important for us to keep that truth at the forefront of our minds.
God Speaks to Children
We know from the story of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 that God has been in the business of speaking to kids since Biblical times. I love Samuel’s story. God is audibly speaking and the priest, the adult, sleeps through it 3 times. We know from the story that Eli had already hit the point of no return but still, GOD WAS SPEAKING OUT LOUD AND HE MISSED IT. I wonder how many times I miss God speaking. I personally believe that kids can hear God much more easily than adults. They are interruptible, they’re curious, and their aching to know God has yet to be dulled by the hardness of the world.
I used to think that I needed to teach kids how to listen for God. Then I realized they are already hearing God. My job switched from teaching to creating space for them to hear from him. We run kids so hard. They go from one activity to the next with hardly a break. If they have a break they are on a device or music is playing or some kind of stimuli is at work. We do this both in our homes and in our children’s ministries at church. If God is at work and if God is speaking but we are running at warp speed, we cannot be surprised when we can’t hear him. We must adjust.
From Passive Observers to Active Participants
When I’m teaching children before I ever start into my lesson, I pause in front of them. I get their attention and tell them God has something to say to them. I’ll often say, “what’s my job here today?”. They answer, “to talk to us!” or “to preach” or “to speak”. I say, “my job is to tell you what God has placed on my heart to tell you.” Then I ask them what their job is. “To listen.” “To sit still.” “To be good.” I tell them that those are all good ideas but actually their job is to listen for God, to be on the lookout for what he wants to teach them. “God has something to say to you and your job is to prepare your heart and then to watch for God.”
I always remind them they are not there by accident but on purpose. God wanted them there for this moment. They need to be on the lookout for why. This takes them from being a passive observer of the lesson to being an active participant in what God is doing. It helps their brains to engage because they now have a “job” or a purpose. This switch is incredibly important for world changers. They are not just on this earth to observe but rather to take action and be a part of what is happening. And just a reminder that when we look for God, we always find him (Jeremiah 129:13-14).
Helping them understand my job and their job always makes them pause for a moment. Has it ever stopped you? God desires to say something to kids through your teaching, through your words, through your lessons. Whether you are in front of a group of kids in a church or you are driving the school carpool God desires to use you. Remember, while he doesn’t need you, he desires to use you, and he will. So often we get caught up in the doing we forget that what we do is sacred. You are pointing kids to the God of the universe. That should give you pause often. Do not take this lightly.
I always explain to kids how to prepare their hearts. It’s as simple as them asking God to teach them something new. I give them a quiet moment to pray and ask God to speak to them.
How God Speaks
Now this whole idea of God speaking to kids can be very confusing to kids. I have seen so many adults forget that kids are literal. When we say “speak” they think they’ll hear an audible voice.
I’ll never forget as a young children’s pastor being at a camp and listening to the speaker around the campfire. She told them God was going to speak to them, they just had to listen. As an adult I understood what she meant, as a children’s pastor I was frustrated that she wasn’t clearer. I was sitting by an eight-year-old boy. He did his best sitting still if I was rubbing his back. The speaker told us to bow our heads and he dutifully bowed his head and folded his hands. There was silence around the campfire as kids listened for God. Perhaps my little guy was the only kid honest enough to admit what wasn’t happening. He looked up at me after about a minute, threw his hands up in the air, and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, “I got nothing!”. We must be clear with kids.
If we are going to talk to kids about hearing from God, we must explain what that means. My favorite way to explain that you can hear God without hearing a voice is by asking if they’ve ever heard something from their parents without hearing their voice. This always stumps them until I break out “the look”. “Oh yeah, I always know I’m in BIG trouble if my mom gives me the look!”. Then they go on to talk about other ways their parents talk to them without using their voices. Hand motions, eye contact, nodding of a head, a hand squeeze, etc. Then I explain to them that God can speak to us without using his voice.
“Sometimes we might hear his voice but other times we might feel something. Have you ever been singing a song in church and felt something in your tummy? Or have you ever been reading your Bible or hearing a Bible story and suddenly noticed something new that you thought was really cool? That was God speaking to you. Sometimes you might feel something, or see something, or you might hear something. God wants to speak to you.”
Notice that I use words kids understand. Kids are not going to understand that God can “speak to your heart” or “stir your soul”. That just confuses them. If you are going to use “adult” language, make sure you explain it thoroughly.
When I’m done speaking or the kids are done with Sunday School or VBS or even in our home at the end of the day I always take a minute to have them pause and think/pray about what God taught them. I reiterate what I said at the beginning and then I stay silent while they talk to God and listen for him. I think we are too quick to move kids along without allowing them to pause and listen and respond.
Kids can change the world and world changers are people who know how to hear God’s voice. They expect it and listen for it. That voice is what ideally will keep them grounded, growing, and teachable.
Interested in learning more on this subject? Join my 6-week coaching bootcamp that kicks off February 1st. This bootcamp is thoughtfully designed to equip you to create space for kids to respond to what God is doing. Visit melissajmacdonald.com/coaching and be sure to mention “RaiseUpFaith” for a $20 discount. Application deadline is January 27th.
Melissa J. MacDonald is a leader of leaders, coach, author, and prolific speaker. She's considered one of the leading voices in children's ministry today. Her dynamic style of speaking keeps her audience laughing, crying, and think deeply all at the same time. She travels extensively and loves good ethnic food. She and her husband are foster parents and reside in Iowa.
Join us, together with Melissa to Create Space for Kids to Encounter God.
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