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Tips For Turning Your Family’s Focus To Christ This Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us, and we all desire that our children will be able to see past the world’s version of Christmas to the deeper meaning of this sacred holiday. The demands of decorations, shopping, parties, and plays can push Christ out of Christmas. Parents and children’s ministry leaders must fight to keep families pointed to the celebration of the Father’s greatest gift—Jesus! There are so many great resources out there, with so many ideas for how to celebrate the Advent of the God-man, but we hope we can provide you with a just a couple of our tips to help your family turn its focus back to Christ this Christmas season.

1. Get a manger with hay.

A physical manger, with hay, is a powerful, visual reminder of why we are celebrating Christmas. This can be a small manger that is displayed in a prominent location in the home, or a large, full-size manger in the corner of the living room. Your family’s manger can cultivate conversations about the reason we celebrate Christmas, help create memories and traditions as you get it out each year, and serve as a real-life example as the story of Jesus’ birth is read to children from the gospels. The humility of the manger will permeate your family’s Christmas, calling young and old to reverence of the God who would choose to leave heaven to be laid within it. Also, children get excited with the anticipation of waiting on the “baby Jesus” to show up in the manger on Christmas morning. You can even keep the hay out of the manger and allow children to earn pieces of hay to lay in the manger throughout the month, based on their acts of humility, obedience, service, or kindness, preparing for the arrival of “baby Jesus” on Christmas morning, and ultimately, preparing their lives for His arrival when He returns again.

2. Create your own family Advent traditions.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, your family can choose a special day each week to spend a few minutes creating family memories and traditions that will last a lifetime. Continue and build on these Advent traditions each year. For example, buy or make an Advent wreath for your home, and put four candles in it. On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, call your family together for an Advent celebration. It doesn’t have to be long–even a few minutes can refocus the family and connect the hearts of parents and children. Light a different candle each week (this will absolutely fascinate children), and spend some time in worship or sing a Christmas carol. Then have a parent read and explain a Scripture or two about Jesus that is relevant to the season–who He is, why He came, how He was born. For very young children, use physical objects to help them understand the concepts, e.g. a flashlight can be used to help explain Jesus is the light that came into the darkness. After the Scripture reading, blow out the candle or help a child blow it out, which is another highlight of this celebration for children! Then act out what you just learned. For our flashlight example, give each child a flashlight, go into a dark room, and allow the children to shine the light around in the darkness. Put on house robes and pretend to be shepherds with your children as you learn about the shepherds at Jesus’ birth and how Jesus is the Lord our Shepherd. On Christmas morning, light all four candles of your Advent wreath, and celebrate the arrival of Jesus into the world! Some families even prepare a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day and sing Him “Happy Birthday!” With just a few minutes of preparation, and materials you already have around the house, Advent can be fun, Christ-focused, and a family time children will look forward to celebrating year after year.

Fighting for Your Child’s Calling

by Matthew Mills

As parents, we have a unique opportunity to partner with Jesus in raising up our children to walk out His calling for their lives and to engage in the good works He has prepared for them. As a father, Paul exhorted Timothy to fight the good fight in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning him (1 Timothy 1:18).

Each child has a calling in the Lord, but the enemy seeks to derail that calling through discouragement and lies. Below are some tips to help parents fight for their children’s callings.

Discover your child’s calling.
Discovering your child’s calling is as simple as asking the Lord to reveal it to you. He can reveal it to you in a still small voice or through extraordinary situations or circumstances. Many parents feel the Lord gives them a specific name for their child in the womb, which has Biblical significance to the calling on that child’s life.

In my own life, Jesus very clearly spoke to me about the calling of my first two children before they were even conceived. This happened during a ministry time at church, when a lady was praying for us. She was praying about a housing need we were having, and while she was praying, my mind was wandering far to the future about having a child and wondering how to find a midwife. She suddenly got quiet, and then blurted out, “And I hear the Lord saying, ‘I am your midwife.'”

My mouth dropped open in disbelief that the Lord was clearly speaking to me through this woman, even knowing the thoughts I was thinking at that exact moment! And the Lord now had my full attention. The lady continued, “And I see your seed, and God is pouring His light into your seed, and your seed will grow into a tree that bears fruit that all nations will come to receive.”

With our third and fourth children, which were twins, I confidently asked the Lord to speak to me about their destinies while they were still in the womb, and He gave me a specific phrase for them. He confirmed what I felt through another lady at our church, whom He had told we were having twins before we even knew my wife was pregnant. If you didn’t know your child’s calling before birth, don’t worry. Maybe your child is an adult now. Still, it is never too late to ask Jesus the prophecies concerning your child.

Name your child according to his/her calling.
If parents know their children’s callings before they are born, they have a wonderful opportunity to name their children in accordance with those callings. Knowing that my first child was going to grow up like a tree and bear fruit for the nations, we named her Bay, after the bay tree. When we got pregnant with the second child, a girl, we had no intention of naming her after a tree as well, but we ended up naming her Magnolia.

I had prayed and asked for her calling, but I couldn’t think of anything except the first word we had received about our seed being a tree. We had three favorite names picked out: Rose, Pearl, and Magnolia, and we submitted those to the Lord during a long road trip and asked for a sign to show us which represented His calling for her life. I specifically (and secretly) prayed that my wife would see the sign before me. I had a dream the next night that someone asked me what I was going to name our unborn child, and I turned to see thousands of Magnolias beside me, and I replied, “Apparently, Magnolia.”

On our third day on the road, my wife shouts out “Magnolia Bay! Look at that sign!” I turned quickly to see a brand new hotel being built just off the interstate, with a gigantic sign: “Magnolia Bay Hotel.” That was our sign!

With our twins, we threw around some tree names, but I wanted to allow for different callings on their lives. When I asked for them, the phrase the Lord spoke to me concerning their callings was “captains of hundreds and fifties.” So I picked out strong military terms from the Bible that would remind me and them that they are destined to be strong leaders in His army: Arrow and Banner.

Names are powerful declarations, and every time I speak my children’s names, I am declaring and reminding them of the callings on their lives.

Pray for your child to enter into his/her calling.
Especially at bedtime prayers each night, I pray their callings over my children. I ask God to fulfill the words He has given me for their lives. I speak them out loud and declare who they are and who they will be. By revealing these prophecies, the Lord is inviting us to partner with Him through praying for them to come to pass. Our weapons of warfare are spiritual, and prayer is a weapon of utmost importance in fighting for your child’s calling.

Fathers, speak out the callings over your children’s lives.
Paul charged Timothy, as a father to a son, to fight the good fight according to the prophecies spoken over his life. Throughout Scripture, we see the theme of the fathers’ charges, blessings, and pronouncements over their children’s lives. Fathers and male church leaders can have significant spiritual impact on children through the spoken prayers, blessings, and declarations of those callings over the children.

Teach your child the prophecies concerning them.
Timothy knew the prophecies concerning him. We must make sure our children know the prophecies concerning them as well. My four year old recently was accepted as a Miss Missouri Princess state finalist. Many of our Christian friends discouraged us from going to the competition.

However, I had a feeling this opportunity had something to do with the calling on her life, given the fact that she would be potentially speaking in front of thousands of people. The Lord confirmed we were to go, and I began explaining to her that we were entering this competition because of the Lord’s calling on her life. We discussed over a period of several months what it means to be a light and shine for Jesus.

As my children get older, I will constantly teach and remind them of their callings, tell them how we received those words from the Lord, and help them to navigate the opportunities presented before them in light of the Lord’s plans for their lives.

Teach your child how to fight the good fight according to the prophecies made concerning them.
Lead by example in this area, speaking life and truth from God’s Word over every area of their life and calling. Filter opportunities for your family through the lens of God’s prophecies concerning you all. Help your children understand and pray the prophecies concerning themselves, and as your children transition into young adults, continue to encourage them to believe for the promises of God to be fulfilled, not in their strength, but by the Lord’s Spirit and power, and in His timing.

Helping Your Child Hear God’s Voice

“How do I help my child hear God’s voice?” It’s a question that we often get here at the Children’s Equipping Center. Parents, pastors, and children’s ministry leaders have a fervent desire to help their children learn how to communicate with the Holy Spirit and understand what He is speaking to them. However, there is no simple 5-step process that we can give as an easy answer to this question. In fact, we may be asking the wrong question. The right question is, “How do I cultivate an environment where my child can develop an intimate relationship with Jesus in which my child is both communicating to Him and receiving communication from Him?”

In Luke 18:16, Jesus told the disciples to “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” We believe that with these words, Jesus expressed what was in the Father’s heart for children. Jesus gave His exposition on children’s ministry and answered all of our questions about how to equip them in one statement: the kingdom of God is theirs. It already belongs to them. In other words, the kingdom of God is just as accessible to children as it is to adults. In fact, Jesus told the disciples that to enter into that kingdom, they should become more like the children! As parents, pastors, and children’s ministry leaders, we must start from the understanding that our children were created to know God and know His voice, and then we must teach, train, and release them to do so.

In the Children’s Equipping Center, we begin teaching the language of the Bible and the nature of God at age 1. We believe it is important to give them the language of prayer, show them the Father’s heart for them, teach them what Jesus has done for them, and introduce them to the Holy Spirit, which lays the foundation for their relationship with the living God. The young children are taught to believe that God has countless precious thoughts about them that He desires to share. We pray for them and teach them to pray for their ears to be opened and eyes to be enlightened and to believe for the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:17.

As children grow older, we like to train them to identify the different ways in which God can speak, for example through nature, the Bible, wisdom, situations, dreams, visions, words of knowledge, and of course, through His audible voice. We also help children identify various messages they could be hearing in their own mind by examining the content of what they are hearing. For example, God’s voice is truth and will not contradict Scripture or tell us to exhibit ungodly behavior or hurt anyone or break His commandments; it speaks about us surrendering more to Him and His desires; it always gives us a peace, even when asking us to do something hard; it always gives us a choice to obey or not; it is gentle and guiding; it carries authority; it brings conviction but not condemnation (telling us we are bad); it is always wise; it is in harmony with His Word, character, and nature. Satan’s voice lies and will never validate God or the Scriptures; it is self-centered, making everything about me (example: she was wrong and I’m right); it does not have peace; it is demanding and pushy (do it now, don’t wait); it commands and gives no choice; it is unwise and deceptive; it causes uneasiness and feels contradicting. We teach 5 Questions to Ask about the message you may be hearing:

  1. Does this word help me to respect the Lord and depart from evil?
  2. Does it increase my faith in my knowledge of God and understanding of the Scriptures?
  3. Will my actions following these words be full of and bear the fruit of the Spirit?
  4. Will these words strengthen me with might so I can keep going no matter what?
  5. Does it cause me to experience joyfulness and thanksgiving to the Father?

We also release the children to practice hearing God’s voice for others, in a safe and supervised environment, for the purpose of encouraging and building others up.

We hope we have given you a fresh perspective on the question of helping children to discern God’s voice, along with some ideas for teaching and training them. The Holy Spirit has divine ideas on how to equip your child, so ask Him for wisdom and guidance in how to best parent or lead your child or children into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Tips for Checking Toddlers into Class at Church

Amy Dirks
As you may have found, 1–2 year olds sometimes have a hard time staying in class or even getting through the door! Others come happily for a few months and when they hit 18 months or 2 years old, they cry whenever they are dropped off and usually do not stay through service. Although every child is different, here a few ideas that have helped children find joy in coming to class:
  • Have Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa stay in class with your child for a few weeks. New environments make me cautious, too, so I understand!
  • Have an older sibling or cousin sit in class with them. This is especially helpful for 1 year olds. Just let your child’s teacher know he or she would like to stay.
  • Consistency is so helpful! If you miss a few weeks, it might take a few weeks for your child to get comfortable coming to class again.
  • Get a drop-off routine developed. Here are few ideas:
    • Pass your child directly to a worker in the classroom. They might cry for a few minutes, but some children feel safe with the person they were entrusted to by their parent.
    • Bring your child into the classroom and show them the toys. As they see all the options, they might see that class is fun and want to stay. Then you can slip out. This does not always work, as many times children realize you slipped out and will start crying for a few minutes or not calm down. Yet for some it works.
    • Wait for snack time! Sometimes just a cup of goldfish makes all the tears go away!
Every child is so different and some might not want to go to class until they are 3 years old. It also helps talking with your child’s teacher to see if they have any other ideas specific for your child. I hope these ideas help you!

Five Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Prayer Life

Our children are capable of knowing God in a deep way.  By spending 25 minutes a week, 5 minutes a day of focused prayer, we can help children develop a life long thirst and hunger to pray. We must teach our children principles of enjoyable prayer that assist them in developing an on going dialogue with God and a thirst for communion with Him. Consistency is vital for most anything to be successful.  I have spent over 30 years helping parents, leaders, and children understand God’s desire for them to grow in Prayer, Praise, Power and the Prophetic. This simple game plan if done each week, will help our children and our family grow to having a life long thirst and hunger for prayer.

1. Having a Heart of Thanksgiving – Monday

Each Monday, help your child to make a list of everything he/she is thankful for.  Make a new list every Monday.  Encourage your child to recognize all he/she has to be thankful for, including God’s provision for all his/her needs, salvation, existence, and things God may have done for your family in the past.  Using the list, spend 5 minutes together thanking the Lord together for Who He is and what He has done.  Take turns, and pray out loud.  By consistently doing this exercise each week, your child’s heart will grow in understanding God’s goodness and love and be trained to recognize God’s personal involvement in his/her life.

2. Have a Heart of Worship – Tuesday

On Tuesdays, spend five minutes in worship.  Children are born with the ability to worship, so encourage your child to worship the Lord with freedom. Encourage your child that Jesus hears, sees, and loves his/her worship.  Allow your child to see you enjoying worship and putting all of your attention on Jesus.  Read Scriptures together that reveal the beauty of Jesus and worship in Heaven, such as Revelation chapters 4 and 5.  Find out your child’s favorite worship song – many have one that they already know and love. Sing this song together for 5 minutes.

3. Having a Heart for His Word – Wednesday

Spend five minutes reading God’s Word each Wednesday.  Each time, start by teaching your child to ask Holy Spirit for help in understanding God’s Word.  You might choose to read your child’s Bible together or choose the Bible verses you have been studying yourself, which can build unity as you study the verses together.  After you are finished reading, it is helpful to explain Bible verses to your children in words they understand.  An easy exercise for helping your child grow in understanding of Scriptures can be summarized as read it, say it, write it, sing it, pray it.  You can even make up hand motions, songs, or dances together that will help you and your child easily remember Bible verses.

4. Having a Heart for the Lost – Thursday

Together, make a list of people in his/her life who do not know Jesus.  Start with family members, and also include people like your child’s doctor, dentist, teachers, peers, etc.  Depending on the age and maturity of your child, talk about salvation through Jesus alone and the consequences of not believing in Jesus.  Each Thursday, spend five minutes praying together out loud from the Scriptures, such as Ephesians 1:17, for the people on the list to encounter Jesus and be saved. Take turns praying out loud, allowing yourself to be vulnerable before the Lord and your child, as you model heartfelt, fervent prayers.  As you pray each week, your child will develop a longing for the lost to be saved.

5. Having Heart for the Sick – Friday

Help your child make a list of people in his/her life who need healing. Then spend five minutes praying from the Scriptures, such as Acts 4:29-30, that God would stretch out His hand with healing for them in the name of Jesus.  Take turns praying out loud, allowing yourself to be vulnerable before the Lord and your child, as you model heartfelt, fervent prayers.  Add new names or take names off the list each week, remembering to thank the Lord and acknowledge His answers to your prayers.

Lenny La Guardia

position

  • Vice President of Ministries, IHOPKC
  • Executive Director, Children's Equipping Center, IHOPKC

For over three decades, Lenny and Tracy La Guardia have devoted their lives locally and internationally to equipping, empowering, and mobilizing young people, parents, and leaders with biblical truths and relevant strategies for ministering to children and youth today. Lenny and Tracy are the executive directors of the Children’s Equipping Center (CEC) at the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, where they lead a missionary staff that equips children from all over the world. Currently, the CEC provides over 130 hours a week of children’s services. Lenny also serves as the senior vice president of IHOPKC’s Ministries and Justice Divisions, giving oversight to vital ministries that mobilize the values and priorities of the IHOPKC Missions Base in Kansas City and abroad. Lenny started the Grandview, Missouri, Police Chaplains in 2007 and currently serves as a police chaplain. Lenny and Tracy have been married for 38 years and have five children: Leonard, Leatha, Andrea, Adrienne, and Shontavion.

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