Each year around this time I am reminded that the holidays are fast approaching. Usually this thought is precipitated by a barrage of commercials and catalogs that remind us of everything we ‘need.’ With that said, this is a wonderful time to press pause and remind ourselves (especially our children) the value of putting God first in our lives. Through the constant distractions of our over-connected and over-scheduled daily lives, excuses can quickly pile up keeping us from making God our focal point.
This past Sunday morning, during our children’s program, we learned about the message God sent to the Israelites through the Old Testament prophet, Haggai. The Israelites had returned to the decimated city of Jerusalem after being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years. They quickly began constructing God’s temple and completed the foundation. Over the next 16 years, the Israelites got discouraged from finishing their work. Life was hard, there was no money, crops weren’t growing, and they wanted to give up. They chose to work harder on building their own homes and desires than putting God first. When Haggai first approached the Israelites to share God’s message, they made excuses about why they had not completed God’s temple. Remember, this group of 50,000 Israelites wasn’t a disobedient group of people. In fact, they were devoted followers living in exile in Babylon, whom made the choice to travel back to Jerusalem because God had given them this land as their promise land. They wanted to return even though they knew it would be a hard thing to do. They wanted to put God first like many of us wish to do.
Our lesson focused on putting God first in our lives, by making the right choice without excuses. For our hands-on activity, we played with building blocks. The purpose of the game was to build a temple together. The game began with the children seated in a circle with a large stack of blocks in the middle. Some of the blocks had excuses written on them. For example: “it’s too hard,” “I’m tired,” “I’d rather pick flowers,” “I want this stone for my own house,” “my friends aren’t doing anything,” “I don’t feel like it.” Groups discussed how easy it is to think of an excuse for a bad choice (not cleaning your room, ignoring homework). Children took turns choosing a block from the pile. If the block had nothing written on it, it was added to the temple. If a block had an excuse on it, the child had to keep that block for themselves. Through this visual exercise the children recognized how much faster the temple could have been built without excuses. The children began to grasp how quickly excuses can add up to prevent us from doing what we should, further separating us from God as our top priority.
For thousands of years, our natural inclination has been to push aside the choices that keep our relationship with God in the front and center in our hearts. It’s much easier to put material needs above spiritual ones. It’s not challenging to come up with excuses. Yet without God as a constant presence in our lives, we can never truly be satisfied. This is why as Christians, we should make a conscious effort to apply daily faith routines in our own lives. Children learn by observation and need guidance to grow up with a strong Christian core. Some examples of faith routines to start now in your family, are to bring them to church each Sunday for fellowship with friends, say a nightly prayer together, or read aloud an illustrated child friendly Bible. When eating a meal together or driving in the car talk about good and bad things that happened in their day while connecting those moments back to God. Talk about what it means to love God. By modeling, teach your children how to say thank you to God or how to ask God for help. Show them how to develop a comfortable relationship with God. Speak with respect and show compassion to help demonstrate the concept of putting others first. Encourage your children to look for circumstances when they can step up to meet the needs of others. This holiday season remember to press pause and show your children the value of putting God first.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” - Matthew 22:37