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Teen-Proof Devotions

What do e-mail, CDs, and banana splits have in common? They're all keys to family devotions your teenager might actually enjoy.

When your children are young, putting together a fun, meaningful family devotional can be as easy as making sheep out of cotton balls and paper plates. But teenagers can throw a wrench in even the most well-intentioned family night. With their highly tuned "lame" detectors running overtime, teenagers often meet Mom and Dad's devotional efforts with rolling eyes and heavy sighs. Still, with a little creativity and an openness to seeing the spiritual lessons in everyday life, you can impact your teen's spiritual development in powerful ways.

Certainly there are good times for around-the-table devotions—the kind that include reading Scripture, discussing it, then praying together. But sit-and-talk is seldom an effective method for helping teens take God's truth to heart.

As your children reach the teen years, they start to move beyond the "what and who" of Scripture and become more interested in the "how and why" of faith. They are eager to wrestle with what it means follow God and to live their faith in a bold way. Yet they still need guidance and strong role models to help their faith mature.

Don't give up on the idea of having devotions with your teens. Instead, expand your definition of "devotions" to include outings, games, and spontaneous conversations about faith.

Here are five ideas to get you started:

I Spy

Read Galatians 5:22-23 during dinner one evening, then challenge each family member to catch the others practicing all nine fruits of the spirit during the coming week. This continue-over-time devotion serves two purposes: (1) each family member tries hard to choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and sees the results of making godly choices; (2) and each family member notices the fruitful deeds of others, which builds family unity.

Depending on the age of your teens, you might want to provide small "spy" books—to "catch" someone, the family member must jot down the specific action and time and place it occurs. At dinner the next week, have everyone report the results. If you like, award the most "fruitful" person with a banana split or other fun surprise. You can also do this devotional using the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, Colossians 3:8-12, Ephesians 4:25-32, or any other biblical lists of virtues.

Name Your Tune

Challenge each family member to find a contemporary Christian song that tells the story of their lives right now. This song could remind them of an action they want to live, encourage them through a struggle, or speak a truth they stand on. Avoid the temptation to criticize music styles: the words and message are the key. Take turns playing the songs and talking about what the songs say.

You can do a Part 2 to this activity by talking about music in general over dinner one night or on a family road trip. Communicate that music is a wonderful creation of our good God and why it's important for us to listen to songs that tell the truth about love and life.

If music is an area of conflict in your family, suggest that you and your teenager hold each other accountable for your music choices by asking about the messages in the songs. Remember, some easy listening music with its songs of sexual temptation and passionate romance can be just as damaging to your spirit as angry thrash metal or hard-core rap lyrics, so you'll need to be willing to examine your choices as well.

High Tech Devos

Teens love electronic communication, so send your teenagers frequent e-mails to encourage their faith. You can:

  • Share one way you see your teen living a biblical principle; teens love to be caught doing the right thing, so they'll want to give you more examples!
  • List five reasons you enjoy living with your teenager; a good foundation of love at home leaves teenagers less prone to unhealthy friendships and dating relationships.
  • Ask their opinions on a decision you're facing; giving advice prompts thinking through biblical principles and lets your teenagers know their input matters to you.

Pray a Passage

Design a family night specifically around prayer. Choose a familiar Bible passage and use it to create prayer dialogues with God. For example, if you use Proverbs 18:1-2, have each person write out a conversation with God about the kind of friend she's been and the kind of friend she wants to be. Suggest that each person use the same structure—for example, a sentence of their words to God, then a sentence of what God might say to them. If you like, share your dialogues with one another.

Prayer dialogue is a wonderful way to help your teen deepen her prayer life. It will encourage her to try to listen to God as well as talk to God. Dialogue also stresses that prayer is a first step, not the only step, to having a relationship with God. The next step involves actually doing what God says. Suggest that your teenager use this format to talk (and listen!) to God anytime.

Ask Why

Teens and tweens quite wisely question everything. At its best such questioning is meant to determine what is real and what is fake, what matters and what doesn't. Our God is strong and wants us to know him, so join your teenager in asking—and seeking answers for—tough questions of faith. Whenever a spiritual issue comes up, ask questions like:

  • Why would God give that command?
  • Why is the Bible confusing sometimes?
  • Why does God ask us to make hard decisions, even when they cause pain?

Creating devotional moments that mean something to your teenager is less about having craft projects and three-point lessons than about living your faith in ways your teen can see and feel. It's about keeping your eyes open to the ways God works in your teen's daily life and being prepared to talk about the questions and situations that arise. Sure, there will still be some eye-rolling when you mention the Bible or point out God's faithfulness—we are talking about teenagers here—but you'll also find that your teen is more attuned to spiritual matters than you might think.

No matter what kind of devotions you do with your teenager, challenge her to catch you living out the truths you've talked about. Do your best to be deliberate about modeling, rather than just mouthing, truth. And be just as persistent about affirming the times when your teen makes godly choices as you are about correcting her poor decisions. As you help your teen develop a vibrant, living faith, you'll find that she might be the one asking you if it's time to talk about God.

Karen Dockrey has worked with teenagers for over 29 years, has written 30 books, and along with her husband has raised two teenagers. Her most recent book is Bold Parents, Positive Teens (WaterBrook).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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