A favorite food at our house is homemade bread: any kind, any shape. When my children smell bread baking, they anxiously await a slice fresh from the oven. But one afternoon as I readied the ingredients and pondered the bread making process, I realized that there was more to baking bread than mixing up dough.
Preparing homemade bread lends itself to talking about God in a fresh way. As I often do, I invited my children to help me make bread, but this time I turned our work into an object lesson. Even if you only bake bread on special occasionsor let the bread machine do most of the work for youhere's how you can do the same with your children.
As your children help bring the needed equipment to the prep area, talk about how people often have bread with their meals. Tell your children that bread has been called the staff of life, meaning that it is a main source of nourishment.
Bread was a mealtime staple in Bible times and still is for many people today. Bread also serves as a powerful symbol of our need for God. For example, Jesus talks about bread in Matthew 4:4 where he says that, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." And Jesus calls himself the "bread of life" in John 6:35. Tell your children that, just as the bread we eat sustains our physical life, so Jesus and his Word sustain our spiritual lives. Just as we eat bread each day, so we need to read or listen to God's Word each day.
Have one of your children measure out the flour, and explain that breads are made from all kinds of grain, which start as seeds that must be planted.John 12:24 tells us that "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
God wants us to be like those seeds. He wants us to give up our need to be first and to have things our way, and to follow God instead. When we do, we will be able to plant "seeds" of God's love in others.
The grain of wheat in the ground gets new life from God and begins to grow. After we've accepted the new life Jesus gives us, we also need to grow up in Christ and become mature.
Point out to your children that most of the bread we eat in America is made from wheat. The wheat is taken from the fields, then ground into flour. We need to allow God to "grind" away at our pettiness, selfish ambitions, and pride so that he can make us into the "bread" he can use to feed the hungry spirits of people who don't know him.
As you prepare to add the yeast to the mixture, point out the small amount to be used. Tell the children that several times in the Bible, yeast is used as a metaphor for sin. Just as a small amount of yeast affects the dough, causing it to become larger, so even the smallest amount of sin affects our lives and can cause large problems.
Now it's time to add sugar to the mixture. The yeast needs a sweetener such as sugar or honey to work properly. Our lives need sweetness, too. Thankfully, we have the sweet Spirit of God living in us, and we need to let his spirit flow through us to others. Remind your children that the love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness that make us into sweet people can also sweeten the lives of others.
Next add the salt to make the bread more flavorful. Jesus has told us that we, his followers, are salt for the earth (Matt. 5:13). Ask your children to think about these questions: "Do we add good flavor to the lives of others? Are their lives more joyful or peaceful because of us?"
Salt also acts as a preservative, keeping things from spoiling. Ask your children, "How does our belief in God affect the lives of those around us? Does it affect the way we treat people, the words we speak, the rules we obey? How can we be people who help make our world better, who work to keep others from being 'spoiled' by sin?"
As you add the oil, remind your children that the Bible often uses oil as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. It is God's Spirit in us that can help us to rise above our fears and troubles and can help us maintain that sweet spirit that reaches out to others. Oil is also used to bring healing. Just as God's Holy Spirit brings healing into our lives, so our lives can be used to bring healing to others.
Another quality of oil is its lubricating ability. This may be a new phrase for your children, so tell them that oil helps engines run smoothly or takes the squeak out of the door. When people in our families, our churches, our schools, and our neighborhoods are having trouble getting alongwhen there's a lot of squeaking, so to speakhow can God use us as peacemakers, helping everything to run smoothly and work together well?
As you add the milk, tell your children that in the Old Testament, God told the people that the Promised Land was a land flowing with milk and honey. That meant that it was a land of abundance, a land with the promise of many blessings. Milk is packed with nutrientsenough that new babies can live off of their mother's milk alone. Talk about the ways God's blessings are enough for us to live onwe don't need anything but God.
Just as the bread needs water in order for the dough to be the right consistency, so the texture of our lives needs the living water Jesus provides. When you add the water, say, "Doesn't a cold glass of water taste good when you're hot and thirsty?" Water is refreshing. It's also essential to our survival. Jesus told the woman at the well that he had living water, that whoever drank the living water would never be thirsty again. Christ is a fountain of water springing up in us, constantly refreshing us and sustaining us.
Ask your kids to think of other things water does. When they mention that it cleans or washes away dirt, remind them that we need to allow Jesus to cleanse us from everything that dirties our spiritual lives.
After the dough is mixed, it must be kneaded. For me, this is the part of bread making that is the hardest, though my children seem to enjoy it the mostat least at the beginning.
If your kids get tired of kneading and want to move on the something else, point out that it takes a lot of energy to keep working the dough. Tell your children that at times we feel life is pounding us, pushing us around. It takes a lot out of us. We get tired of it and want to move on. But just as kneading the dough works out the air bubbles, so God uses the kneading of our lives to work out what shouldn't be there. His correction is meant to make us a tastier product in the end.
As we allow God to knead us, we can allow those lessons we've learned to help knead others, to help them rise to the heights God has planned for them. God can use us to minister to the needs of those who feel pummeled by the world, too.
Once you set the dough aside to rise, point out that we also need to give ourselves quiet times to rest each day. Remind your children that in our busy lives we need to take time to read God's Word and talk with him in prayer. We also need to rest in God in an emotional sense. Tell your children that God cares for them so deeply that he wants to carry all their trouble for them (Ps. 55:22). Talk about ways they can give their worries to God and help them learn to trust in his care.
While the bread is rising, take time to rest or to read stories or do another quiet activity together. Talk about how delightful it is to rest after hard work and how you enjoy being together.
When the dough is ready, give each child a portion to shape into a loaf. Discuss the many shapes and sizes of bread. As each child shapes his loaf of bread, talk about how each of us has been formed differently by God. Tell them, "We are many different shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, but each of us is special and worth having in God's world. We have different talents and abilities, but each of us can nourish otherspeople who need just our type of 'bread.'"
While the bread is rising a second time, give each child time to talk about what makes him or her special. Offer your own ideas, too!
Now that you're ready to bake the bread, discuss that it is the warmth of the oven that turns the bread into something that looks, smells, and tastes good. Tell your children that when we stay close to God, his warm love turns us into something that looks good because we look more like him. We become people who leave a good taste in the mouths of those around us because we show them God's love and kindness. As you smell the delicious aroma of baking bread, remind the children that we can give off that pleasant aroma of a life lived for God, one that will draw others to him, too.
As the bread is baking, help your children think of someone who would appreciate a loaf of bread as well as your friendship. When your children bite into that first warm slice, they'll be reminded that with God's help, they can become a beautiful, nourishing, and comforting presence in the lives of others, too.
Janice Miller lives and bakes with her family in Indiana.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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