From Fruitless To Fruitful
(Teaching Children to Use God’s Time Wisely)
By Kim Butts
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light" (Colossians 1:9-12).
Within this powerful Scripture, lies a prayer that God will fill His people with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Such wisdom and understanding can enable us to live godly, holy lives as demonstrated by the bearing of fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God. All time belongs to God, because He created it – and He created us to use it wisely for His purposes.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to shut out the clamor of worldly temptations that the enemy uses to effectively keep Christians (especially Christian young people) from holy living and spiritual growth. It is our job, as parents, to help our children wade through the myriad of fruitless distractions to become fruitful servants of Jesus – no easy task. Activities that yield no eternal significance seem to be pervasive in our culture today. Many of our young people are being persuaded to trade God’s best for them for the excitement and thrill of worldly distractions.
Parents need to recognize that sometimes what we see as child’s play is instead, "foolishness" and/or "idolatry." "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child..." (Proverbs 22:15a). We allow our precious children to indulge themselves in an overabundance of all kinds of mindless pursuits that keep them from growing in intimacy with Jesus, and from serving Him. This plays right into the hands of our enemy, the devil, who would like nothing better than to have our children completely and continuously distracted by foolishness and worldly things. The mindset that they will have plenty of time in their lives to grow and serve, but that first they need an opportunity to be children, can be dangerous if we neglect their spiritual training. We have no guarantees that we have anything beyond today. If we are allowing our children to focus on themselves continually (and, make no mistake – selfishness runs rampant among young and old alike), they will have a much more difficult time seeking the face of the Lord and looking to the needs of others.
Is this view unkind or unfair? Only if we consider that the alternative might lead them to a life of emptiness and lack of accomplishment for Christ. I believe that it is very important for children to play and to enjoy childhood. However, there are many hours in a child’s day. Teaching children moderation in all things is very valuable, even at young ages. Some of their time can certainly be filled with the pursuit of God and His purposes if parents will lovingly guide them.
God is so extravagant with us if we have named His Son as Savior and Lord of our lives. He has given His best for us, and yet we give Him so little of ourselves. How significant our lives are when we give our best for Him. He doesn’t demand every minute of our days – just that each minute is lived as Jesus would live it. How can we redeem the hours of fruitless time spent upon passionate devotion to self-absorbed activities and entertainment? My hope, through this article, is that families will learn productive ways to utilize the time God has given us to serve and produce fruit for Him. Here are some specific steps we can take in order to help our children develop Christ-honoring, fruit-bearing lives:
1. Be a good example of a fruitful person. By being examples to our children, we will be better able to help them navigate the barrage of choices flung at them by the culture of their young world. Largely through television and peer pressure children are tempted to indulge in many mindless pursuits that have no eternal significance or which do nothing to please or lift up the name of Christ. As parents, we must live our lives as examples of men and women in love with Christ, and who desire to love and serve Him continually. As our children see us actively serving and loving in the name of Jesus, they will be more easily encouraged to follow our example. They will have opportunities to see what God can do through our lives as we yield them to His plans and purposes.
2. Give children opportunities to be fruitful. We need to involve our children in family activities that are outwardly focused on others. Look around you and take stock of the needs in your neighborhood, church and community. What can your family do to bring honor to Christ? What activities might so engage your children that they will want to continue to serve? Let them help you to choose what your family will be involved in. Share passages of Scripture that speak of helping others and talk about what they mean:
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Romans 12:9-13).
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10).
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18).
Encourage your children to find a particular service that they enjoy and stick with it. You may need to try to find opportunities that allow your children to use the gifts God has given them...if they enjoy singing, or playing an instrument – see if they could entertain residents at a nursing home, or participate in a Sunday worship service there. If they like to cook or bake – they could have a ministry to shut-ins or deliver cookies to people who visit the church. Maybe they enjoy working outdoors, and they could mow lawns or do odd jobs for elderly neighbors. There are endless varieties of ministry that can be done by even the youngest child – even if all they can do is smile and say hello.
We must gently, but continuously urge our children on toward godly pursuits. If our children see us "bearing fruit in every good work" and if we encourage them to do the same by giving them opportunities for serving, they will begin to experience the spiritual and personal benefits of being Christ-like. We should give them plenty of opportunities to give, to meet needs, to encourage others, and to find joy and fulfillment in being fruitful.
3. Parents need to avoid the mistake of assuming that children are too young to serve. Children can begin to mature in the Lord from infancy. How else will they know His heart and begin to hear His voice as they grow? How else will they begin to hear a voice saying, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). If they begin to learn about the Lord and have opportunities to pray and memorize the Word at a young age, how much more productive will they be in the Christian life when they are older? How do children deal with hurts, disappointments, temptation or grief when they are young unless they know that Jesus loves and cares for them now? So many people become disillusioned with their faith as they grow older. Perhaps it is because they have not been nurtured in that faith or taught to serve others in response to the love Jesus has extended to us through His death on the cross.
4. As parents, we want our children to experience a light-hearted, fun, carefree childhood; however, we must also "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). We must teach them to have reverence and awe for the Lord, knowing that He has plans and purposes for their lives (Jeremiah 29:11). It is also our responsibility to make our children aware that Satan has an evil plan for them. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." Put on the armor of God together each day (Ephesians 6:10-18) and be diligent about teaching your children how to protect themselves from the damage and destruction the enemy can cause. The enemy would like nothing better than to distract our children from God’s purposes. Teach them how to quickly recognize what is good and pleasing to God and what is not: "Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19). Even the most obedient children can get caught up in things that compromise their purity or thinking. Memorizing Scripture is one way to plant the Word deeply into our hearts and minds so that we will be faithful to the desires of the Lord, and not to the temptations of the world.
5. Introduce your children to the most fruitful activity of all – prayer! If you are exasperated that wasted time is a way of life for your children, you may wish to introduce them to the fruitfulness of prayer. Prayer versus action-packed games and entertainment? Prayer versus television? How can prayer possibly compete with all of the sensational things that clamor for a child’s time and for his or her spirit? How can we get our children to choose spending time with the Lord in prayer and serving Him above all of the enticing things the world has to offer? Show them what God can do through our prayers. Tell them how God has answered prayers in your own lives, and in the lives of others. Expose them to missionaries and others who have experienced answers to prayer. Teach them that a few well-spent minutes praying for the lost in Asia, or Africa, or in their own city will have results that last, while the same amount of time playing video games will do nothing to further the cause of Christ. Again, I am not saying that children should never be allowed to engage in play (although we should be careful what that play entails) – only that there is plenty of time available in our children’s lives to offer up prayer on behalf of others. Pray together as a family on a daily basis, and encourage your children to develop their own personal quiet times with the Lord. Encourage children to turn waiting time into prayer time. Whenever you are kept waiting for an appointment, or while driving from place to place, look around you and pray for people you see. Or, keep a list of prayer needs or requests with you so that you can pull it out and spend the time praying together.
6. Our lives of service can become lost in busyness – teach your children the importance of Sabbath rest. God knows our need for rest, for recreation and refreshment. There are times when it is totally appropriate for our children to have relaxing hobbies and pursuits that are just for fun. Certainly our loving Father does not wish to deny these to His children. The point is that these activities should ultimately refresh us for better service to Him. As parents, we should be good examples of people who take time to be renewed, and to rest. We need to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy by resting, as the Lord commanded. Sometimes, depending upon family schedules, a Sabbath can be on a different day than Sunday. My husband is a preacher, and Sundays are rarely days off for him, so we usually choose another day for our family to rest. Busy Christian families have a difficult time with the commandment to rest. Be sure you are not one of them. Your fruitfulness will be multiplied many times over if you are not exhausted in the process of being fruitful.
7. Teach children what the Bible says about laziness. Sometimes idle pursuits can lead to laziness rather than service. It is much more comfortable to ignore the needs around us and bury ourselves in things that have no purpose.
"A sluggard [a person who makes a habit of being lazy] does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing" (Proverbs 20:4).
"The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied" (Proverbs 13:4).
Here is God’s desire for our children: "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (Hebrews 6:12).
8. Teach children what Scripture says about using time wisely: "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17). The foolish person will miss opportunities to make wise use of time, and will not understand God’s purposes. Encourage children to keep track of how much time they spend each day watching TV, playing video games, etc. If it is more than an hour or two each day, challenge them to cut it in half and spend the time in prayer, study and service. Challenge your children to try to do at least one thing every day that will produce fruit for God. Here are some additional Scriptures that will encourage children to use time wisely, and to bear fruit for the Father. Spend some time talking with your children about what they mean:
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:43-45).
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (John 15:16).
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:1-5).
"Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return" (Job 15:31).
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:11-14).
"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives" (Titus 3:14).
How difficult will it be for our children to satisfy these requirements of godly living when their first priorities are worldly? When it is much more "fun" to watch favorite television shows than to share with God’s people who are in need, or to use the time to develop zeal and spiritual fervor in service, our children’s priorities have been ill placed. Often, they learn to focus on the things that give momentary pleasure rather than on what is eternal. Therefore, what greater significance can we have in life than to train our children to use God’s time wisely in order to live fruitful lives of service to Christ?