13 Ways a Husband Can Cultivate His Marriage

Marriage is a like a garden. If you are a gardener and want to have a beautiful garden, you should work hard on your garden. Likewise, if you are a husband and do not invest time and energy in your marriage, you can’t expect to have a wonderful marriage. And as a garden needs constant care, so does marriage.  Like a gardener, you as a husband should “water, fertilize, and weed” your marriage regularly in order to have a healthy marriage. Of course, there are many ways by which you can cultivate your marriage. Here are some:  13 Ways a Husband Can Cultivate His Marriage

1. Pray for your wife regularly. Pray also with her. Despite your busy schedule, set aside time for you and your wife to pray together.

2. Be the spiritual leader in your home. Find ways to point your wife and family to Christ. Ensure that your wife has time for personal devotions. Your goal is to have a gospel-centered home.

3. Provide for your family. Depending on your circumstance, as God enables you, give your best to meet the physical and material needs of your family.

4. Spend quality time with your wife. You may see each other every day but feel like you miss each other because you don’t really spend time together. Show genuine interest in listening to her.

5. Support your wife’s passion. Your wife may have different interests than you do, but learn to appreciate what is important to her.

6. Continue to court your wife. Take her out (without your children, if you have children). Plan a date that will make your wife feel so special.

7. Give your wife time to hang out with her girlfriends. Your wife also needs to spend time with her close friends.

8. Write a love letter to her (not just on Valentine’s Day). Send a short but loving and encouraging text or email to her during the day while you are at work.

9. Tell her “I love you” everyday. Yes, it’s wonderful to show her your love, but your wife wants to hear those “I love you” words, too.

10. Buy her something she enjoys, like flowers, chocolate, or whatever might bring a smile to her face. You don’t have to spend much. She will already appreciate your thoughts of love.

11. Affirm your wife with words. Appreciate her beauty, her gifts, and the many ways she cares for you and your family. Tell her the she is the most wonderful woman on earth. Don’t forget to always thank her when she prepares a meal for your family.

12. Offer your help with the household chores. Help with the dishes. Sweep the floor. If you have small children, assisting with the bedtime routine can help your wife as her patience with the children may be severely tried by this point.

13 Treat your wife as God treats you. God does not deal with us according to the multitude of our sins but according to His rich mercy. Your wife is not perfect; she has flaws and weaknesses, but so do you. Therefore, as God is gracious to you, so be gracious to her. When you are wrong, be humble enough to admit your mistake. When you sin, ask for forgiveness. When your wife sins, forgive her as God has forgiven you. Grow with her in God’s mercy and love.

Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. And every spouse and every marriage is unique. That’s why it’s important that you become a student of your wife; study to know her better and learn to understand her more.

In summary, we husbands are to love our own wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). You may say, “I can’t do that!” Well, I’m glad you admit it. You’re right. We can’t love our own wives as Christ loved His Church, for He loved her with perfect love. However, our inability to love as such should not discourage us to love our own wives with the love with which Jesus loved His Bride. Rather, it should cause us to humbly cry out to God for His help and grace to do what He has commanded us to do. Therefore, marriage is a sanctifying means by which a husband and wife can grow in God’s grace—the grace that enables them to love each other till death parts them.

Note: This post is sponsored by Amazing Grace, the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” now available through Amazon.  Amazing Grace (front cover)

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Father Wedding

Christ’s Portrait of the Christian

My father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, has become widely known because of his translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. He has translated numerous books from Dutch into English—including Theodore VanderGroe’s The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life and Death—and has written a book The Pastoral and Practical Theology of  Wilhelmus à Brakel (1997; his first book). I am thrilled to announce the launch of his second book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes (2019), which I had the privilege to edit. The book is now available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Here are some recommendations for his book: Book Cover

“If you want a basic, edifying book that provides a scriptural paradigm of genuine experiential Christianity flowing from the teachings of our Lord, I would recommend this little gem. Read it slowly, meditatively, and prayerfully.”

Dr. Joel R. Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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“The insights of this work about the internal structure and interrelatedness of the Beatitudes will be a unique contribution to other commentaries on the Beatitudes. . . . I am thankful that by way of this book, these instructions will have wider publicity.”

Rev. Arnoud T. Vergunst, pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Waupun, Wisconsin

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“Rev. Elshout has the gift to bring Christ’s message close to our hearts. As always, his exegesis is thorough, and it includes the necessary call to self-examination. . . . I wholeheartedly recommend this book.”

Rev. Cornelis Harinck, pastor of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands since 1962

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“I cannot think of a better remedy for the disorientation and disquiet I feel in my heart than to breathe in the orienting and quieting truths of the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus. Here, experienced pastor and teacher Bartel Elshout provides faithful, discerning, and helpful guidance that brings me back to where I need to be every day.”

Dr. Gerald M. Bilkes, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids

Note: To purchase the book, click here. Book cover

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Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Cultural Liturgies, vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009. Desiring the Kingdom- Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, where he holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. Desiring the Kingdom is the first of his three-volume theology of culture. In this book, Smith shares his “vision of what authentic, integral Christian learning looks like, emphasizing how learning is connected to worship” (11). His goal is to challenge Christian educators to realize that education is a formative process that should enflame our love for God’s kingdom and our longing to see this kingdom come. Likewise, he wants Christian worshippers to realize, too, that worship is a pedagogical exercise that should cultivate our love for God and others.

Smith argues that the chief end of education is not primarily to inform the mind but to form the heart. Thus, contrary to general opinion, for him, education is a formative rather than just an informative undertaking. Without devaluing the importance of saturating our minds, he emphasizes the transformation of our hearts as the result of our learning. In his own words, “the primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people—people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocations as an expression of that desire.” He then views a Christian school, college, or university as “a formative institution that constitutes part of the teaching mission of the church” (34). He looks at a Christian college, for instance, as an extension of the life and practices of the church. And he prefers the adjective “ecclesial” to describe this institution (e.g., he prefers the term “ecclesial college” over “Christian college”). A Christian college, he says, is usually taken as a place of learning, detached from the church; whereas, an ecclesial college is a place of learning, closely connected to the worship of the church. As such, an ecclesial college becomes a place of worship, too. And interestingly, Smith understands worship as an education that should help us become more lovers of God’s kingdom. To let him speak, the liturgy (which Smith understands as synonymous with worship) is “a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God” (33).

The author admits that his vision is not new at all. What may be considered new about it is the way he presents it. He writes contemporarily “from within the Reformed tradition, with a view of reaching an audience that is both catholic and evangelical,” focusing particularly on “the shape and task of Christian higher education” (15). While I don’t agree with everything written in his book, such as his repeated reference to human beings as animals, Smith’s vision is commendable. The truth is, we live in the world where education, yes, even Christian education, is mainly perceived as the mere impartation of ideas to the mind, rather than as the formation of the heart. For those of us who are teachers, Smith’s book will challenge us to rethink the way we educate our students. We should capture his vision and follow his advice to look at our vocation as educators and the education that we give to our students through the lens of our worship of God. The Christian institution where we work should be an extension of the worship of the church. “Thus,” Smith concludes, “any Christian scholarship worth the name must emerge from the matrix of worship. In short, Christian scholarship must be ecclesial scholarship” (230).

Book Review

Seminary Professors as Christian Intellectuals

At first glance the term Christian scholar may sound like an oxymoron. Can these two words really be placed together? Some may say no and argue that academic study belongs to non-Christian minds only. Several years ago, while studying for my bachelor of arts in history at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, one of my history professors—who was an unbeliever—told me that an argument based on Scripture is not academic. In other words, he wanted me to engage in dialogue with him not as a Christian but as a secular thinker. My professor was implying that an intellectual cannot be Christian, for to argue from a Christian worldview is not scholarly or valid.

Others may reply no to my question but provide a different explanation for their opinion. They may say that Christians should not be scholars because scholarship and spirituality are incompatible. Some people associate intelligence with arrogance; thus, the more intelligent or educated you are, the more you will be perceived as proud. I have met people who espouse this kind of mentality. They hastily view those who appear to be very smart as certainly proud, implying that to be intellectual entails being arrogant. Of course, this claim is not necessarily true. Just because a person is intellectual does not mean one is haughty, just as not being intellectual does not mean one is humble. In fact, I know many Christian intellectuals whose lives are marked by humility. Nevertheless, a sad reality remains that some prematurely think of intellectuals as boastful and thus implicitly conclude that Christians should not aspire to be scholars.

In this brief essay, I will maintain that the words Christian and intellectual are compatible with each other. In the first place, all Christians without exception are divinely commanded to use their intellect as they love God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).[1] In this verse the Greek word dianoia, translated as “mind,” refers to the faculty of thinking and understanding. The point is this: loving God requires the exercise of our intellect; it involves mental effort. Yet our ability to think and to know God is a divine gift: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true” (1 John 5:20). Hence, if we are able to know God, who is the embodiment of truth, it is because he has graciously given us understanding or dianoia, translated “mind” in Matthew 22:37.

In light of the passages just quoted, we can then aver that all true Christians are intellectual. That is, they all have the gift of dianoia; they possess the God-given intellect for the purpose of understanding and knowing God’s truth. Yet not every Christian has been divinely called to an academic vocation. In this sense, not all Christians are intellectuals, if by that term we mean people whose work is academic in nature—fields such as teachers, researchers, or writers. For instance, not everyone is a teacher within the body of Christ. This one body has many members, but as Paul says, “the members do not all have the same function” (Rom. 12:4). Therefore, he adds, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6–8).

The Genevan Reformer John Calvin, who believed in four offices of the church (doctors, elders, pastors, and deacons), referred to teachers as doctors. And for him, the “task of the doctors of the church is to instruct believers in true doctrine and to expel errors.”[2] Drawing from his interpretation of Ephesians 4:11, he differentiated between pastors and teachers:

Paul speaks indiscriminately of pastors and teachers as belonging to one and the same class, and that the name teacher does, to some extent, apply to all pastors. But this does not appear to me a sufficient reason why two offices, which I find to differ from each other, should be confounded. Teaching is, no doubt, the duty of all pastors; but to maintain sound doctrine requires a talent for interpreting Scripture, and a man may be a teacher who is not qualified to preach. Pastors, in my opinion, are those who have the charge of a particular flock; though I have no objection to their receiving the name of teachers, if it be understood that there is a distinct class of teachers, who preside both in the education of pastors and in the instruction of the whole church.[3]

What Calvin called doctors we would today call seminary professors or theological instructors. These people can rightly be described as Christian scholars. Of course, other groups of people can be considered as Christian intellectuals (or perhaps more accurately as intellectuals who are Christians), such as Christian scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and lawyers. But for brevity’s sake, in this article I will focus only on seminary teachers as Christian scholars and provide four assertions about their academic vocation.

Portrait of John Calvin

Portrait of John Calvin (1509–1564). Photo by Ruben de Heer.

First, to be a seminary professor is a divine calling. In his wisdom, God has been pleased to call some members of the body of Christ to become teachers (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28). Since this calling comes from God himself, it is sacred and should thus be received with solemnity. Also, considering that this calling comes with great responsibilities, teachers should be willing to endure hard work. Yet seeing that the God who has called them will also sustain them, they should be encouraged to persevere amid difficulty. Moreover, the fact that God has given them the gift of teaching based on his grace should humble them and cause them to thank and praise God for this gift (Rom. 12:6). They should remember that the very intellect they have is a gracious gift from above. If they are able to teach others, it is because of God’s grace bestowed on them. Therefore, they should never think highly of themselves, as though they are more important than their students or other members of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:21–26). What distinguishes Christian intellectuals from other believers is nothing but one product of God’s grace. Consequently, true Christian scholars should be marked by humility rather than haughtiness and by piety rather than pride.

Second, God has called seminary teachers, who themselves are members of the body of Christ, for the purpose of serving this body. Accordingly, they exist for the strengthening of the church (Eph. 4:12). They teach and lead others as servants who “care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). They equip other members of the body, who in turn will also teach others. For this reason, seminaries should be for the service of the church. I therefore strongly believe that seminary professors should be involved in the life of a local church in some way, especially so that they may become more effective in their work. Sadly, in many seminaries today we have theological instructors who train students for the ministry but are themselves ignorant of the nature of that ministry. What they teach their students about the ministry is more theoretical rather than practical, because they do not actively participate in the life of a local church. To avoid this problem, other seminaries now require professorial candidates to have a minimum of five years of ministerial experience before they can be hired. There is wisdom in this decision. Now, I understand that not all seminary professors have the calling to become pastors and that, conversely, not all ministers have the calling to become seminary teachers. Yet I maintain that professors of theology should view their work as an extension of the ministry of the church and for her common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Whatever they teach—whether a course on history, philosophy, or theology—should be for the growth of this church, “both in bringing in new members to it, and strengthening those that are brought in already.”[4]

Third, seminary teachers are Christ’s gifts to his church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12). Here the word gave carries the idea of bestowing as a gift. So the Lord bestows all these offices as gifts on his people. In response, the church should thank God for these blessings and take good care of them. I sometimes wonder whether we truly view our professors as blessings from God. When was the last time we thanked God for them? When was the last time we appreciated them? Remember, they are precious and undeserved gifts given for our well-being.

Finally, seminary teachers serve under Jesus, the head of the church. Ultimately, their boss is not the seminary president but Christ. They obey the board of trustees insofar as these trustees follow the Lord. They are therefore first and foremost servants of Christ, who has called them to be faithful scholars. In all they do, their grand goal as intellectuals is to glorify their master and advance his kingdom. As James W. Sire says, “Christian intellectuals are those whose intellectual lives are lived to the glory of God.”[5] I pray that our seminary professors will indeed be known as Christ-exalting people who seek to help their students become more like Jesus. If our theological teachers (or seminaries in general) do not lead us closer to Christ, something is seriously wrong, for in the final analysis they exist for the good of the church and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 109.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 21:279–80.

[4] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1985), 3:672.

[5] James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 105.

John Calvin Seminary Spirituality

“Lord, I thank thee that Michigan winters are not always like this past week.”

This week’s winter storm is definitely the worst one that I’ve ever experienced in the thirteen years that I’ve lived in Michigan. And winter is not yet over; more snow is predicted to come. Consequently, many feel tired of the snow. Many (including myself) cannot wait for the spring. But before the snow melts, let me share some of my reflections on snow.

A view of the front of our house

A view of the front of our house

First, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live in a place where it snows. When I was in the Philippines, Mexico, and Australia, I met people who have never seen snow in their lifetime, and who want to witness a snowfall. Of course there are countless of other peoples around the globe who would love to see snow, too. Thus, if you live in an area where it snows, thank the Lord for that privilege. Others can only dream of a white Christmas, while you get to experience and enjoy it.

Second, having seen snow with my own eyes, Bible verses that speak of snow become more meaningful to me. For instance, now I can better understand the point that God makes in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

A view of our street

A view of our street

Third, snow can serve as a reminder to me of how God has forgiven me in Christ, making me even “whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Imagine, God has made me whiter than snow! My fellow Christian, look around at all the snow and think of how God has cleansed you from all your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. As the hymn writer Ro­bert Low­ry (1826–1899) remarks in his well-known hymn “Nothing but the Blood”:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Fourth, as a hymn lover, snow reminds me of some of the hymns that mention snow. Then as I recall these hymns, I sometimes sing them silently in my heart or loudly with my mouth. Snow therefore becomes a means by which God directs my attention to the gospel. Right now as I look at the snow outside, the song that comes into my mind is “There Is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1865–1936):

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

I confess the older I get, the lesser I appreciate snow. And I admit many times I complain and say, “Snow again! When will it stop snowing? I’m tired of the snow.” Yet, with God’s help I try to discipline my mind to think of how I can use the presence of snow for my spiritual benefit.

Finally, I understand we’ve had a lot of snow. And it’s so easy to have a murmuring spirit toward this cold weather. Someone told a story about a certain minister who “was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, ‘Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank God on a wretched day like this.’ Much to his surprise, however, [the minister] began by praying, ‘We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.’”

This is my thirteenth winter since I came to Michigan. And as I’ve already noted earlier, this week’s storm is the worst one that I’ve ever seen. But learning from this preacher, in the midst of this cold storm I can still find a reason to thank God. I can say, “Lord, I thank thee that Michigan winters are not always like this past week.”

How is our attitude toward the weather? When it is cold we complain, when it is hot we do the same. Instead of complaining, why don’t we start counting all our blessings in Christ and name them one by one, that we may be overwhelmed by God’s goodness and burst into praise.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.

A view of our street

A view of our street

Hymns Snow

10 Ways to Encourage Our Young Children to Maintain Sexual Purity

Note: This week we have Dr. Rebecca Huizen, D.O. as our guest contributor. She is a pediatrician at Christian Healthcare Centers, a distinctively Christian membership-based primary care medical office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her husband Scott have four children and they work together to homeschool.

dr. rebecca huizen d.o.

Dr. Rebecca Huizen D.O.

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1. Start talking to your children early about biblical sexuality values. First messages are the most powerful! As a parent, establish yourself as the trusted “expert” to your children on these matters as they grow.  There is so much you can do just in small conversations along the way when your children are young that help lay a good foundation for later.

2. Teach your preschool-aged children about how they are wonderfully created by God and how their sexuality (“boy-ness” or “girl-ness”) is a gift from God. Talk about how babies are born as boys or girls and how their basic anatomy differs (perhaps you can bring this up when someone you know delivers a baby). Teach the correct anatomical names for male and female body parts. (Recommended Resource: The Story Me, God’s Design for Sex Series #1.)

3. Train your child from a young age that our private parts – parts covered by a bathing suit – should not be looked at or touched by other people (clarify exceptions). Teach them how to say a firm “no”! Children also need to be taught not to touch other children’s private parts. Older children should not be changing clothes in the same room as others.  (Recommended resource for ages 2- 8: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.)

4. Start early with teaching your children, especially your daughters, to dress modestly. This can be an opportunity to teach them how valuable they are and to respect themselves. For your daughters, discourage early use of make-up and jewelry that may make her appear older.

5. Regulate and monitor your children’s exposure to entertainment media (including TV, movies, magazines, and Internet). Some TV sitcoms and movies may be viewed as cute and innocent but in reality teach and model sexual promiscuity in a way that can change the thinking, emotions and even behavior of your children. Do not allow your children to have a TV in their room as this can make it harder to monitor and can encourage them to isolate from the family.

6. Help equip your child to resist pornography by intentional teaching throughout childhood. Teach your preschool-aged children that pictures or movies showing people’s private body parts are not good. (Recommended resource for ages 3-6: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr.) Keep this dialogue going through the elementary years and beyond.  Teach your child to look away and come talk to you if he is exposed to bad images.  (Recommended resource for ages 7 plus: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing Today’s Young Kids.) Only give your child access to an Internet-enabled device if you are directly supervising or very closely monitoring/restricting access.

7. Only let your child go to a friend’s home or on an outing with another family if you know well that the other family shares your values. Be especially careful about letting your child spend the night at a friend’s home.  Sleepovers are a common setting for sexual abuse and exposure to pornography.

8. Regularly instruct your child from God’s Word throughout their childhood. Take the opportunity to teach age-appropriate biblical sexuality values as you discuss biblical passages such as Adam and Eve, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, and David and Bathsheba (instead of just putting this off until the teen years). Even a small child can understand concepts such as that God created marriage as a special covenant union between one man and one woman.

9. Developmentally, age 8-10 years is typically an ideal time to start the conversation with your child about sex, including God’s purpose and design for sex. Learning early about how God designed sex for married couples to express love and to begin new life does not rob a child of innocence but helps them not to view sex in a corrupt, worldly way. (Recommended resource: The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality.)

10. Be a good example. If you are married, maintain a healthy marriage and loving relationship with your spouse. If you are not married, make wise choices about dating, etc because your actions are likely to have a big influence on your children’s future choices.  Also set an example by avoiding media that promotes sexual immorality.

Family Parenting

Teaching Your Kids to Fight against Anxiety

Note: This week we have Dr. Rebecca Huizen, D.O. as our guest contributor. She is a pediatrician at Christian Healthcare Centers, a distinctively Christian membership-based primary care medical office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her husband Scott have four children and they work together to homeschool.

dr. rebecca huizen d.o.

Dr. Rebecca Huizen D.O.

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Every child’s battle with anxiety looks different. Help your child sort through true concerns that need to be brought to God in prayer from destructive worrying thoughts.  Here are some possible principles/strategies to teach your child to help him or her overcome destructive worrying thoughts.

1. Try to identify and address any root causes for anxiety, such as a scary movie/book or an embarrassing or painful experience.  If a root cause is not obvious, pray specifically asking the Lord to reveal any cause.  Reflect on the onset of  when your child started having anxiety, including what was happening circumstantially to your child at the time.

2. Encourage your child to talk to God about his worries and trust in Him.  Remind him that no matter what he is feeling that God is in control, reigning supreme over every detail of the universe, and is always ready to help him.  Remembering that God is in control helps to calm our hearts. 

3. Meditate on God’s Word.  Share scriptures often about trusting in God and finding peace in Him.  Hang simple verses in your child’s bedroom or play area.  Your child could even help decorate these.

4. Teach your child that her value comes from being an extraordinary creation of God and help her establish her identity in Christ.  If your child believes her identity and purpose come from her performance or other external factors, this can lead to anxiety about not measuring up or not having the approval of others.  (Max Lucado’s book You are Special conveys these truths for kids in a powerful way.)                                    

5. Teach about switching from “downstairs brain” thinking to  “upstairs brain” thinking.

a. Our first response to a potentially disturbing situation is often an automatic/reflexic worrying or negative response at our brainstem level.  To a child, we might describe this as our “downstairs brain” (or “worry brain”) thoughts.

b. Empower your child by helping him understand that while we can not choose what ideas pop into our heads, just because certain thoughts come into our head does not mean they are true or good thoughts to keep thinking on.

c. When a worry thought comes, help your child to instead switch to true, godly thoughts, which we might describe to a child as “upstairs brain” thoughts.

d. If your young child is all worked up with irrational anxiety and can not seem to get out of “downstairs brain” thinking, it may help to just ask simple factual questions (such as what is the color of the sky) to help him to start thinking more clearly on what is actually true.

 

6. Come up with a plan together about saying “No!” to worry thoughts.  Some ideas are that your child picture herself:

a. Taking the thought captive – picture locking the thought up or capturing it

b. Casting the fear away like with a fishing pole (1 Peter 5:7)

c. Holding up a stop sign

d. Shaking head “no”

e. Holding out hand in a “stop” gesture

f. Talk to those thoughts like he would talk to a bully and tell them they are not welcome

g. Stomp on the “ANTs” (can think of them as “Automatic Negative Thoughts”)

 

7. Replace worry thoughts with good and true thoughts. Here are some ideas:

a. Have a simple verse ready to say

b. Sing a verse song (check out Seeds of Courage & Seeds of Faith CDs)

c. Picture Jesus holding your hand (Isaiah 41:13)

d. Think about finding refuge in God

e. Sing a song of praise

f. Recall past successes over the fear

g. Make a list of things he is thankful for

h. Remember a good memory.  Ask him to try to imagine he is back at that moment and try to remember what he felt, smelled, heard, etc.

 

8. Try deep breathing to help your child relax when she is worked up with anxiety.  Coach her in taking a deep breath and letting it out as slowly as she can.  Then pause breathing for 3-5 counts and repeat deep breaths.

9. Progressive Muscle Relaxation may also be calming. Talk her through starting her with feet and tensing for a count of 4 and then relaxing while taking a deep breath.  Then slowly work up through the legs, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders and face following the same procedure (see online for tutorial videos or “scripts” to follow).

10. Teach your child to “grow” the right thoughts.  Like a plant, the thoughts that we “water” (by continuing to think about) will grow and the ones we say “no” to will wilt.  (Consider as parents that continually explaining why irrational worries are nothing to be concerned about can actually help “water” the worry.)

11. Help your child identify physical signs of anxiety.  Stomachaches, headaches and sleep disturbance are commonly triggered by anxiety. Especially for older children, increased awareness of how anxiety affects the body can help in dealing with anxiety.

12. If the source of the anxiety is not obvious, try to help your child identify specific anxious thoughts.  When you child gets anxious, ask him what he was thinking about right before he became anxiousWorking through exercises in the I Bet I Won’t Fret anxiety workbook may help identify specific areas of anxiety.

13. Assess if your child is trying to control things that he cannot.  Children who are trying to control their world get frustrated and tend to be anxious.  Trying to control their world leads to anxiety because so many things are out of their control.  It can be life-changing to choose to relinquish perceived control and instead trust in God, who is truly in in control.

 

Scriptures for Overcoming Anxiety

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  Psalm 56:3

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Philippians 4:4

“For I, the Lord, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”   Isaiah 41:13

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:3-4

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4: 6-8

 

Recommended Books

I Bet I Won’t Fret: A Workbook to Help Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder* by Timothy Sisemore

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety* by Dawn Huebner & Bonnie Matthews

What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid’s Guide to Accepting Imperfection* by Claire Freeland & J. Toner

Battlefield of the Mind for Kids by Joyce Meyers

*These books are from a secular perspective.  Please review before sharing with your child to choose which sections may be helpful and appropriate. 

Family Parenting Parents