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10 ways to help your kids put Jesus and others ahead of themselves

One way to help your child put others first is to model it as a parent.
One way to help your child put others first is to model it as a parent.
Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

One of the most memorable lessons my church taught our kids was how to have a J-O-Y-ful attitude. J-O-Y stands for “Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third.” The acronym is based on Scripture’s commandments to love God with all our being and to love others as we love ourselves.

Remembering this acronym is easy for children. However, there’s no simple formula for actually producing J-O-Y-ful kids. But perhaps some of the 10 ideas below can help you move your kids in the right direction.

1. Study Jesus’ life with them

Read passage by passage through one of the Gospels with your kids. (Use a Bible storybook if your kids are younger.) Talk about what you both can learn from each passage. Jesus’ life will both show and tell them how to model a J-O-Y-ful lifestyle.

2. Pray

Only God can transform and train our children’s hearts to love Him passionately and love others selflessly. Whether your child is 2 or 18, pray regularly for God to work His will in her life. Here are some creative ways to pray for your kids.

3. Set an example

Our children’s values are more caught than taught, aren’t they? Back up your words with a lifestyle consistent with what you’re teaching.

Spend time in Scripture and prayer in a room of your home where you have privacy but where the kids also know what you’re doing.
Serve regularly at church.
Serve your family.
Serve others outside of your family.
Gather your family each week to spend time together with God.
Bring your kids to worship with you during church services.

4. Have them serve your family

When your kids are old enough to handle simple responsibilities, get them pitching in to help around the house in an age-appropriate way. This alone won’t empower them with a J-O-Y-ful attitude, but it will teach them to put others’ needs ahead of their own and to appreciate what parents do to make the household run smoothly.

5. Get them serving in your church and community

Whether assisting in the church nursery or raking leaves at a nursing home, serving opportunities coupled with teaching, prayer and training will seriously impact your kids. They need to personally see and rub elbows with different kinds of people in society. They’ll develop not only sympathy but empathy for others and learn to see them through God’s eyes, especially as you talk with them about their serving experiences afterwards.

6. Enroll them on a sports team

My daughters joined their school’s volleyball team this year. Their participation has made an instant impact. They’re learning teamwork, encouragement and putting the needs of the team ahead of themselves. These life lessons are building blocks for a J-O-Y-ful attitude.

7. Get them reading about J-O-Y-ful Christians

Kids can learn so much from real-life stories. Give them such reading material as book biographies and articles about missionaries, churches, ministry leaders and ordinary Christians serving Christ and others.

8. Introduce them to J-O-Y-ful role models

Youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian neighbors and coaches, friends of the family – seeing these folks model a J-O-Y-ful attitude will reinforce what you’re teaching at home.

9. Point out J-O-Y-ful acts

See someone perform a J-O-Y-ful act of kindness in public? Point it out to your child or tell him about it if he wasn’t with you. Notice somebody on TV do something J-O-Y-ful? Share it with your child. Read about such an act in the news? Talk about it with him. See your child acting J-O-Y-ful? Praise him for it. Little by little, it’ll make an impression.

10. Limit their exposure to temptations of ‘self’

This can take on many forms:

Reducing unnecessary window-shopping trips
Watching less TV
Recording TV shows so you can fast-forward through commercials
Avoiding always buying the latest clothes or gadgets
Spending within your means
Refusing to skip church for “me” time
Not lavishing your kids with too much stuff
Saying no to dominating the family calendar with kids’ activities