If you have older children, there’s a good chance you probably sang along with Kenny Rogers at some point back in the day about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. As a guitar-wielding performer, I covered the song more than once. Then, in my seminary days, a line came back to me when I was writing a sermon outline for my Homiletics (preaching) class.
It was the last line about “an ace that I could keep.” Now, if you’re uneasy with poker language creeping into Bible study, you can go ahead and fold this post. However, if you want an “ace that you can keep” for the hand of God in your family life, then hold on.
As I was outlining the first chapter of the book of Philippians for my class, an acrostic popped off the page. I love a good acrostic as a teaching tool, but this one would become something more—a simple but powerful model for how to positively influence people, and children, for Christ. It’s an ace that you can keep, and use, to open and win your children’s hearts.
Paul really liked the Philippian church. The epistle is often called Paul’s “letter of joy” because he uses the term sixteen times. However, the real purpose of the letter is to recognize those believers’ partnership, or fellowship (koinonia), in the gospel with him (1:5). Paul had won their hearts to Christ, but also to his influence in their lives. What I saw in his opening words was an inspired example of how he was able to so positively influence them for Christ.
After the salutation, Paul opens his letter in verses 3-6 by positively affirming his Philippian brothers and sisters as God’s people. The main verb is “I thank” (v. 3) and he goes on to say what he’s thankful for in their lives and how they bring him joy. Then, in verses 7-8 Paul positively confirms his feelings and love for them. The main verb is “I long” (v. 8) as he expresses his commitment to them with the “affection of Christ.” Finally, in verses 9-11 Paul expresses a positive expectation for them. The main verb is “I pray” (v. 9) as he calls them to moral and spiritual excellence and godly character.
Perhaps you’ve already picked up the ACE I found in this passage. If not, here it is:
A: Positive Affirmation
C: Positive Confirmation
E: Positive Expectation
The principle works with anyone of any age at any time (marriage, work, church), but I’m going to apply it here only for the family. It is a simple, easy- to-use tool for discipleship that will help you open, win, influence and speak to your child’s heart.
Here’s a short example of how an ACE message works.
Start with a positive affirmation (A): “Sean, you are really becoming a student of the Bible. That’s so cool. Every day, you’ve got great thoughts to share in our family devotions.”
Then move to a positive confirmation (C): “It makes me feel really proud to be your dad when I hear you talk about God that way. I love hearing how your heart and mind are growing.”
Finally, end with a positive expectation (E): “Sean, I think you’re ready to study a book of the Bible. Would you be willing to do that with me? Let’s study Philippians together. We can start tomorrow.”
Do you see the progression? An ACE message starts with a “you” statement (a positive affirmation about the person), then moves to an “I” statement (a positive confirmation of your feelings), then closes with a “we” statement (a positive expectation of what you can do together). The you-I-we progression is flexible, of course, but it’s a good reminder that good interpersonal communication is not just about speaking into open ears, but also about speaking into an open heart. That’s where true influence happens.
Once you do it a few times, you’ll begin dealing out ACE messages like they’re second nature. They are great for motivating your children to new challenges, but also can be useful for verbal discipline. Rather than reacting to an older child’s misbehavior, take time to craft an ACE message in your mind. “Jess, you are a smart girl. You know why it’s wrong to be selfish. I really love you, and believe in you, and want the best for you. Let’s talk about what we can do together to help you be more generous and sharing.” The message is a bit different for discipline, but the principles are still all at work.
This ACE model is just a practical insight and pattern gleaned from Scripture. Just a little “everyday wisdom for everyday families.” To get started, try writing out an ACE message for each of your children. Tailor the messages for each child’s age and needs. Then make a time to deal that ace into their hearts.
So there’s an ACE that you can keep as you influence your children for Christ. Oh, and how did I do on that assignment for my Homiletics class? Aced it, of course.