Beginning to read God’s word together is one of the best things a family can do. Yet, many families do not take time to participate in this time-honored practice because they believe that they lack either the time or the biblical knowledge. As we shall see, neither of these serve as a sufficient reason to avoid engaging in reading the Word together.
Before we dive into the specifics of the excuses given by many families, let’s investigate why and how we should be reading the word with our family.
Why read the Bible together?
When we think of the education of our children, we think of school or teaching them good manners or social graces. However, few families today realize that spiritually training your children is more important and should consume more time than teaching them etiquette or sports. Many of us dads spend a half an hour playing catch with their sons three times a week? Yet, how many dads take seriously the encouragement in scripture to spiritually train their children? Look at the following scriptures.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bid them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:18-21
“…Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 32:46-47
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
“The living, the living-they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38:19
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 3:14
The Bible verses above place a great priority on “training your children” in the way of the Lord. This is obviously more than just reading the Bible to them or taking them to youth group or church, but definitely not less than that. Reading the Bible to your children gives them a context through which you live your lives corporately as a Christian family. Even before your children can read, they can be enthralled by a Bible story or even by the message behind a Bible story. You don’t have to wait until your children are “old enough to understand.” I began reading the Bible to my oldest daughter Marli when she was born two months prematurely, lying in a hospital islet, all two pounds fourteen ounces of her. Could she understand my words at that time? You may be tempted to say no, but she could hear my soothing voice, and what better things to be entering her mind, even at that age, than the word of God? There are many scriptures that speak clearly about a child’s understanding of God’s presence with them,
“I have known from my earliest days that your decrees never change.” Psalm 119:152 (NLT),
“Yet you brought me safely from my mothers womb and led me to trust you when I was a nursing infant. I was thrust upon you at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.” Psalm 22:9-10 (NLT)
“You have taught children and nursing infants to give you praise” Psalm 8:2
Some people might look at that story as extreme. And to that I say “absolutely!” I want my children to know that the Word of God was the absolute, unquestioned priority of my life and of our household. Of course, if I am not living as good example of a Christian man, then my witness will be lost to my hypocrisy. But as a father, I must accept the challenge presented to me and by the grace of God, live like a man possessed by the Holy Spirit. Will I always live up to the standard? No. Will I always model Jesus correctly? No. But do I give up reading the scriptures to my children and living accordingly because I will not reach 100% in this life? No. As my children grow toward maturity, they will see my mistakes. They will also begin to understand the Scriptures in deeper ways and will understand the struggle of all Christians to “live as Jesus lived.” And hopefully, my reading the scriptures to them will help that process along.
These scriptures make it clear from both the Old and the New Testaments that training a child to obey the Scriptures is a priority that parents should embrace. If we examine our hearts, we would find that the obstacles we place in the path of fulfilling this duty do not relieve us of this responsibility. Rather they only delay the guilt we feel for not making the lifestyle change necessary to complete this task. It is easy to say, “We don’t have the time.” Or “I don’t know the Bible well enough to teach my kids.” Or “I’m not a pastor.” But just using those excuses does not take away the mandate from God for parents to train their children spiritually. As we will see, it takes less time and biblical knowledge than one might guess to begin to train children in the scriptures.
Now that we have looked at the scriptural mandates to train our children spiritually, let’s look at one of the “how to’s” to train our children, reading the scriptures together as a family.
How to train your children spiritually: read the Bible together
All children are great lovers of stories. Whether it is a bedtime story told by mom or dad or a book of children’s stories, children throughout history and around the world love good stories. It is not a coincidence that God chose to put so much of his word to us in story form. With younger children below age 10, it isn’t feasible to productively read through the entire bible from beginning to end if you want to engage their mind and imagination. However, it is still very possible to read the historical portions of the bible from beginning to end and give them a good feel for the flow and plot of biblical history and salvation. Of course the goal of all spiritual training is the salvation and discipleship of the child. It is understood that reading the Bible does not automatically achieve this goal, yet it is an integral part of moving in the direction of drawing the child’s mind to think on the things of God.
If you desire to begin reading devotions with your family, there are a couple of basic principles that will make it enjoyable and productive for both you and them.
1. Make sure you set aside the proper time. Personally, I have chosen the 15-20 minutes after breakfast to lead my family in devotions. In some families the father works an early shift, so reading in the morning is not a possibility. Whatever the case, there should be a consistent time during the day when the family is together as a unit. If your family does not have consistent time each day together, then other factors are at work separating your unity and you should evaluate why that is happening. Some families feel too busy in the mornings with school beginning early and too busy at night with sports or extra-curricular activities. They feel it is not practical to read together from the Scriptures. At this point I would again address the basic premise they are setting in their family that extra curricular activities are more important than reading God’s word together. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, is my son’s expertise in soccer more important than his knowledge of God’s Word?
In regards to time, you do not want to bore your children with an elongated time of reading, but neither do you want to make it seem as if this period is just 3-4 minutes tacked on at the end of something else. Therefore, try to schedule out 15-20 minutes to read, think and talk about the story you are reading from God’s Word.
2. Read through the stories of the Bible. History reads like a story, and indeed history is God’s great story. Below is a breakdown of the major sections of the Bible that can be read with children. You don’t necessarily need to start with Genesis and read all the way through these stories, in fact, if you tried, when you got to the New Testament, you would get all four gospels at once, one after another. Rather, begin by reading a Gospel and then Acts, then go to the Old Testament book of Genesis and read through the Exodus, and then read Jonah or Daniel. The point is that there is no divine way of reading. You want your children to learn the historical flow of Genesis through the New Testament, so you might want to create a simple outline that helps them identify the major characters and sections, but if you are constantly in God’s word, both you and they will eventually get the flow of Biblical history.
Sections of the Bible in Story Form
-Exodus 1-20, 32-34
-Numbers 11-14, 16-17:12, 20-25, 31-32
-Deuteronomy 1-11, 34
-I & II Samuel
-I & II Kings
-I Chronicles 10-22, 28-29
-II Chronicles 1, 5-36
-Ezra 1, 3-10:17
-Nehemiah 1-7:5, 8-9, 12:27-13
-Job 1-2, 38-42
-Psalms (In small doses, as they are able to handle them)
-Proverbs (In small doses as they can be digested)
3. Choose a modern translation that is not hard to read. It is important, especially when reading a story that you not get bogged down with difficult language. Therefore pick a translation with words that your children will be able to understand. I recommend the New Living Translation – NLT. Remember, the goal is not verse by verse discipleship yet, but getting your children to understand and be excited about the wonderful things God did for His people throughout history.
4. Get excited about the story. There is practically nothing more important than the reader of the story making the story enjoyable to hear. This will mean that you will have to have a passion to teach your children the wonders of God and his work. You don’t have to read the Bible in a monotone voice with no inflection. Read the story as if you were in a play and wanted to get each part you read. I just finished reading the first six chapters of Daniel to my children. As we read Daniel 3:13-14 I raised my voice and shouted because the text says “Nebuchadnezzer, furious with rage, summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego….and said to them ‘Is it true Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?’” It is important that we “put our feelings into it” as they say. But more important, where applicable, we put the Bible characters feelings into it. Do we always know what the biblical characters were feeling when we read what happened to them? No we don’t, but many times we can get a good idea of how they felt by simply reading the story and thinking about how we would have felt if a similar situation came upon us. By now my children are used to their dad doing this type of thing for them when we read stories. You may have an introverted personality and think, “Well I just can’t be outspoken or outrageous like that.” I would respond by telling you to remember that our children see our passion. Is there anything in your life that you are passionate about? Just make sure your children see your passion for God like they see your passion for the other things you love. This is not an introverted vs. extraverted parenting choice but a lifestyle of passion that will find avenues of expression one way or another.
5. Don’t think you have to know it all. I am a pastor by profession and there are times when my children ask questions that I don’t know the answer to. It is ok to tell them, “Honey, I don’t know the answer to that, but what a good question.” At the very least it will promote further discussion for the family as you try to figure out the answer. Remember, your role is not that of a theologian or Bible Answer Man. Our role during this time in our children’s life in this area is more akin to someone who kindles a fire than one who discusses the nature of what makes a fire. You are there to kindle your children’s passion for God and his work. As your children grow in the Lord their questions will become more complex, but don’t let that stop you from engaging them in God’s word. As you grow in Bible study and discipleship, your knowledge of God’s word will also increase and you will feel more capable of answering your children’s questions. When you come up to an issue that neither of you feel capable of addressing, talk to one of the pastors at your church. If they do not know the answer, they should be able to point you in the right direction of a ministry that can.
These suggestions should help you as you seek to lead your family in devotions. There is one thing to remember above all these suggestions and that is cultivating a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus must be the focus of your life if it is to be the focus of your family’s time together. You could use this information and carry out a well-regulated, daily time together in the Bible, but if you are not seeking God with all your heart, if you are not growing actively in your faith, then over time your children will see that this is a dead ritual instead of a living Word from God every morning. It can be a lifeless ritual or one of the most exciting times of the day together. Pray that God would make you the person He wants you to be, so that your children will be influenced by your life of faith and your passion for Jesus. Then as Jesus Christ leads you, you will lead your family.