For parents of young children, the lead up to bedtime can be chaotic. Especially once there is more than one child in the mix, getting from dinner-time to bath-time and finally to the elusive “lights-out” can feel like Sisyphus with his boulder – not least because it is repeated every night. With the promise of relaxation and time with my husband beckoning I have often considered skipping our family Bible reading time and just tucking the kids in with a pat on the head and a kiss. In spite of the difficulties though, most nights over the last nine years, God has given us the grace to read and pray with our children (now aged 8, 10 and 12).
For the first few years this was, out of necessity, a very short time—a couple of pages of The Beginners Bible followed by a brief prayer. There were nights when even these few minutes felt too long for sad, tired, or still-full-of-energy children. Yet we persevered. Why did we persevere? Chiefly, we read the Bible as a family, because the Bible tells us to.
Start children off in the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
This verse is, of course, a proverb rather than a promise. While there is nothing parents can do to ensure that their children remain followers of Jesus, it is nonetheless an exhortation and encouragement for us to trust God’s command to teach our children his word.
From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 3:15)
In the Bible God has revealed himself to us. The better we know the Bible, the more it will enable our hearts and minds to be shaped to love and follow Jesus. Wisdom and discernment in spiritual matters, as well as perseverance in difficult circumstances come from knowledge of God’s word and his character. As humans we are very much inclined to forget that God is sovereign and that life’s goodness comes from him. Children are never too young to hide God’s word in their hearts and we are thankful for the gifts God has given people like Colin Buchanan, Jonny Burns and Ben Pakula—their music has made it easy and fun for kids to learn important truths.
Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
In one of his sermons, Jonathan Edwards called families “a little church,” which is a good illustration of spiritual responsibility. The greatest responsibility for the spiritual life of a child is held not by a pastor or youth worker, but by their parents and according to the Bible, especially their fathers.
Most Christian parents would agree that reading the Bible and praying with their kids is a good thing, but sometimes not knowing how to do it or where to start or even just busyness can be a barrier to doing so on a regular basis.
If your children are small, find four or five good children’s Bibles and read through them one by one. Each children’s Bible has its strengths and weaknesses. Parents need to be discerning and aware of the pitfalls of the most popular texts, but by rotating them the overall picture will remain and will probably be quite rounded. Virtually all stories can be read in fewer than three minutes and even adding in an age appropriate question or two ranging from details about the picture to what we learn about God, most kids can pay attention for this long.
The single event that most tested my faith occurred several years ago just as we were getting ready for our family Bible reading time. I had just received a phone call where I learned of a particularly devastating bereavement, and in my distress and anger I thought of sitting that night out and letting my family go ahead without me. Yet, uncertain how this tragedy could be faced without God’s comfort, I sat down to listen. That night we read “The House on the Rock” from Stories Jesus Told. The personal application was obvious and so very timely that I realised our children’s Bibles are not just gentle stories about Jesus but are one of the ways that our children begin to know God. While that instance was a stand-out moment of God using a children’s Bible to speak to me, there have been many other times that I’ve heard a word in season either from a story or from one of my kids in response to what we have read together.
In the last year or so we have been reading the International Children’s Bible with our kids. Bible reading now takes longer than three minutes and while we don’t manage it every night, it is enough part of our routine that it remains our default, which helps keep us on track. While the stories are largely familiar thanks to children’s Bibles, the fuller text holds new details to absorb—details that don’t necessarily fit well with illustrated children’s Bibles, and that can break the ice on conversation topics that wouldn’t normally come up.
It is uplifting to read together about God’s love, patience and compassion, and his great grace in sending Jesus to seek and save the lost. It can be a little awkward when it comes to passages like the woman at the well or Lot and his daughters, yet even then, the Bible is our friend. When reading the Bible there is no way to avoid being confronted with greed, selfishness, various forms of moral degeneracy as well as the general sinfulness of the human heart. I’m not suggesting every family should plunge straight into the darkest parts of Genesis or Judges. Rather, that as part of a pattern of reading through a book of the Bible, passages that concern sex, morality and death are not things we need to shy away from or protect children from, and are in fact quite the opposite. If parents are not talking to or teaching their children about difficult issues, children will look elsewhere for information.
For parents there is a blessing to be found when we simply obey God’s command to teach our children his word (Luke 11:28). Further down the track, by God’s grace we hope to know the joy of having a child whose heart is wise. This will be a source of gladness and thankfulness in our own hearts such that our inmost being will rejoice (Prov 23:15-16).
Photos (from top): Samantha Sophia, Ben White; unsplash.com