If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my years of parenting five children, it is that God is the only one who has advice that must be listened to. However, as neither my husband nor I grew up in Christian families, we have been very grateful for those who have offered helpful suggestions on raising young disciples of Jesus that we could translate into our own family situation.
We have worked hard at opening the Bible with our children on a regular basis for two and a half decades because God, in his word, makes it very clear that it is a responsibility and a privilege given to parents that they teach their children who God is and what he has done. How have we done it? Well, as I said, we have worked hard at it and that has meant we have tried a number of things, but I will share here what we found was workable in our family.
1. We committed to reading the Bible with our children every night
It hasn’t happened every night but we don’t feel guilty about that, as life is not always that simple. We aimed to read together every night and when it was missed we pressed on and picked it up again the next evening. Some nights not everyone was there (this increased as the children got older and at times my husband would be away because of his work), but if you were home then you joined in – even if you did have mountains of things to do!
2. We kept it simple
We tried various devotion books that required some preparation and resources, but that was too hard and a lot of pressure for me. So, we simply just read the Bible. We sometimes discussed the passage and we always prayed. Sunday nights we talked about what was learnt in Kids' Church for the little ones and the main Bible talk for the older ones and parents. On occasion we might change things up and do some Bible quizzes, but mostly we chose a book of the Bible and read it through together.
Our children’s ages range over an eight-year span, but when we read the Bible everyone was encouraged to read out loud. We all read from the same translation, except our little pre-readers who would have the Big Picture Bible open in front of them at the appropriate place (we read a lot of narrative when they were small). When our children were young we read around the table, a verse each, with the pre-readers repeating a few words at a time after mum or dad when it was their turn. Something was lost in the flow of the passage doing it this way, but it kept them all engaged with the text. Reading aloud as a family improved their literacy (as any reading aloud does) but it also trained our children in the art of reading the Bible out loud and gave us some great amusement over interesting pronunciations! As they grew we switched to having one or two people read the passage.
3. We spent our time in God’s word after dinner
This usually happened around the dinner table before dessert (if there was any). We have a small bookcase next to the dinner table with Bibles and a book for prayer notes in it so (most of the time) no one had the excuse of needing to leave the table to go hunting for their Bible.
4. My husband modelled leadership
It was a good thing to see the initiative for our family devotions coming from my husband. This isn’t how we started, but through prayer, conversations between us and input from godly men in our church and beyond, a significant change occurred. Having him make time in God’s word together a priority for his family has modelled Christian leadership to our children.
5. We had good and bad nights
We have memories of some fabulous times of fellowship with our children doing this together, and some painful memories too. Here's a few I remember:
- Having a teenager storm off
- Watching a child put their head on their arms and go to sleep
- Having someone on the edge of their seat the whole time saying can we hurry up because they have something ‘important’ happening
- Trying to encourage someone who is in a bad mood to read and have them refuse
- Having dinner a bit late, and then everyone say we shouldn’t bother reading
- Someone standing up to leave half-way through because they have another commitment outside the home
All of these occasions can make you want to give up, but in God’s strength we’ve pressed on.
An encouragement for your family
Is this how every family should do devotions? No, but the underlying principle that God spoke to the Israelites is there for you. Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.’ We haven’t bound anything to our foreheads, but we have thought about how we can all learn what God has to teach us. Your family may have one or two children; you may have to juggle shiftwork or long days of commuting, but I encourage you to think about how having regular time as a family in God’s word could happen.
We have no young children anymore. We have an eighteen year-old in his final year of school who shares the dinner table with people who have just become grandparents. So, no ‘children’ and three of us at home instead of seven, but still the Bible comes out after we’ve eaten and we read and we pray – what a blessing!
About the author: Suellen Milham is the Women's Ministry Worker at Orange Evangelical Church, NSW.
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