Over the years, I have become increasingly convinced that the family is by far the most important and strategic agency for communicating the content of the Christian faith to the next generation. Churches, Christian schools, and youth ministries have a place. But, none comes close to the effectiveness of the family.
As a youth pastor once told me, “How can I expect one or two hours a week to have any kind of significant impact on a child. My job is to help parents do their job.”
So, what can we as parents do practically to help get eternity into the hearts of our children?
What Can A Family Do?
I have served on the staffs of three Christian organizations, have participated in numerous Biblical and family conferences, and have been an active church member throughout my adult life. During that time, I have heard many people tell of the importance of having a “family altar.” I’ve read articles in magazines about how to have vibrant “family devotions.” I’ve seen materials that are designed specifically to help parents get their children excited about reading the Bible as a family.
However, I have very rarely met families that actually had anything like regular family devotions. I know many who have tried. Almost all have given up, because what they were trying to do was just too hard to implement for any length of time in a typical family setting.
Interestingly, my wife and I began to follow a very simple plan for having regular family devotions with our children back in 1985 that we still have today – over 25 years later! During that time, we have read through the entire Bible at least 10 times together. And, we and our children have enjoyed it!
Three Simple Principles
I will be forever grateful for Gary Fraley who shared three simple principles that taught a frustrated young father (me) trying to read to wiggly, uninterested children (my kids) how to successfully get them excited about reading through God’s Word.
Principle #1 - The motivation for having successful family devotions must come from a conviction, not a preference.
What that means in practical terms is that when everyone else in the family complains, you continue anyway!
Anytime you add a new activity into your family’s schedule it will be hard to keep going. That is true even when what you are adding is fun. When we began, some days went well. Some did not. There were even times when I yelled at the children, threw the Bible down on the table, and said, “I quit!” Fortunately, my children looked up at me through their tears and said, “But, daddy. We thought this was a conviction!” I asked for their forgiveness and continued on because I was convinced that what I was trying to do was what God clearly wanted me to do. After a relatively short time, our “wisdom searches” as we call them became something that the children didn’t want to miss.
Principle #2 - The schedule for when the family devotions will take place should come from the wife.
Each family’s daily routine is different. And, those routines change from time to time as children get older and situations change. A wife is generally in a much better position to coordinate her schedule, her husband’s schedule, and the children’s schedules than is her husband.
At times over the years, we had our “wisdom searches” before breakfast, but after everyone got dressed. At other times, we had them right after we got up and before we got dressed. Sometimes, we had them after breakfast. My wife knew how long it would take each person to get ready for the day, what they would be doing, what was being prepared for breakfast, and how long it would take to prepare it.
Principle #3 - Family devotions should take place around a table, with young children being given something to do with their hands.
This was totally counter-intuitive to what I had always thought. Before that time, I had told my children to “stop fidgeting” and listen! After that time, they actually stopped “fidgeting” and listened!
Sitting around a table helped tremendously to focus their attention and interest on what we were doing. Giving them something to do with their hands enabled them to listen without getting bored or wiggly. Handwork, like drawing or coloring with crayons or markers or colored pencils, stickers, making cards for people, working on a simple craft, stitching, embroidery, weaving potholders, Hama Beads, and “stained glass” ornaments provided the entertainment, while I read through the Scriptures. We even had kids in highchairs eating Cheerios and listening to God’s Word.
Lest you think this won’t work, let me point out that people often listen to lectures, sermons, or talk radio while driving a car. Men often doodle in important meetings. Women sometimes knit while listening to a speaker. We are actually able to do something with our minds and something else with our hands. And, our children are no different. On many occasions, I would stop what I was reading and ask the children what I just read. In every case, they were able to tell me – most of the time word for word – what I had just said.
The plan we started with, and the plan that we still follow to this day, is to use 3 bookmarks and a Bible.
We put the first bookmark in Genesis, chapter 1, and continue until we finish the Old Testament. The second bookmark is in Psalm 1. When we finish reading through the book of Psalms, we continue on to Proverbs, then to Ecclesiastes, and then back to Psalms. The third bookmark is in Matthew, chapter 1. We continue until we finish the New Testament.
We simply read a chapter or two from each section each day. We’re not in a hurry to read through the Bible in a set time frame. We’re not even concerned if our children always understand everything we read – I still don’t understand many things in the Bible. Scripture speaks to our spirits, not just to our minds.
We generally have had our “wisdom searches” for about 30 minutes each day in the mornings for five days a week. I read for about 25 minutes, and my wife prays at the end for about 5 minutes. There is nothing sacred about the time of day, the amount of time, who reads, or who prays. This plan fits my family. You should do what fits with your family.
The “rules” that we have are simple. If we or the children have a question or comment that relates to what we have read, we can talk. If not, we have to be quiet. If I think of something to say about a certain passage as I read, I share it. But, I don’t need to prepare anything. I’m not expounding on the Scriptures. I’m simply reading God’s Word to my family.
More than anything else, this practice has helped to make me, my wife, and our children Biblically literate! There have been many times over the years when I would hear Sunday School teachers at a church we were visiting tell me how amazed they were at how well my children knew the Bible. Sometimes, my children even corrected the teachers!
All you need to get started is a Bible, three bookmarks, and some handwork for your kids. I am a narrator by profession, so I like to read. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can always purchase or download an audio version of the Bible. If you search my name on Amazon.com, you can download my narration of various books in the NIV or KJV Bible quite inexpensively.
If you’re interested in a great Christmas gift for your children that will help Get Eternity Into The Hearts of the Next Generation, you can go to my website to hear samples and order my children’s audio stories. There are six volumes of stories. The text of each story is taken directly, word for word, from the Bible, but they are read very dramatically and include carefully selected music and sound effects. They are available in the King James Version or the New International Version.
God wants us to teach our children His Word and His ways. One of the most effective ways we can do that is by having an effective plan of family devotions.
The Psalmist asked, "How may a young man keep his way pure?" His answer: "By living according to Your Word."