Lifeway Resarch group published the results of research they did to see what the contributing factors were in spiritual health among young adults.What they found was that overwhelmingly, kids who regularly read the Bible while growing up are likely to experience a healthy spiritual life with God and the church. I was both shaken and encouraged by these findings.
I don’t have a “typical” Christian household in which to raise my boys. Reading the Bible with my boys when my husband is not a believer has been a challenge. But the truth is, even where both parents are Christians, the practice of regular Bible reading with kids is probably a struggle, if it happens at all. In another study byLifeway, among American Protestants, only a third say they read the Bible regularly. If only a third of us are reading the Bible regularly, then the struggle to read the Bible with my kids is the norm.
But I wonder if at least one of the reasons we parents find it hard to read the Bible with our kids is because we are shooting for some kind of ideal family devotion. I’m sure there are other reasons, like- it’s hard to get a kid to read anything if it’s not on an app or screen, and we’re all so busy going different directions that trying to get everyone together to read seems nearly impossible. But I believe God has given us really clear instructions that help me throw my idealism out the window without throwing Bible-reading with my kids out too.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on 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.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
This instruction from God to his people helps me so much.
Catch this sequence: God tells his people to first have his words on their own hearts. Then he tells us to “impress” his words on our kids. That means we can’t just throw a Bible, or a Bible app at them and tell them to read it. We are gonna need to get real with them. We’re gonna need to talk to them. And many times its going to feel like they aren’t listening or don’t care.
I have two teen boys. When they were little, they squirmed and fussed and sometimes sat still and listened for a whole minute. When they hit pre-teen they were tired and barked at the idea of having to sit still for a few minutes so mom could talk to them about Jesus. Now they’re at the end of their high school years and they listen a little more attentively. Sometimes. And sometimes I can drag out of them some of their own thoughts. But most of the time I have to take away a phone because they pulled it out to look at Snapchat while we’re supposed to be hearing what the Bible says. Or they get up and walk to the kitchen for a snack saying, “It’s ok mom, keep reading. I’m listening. I’m just hungry.” To which I get frustrated and have, more than a few times, given up and stopped the “devotional” time.
My point is, reading the Bible with your kids and talking to them about what God is trying to say through what you read is not going to be a neat and easy activity for most. But that’s exactly how God said it’s going to be. “When you’re at home”, “When you’re out on the road”, “When you’re getting ready for bed,” and, “When you get up,” all involve everyday life interactions. And those are never neat or easy.
The thing is we just need to start. We don’t have to forgo talking to our kids about what God says because they’re almost grown and we’ve never talked to them about it before. We don’t have to take a course on theology to start either. We don’t have to have a candle lit, and neatly-dressed, well-behaved kids sitting in a circle with their Bibles and journals opened either (although I confess this, I would love that!). Really there are only four things we need to impress God’s word on our kids’ hearts, giving them a good start at spiritual health:
- Get God’s word on YOUR heart first. Parents, grandparents… whoever you are raising kids, if you don’t take in God’s word and wrestle with it yourself, you’ll have nothing to give your kids. Spend time reading, asking God and other Christians your questions about what you read. Write down your thoughts. Confess your doubts or angst. Praise God for what speaks to you.
- Share the above with your kids! The other day I sat down at the table while my 16 year old was perusing IG and said, “Hey son, can you put that down for a minute. I want to tell you something.” He put his phone down and gave me his attention and I told him I had read a Psalm that morning and it helped me because the person who wrote the Psalm basically told God, “Why aren’t you answering me? How long is life going to be this hard?” My son looked at me kinda blank and said, “Okay….” I got up, put my arm around him and said, “I just want you to know, God knows how you feel. And he wants you to talk to him about it. He is working through it all. He loves you. And I love you.” My son accepted the hug and said, “Ok, thanks mom.” That’s it. No big revelation. No hour long reading with questions and reflection. That was it. This kind of conversation can and should happen throughout your day. Every day.
- Engage your kids. And require them to engage. I know with my kids, it’s been hard. They’re teens. They’re boys. They’re distracted by the screen that’s become a part of their hand. They don’t like to read. They want to go off-roading and build a bonfire. But notice this verse in Deuteronomy says impress God’s word on your kids’ hearts. In the original language that means “to pierce.” I’m a busy mom. I work full time, I’m tired. I have to fight the urge to let reminding my boys to read their Bibles be enough so I can relax and watch my show on Netflix. It’s going to cost you and it’s not going to be easy. You might have to tell your 5 year old to stop twirling in circles and look at you and listen 10 times in a 1 minute talk. But do it. The message we bring should pierce our kids. That doesn’t mean we all have to be Spurgeon, but we should seek to get a response of engagement from our kids. For me, with teens, that means I ask them their thoughts and require a thoughtful answer, not just, “I dunno, can we go now mom?”
- Let the everyday things of life guide what you talk about from the Bible. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs parents to engage their kids with God’s word in everyday life situations. You can use a book or guide to engage your kids in God’s word. Those are good and helpful. I use my church’s daily reading or an app my kids’ youth group is using. But also, when you’re driving somewhere with your kids and a song comes on the radio that makes you think of something God’s been impressing on your heart from what you’ve read or heard taught from the Bible, tell them! Let the everyday rhythms of life be the fodder for drawing your kids’ attention to the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus.
Christian with kids, you have been entrusted souls to point to Jesus. Don’t let your idealism, your lack of Bible-knowledge, or even your busy life keep you from reading the Bible and talking about the message with your kids. Doing this is, as my pastor says, putting kindling around their hearts, that God will light it on fire for Jesus.