When You Sit in Your House: Engaging God’s Word in Families (Part Two)
“Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
After writing this posting, I searched for a photo to go with it. On one of the sites where I have found many beautiful images, I found dozens of pictures of individuals reading the Bible in places of quiet solitude. There were a few photos of youth sitting in a Bible study, and two of an adult reading the Bible with a child. But there were no photos of a family reading the Bible. That tells us a lot about the general attitude toward reading the Bible in our culture. It is seen as a private affair or as a church activity. When I did a wider search for images of family Bible reading, most of the photos I found showed a happy family smiling as a father holding the Bible, reads to his wife and their two children. Let’s be honest. It doesn’t work out this way each time we gather our family to read God’s word. In Christian circles I have met many who idealize family devotions and family Bible reading. Realistically, I have found that the parents of the families who do this best always speak about the difficulties and failures they experience in trying to do it. They speak about limited success. Why should this be so? Because family life is messy, and it’s not easy to bring the order of God’s word and the rhythm of God’s ways to it.
As I wrote in the previous posting, it’s not easy to make learning the word of God a regular part of our family life. In this posting and in the next, I want to suggest some ways families can bring the scriptures into the warp and woof of everyday family living. Here we go.
- Familiarize yourself with a passage of scripture before you attempt to read it with your family. It’s not easy to read aloud a text from scripture if you are looking at the page for the first time. Choose a section of the scripture you plan to read. Read it aloud by yourself until the words are familiar to you before you read it with your household. The scriptures should live inside of us to some extent before we seek to share them with others. Otherwise, when you read aloud, you may struggle to pronounce words smoothly and make it difficult for others to listen to them. In general, parents should consider reading the Bible themselves as a practice to prepare themselves to read it with others in the family.
- If you and your family are not in the habit of reading the scripture together, it may be difficult to find the right time to introduce this practice. Look for a good time. When everyone is getting ready to rush out the door in the morning, that’s not a good time. If the members of your household are tired and hungry, eager to taste their first bite of a delicious dinner, that’s not a good time unless the reading is very brief. In general, I have found that a good time to read the scripture together is in the morning or in the evening after everyone has eaten on days when the schedule is not hurried.
- Read aloud the scriptures associated with holidays you celebrate in your home. When our children were young, Laurie and I decided to mark our Christmas day celebration with reading the story of the birth of Jesus. Before opening presents around a Christmas tree, we read the story of Christmas from Luke 2:1-20. I had cut out little wooden figures of Bible characters which I used to dramatize the story. After this, we thanked God in prayer.
Children love holidays. Holidays are a special time in children’s lives when they experience the world as bright and wonderful. Children love Christmas so much that, as Christmas approaches, they count the days left till Christmas. Build on that anticipation by reading the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah in the days before Christmas. For example, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Isaiah 11:1-9.
The way we celebrate holidays in our families impresses upon children their belief about the way things ought to be always. To read the story from the Bible about the birth of Jesus on Christmas day helps children to know that Christmas is not first and foremost about getting presents from Santa Claus, but about receiving the gift of salvation given to us through the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
Another thing you can do in connection with Christmas is to sing one or two classic Christmas carols such as “Joy to the World,” and “O come all ye faithful.” Such Christmas hymns also tell the story of the birth of Jesus. The great hymns use the words of scripture to tell it. Singing the words of a hymn causes the story to live deep inside our hearts.
You can choose appropriate readings and songs for Easter, Thanksgiving and other holidays. In the next posting I will continue these suggestions.
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Having regular Bible reading with the family around the table also didn’t work for us, maybe because I wasn’t diligent enough to make it happen but we did wear out Bible story books with the kids when they were young. Family devotions was always challenging for us because as they say, “Life Happens” and it so easily gets pushed aside or forgotten. Some of the things that did work though were singing together, praying together as a family when there was a particular need and doing things together as a family like what Shirley Dobson called – Making a Memory. Another suggestion is working at making table conversation purposeful and not just talking about foolishness. Probably the #1 thing is for your children to know is that YOU have a Quiet Time with God and set the example for them to follow.