In the Hebrew system of education, religious instruction took place in the context of relationship. Parents taught their children diligently as they sat in their houses, as they walked by the way, as they lay down, and as they arose (Deuteronomy 6:7). In other words, instruction was continual—everywhere, at all times. Instruction in the Scriptures took place in the course of everyday life.
While instruction in the Scriptures can and should happen in a church setting, it can never replace the humble, face-to-face context of loving relationships in the home. It is in this relationship of trust and love that head knowledge becomes heart knowledge. Anyone can share information with a child, but when a child learns something from a trusted and loved person, the child is more likely to embrace that knowledge as truth—especially if that truth is demonstrated in everyday life as it is modeled by trusted mentors.
God has placed a unique call on parents to pass on His glorious deeds and the wonders He has done to the next generation (Psalm 78:4). This is a sacred trust. God is calling His people to make Him known to their children so that the next generation will set their hope in Him (Psalm 78:7). Although both parents share this mantle of responsibility and privilege, fathers, as the spiritual leaders of the home, are especially appointed by God to initiate this teaching. Twenty-first century fathers often feel defeated in this task. Many short-lived efforts to gather the family together for devotions fizzle out, and fathers feel an acute sense of failure in their spiritual leadership again and again.
This need not be the case. Although the enemy rages against the consistent and sincere attempt to impart the teachings of God to the next generation, God Himself works to preserve His Word in every generation. He has promised to be the Christian’s strength in every weakness. Humbly look to Him each day to give you the resolve and wisdom to instruct your children.
Be encouraged to formally gather around the Word of God daily in a simple act of faith—reading God’s Word, discussing it, and praying that God will cause His truth to penetrate the hearts of the hearers.
Remembering and applying the following principles may help to make your time around the Word more life-giving for you and your family: be sincere, keep it simple, keep it short, set the tone, and solicit participation.
Deuteronomy 6 makes it clear that in order to teach our children diligently, we must have God’s Word in our own hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6). We must first love God’s Word before we can genuinely lead another to love God’s Word. We must treasure God before another can be drawn into a relationship with God through our efforts. There is no substitute for reading, praying, obeying, and asking God to work in our own hearts first.
Pray for God to open your mind and heart. Ask Him how to apply His Word in everyday life. Ask God to help you see how you need to change, to mold your heart to His desires, to forgive your sins, and to guide you in all His ways. Pray for each member of your family.
Keep it Simple
It is better to establish a daily habit of simply turning to the Word together than to set forth on a complex plan that cannot be consistently executed. Set a specific, consistent time each day for your family devotions.
Keep it Short It is better to leave your family wanting more than to leave them wishing they could have escaped sooner. Resist the temptation to say, “just one more thing,” or to feel like you must teach all you have gleaned from your own personal study. This is a beginning. You will have many more opportunities to instruct daily as you sit in your house, walk by the way, lie down, and rise. Keep the Word of God fresh in your heart and seize these moments for informal instruction.
Set the Tone
Reading God’s Word is serious business, so your tone should reflect this. However, it is not profitable to tonelessly bore children. God’s Word is full of interesting stories, puzzling instruction, deep thoughts, and wise advice. Be winsome in your manner, not austere and judgmental. Read with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. Make your comments interesting and thought-provoking.
Family devotions are a time for sharing. Encourage everyone to be involved. This is not a time for you to show how much you know but to encourage others to discover and share delight in God’s Word. Encourage your child to read verses, answer questions, ask questions, think, participate, and remember.
When looking at a text, resist the temptation to explain it to your child. Instead, ask questions to train your child to discover what the text is teaching. It is important that your child be able to answer the following questions about the text:
- What does the passage say? (observation)
- What does the passage mean? (interpretation)
How does the meaning of the passage apply to me? (application)
[Kay Arthur, How to Study Your Bible, 10-11]
In asking the question, “What does the passage mean?” help your child try to discover the author’s point. Steer him to words or phrases in the text that will help him to see the author’s intent. The child should not understand the question as, “What does this mean to me?”, but rather, “What is the author saying?”
When you ask a question, give your child time to respond. If your child has difficulty, point him to the text for the answer (e.g., “look at verse 2”). You may need to give a hint but, as much as possible, encourage your child to think about the text and its meaning. Don’t hesitate to gently correct erroneous answers that your child gives by pointing to specific words or phrases to help him understand. Little by little, your child will acquire the skill of careful reading and thoughtful consideration. This process takes time and is difficult to learn, so work with your child patiently while he learns this critical Bible-reading skill.
Tips to Help Your Child Understand the Meaning of Bible Passages
- Look for answers to the five Ws and one H: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
- Look for key words or repeated phrases.
- Look for “connections” within the text (e.g., conclusions, summaries, comparisons, contrasts, results, etc.). Words that may signal these include therefore, for, so that, for this reason, because, but, however, nevertheless, as, like, and if...then.
- Look at the verse in context.
- Look for lists in the text.
Once your child has discovered the author’s meaning of the text, you can ask how the text applies to your child personally. It is important for your child to understand that the Bible speaks to individuals today. Help him to very practically apply the teaching of the passage to his life. He needs to know how he can be a “doer” of the Word and not just a “hearer.”
End each devotional session with prayer and encourage participation in the prayer time.
Continue to review, reinforce, and apply the truths from God's Word as you gather around the supper table, ride in the car, tuck your children into bed, and when you rise to start each new day.
This article is adapted from the introduction to the Lord, Teach Us to Pray Family Devotional, a study for children and adults on the Lord's Prayer. This 13-week family devotional guide provides six days of devotional ideas per week, plus ideas for a weekly Family Night Activity.