This morning I will be sharing with the Mom's group at ECC on the topic of family Bible reading. Our family has certainly had it's ups and downs, its trials and errors, and its successes. There have been, shamefully, periods where we've gone months without consistent Bible reading together. And, there's been other periods, more regular and more sustained, when we've read the Bible together faithfully. During all of it, there are a few things we've tried to keep balanced.
1. Regularity vs. Legalism
We certainly want to be regular in our ingestion of God's Word together as a family. But we've not been legalistic about it either. If we miss a night or two, we don't stress about it. Last night we went to my nieces last IU game at home - it was senior night. It was awesome and went into double overtime, ending in an IU win (Karlee played extremely well). We didn't get home late and kids were tired, Caleb still had homework to do, etc.
So, we didn't do devotions last night. Doing so would have been overly burdensome. Insisting we do so would have been legalistic.
Now we have taken, at times, this libertarian approach too far and fallen out of a real habit. That's worse. But you and your family need to find the right balance.
2. Big Story vs. Little Stories
Growing up I knew all the little stories of the Bible. When we played Bible Trivia (and we did often), I was pretty good. Christian school, Sunday school, my parents, my dad's sermons, etc., all taught the stories of Bible.
But it wasn't till much later that I could put these together in a comprehensive way - in a way that reflected an understanding of the Big Story of the Bible.
I think that trend has been reversed in my kids. They know the Grand Story...I've told it over and over again. Our church emphasizes it. We've read devotionals that teach it. But, I'm not sure they know the stories like Gideon, Ehud, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, etc.
Both are important. In fact, the Big Story is hard to tell without certain of the small stories. And the point of the small stories is easy to miss if you can't put them in the context of the Big Story. So find the right balance.
Note: using the word story with your kids...we emphasized that the Bible stories are true stories, not stories like Hansel and Gretel or Dr. Seuss.
3. Moral Lessons vs. God's Provision of Salvation
The Bible stories teach moral lessons. David was a courageous young man. Daniel stood up for what was right. Ruth was loyal. Amen. Our kids need to hear these moral lessons and need to have good exemplars of the faith to model. And, there's biblical precedent for this - simply look at Hebrews 11 where Abraham et al are held up as models of faith leading to action.
But these stories aren't about moral lessons; in fact, Moses, Daniel, David, etc. - they're not the heroes of the stories. God is!
At one point when we were teaching through the stories of the OT, we had a little ritual. I'd tell the story, make my wise, fatherly/pastoral comments, and then end with a question, "What's the point of the story?" The kid's response was "God saves his people!"
Teach the morals, but never lose sight of the real point of the stories!
4. Paraphrases vs. God's Word
Is it ok to use a kids Bible, or a Bible story book that paraphrases the stories, or must we read straight from the Bible?
I think both are good. And I think, again, both have Biblical precedent. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan they erected altars. They were told to so, so that when they passed by later with their children and the children's asked, "what are these?", they'd have the opportunity to tell them the story of God's deliverance. Not read it or recite it, tell it.
But certainly, we're commanded not only to read Scripture but hide it our hearts. Reading the word of God as God inspired it is incredibly important. I remember passages that I never memorized, but I've heard read over and over again. That is so important.
So tell the stories and read the Word. Do both.
5. Age appropriate vs. Challenging
It's hard, especially with several kids, to find the right balance here. What's appropriate for one is very challenging for another (or overly simplistic). We probably lean towards the challenging. Sometimes the youngest may feel it's over his head. But, I've seen a few things happen repeatedly. One they ask questions, and conversations start that are priceless. Two, the older kids take on the role of tutor, and explain it in more simple terms. That's awesome! Three, the younger kids understand way more that I think they do. Four, months later, they'll recall something we discussed. They didn't get it at the time, but now the light bulb went on. Love it!
So we tend to the challenging, maybe not always age appropriate. But if that's all we did, it probably wouldn't work. Sometimes the conversations are more simple...and the older ones know it's not always all about them. Plus, who of us doesn't need to be reminded and dwell on the simple lessons from time to time?
We don't have all this figured out. We did. Then we had kids. My encouragement to you is to struggle through it. Find the time, make the mistakes, do your best. Find the appropriate balance in these areas and pour into your kids, showing them that the content of our faith really matters.