On a recent drive home, I had the following conversation with my 6-year-old daughter:
What did you learn at baseball practice tonight?
Lots of things!
The same thing I learn at every practice.
And what is it that you learn at every practice?
I don’t remember…
No wonder she has to relearn it at every practice.
This is how shepherding children usually feels: seeking clarity, repeating things, practicing skills, and repeating things. Training our children to walk with God is no different. We can start early, promote good habits, and practice those habits year after year. The rare “Aha!” moments are glorious, but most of our parenting will consist of innumerable “try it again” moments.
Preschoolers are Ready for More
Let’s not wait for the children to be ready to walk with the Lord before encouraging them to start practicing. If God placed them in your family, they are ready. Of course you should address matters of belief, character, and wisdom as you have opportunity. And from the children’s earliest days you can train them to hear God’s voice and respond to it.
Let’s say you’d like to hand your children a Bible and teach them to use it. You’d love to give them a handsome devotional page and begin coaching a new season. And though you are ready for this step, your children are not. They would stare blankly at the indecipherable runes and hieroglyphs and ask you where the pictures are. Your child cannot yet read.
What do you do?
Illiteracy is No Obstacle
We’ve found four things helpful in our household. I’d love to hear your ideas as well.
1. Read to them
You can read the Bible as a family. You can read one-on-one. You can read in groups. Whatever it takes, however it works best for you, read the Bible to them.
The key, as always, is to read the Bible. Supplement their Bible intake with children’s Bibles, but don’t limit the children to the supplements. Like a good Amish cook, keep the grease right in that pan and don’t ever wash it out. Let your instruction simmer in the caloric, fatty goodness of God’s own words. Your children will get used to them and be able to understand them. These children are much smarter than we think they are.
For example, I had a child who consistently resisted instruction from us. He would get distracted and make excuses, refusing to hear counsel. We disciplined him when appropriate, but we clearly needed something more. So I had a private devotional time with this child in James 4:6-7. This child could not read, but he could understand that God would oppose him if he was proud. He knew he wouldn’t win if God fought against him, and the Scripture softened his heart toward us.
2. Read near them
Children will imitate what they see. It’s nice if they know you go into a room alone to have time with Jesus, but it’s even better if they can see you spend time with Jesus day after day. Soon enough, their play time will include “time with Jesus,” and they’ll find “Bibles” to carry around with them.
3. Have others read to them
My wife knew our kids would learn to use technology before they learned to read, so she taught them how to use a simple mp3 player. We loaded it with nothing but an audio Bible, and asked them to listen to it every morning. She would give them a track number (Bible chapter) for the day, and they would draw pictures while listening. But their drawings would take longer than a single track/chapter, so they’d hear multiple chapters in a row. The next day, she’d give them the next assigned chapter, which would involve some repetition from the day before. (In other words, on the day for Exodus 15, they’d hear Exodus 15-18. The next day would be “Exodus 16,” but they would hear Exodus 16-19.)
In these pictures, we’ve seen Noah carrying animals onto his boat, Abraham watching the stars, and Israel fleeing from “Ejip.”
Whales and drowning soldiers in the Red Sea, while long lines of Israelites pass through on dry ground (Exodus 14):
People gathering manna, baking it in the oven, and fighting Amalekites (Exodus 16):
4. Work it into their routines
Whatever you do should become routine (not mindless but regular). The more repetitive it gets, the more normal and expected it will be. And how many of us wish our time in Scripture and in prayer would feel normal and natural?
To be clear, our family life is not one of complete Bible bliss. We still eat dinner, watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and play baseball. We build legos, and we fight. But we try to organize life around the Scripture in basic and repetitive ways.
Here’s your chance to help the next generation. May they rise up and call you blessed.