When my oldest daughter was about to turn 6, she endured a season of feeling great burdens for people who don’t know Jesus. She prayed for them often. She wept. She brought Jesus into conversations. On occasion, she would wake in the night from sadness for unbelieving friends and family members. She spoke of becoming a missionary when she grew up so she could tell more people about Jesus.
My wife and I did all we could to foster such missionary zeal. We’d be delighted to see one or more of our children dedicate their lives to full-time Christian service, whether at home or abroad. So we spoke about this calling with our daughter. We gave her missionary biographies. We prayed fervently with her. Our church even invited her to join the Missions Committee.
And one day, out of the blue, she asks me an innocent question that cuts me deeply. “Papa, how can I tell people about Jesus when I grow up, unless you first read the whole Bible to me?”
I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’s true: It had never occurred to me to simply read the Bible to my kids. We fill our home with things to read. We fill our home with things read. We read fiction and non-fiction. We listen to audiobooks during rest time and in the car. We read at the dinner table. We read independently and together, silently and out loud. We read and read and read. But, before my daughter’s question, our reading rarely included the Bible.
To be sure, we tried our hand at family devotions. I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be, but we still did it a few times each week. Such devotions involved a few short Bible verses, a passage from a wonderful children’s devotional, a few good questions, and prayer.
But if we were going to sit and just read something, it wouldn’t be the Bible. It couldn’t be the Bible, right? Children aren’t ready for that. Instead, we’d read The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Penderwicks, or the latest wonder from N.D. Wilson. Maybe The Jesus Storybook Bible. But not actually The Holy Bible. No way.
Yet my daughter’s question cut me to the quick. The shocking realization rocked my world: You can read the Bible to your kids. I can read the Bible to my kids.
So, on her 6th birthday, my daughter received my solemn promise, with the Lord’s help, to read her the entire Bible by her 18th birthday. She just turned 8 a few weeks ago, and so far we’re on track to fulfill that promise.
How We Do It
I have more than one child, so as family patriarch, I made the call to include all the children in our Bible reading time. To help you picture the context, my children are now 10, 10, 8, 6, 2, and 10 months. Sometimes we exempt the baby from Bible reading time if she needs to be fed. And sometimes the toddler is still finishing her nap. Beyond that, however, nobody gets an excused absence.
To make time for family Bible reading, we actually had to drop out of a church Bible club, where four of my children attended and I taught a class. The club was great, and everybody was learning and growing in Christ. But we decided to place higher priority, this one night a week, on our own family Bible reading.
So we gather Sunday evenings for an hour. The children get notified 60 and 30 minutes prior to Bible reading time, so they have enough warning to finish up whatever they may be doing. At 10 minutes before, we ask them to begin the transition by using the bathroom and bringing to the living room whatever they want to have with them during Bible reading time.
The children can have books, toys, games, legos, coloring books, painting supplies, dolls, matchbox cars, chess sets. Whatever. Just nothing electronic. They can do anything they want during Bible reading time, as long as 1) it is silent, and 2) it can be done without leaving the living room.
Then they sit, play, and listen while I read for about an hour.
We began with Genesis 1 and have gone straight through. Occasionally, I’ll stop to clarify something or to take a question. This way, we’ve discussed covenants, circumcision, uncleanness, prostitution, dreams, altars, ancient dating customs, the best ways to kill Philistines, and what it means for a woman to be violated. We’ve befriended Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Deborah, Barak, Gideon, Samson, and David. We’ve read long lists of names. We’ve jeered Saul. We’ve mourned for Absalom, our son, our son; if only we had died instead of him. We’ve climbed on the coffee table to picture Goliath’s scornful mocking and his brutal fall. And we’ve joined the tribes of Israel in shouting “Amen” after each covenantal curse (Deut 27:14-26).
Of course, the Pentateuch was a challenge. But the children are used to enough rituals, rules, and procedures that it was probably harder for me than it was for them. We’re just about to finish 2 Samuel. And yes, we’ve hit some dark content. But, as we allow the Scripture to drive our spiritual discussions, the children have been more than mature enough to handle the subject matter. I can’t yet comment on how we got through the Psalms or Prophets.
Before we start a new book, we always watch The Bible Project’s overview video of that book, and this proves to be a highlight for the children. They refer to the videos as we then work our way through the book.
Of course, you don’t have to do it the same way I do. But I hope to encourage you with a simple proposition: You can read the Bible to your kids. You don’t need a perfect schedule, or a perfect set of devotions from an expert. Your children can handle it, as long as you are enthusiastic about it. Who knows how God might use his knowable word in your family?