Women who choose the good portion (see here) can pass the spiritual disciplines of the faith onto the next generation. We can, and it is more simple than we may at first imagine. We contend for the faith, once for all handed down (Jude)…and we hand it down. We can raise up our “Timothy.” His mom and grandma taught him the Scriptures, pointed him to Christ, and without any flashy programs or hip and trendy pre-packaged materials.
Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…1 Timothy 4:7, 6:11-12
This series began here with a discussion of prayer. Today we look first at the habit of reading (we read and memorize as a family, because the WORD is to be shared and taught) and how that leads to Bible study and meditation. As Paul told the Philippians to practice what they saw in him–so we must realize these spiritual practices are not handed down by merely chatting about them once, or by hoping someone in their Sunday School or youth group will “cover this in the curriculum.” The truth is–your children will be more likely to read their Bibles if they are imitating you.
My children read books (fiction mostly) in their free time, and run outside often for their free time. Why? I’ve trained them in this, I model this. They join me at first, and as they grow they no longer need me. They are readers, and lovers of the outdoors.
I talk to them often about the addiction to phones/devices/games that others constantly fight, and how I don’t want that for them. They are aware of what I do, and why I do it, because I talk to them freely, organically (as opposed to sharing a pre-programmed curriculum-like speech). Training them in the spiritual discipline of reading Scripture will happen in much the same way.
But I also don’t want this to be legalistic, so if they “interrupt” my reading time, I do not lash out, nor do I ignore them. This is not a big deal! They have not interrupted some ritual that is consequently ruined, and I would be selfish to act as though they did. I can turn my attention to them, and then turn it back. If I need to, I can find a gentle way to remind them that I would like to read without being interrupted for a few minutes.
When they were very little, it was nearly impossible to have much sustained time for reading or study–I had to set aside part of their naptime, or try after they were in bed. I also learned to love listening to the Bible app. But now that they do not need me as constantly as a baby or toddler, I set different habits, and lead them in starting their own. As I lead them into this, I talk about why and how, and the joy and peace increase with a life of abiding in His words (see John 8 and 15).
How will they become lovers of God’s Word, if we keep it our love of His Word “personal” and hidden? Or, if they realize mama only reads her Bible on Sunday? Or if they see mama read devotionals, instead of her Bible? Have you been cultivating a love of His Word in your own life? (This was the heart behind my book, Deep Simplicity: Meditations on Abiding in Christ; an encouragement to us all–myself included–to cling to His Word, to abide in His words…)
Beyond modeling it, we talk about reading. We read together as a family every day. What a delightful way to see each other off! After breakfast, a chapter in the OT or NT, on alternating days. When I thought my son was old enough to also read more on his own–we bought him a study Bible. Without any prompting, he began to read on his own.
After a few months, the newness wore off, as is normal. So we sat and talked about my own habit building. It takes 30 days to form a new daily habit. I told him how it took several tries to reach my own goal of 30 days. I also speak freely of not being disappointed in yourself for not perfectly meeting this goal. Eternal life is knowing Him! Not merely setting and meeting goals. So my son and I talk often of how he is doing in establishing this habit. This is a conversation, not something that seems forced.
It is a parent’s role to exhort, encourage, implore!
“Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”1 Thess 2:11-12
After we see that our children have established a habit of reading, and display a desire to read, we also teach how to read. We should pray that they develop this desire for the Word, but we should also encourage them to “long for the pure milk of the Word!” as Peter did (1 Peter 2:2). What are some things they need to learn?
Read each portion according to its genre. Teach them to admire the richness of the literature. A great resource to have in your home library is “Words of Delight” by Leland Ryken (and perhaps even “The Christian Imagination” by the same author, it will be a delight to you all).
Read looking for meaning in harmony with the whole of Scripture. Teach them to look for the plainest meaning.
In either Testament, we look for how this passage points to Christ. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures…all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27, 44)
When the habit of reading is firmly established, we will teach about how to study. I will probably hold off on formal study until my children are in their middle school years.
Begin by teaching them to read through something once, quickly, to see the big picture. Sometimes it helps to listen to it through the free Bible app. After seeing the big picture, hearing all the repeated themes or words, then we read slowly through. Read one chapter, many times over the course of a week before moving on to the next.
Talking about what they remember or have thought about will increase their learning and remembering (and yours!). Make conversing about “what have you been reading” normal as you do dishes together, or do yard work together, or sit around the meal table together.
Teach them to follow the words by turning to a Concordance. Look the word up, see the Greek or Hebrew, see the other uses. Read these passages, and understand how this word was used. Appreciate those words that are only used once, enjoy their uniqueness. Teach them to pay attention to key words, and to connecting words.
Who was the author of the book? Who was his original audience? How would they have heard and understood this portion?
Help them see the difference between exegesis and eisegesis: are you reading and trying to learn what the text is saying, or are you looking for a text that speaks to your previously held opinion? The most harmful question we can teach them to ask is “what does this text mean to me?” We ought rather to ask, “What is God teaching in this passage?” This is not my personal book to handle as I see fit, it is not about me.
God has spoken meaningfully, and we read to gain understanding. Many doctrines taught in Scripture cannot be learned from a verse, or even from one chapter or book. To understand, for example, the concept of the Atonement, we cannot simply turn to one verse that has this word in it. Some things must be understood in light of all of Scripture. Teach them to read with the long view in mind, to be patient as they read.
Buy a family copy of a Bible Encyclopedia. There are many in this era who try to use only online digital resources. This seems convenient, and this generation is addicted to convenience. Yet, our brains interact more solidly with the written word. It makes no difference what you think your own learning preferences are, your brain will remember more and create more connections (neural pathways) if interacting with a physical book (google “learning styles debunked” and see for yourself).
The Logos came to a people ready for the Word, He spoke, and commanded it to be written. Our minds are hungry and thirsty for this feast–study is but one part of the feasting (see John 6 for this beautiful metaphor). Much in the Word should be discussed, it is easy to take passages out of context,
As they grow older, I will put good books before them, like J.I. Packer’s “God has Spoken” and R.C. Sproul’s “Knowing Scripture.” Both of these books are helpful in the high school and college age years, as well as for adults.
Reading Scripture must be accompanied by meditation. Christian meditation is nothing at all like worldly, new age, demonic or mystical meditation. There is no way to silence your brain, or turn off thinking, or empty yourself. To try to silence your thoughts is not in obedience to God, but to some other ‘source.’ Rather, Christian meditation is to set your thoughts intentionally. Romans 8 and Colossians 3 and Philippians 4, in addition to countless Psalms, are the classic passages to learn from.
We set our minds on the things of the Spirit. What are those things? Well, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God; and Jesus taught that the Spirit will take of what He revealed and teach it. The Spirit reveals to us the deep things of God (1 Cor 2), the things in the Scriptures; no one can understand apart from the Spirit’s work. Thus to meditate is to think about, muse upon, and ponder the Scriptures, focusing on the words and phrases.
And as other thoughts mingle, or overtake our times of meditation, we learn to set them aside. Write it down, and come back to it later! There ought to be no guilt, simply a return to setting your mind on Scripture. Focus your thinking once again.
Reading, meditating, and prayer will mingle. We cannot separate them, and must not be so legalistic as to try. Meditation will lead to prayer that pleases God immensely, because we will abide in His words and pray from that posture! So we teach our children to meditate by teaching them to select a passage that they want to read over and over throughout the day. Perhaps write it on a scrap of paper, keep it in a pocket. Find a free moment, read it, pray for understanding, think about it some more. Start small, with a few minutes of meditation.
Meditation leads to remembering, and having it hidden away in our hearts. This enables us to meditate on it later without having the scrap of paper. We practice little moments of being still to know He is God (whether in our yard, on a hike, on a car ride…), and in these little moments I remind my children to think about a passage they’ve hidden in their hearts. These little moments will hopefully prepare them for a lifetime of being able to direct their thoughts toward the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Next week, we will close this series with a look at journaling, and learning to be attentive to a sermon; as well as closing with a few thoughts on having habits that lead our children to worship with their whole being.