Children’s and Family Bible Time

Sometimes in the course of parenting, we are given sound advice in the raising of children. Other times, the counsel offered is not the path to take. Sadly, it may only be the course of time that leads one to discover whether there was value in the words that were spoken. Steve and I found ourselves in this kind of difficulty, when it came to reading the Bible with the children, as we raised our first three who are now adults. We listened to the wrong encouragement. We were given another opportunity with our five younger children, having the benefit of spiritual growth in us as parents. We also had more experience in learning to listen to the Lord instead of listening to others.

When our older children were young, we were told that preschoolers couldn’t understand the Bible. It was simply too difficult for them. The words were too hard. The concepts were above their heads. The Bible wouldn’t hold their attention. Spiritual training, according to these voices, was not to be neglected, though. We were encouraged to make the Bible real to our young children by reading them books with stories that were easy to understand, exciting, fun, and enticing for young eyes and minds with oodles of colorful illustrations. Most said that our preschoolers needed easy-to-understand materials like picture Bibles or books that had one verse and then a story connected with the verse. There were plenty of these books available, so that’s what we started using for our Bible time with our children.

Although our Kindergarten-age oldest son was praised by a teacher for his Bible knowledge, gleaned from a picture Bible, we never felt like we were quite hitting the mark in our children’s spiritual nurturing when we used these types of materials. The children enjoyed them, no doubt. We spent beneficial time together with our children as we read from these books. Where was the spiritual meat, though? Could it really be that pictures illustrating God’s truth or paraphrased stories were able to convey the same truth and wisdom found in the Word? Did these children’s materials have the power of the Bible in them?

As our children became older, the Lord was pulling our hearts away from the fluff of other books for family Bible time. It took a few intermediate steps from picture Bibles, but eventually we moved to using the Bible for Bible time. What a novel idea! Of course, by now our older children were well into their elementary grades and could be expected, even by those who liked to give suggestions, to start understanding some of what was read from the Bible.

In our large family, using Bibles for family time meant that our youngest children—who were then babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—were involved in Bible time using real Bibles. We were amazed. We were shocked. We were dumbfounded. Our preschoolers most certainly weren’t fitting the model set out earlier for us. They liked Bible time with the family and with Bibles. Our little children could understand much of what we were reading. They would ask questions about what they didn’t understand. They did great. When Mary was four years old—long before she could read—she would still participate in our family’s tradition at the end of our Bible reading. After reading the chapter for that night, each family member picks out a verse that applies to his life in some way and shares it with the rest of the family.

Mary would listen as the chapter was read and understand it well enough to know which verse she wanted to pick. She even had a system to be able to tell us her verse number. She would identify the family member who read the verse she was choosing. She would then count around the room, since we each read two verses until the chapter ended—sometimes her verse was read on the second round—to determine the verse number. Then she would tell us the verse number and articulate the personal application from what had been read in that verse. That is pretty amazing for a very normal four-year-old if preschoolers can’t understand the Bible!

Scripture gives us a good basis for reading the Bible with our children and teaching them from it. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). I don’t know exactly how Timothy was taught. However, when this verse says that he has “known the holy scriptures” from a child, I don’t think he was learning from any popular Jewish children’s picture books of the time. I believe he was being taught directly from Scripture. Look at these verses and the power we see in God’s Word—even for a child. Strong’s Concordance indicates that the word “child” is actually a baby or young child. Timothy’s instruction from the Bible began when he was very young.

In this process of what to use for Bible time with young children, consider the appetites that are developed. When we give our children Bible story books and picture Bibles rather than real Bibles for family Bible reading, are we developing a love in their hearts for God’s Word? Are we teaching them that God’s Word is the very sustenance of their lives? Are we giving them a comfort level that they can and should learn and understand the Word? Are children’s picture Bibles “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”? Are they “. . . quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and . . . is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)?

We experienced firsthand the consequences of using picture Bibles, story books, and cute devotionals for Bible time. We had created an appetite in our three older children for those kinds of materials. They much preferred something with a story and a picture in it to the Word itself. They weren’t excited when Steve said we were going to begin reading the Bible. They wanted a story from one of their other books or children’s devotionals. It was a process to help them develop a love for the Word and to let go of wanting it to be entertaining.

Our younger children haven’t had this problem with bad appetites being developed in them regarding Bible reading. Instead they have had positive appetites instilled in them. They have grown up with real Bibles and have been a part of the family reading the Bible together. They have been able to understand the Word without needing pictures and stories. Some have participated in family Bible time since the day they were born, once we had instituted reading the Bible with the children. God’s inspired Word has filled their minds and consequently taught their hearts from infancy. They truly love God’s Word.

I would encourage you to consider these thoughts as you plan what to use in your family Bible time and preschool Bible time. We pray that our experience, both negative and positive, would give you information to help you see the value of using Bibles even with young children. May we be moms who love the Word so much that nothing can be substituted for it in the lives of our children.

Posted in: Mom's Corner

A Family Pursuit

Some on the Corner’s list have heard us speak and know that when we are at the smaller conferences, we introduce the family by singing. We felt that was appropriate because each evening we close our family Bible time with a hymn. We have greatly enjoyed our singing together.

Christopher has played the piano since he was eight and is now giving Jesse, Mary, and Anna piano lessons. His love for hymns and skill at playing them has been a great encouragement to our family, motivating the younger children to want to learn from him. Frequently, when Christopher visits our church attendees who are in the hospital, he will play the piano in the sitting area. This is a source of joy and comfort to those he is visiting.

Last fall my mother found a violin in a thrift store that had some minor damage to it. She is skillful with her hands and soon had made a few small repairs to it, yielding a playable instrument. She had heard about Anna’s desire to play the violin and gave it to her. Since then, Anna has worked hard teaching herself to play the violin.

Years ago, when we lived in Washington State, Nathan purchased an old guitar from someone at church, and it has been gathering dust since Nathan graduated to a nicer guitar. Occasionally, Jesse and Mary would ask if they could get Nathan’s old guitar out and play it. They would have a great time strumming away “melodies” that they composed on the fly.

In the summer of 2004, Sarah and Teri visited some friends of the family. Several times during the visit, the family broke out their instruments and played them. They sang hymns and had a blessed time. Even the young children in the home had instruments that they were learning to play.

Last fall two of our children began asking if they could purchase acoustic guitars. I suppose all the above factors were a part, but by this time, learning to play the guitar was firmly on their hearts. One day when Teri and I were on our walk together, I shared with her that I was praying about getting three guitars, two for the children and one for myself. I mentioned how I had always wanted to learn to play a guitar, but had never done so. When Nathan started to play his guitar, I had tried to learn with him, but with my short fat fingers, I had given up in despair. However, now it was on my heart again, and I was feeling committed to learning how to play the guitar.

Teri surprised me with her reply. She said she had always desired to learn to play the guitar as well, and if I got one, she wanted one too. It was funny to hear her say those words because after thirty years of marriage, I had no idea she would like to learn to play a guitar. I believe I know her quite well and don’t expect many surprises – but I was wrong, she surprised me.

After getting the Lord’s direction, we leapt right in and purchased a number of instruments. Since then there have been some adjustments, and the children have settled into their instruments of preference. Starting with the youngest and working upwards, Mary, age 8, plays the mountain dulcimer, guitar, and tin whistle. Jesse, age 10, plays the hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, bowed psaltery, and guitar. Anna, age 12, plays the fiddle, hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery, and mandolin. John, age 14, plays the banjo and guitar. Joseph, age 15, plays the mandolin. Sarah plays the banjo. Christopher plays the upright bass and guitar. Finally, Teri and I play guitars. Whew!

So why write about this in a Dad’s Corner? I have a number of things I can share about our new interest in instruments that might encourage you and strengthen your family.

First, we believe that Luke 1:17 is critical to raising children who have their hearts turned toward their parents. “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” When my heart is turned toward my children, I will spend edifying time with them, and their hearts will be turned toward us.

Following dinner, the rest of our evening is spent together in the most blessed and special time of the day. Every night, we begin by having our family Bible time. After that, we play our instruments and sing hymns. Not only is the time edifying, but we enjoy it greatly.

Compare how our evenings are spent to the family who spends their time in individual pursuits, out at an activity, or worse, sitting in front of a TV. The TV is “the world” condensed down into several cubic feet. To “feed” on what the TV spews out is spiritual poison for Christians. Friends, if you have a TV in your home, may I encourage you to put it out for the trash? You will be blessed if you do. If TV is taking even a minute of your time, I implore you to get rid of it. After you have the television out of your life for a month, you will look back and see how it was corrupting your spirit and stealing your time. I know those are strong words, but I challenge you to see if what I’m saying is true.

Next, I have heard through the years that if you want to teach your children teamwork, let them play sports. I have come to disagree with that statement. Instead of our children receiving all the negatives sports have to offer – bad influences, injuries, appetites for wasting time, and more – our family is learning to cooperate and each to defer to the other as they seek to produce harmony and balanced music. (For more information on sports, we suggest you listen to our CD, Sports-Friend or Foe?.)

Playing music to be a blessing to others has given the children additional purpose in their days. When they have some discretionary time, they are likely to spend it practicing on their instruments instead of wasting it. I love to walk past the living room seeing Jesse and Mary practicing their dulcimers together, or seeing all of the younger children working on a hymn they will play for the elderly on Sunday at church.

One thing we have avoided is dependence on someone else to teach the children. I’ve known many families who taxi their children all around to music lessons. In addition to disrupting the day, it can be extremely expensive. We tried an instructor for a few weeks and cycled several children together through the lesson, but soon found that books and DVDs were more beneficial. We can use these resources at times that fit our schedule, and the materials are there for later review.

Instead of purchasing character-quality curricula, we have found the music time provides ample opportunity to work on character. For example, when the children work together practicing hymns, they need to submit to one another. Each one usually has a suggestion on how best to play the arrangement, and it is a wonderful exercise in submission for them to work through it with proper spirits.

Some might think that it would be expensive if one chooses to go down the musical road. Certainly, it can be, but there are many ways to make it affordable. As I mentioned, Anna’s violin came from a thrift store. A family we know got their son’s guitar at a garage sale. It is not uncommon for people to have instruments gathering dust that they would be happy to give away or sell inexpensively to someone who will use them. Two of the children have recorders, and Mary also has a tin whistle, which are very inexpensive instruments. Also, musical instruments make great gifts for the children instead of toys that quickly wear out. Grandparents might be pleased to know of something worthwhile to give as a present, or at least money toward the instrument. Often children will have money saved that could be used on a lifetime investment such as a musical instrument. If God puts family musical instruments on your heart, pray and ask Him to provide them. It is exciting to see how the Lord answers prayers, and your children will be encouraged in their faith.

Another hindrance to some might be that the parents don’t have a musical background or knowledge of music theory. That is exactly how I would describe myself. I was a grade-school trombone flunky. We have found that there are books and videos available that can take someone who knows nothing musically and have him playing hymns very quickly. If I remember right, I believe we were playing our first hymn within a week. It was rewarding and such a blessing. Don’t let lack of musical knowledge stop you. Most importantly, if the Lord Jesus is leading you, go for it.

May I encourage you to seek the Lord in how He might direct your family into joint pursuits – activities that may be done as a family? Our family music time has a significant impact on my time and what I can accomplish in the evenings, but I don’t regret this investment for a minute. I love pouring out my heart and time into my family. If there are unprofitable things that are taking your time, please remove them from your life. Then substitute in something that is edifying and good for your family. The benefits you will receive will be a blessing for eternity.

Posted in: Dad's Corner