HOW TO TEACH THE BIBLE TO CHILDREN

(Presentation transcription at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship Mothers’ Group - January 23, 2002)

Thank you for inviting me to meet with you. I’m privileged to be with the Blessed Ones this morning - the mothers of Abundant Life. As you may know, my topic assignment is "How to Teach the Bible to Children".

To accomplish this, we will first need to establish several fundamental Biblical truths; so let’s begin with what the Bible has to say about the “casual” subject of human nature . . .

RECOGNIZE OUR NATURE

The theological term for the state being described in the handout* is Total Depravity; but I like to call this part, "Recognizing Your Child's True Potential."

Sadly, despite the deceptively sweet exterior on a baby, every person born has an inclination toward evil and a heart of hatred toward God. It's hard for us to fully comprehend this, but every newborn baby has the full potential to become the next Hitler, Saddam, or Judas. Succinctly stated, our will may be free, but that freedom exists only within the context of our nature; and our nature is dead in sin from the very beginning.

As a pictorial example of this concept, imagine a hungry horse being offered a dining choice between fresh hay and a juicy steak. Given his horsey-nature, he will always choose the hay. That is what horses want. They are not interested in steak. This is an excellent metaphor for our spiritual nature. Given a choice to live in loving obedience to God or self-willed disobedience, human nature inclines us to always choose rebellion and the self.

Even before birth, the human heart is already programmed for sin and selfishness. It has been passed down the generations through Adam ("Adam begot a son in his own likeness, after his image." Gen. 5:3), so children are born with sinful tastes and an aversion to the things of God, and even to God Himself.

This is the same aversion that caused Adam and Eve to try to hide from the Lord's presence (Gen. 3:8) after they had fallen from innocence. King David famously describes it this way: "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me," Psalm 51:5; meaning his nature was defiled by sinful tendencies and evil desires from the very moment of his conception.

We look at our wide-eyed little ones and naturally recoil from thinking of them in these terms. They seem chaste, precious, and so innocent; yet they have no native potential for true holiness or love for God. They are merely inexperienced and naive people. What every child really needs is to be born again - - given a heart transplant operation from God, if you will.

If you believe what the Bible has to say about this matter,  you are well on the way to being a successful parent and to preventing your child from "fulfilling his true potential." You, Mom, are the appointed person to provide the first draught of  Living Water for your children to imbibe. You are one to begin the process of their restoration to peace with the Lord.

I have long noticed a simple statement among the histories of the kings of Israel and Judea, one which is repeated over and over. It goes like this:

"So and so (named) was king over Israel, and he reigned for 25 years. His mother was so and so (named);” followed by: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” OR “He did evil in the sight of the Lord."

Through this means, the Word of God demonstrates that mothers clearly have a huge influence on the spiritual life of their children. You are the Lord's choice instrument for their salvation, and your children are your primary mission field. As it says in Romans: "How shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" You are sent as a personal missionary to your children! God Himself has given the responsibility for raising children to parents -- not to schoolteachers, peers, child-care workers, or other people outside the family.

And this brings me to my second point:

EQUIPPED THROUGH YOUR PERSONAL STUDY

As mothers, we need to seriously consider the pattern of motherhood God has prepared for us in His Word.

Every wisdom and blessing you need for your family is in the Word! Our clever and mighty Lord has given His word to us in a format understandable for even the lowliest person, yet deep and complex enough the greatest scholar.

I caution you about spending your precious time reading books about the Bible when, you could be in the Bible itself! As modern mothers, I understand that your time is quite limited; so just as I would tell a physically ill friend not to eat junk, but go for "quality" food, I counsel you to go for the "quality spiritual food", the Bible alone, for your study time.

Here are my suggestions to help get you into the Bible on a daily basis.

1. Remember, you just need to show up on the page! Our Lord will be pleased to honor your commitment to hearing Him by opening His Word to you with understanding.

2. Pick a time for Bible reading and be rigid about it. Tell the children they may not interrupt when you are listening to the Lord. Explain that you need to listen to Him everyday, or you won’t be able to be a good mommy for them. Don’t let anything short of blood or a fire stop you.

3. Be sure to read the Bible openly in front of the children. It demonstrates the importance you place on the time you spend hearing from God.

Personally, I began with "Walk Through the Bible" when my oldest sons were under five. This method entails about 3 chapters, or 35 minutes, a day, with one "free" day every 7 days, so you can catch up if you fall behind. But even at a rate of one chapter per day, you can read the entire Bible once every three years!

It is extremely important that you read the whole Bible, so that you can hear and receive the whole counsel of our unchanging Lord.

4. Do not be presumptuous in your approach to the Word. Always thank God for speaking to you and ask the help of the Holy Spirit to teach you.

5. It is absolutely okay not to “get it” when you read a passage. When I read scripture that I do not understand, I just place a question mark next to it with my pencil. It is one of the major joys of my life to be able to erase those marks as the years go by. It assures me that the Lord is sharing more and more of His heart with me. I'm even happier to add new question marks in places that I thought I had previously understood. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this tells me that I am making progress because you know you don't get it when you don't even have any questions!

6. Just show up, and God will meet you there. You will grow as fast and strong as a Redwood tree.

Listen to what the Lord has to say to us in Deuteronomy:

"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart."

The core of His leadership for your life (i.e., His commands) will travel to your heart through the reading the Bible!

Okay, now you are ready to teach your children:

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN GOD’S WORD:

"You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." Deut. 6:6-7

1. Ideally, both mother and father should be doing this, but if your husband does not contribute, you can be faithful and God will honor it in your children.

2. Take your time and be thorough.

3. Bathe your efforts in prayer.

4. Teach them the whole counsel of God, i.e., both Testatments.

5. Do not use any book other than the Bible, particularly after six years of age, and be very careful about Bible "story books", etc., with a child under six. I say this because His Word is truth, grounded in real history; it is not just another library story, or cartoon, or a bedtime tale. It is extremely precious and needs to be presented with seriousness and respect.

Following are some recommendations from my personal experience:

1. Again, as with yourself, pick the same time daily to read the Bible together. This can be before, or after meals, early or late afternoon, evening; whatever fits comfortably into your family time.

2. Plan on approximately 10 - 15 minutes (maximum) for any and all ages, and limit the amount you are going to cover. Don’t forget that the average adult has a 20 minute attention span (less for those of us in short-attention span theater!), so imagine how long the attention span is for a 7 year old!

3. This should be a pleasant, happy time with Mom, not a chore for them or for you. It's not the moment to critique posture, attentiveness, etc. Just pick a comfy place and dog pile for a short reading.

4. Do this five days a week. Consistency is extremely important because you are trying to build a lifetime habit in your children.

5. The NIV translation of the Bible** is nicely segmented topically for short studies and quite easy for children to read and understand. It's also important that you all have the same translation if they will be reading along with you.

6. The most coherent approach is to choose one book of the Bible, and do that book start-to-finish. For instance, you can do one Old Testament book, then a gospel, followed by another Old Testament book, and then an epistle, etc. In our home studies, I found it helpful to do all of the history of Israel in one piece.

Here is a list of all books we managed to cover together:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, I & II Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, Colossisans, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I John, Revelation.
(Those in bold I managed to do at least twice or more.)

7. Impress upon your children that Bible reading is the most important thing of the day. Nothing else should be allowed to interfere. Its more important than laundry, the dentist, soccer, etc.

8. Pray aloud that the Holy Spirit will teach you all, and thank the Lord for His Word.

9. If the Lord has not given you any insights before you begin, just read the passage. It is enough for the Word to speak for Itself.

10. As the reading ability of your children matures, have them read the passage silently before you start. This will improve everyone's reading skills, comprehension, and prove to your children that everyone can read the Bible. You are trying to nurture a habit in them.

11. Always bear in mind that children forget everything constantly; therefore, repeating a book every 3 to 4 years is a good idea.

RELATED THOUGHTS:

1. At about age 8 or 9, require your children to "read their age" daily, apart from your family study (perhaps over summer when school is not in session). This means a 6 year old will read 6 verses a day, a 15 year old will read 15 verses, and your 37 year old husband will read 37. The children should be reading from a different book than the family (e. g., you are in Luke, they read Acts).

2. Show the children it is okay not to understand everything, and encourage them to enter their own question marks (pencil) in their Bibles, just as you do.

3. We memorized whole chapters, such as Romans 12, some Psalms, etc. The beatitudes are also a good choice. It can take months to accomplish, but that’s okay.

4. We also sang a hymn everyday (a capella) before Bible study. We would sing one verse every day for a week (5 days). The next week, we would add a second verse, singing 2 verses daily until, at the end of the month, we could sing 4 verses of a hymn by heart. Our family can barely carry a tune, but our singing really improved, and we learned a lot of truth as we memorized scores of hymns.

HOW IT ALL CAME OUT (in our real life):

The Bible reading plan above was followed in our family for over 14 years, from the time Nate was seven until Ezra, the baby, was in eighth grade.

During high school, I am sad to say, we only had sporadic family times in the Bible, usually after dinner, partially because our sons were attending a Christian high school that had Bible study every day. They have since graduated university, grown-up, got jobs, and some are married.

We continue to have long running debates in our home on subjects such as: The salvation of infants and the mentally disabled? Does God submit Himself to exisence in time? What does it mean and how are we created in the image of God? How minutely involved in our lives is God? To the need a “parking space” level? Does God have a preferred method of disposal of our dead bodies? Burial? Cremation? Who has sovereignty over the womb? Are whole nations judged? And so forth. Although I didn't think anything was particularly happening during all those years reading the Bible together, our sons certainly got enough grounding to sustain some pretty heavy discussions. And the Lord stays with them.

All is of and from the Lord, and He just dazzles me with His goodness!

You cannot save your children. Salvation is between the Lord and your child. But in this matter, when you stand before the Lord, my desire is that He will say to you "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

* See blog post “WHAT THE WORD SAYS ABOUT OUR NATURE” 11/22/2009
** I loathe the red-letter versions because by emphasizing only the words of Jesus, they passively imply that the rest of the Word is not quite as important. Sadly, current publishers don't seem to produce anything else, so I get used editions cheaply on-line. Also, I urge you to stay away from any Bibles with pictures. (More on this in another post.)

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