“He did what on his couch?”
These words came from my eight year old daughter with a look of confusion and disgust as I was reading Genesis to our family at the dinner table. That evening, we happened to be in the story about Reuben defiling his father’s couch by laying with one of his father’s concubines (Gen. 35:22).
I looked at my wife from across the table for help only to find that “how you gonna explain this one?” smirk on her face.
Quickly, (and in my mind, brilliantly), I responded, “Umm, he laid with a woman who was not his wife.”
My daughter seemed satisfied enough. Or confused enough that I could continue on while she attempted to wrestle with what she had just heard. Confident that I had fielded the question well, avoiding both a delay in our Bible reading and a conversation I was not prepared to have with my children at the dinner table, I began reading again.
But then, my son politely interrupted with, “Isn’t that what his dad was doing?”
At this point, my wife’s smirk became full on laughter. Then my son started laughing. I started laughing and the three younger kids joined in, not even realizing what they were laughing about. I responded, “Yes, son, that is correct. That is what his father was doing as well.”
I cherish this moment. Was it because I perfectly explained how Jacob laying with his concubine did not defile his couch, but Reuben laying with his father’s concubine did defile his father’s couch? Probably not. But did my kids see their dad wrestle with understanding and explaining the more complex parts of the Bible? Definitely.
Other stories leave us with moments that we cherish for different reasons. Lately, our family has been making our way through 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles. At the start of most chapters, the author introduces a king with either: “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” My kids are so accustomed to it they immediately, and often correctly, assume how the rest of the story will unfold.
He started as a very bad dude. God gave him over to the Assyrians and things didn’t look good.
But then, Manasseh repented. He cried out to the Lord and God restored him. Upon his return to his land, his people, and his kingdom, he destroyed all the idols and altars to false gods.
After reading this story, we were amazed at how merciful God was to Manasseh. We saw that God saves, delivers, and restores his wayward children.
It was a great opportunity to point us to Jesus, who says, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Old Testament to New, God is merciful. He saves, delivers, and restores the repentant who believe in him.
This was another highlight moment in our family, centered around the reading of God’s Word. Some nights they are funny, some nights they are sad, or seemingly mundane. Other nights they are wonderful.
If I could encourage you as a parent, it would be to simply read the Bible as the story that it is. It is okay to skim over parts or summarize sections to keep your young children’s attention. But let God introduce himself to your family via the open Word coming from your mouth to their ears.
I know I don’t read the Bible as I ought, or for all it’s worth. I know I don’t grasp all the ways to explain God’s goodness to my family. But that’s not why I read it to them. I read it to them because it is God’s revelation of himself to us, and I want them to know God.
To have the ability to read, the blessing of children, the written Word, and to not read it together would surely be a neglected grace that God has given us.
Here are a few of the things we’ve learned as you consider reading the Bible with your family:
Just Read the Bible.
I’ve tried all sorts of “family devotionals.” Most of them are great, but what I have found to work for our family is to read about a chapter from the Bible each night and engage it as the story that it is, not as a lesson plan. Sometimes we discuss, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes kids ask questions, sometimes dad or mom make comments or asks questions… you get the picture. No matter what, I want us all to read the Bible simply for the sake of enjoying God in and through his Word.
Ask God for Help
Put simply, if you want good, fruitful, Bible time with your family, God will give it to you if you seek it from Him. He may humble you first (like that time he did with me ), but he will give it to you.
Find a Time that Works for Everyone.
Our oldest is 12 and our youngest is four. What works best for our family is for Dad to read the Bible at the dinner table when we are all together, about three to five nights a week. This might not be the time that works best for your family, but try to find a time when all are present and available.
If we are all sitting at the dinner table and I forget to bring the Bible, my wife will ask one of the children to get it. I love that she does this. I didn’t plan it this way, but it has evolved our dinner time into a little liturgy. We sit, we thank the Lord, my wife calls for the Bible to be brought, a child brings the Bible. They then eat physical food as Dad offers them their spiritual food. It’s a routine my wife, my children, and I can all count on.
Spouses: Encourage, Support, and Pray for Each Other in This Effort.
Healthy family devotions have never been the result of nagging or passive aggressive comments. Sometimes, when people hear about what we do, they say something like, “I wish my husband would do that.” We do not want to relate to our spouses with an expectation of works, but of grace. Loving your spouse as God has loved you is the fertile soil for beginning family devotions. Ask God for what you desire in your spouse, look for logs in your own eye, and chill out.
If you are looking for a place to start try, Genesis. If you get stuck in a book, consider getting a commentary to help you understand, explain, and summarize it better for your family. If you are losing your children’s attention, it’s okay to jump to a different spot, but it is also okay to persevere through longer or harder passages.
As parents, we can easily get overwhelmed by our God-given responsibility to disciple our children. I was recently encouraged by a friend with 2 Corinthians 1:12 where Paul boasts that his efforts were done in “simplicity and sincerity.”
Simplicity and sincerity are a good aim in shepherding your family with the Word of God. I’m not depending on my “family Bible time,” I’m depending on God and his grace to do the work he has promised he will do.
Want to learn more about Family Discipleship? Check out Rooted Reservoir’s online video courses on family discipleship!