Disclaimer: I am not a professional or academically certified theologian like other contributors on Rambling Ever On. I am merely a Christian father trying to raise my children to the best of my abilities with some thoughts to share about children’s devotions that may or may not be helpful to you. Feel free to post any disagreements and/or corrections in the comment section (tact and grace are always appreciated).
I’ve been dwelling lately on how to properly raise my children. I worry, probably overly much, about preparing them for adulthood. Partly because I often feel, as most parents probably do, that I’m not doing a terribly great job of it. Partly because I see many young adults go astray despite having a seemingly good upbringing.
I think back to my own childhood and compare the world of that day to the world of my young adulthood and then to the world of today. Those are three vastly different worlds separated by a mere decade or two. How could those of my parents’ generation possibly prepare those of my generation for the worlds of my twenties or thirties (or, soon, forties). They could not have imagined the situations my generation faced. My children will probably face situations I could not have dreamed in my wildest dreams. How do I prepare them for that?
My opinion is that we, both in the home and in the church, should probably focus less on discussing very specific topics and situations that they might potentially face at some point in the future. (I do not advocate complete avoidance of topical discussion, especially when it is a topic or situation the child is currently facing.) Instead, we should focus primarily on the Scripture, first and foremost reading and memorizing it, secondly studying and discussing it. We need to be teaching our children (and ourselves and our fellow Christian adults) sound biblical doctrine and deep theology, without necessarily worrying about whether it has an obvious real-world application right now. Pouring the Word of God into them so that, when the real world situation comes up, biblical knowledge and understanding is already there for them.
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you … so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. …
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. … be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out … of slavery.Deuteronomy 6:1-12 (NIV)
On top of that, we should allow our children to ask whatever questions they have about what they read in the Bible and about what they’re facing out in the world, and be willing to answer them honestly and openly (and appropriately in consideration of their age, understanding, and maturity).
That will eventually involve answering difficult questions either because the answer is not easy to know or because the topic is uncomfortable to discuss. Sometimes that may involve saying, “I don’t know” followed up with asking someone else more knowledgeable or with further study. Though we need to understand that sometimes the final answer to some questions in this life is, “I don’t know.” Or maybe, “I don’t understand it, but the Lord who created and saved us wants us to do this, so we obey.” And perhaps the most difficult, “Society says this is truth but the Bible says the opposite, so we believe the Lord who created and saved us and obey.”
In the future, when your [child] asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (NIV)
Our lives and our children’s lives ought to be permeated with the Word of God. How do we do that?
- We need to read Scripture ourselves daily.
- We need to read Scripture to our children daily and teach them how to read it themselves.
- At least some of the music we listen to ought to be based on Scripture.
- We should “write them on the doorframes of [our] houses and on [our] gates” or perhaps have Scripture verses on the walls or in artwork in our houses. Some regular, visible reminder of Scripture.
- We should discuss Scripture as a family daily.
It can be hard to do this. Here are five resources my family has used effectively (which is not to say we do this perfectly or even well) that might be able to help.
Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids by David Murray
This book is a year-long daily Bible reading program designed for kids ages 6-12. (I also do it with my five-year-old, reading aloud with her and having her respond verbally.)
While it does start with Genesis and end with Revelation, it does not cover every single verse of the Bible. It is not meant to be challenging. It is meant to get children to read at least a few verses a day and be able to think about them enough to answer what is usually a very simple question. In other words, it is easy and fun while developing that good habit of daily devotions in children.
Each week focuses on a different section of Scripture. The children are instructed to determine for themselves two or three prayer requests to focus on that week. They are given one verse to memorize over the course of the week
Each day Monday through Saturday has a short passage of Scripture to read followed by either a simple question to answer or a single verse from that day’s passage to copy (typically the same as the memory verse for the week). Sunday has a short summary along with an outline for taking sermon notes assuming your child will sit through a sermon in church that day.
The book is beautiful but not terribly cheap, and I have four children currently using it. If you have oodles of money, by all means by a copy for each child. If you need to be more frugal, have the children write in a separate notebook to keep the book re-usable.
Our children start their day with this. They can easily finish it while waiting for breakfast.
Psalms for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval
This book was given to us by my wife’s parents (in February of 2013 according to the inscription1). It was an immediate hit and has been much used and loved (and repaired) since.
The back cover has a better description than what I could write:
The biblical Psalms describe a whole range of emotions, from joy and wonder to sadness and regret. This collection of Psalms, paraphrased for young readers, uses simple yet powerful imagery to help children express their feelings
And from the inside cover:
This selection of Psalms, paraphrased for young readers, uses language and imagery appropriate for children while remaining faithful to the spirit of the biblical texts.
As both statements make very clear, these are paraphrased Psalms rather than literal translations.
The book is laid out such that when you open it, there is a written Psalm on the left and an accompanying illustration on the right. The Psalms are very readable and memorable for young readers, and the illustrations are a great visual tool to aid the young reader in remembering what they have read.
Each Psalm is also a liturgical prayer to God. We have often used this book in our nightly bedtime routine. We have also used it to help a child experiencing big emotions to effectively communicate those in prayer to God.
One of my favorites is this paraphrase of Psalm 4:
God, when I’m in my bed
at night, I think about you.
And then I’m not scared of
anything. I can fall asleep
quietly and in peace.
It’s great when tucking in a child during a normal bedtime routine, but it’s also great for helping a child get their thoughts properly refocused after waking up from a nightmare.
Honorable Mention – The Jesus Storybook Bible
I don’t typically recommend paraphrased children’s Bible storybooks, as I would rather get them in literal translations as quickly as possible. I realize the irony of saying that right after recommending a book of paraphrased Psalms. That said, if you are in the market for a children’s Bible storybook, I recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I love the strong gospel focus throughout.
Slugs & Bugs “Sing the Bible”
The previous recommendation uses visual imagery to help reinforce Scriptural learning. This recommendation uses music as an auditory aid to learning Scripture.
The Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible series (currently volumes 1-3 and Family Christmas) is literally that, passages of Scripture sung by Randall Goodgame and his friends. My children love the music, often requesting it rather than it being forced upon them. I often find myself singing Scripture in my head without even realizing it because of these songs.
Currently, the Sing the Bible albums are not available on Spotify and only a few songs are available on YouTube. The only album on Spotify is Under Where? a collection of silly songs that does include Christian themes but is not Scripture. So, to listen to the Sing the Bible albums you’ll have to actually purchase them, but they are worth it.
Honorable Mention – Seeds Family Worship
If you’re looking for something similar that is available on Spotify, check out Seeds Family Worship. Same concept and we like them a lot as well, but Slugs & Bugs is more our style.
Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God & Science by Louie Giglio
I decided to include one traditional style children’s devotions book that is more topical rather than pure Scripture. There are many good devotional books from which you could choose. But this is my favorite, because I love science.
Indescribable is a celebration of science as the study of the created physical universe that inevitably glorifies the Creator and helps us to know God better.
The book contains 100 children’s devotions. Each devotion begins with a short passage of Scripture, then explains a bit of scientific knowledge, then applies that knowledge in some way to the Creator, and ends with a prayer and a brief “Be Amazed” factoid. So, it follows a fairly standard devotional book pattern.
So often the church seems to operate in an us vs them mode when it comes to science. I’ve been very frustrated by that and found this book to be a refreshing change.
Science asks some of those difficult questions I referred to earlier, and there are some who leave the church as young adults because they find the church’s answers to be unsatisfying. I personally welcome those questions from my children. I am grateful for the opportunity to answer them in the environment of the family.
A sequel, How Great Is Our God: 100 Indescribable Devotions About God and Science, is coming out this November. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for my family.
The New City Catechism
For many centuries, the primary way children learned Biblical truth was through catechism: a set of questions and answers recited orally and memorized. Catechism literally means “to teach orally.” Catechesis is a great teaching/learning method. I think it’s a shame that many churches no longer use this method to teach doctrine to both children and adults. That’s a topic for another article though.
Even if your church doesn’t use catechesis, there are many great catechisms that you can use at home as a family to help ensure that neither you nor your children have any gaping holes in your core Biblical knowledge.
What sets New City Catechism apart from the rest, in my opinion, is its modern packaging. The Biblical truths are the same, but New City Catechism makes use of all available media. And it is extremely well designed and executed in all of its forms.
There are three books available for purchase.
- The basic catechism book containing the questions and answers. For each answer, there is a long version and a concise version (better for young learners and memorization). For each question/answer there is also a supporting Scripture passage.
- A devotional book that contains everything the basic catechism book does plus a short prayer, a contemporary devotional commentary, and a historical devotional commentary for each question/answer.
- A booklet for kids containing just the questions and the concise, easy-to-memorize version of the answers.
Honestly, though, I would recommend skipping the books and going straight for the…
There is a free web app and a free mobile app. They both contain everything the devotional book contains, plus an audio recording of the question and concise version of the answer in the form of a children’s song. The songs are a tremendous aid for memorization. Much like with the Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible songs, I find myself singing catechism in my head (or aloud) randomly throughout the day. We use the mobile app every single day. Did I mention it is FREE!
There is a full curriculum designed for churches. Each question/answer has a 30-, 45-, or 75-minute lesson to fit whatever time you have available. You have to purchase the lessons, but the activity pages are available to download for free on the website.
New City Catechism has 52 question/answer pairs, so one for each week of the year. It is divided into three parts:
- God, Creation & Fall, Law
- Christ, Redemption, Grace
- Spirit, Restoration, Growing in Grace.
The questions and answers themselves were written from a Reformed Calvinist perspective. In case you didn’t know it from our other articles, at Rambling Ever On we are mostly Reformed Arminians. So there are a couple of questions/answers that provide excellent opportunities to discuss the differences between those two groups.
Honorable Mention – A Free Will Baptist Catechism
If you are looking for an Arminian catechism, there is a Free Will Baptist catechism written by Dr. Paul Harrison available at https://www.wnac.org/resources/a-free-will-baptist-catechism/ . I would love for the Free Will Baptist denomination to develop a catechism program on par with The New City Catechism. It would require a lot of work from not only the denomination’s theologians (like Paul Harrison) but also the musicians, the poets, the artists, the teachers, the web/app developers (like me), those in the publishing industry, etc. If you are interested in helping to make that a reality, let us know.
In the end, we parents need to accept the reality that our children’s lives are their own. Eventually, no matter how well or how poorly we prepare them, they go their own way making all of their own decisions for themselves. Sometimes they go astray despite the best upbringing. Sometimes they make the best decisions despite the worst upbringing. We can only do so much. Yet, we can do so much.
- Inscriptions are great ideas. Whenever you give someone a book, write them a note inside the cover along with your name and date. We need these little bits of remembrance in our lives. ↩