Friday, March 2, 2012

Demystifying "Family Devotions" - Part 3

This was originally a 2-part series, then a 3-part series (read Part 1 and Part 2), but for the sake of space, I’m splitting these five final tips on leading your family in daily devotions into two more posts.

But before I proceed, I wanted to share a little bit of my personal story from boyhood, during a time when I was on the receiving end of the family devotions my parents faithfully led.

One of my earliest memories is hearing my dad lumber up the steep, squeaky stairs in our 100-year-old farmhouse at bedtime. Nearly every night, he would come up to read my brother, my two sisters and I a Bible story, mostly from the book The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes in those earliest years. After reading, he would always have us pray. Then he would pray and lovingly tuck us in bed. His prayers were soft, reverent and God-centered, and still are to this day.

Though today it would not be my first choice in Bible storybooks (more about that later), I will always have its beautiful color illustrations emblazoned in my mind.

To this day, when I hear or read the story of the birth of Moses, I see the mesmerizingly rich illustration that accompanied that story, which is also on the cover of the book. The daughter of Pharaoh is wearing beautiful white linen and a white headband with a beautiful pink flower in it, bending over to lift the large basket out of the river rushes, while one of her handmaidens help. All of the paintings in the book are similarly beautiful and photorealistic, with fine detail in each scene that brings the stories to life in my mind’s eye to this day.

Occasionally, Mom would lead us when Dad was working late. For Mom, nothing was too small a thing for which to thank God. We didn’t have much, and she would earnestly thank God for what little we had. Mom’s prayers taught me that it’s impossible to be too thankful, and that every good and perfect gift comes from above.

So without further ado, two more from the list.

Integrate Scripture memory. Admittedly for us, Scripture memorization has not been consistent. But the times we have done it have been incredibly fruitful. Kids have staggering memorization skills. From the time they are able to talk, they will memorize verses with impeccable accuracy and recall. Take advantage of their season of sharpness as children to let the Word of Christ take up residence and dwell richly in their young hearts and minds.

It's important to be sensitive to when kids are starting to get frustrated about their progress. Let them go at their own pace. Make it fun. Help them break verses down into manageable chunks, and give them tips for how to remember a verse.

When I was a boy, my mom was teaching me Psalm 139:7, which says, "Where shall I go from your spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence?" We lived off of Route 139, which had a grocery store called the 139 Market. Mom helped me remember the reference by saying, "We go to the 139 market at 7. And in Psalm 139:7, David is saying, 'where shall I go from your spirit'." Needless to say, it was that simple relationship that helped me remember that verse—and its reference—permanently.

Here is a clip of our then-two-year-old daughter reciting one of the verses we worked on during family devotions.

Choose your children’s Bible storybooks carefully. The children’s Bible storybook market is a bit overwhelming, as is the spectrum of homiletical approaches you will find out there.

Earlier, I mentioned that The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes wouldn't be my first choice in Bible storybooks today. That’s because it really “siloed” the individual stories into isolated, unrelated “snapshots” from the Bible that had no obvious connection to each other, or to the whole. Each story was like a small porthole into which we'd peer, with little to no broader context about what led up to the story, or what flowed out of it.

Many great children’s Bible storybooks have come on the scene in recent years that have broken away from this pattern of presenting the Bible as a series of unrelated episodes. Many of them today teach Scripture in the way it was intended: as one progressively unfolding Story, where each story within the Story is intricately woven into the fabric of the larger message about God’s redeeming a people for Himself—which, of course, culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Just a few of these great books are The Big Picture Story Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, and Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book. Even the titles of these books hint at the approach I describe above. Each of these views the Bible as one Story about Jesus Christ that is foretold in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament.

I realize that these books are just a few of the real good ones out there, and we're always on the lookout for more. What devotional books have you found helpful for leading your family? Please share them with all of us in the comments!

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