"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon 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." –Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NIV)
When Moses shared these words with the people of Israel, he specifically pointed out the necessity of active and regular parental involvement in the spiritual lives of their children. God has revealed great truths to us, yet often we do not engage as a family in seeking to learn about and understand these truths. Various studies indicate that more than 90 percent of American homes have at least one Bible in them, but there is a difference between owning one and reading one. There's also a difference between owning a Bible and being actively involved in family Bible study.
In Christian homes it's not so much that parents don't desire to help their children understand God and His truths; rather, it's usually a matter of finding time combined with not knowing how to go about family Bible study. The time problem is symptomatic of our fast-paced culture and resulting lifestyles. We are so used to the hectic pace of our daily lives that it becomes difficult to fit "one more thing" into our schedules. Unfortunately, when it comes to family Bible study, it should not be viewed as one more thing but as a central focus of our devotion to God. It is a parental responsibility commanded by God, and it also provides a wonderful opportunity to help build and strengthen bonds between family members.
One key step, then, in laying the groundwork for edifying family Bible study is making a commitment to set aside specific and regular time to gather together as a family.
But how does a family go about studying the Bible together? There are no set rules, however Deuteronomy 6:6-7, quoted above provides some guidance that we can apply to our contemporary lives. We are told that these commandments are to be, first, upon our own hearts. This means that as parents we must strive to know God and His Word better in our own hearts. The Hebrew word translated as hearts in the passage is lebab. It refers to more than the organ of the heart, meaning also "the inner person, self, the seat of thought and emotion: conscience, courage, mind, understanding."1. In other words, God's commandments are to infuse our entire being and, as a result, everything we do. That's easier said than done, but it is the ideal we are to strive for with Christ's help.
Next the verse tells us to "impress" God's commandments upon our children. Making such an impression on children generally requires a recurrence, meaning repetition. For children to absorb God's truths, regular times of family Bible study, devotion and worship are important. Memorizing portions of Scripture also becomes important in making a godly impression on children. The verse also instructs parents to "talk about them," meaning that we are to engage in conversation with our children that includes God and His commandments. The implication of the rest of the passage is that we are to do this everywhere – at home, when traveling, when resting, when facing each new day, etc. Too often we set aside one day or a portion of a day for church worship then neglect the reality of God in our daily lives the rest of the week. But if we truly believe in God and His truths to the point of committing our lives to His service, then we need to make God a part of everything we do. Again, this is easier said than done. Nevertheless, the broader point here is to include God in our daily lives as an example to our children.
While there are no definitive techniques or methods to family Bible study that will apply to every family, here are some general principles.
First, remember to set aside a specific day and time for your family Bible study and stick to it as best you can. Young children in particular appreciate regular schedules and routines. If your family can get into a habit of having a regular Bible study time, you'll find that your children will often come to appreciate it and miss it if it doesn't happen as scheduled.
Second, keep your family Bible study times relatively short. This is particularly important if there are young children in your family. Older children in general have better attention spans, while younger children don't.
Third, pick an area, passage or topic of study that is helpful and relevant without being too difficult or challenging for children to grasp. So, for instance, you really don't want to have a family Bible study about the Documentary hypothesis and its implications regarding biblical inerrancy! But a topical study about specific biblical figures might be a good place to start, such as learning about Noah, Moses, David, Jesus, etc. This should be fairly straightforward and simple, sharing perhaps some key biblical stories about these individuals. You may wish to find a good children's Bible and read some stories from that edition. Pick some short biblical passages to read too. If your children are old enough to read, help them read certain passages aloud so they are actively engaged in your study time. Below are several family Bible study tips offered by Pastor Donald Hoke:
Fourth, you'll also want to include prayer in your family Bible study. Pray as you are moved to before your study time and perhaps during and after.
Finally, don't become legalistic about your family Bible study times or beat yourself up about missing a scheduled time. As a parent, strive to be a role model to your children about the importance and reality of faith in your life, but do so without being a negative example. Making God a genuine reality in your daily life is more important than sticking to a strict schedule. Prior to Moses offering insights regarding parental involvement in the spiritual lives of children, he writes, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV). Jesus, too, repeated this phrase in the Gospels (see, for instance, Matthew 22:37).
We must first commit our lives to God before we can effectively pass on our legacy of faith to our children. This commitment must begin with our love for God with every aspect of our being.