Victoria and Phil, can you tell us a bit about who is in your family? And what does family Bible reading and prayer currently look like in the Colgan household?
We have a young adult son, a teenage daughter who has just finished high school and another daughter in high school. So currently there is about one night a week where the five of us are all home for dinner at the same time. On that night we are currently reading through Romans with a journal Bible so those who like to make notes or draw pictures can. We also have a flip photo album of missionaries, so we pray for a different one each time we pray together. Both these ideas have been borrowed from other friends and what has worked for their family devotion time with their children. We’ve also moved from Phil asking questions about the passage to more of a Swedish method where they each share something that stands out from the passage and perhaps if there’s something they don’t understand. Then at the end we talk about how we can be praying for ourselves and the world from the passage.
How have family devotions changed over the years?
Family devotions have been constantly evolving over the years as our family has grown. When our son was born we began by reading him a children’s Bible when he went to bed at night. When all the children were younger we found bedtime was a good time to read the Bible together and it was a good routine and developed a habit or discipline of reading the Bible and praying together. As the children got older we sometimes read separate Bible stories to them that were aimed at their age and stage.
When they were younger we had a family prayer diary where we prayed for different people each night. I’m not sure how my son’s preschool teacher coped when she was told by our son that we prayed for her each week. I also remember praying for our non-Christian family members and our son wanting to ring them up straight after praying for them to see if they believed in Jesus now!
One of our aims in our family devotions is to help our children develop a love for God’s word and an appreciation of praying to their Heavenly Father. We’ve also wanted to encourage them to be reading the Bible for themselves as well, so making sure they each had their own Bible to read was helpful. We’ve also been blessed with a church that has provided lots of help in this area over the years through our children’s ministers. There have been different take-home activities from church to do during the week when they were in primary school. This led to lots of fun, if not slightly crazy dinner times of games and crafts. Obviously, this didn’t happen every night and sometimes the games were more the focus than the Bible but it was memorable and fun.
What have been some highlights and lowlights? Do you remember what worked best with your children at certain ages?
Some highlights have been using Resurrection eggs leading up to Easter or doing an Advent calendar with Bible readings leading up to Christmas. This has often meant we’ve moved the family devotion to breakfast time because the children couldn’t wait until dinner to open the ‘egg’ or ‘Advent bag’. Seeing them each grow in their knowledge and love of God has been a great highlight and hearing their questions and insights into the passages we read is exciting and encouraging. It’s also wonderful to hear them singing memory verses they’ve learnt at church or on camps, especially if we’re reading that part of the Bible and they suddenly start singing the verses.
Realistically though, there are also many times when it’s not so encouraging and someone storms off from the dinner table or refuses to read the Bible or the resource we’re using. Sometimes our own weaknesses and busyness has meant it didn’t happen or we simply forgot. We’ve had to learn that faithfulness in family devotions doesn’t mean perfection, with angelic children and insightful, patient parents. Sometimes it is a matter of just opening the Bible in whatever form it takes and reading part of it and someone praying. We trust in God’s sovereignty and the power of his Spirit to transform our children’s hearts to love him and his word.
There are some excellent resources out there and some that we’ve enjoyed using, including
The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth N. Taylor which has a story on each double page spread with a picture on one side and the story on the other, followed by a few questions and a brief prayer. Our son always wanted to read the story of Nicodemus from this Bible. Another one with beautiful illustrations was the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones which tells the whole story of the Bible and how it points to Jesus. Another favourite around the dinner table when our children were in primary school was The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski which also has a double-page spread for each story and has three questions at the end of each story which worked well for our family of three children.
What have been some obstacles to reading the Bible and/or praying with kids?
Some obstacles that I’ve already mentioned include our own weaknesses in not prioritising time in God’s word with our family. Others have been finding the right time of day to do it and even finding the right resources to help engage all three children in the act of reading and listening to the Bible that were suitable for their age and stage.
Obstacles to prayer have included fights over who gets to pray for whom and then not having the right words or not remembering what to pray.
In God’s kindness, your children are following Jesus at the ages of 19, 17 and 15. As you look back, what encouragement or advice would you give to parents with younger children?
Keep at it and persevere. Don’t aim for perfection but for faithfulness. There will be times of tantrums, fights, and distractions at the dinner table over whose turn it is to hold the Bible or ask the questions or pray. But don’t let that stop you doing it. Don’t give up when your first attempt falls flat. Keep trying different things and talk to friends and what’s working for them.
We think the other thing is that children are pretty good at smelling out hypocrisy. So make sure that you’re spending time in the Bible yourself and even modelling that to your children. Do they see you loving God’s word and learning from it, humbling yourself under it? Do they hear you praying heartfelt prayers that reflect a relationship with your Heavenly Father?
But in the end the best advice or encouragement we can give is a bit like Dory in Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming’.