My friend Justin is a runner. Not a professional runner. No one’s paying him to do it. He just likes running. One of his favorite things to do on a Saturday is get up at some obscene hour of the morning, go outside into the cold, and just run five kilometers. For fun. Which makes no sense whatsoever to me, because I’ve tried running, and here’s what I’ve discovered: It’s painful. It’s boring. When I try it, I feel worse than I did before I started.
And so, whenever Justin invites me to go running with him, I politely remind him that he’s a crazy person and get on with living my easy-breathing, non-sweaty life. Here’s the thing though... Deep down, I know Justin’s right. Because when I say, “I’ve tried running,” what I actually mean is that once every six months, I unearth my running shoes and burst out the door with some half-baked idea of getting into shape, only to wonder why my side hurts so much by the time I get fifty meters up the road.
The problem isn’t running. The problem is my approach. If I actually committed to running, it wouldn’t be long before I felt the benefits. I might even start to enjoy it. I mention all this because I see plenty of children facing a similar challenge when it comes to personal Bible reading. So how can we help a child who sees reading the Bible the same way I see running?
Acknowledge the Challenge
If I go running today, chances are it won’t be a particularly exhilarating experience. It’ll probably feel pretty uncomfortable and unnatural. But if I push through that initial frustration – if I run again tomorrow, and the next day, and next week – slowly but surely, things will begin to change. Similarly, your child might open their Bible for the first time, read a few paragraphs, and have a miraculous, life-upending encounter with God. That’s absolutely possible.
But more likely, they’ll get up from the couch feeling a bit underwhelmed. Not because they’ve failed, or because the Bible has failed them – but because the deep benefits of Bible reading rarely come to us all at once. We grow into them, a day at a time. So if your child’s first attempts at Bible reading aren’t all that inspiring, it’s important to acknowledge and empathize with their frustration – but also to encourage them to come back tomorrow and give it another shot. Sooner or later, they’ll look back and be amazed at how far they’ve come.
Reading the Bible every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, will be far more transformative than reading for an hour every so often. To give your child their best shot at this, help them set aside a consistent time and place to read.
Most kids are at their best early in the morning, before they’ve exhausted their brains at school. But if getting up fifteen minutes earlier is a bridge too far for your child, a regular afternoon or evening time slot can work well too.
You might even like to get them a wall calendar to track their progress. Putting a big X through each day they read their Bible will build up a visual reminder of success they’ve had so far, and help motivate them to keep going.
Support and Guidance
Running, as it turns out, is not as simple as just running. There’s all kinds of wisdom and advice that I’m only going to discover if someone comes alongside me and shows me how it’s done.
Likewise, reading the Bible involves more than just reading. A solid devotional can go a long way towards framing your child’s time in the Bible and helping them decode what they find there. And whatever section of scripture your child decides to read, it’s a great idea to incorporate that part of the Bible into your own daily reading. As well as modeling regular Bible reading to your child, you’ll create opportunities to share what you’ve been learning and to investigate questions that come up as you read together.
Focus on Why
If you want me to go running with you, don’t try to tell me running is fun – because that is manifestly not true for me (at least, not yet.) Instead, show me why running is worth it even when it’s not fun, and then I might actually push through to the point where it is. In the same way, if your child sees Bible reading as hard work, they’re going to need a compelling reason to bother with it. And the good news is, we’ve got one. The point of reading the Bible isn’t to fill our minds with information or to cross off an item on a spiritual to-do list.
It’s to encounter Jesus. That’s an invitation well worth getting up fifteen minutes early for – and because the Holy Spirit delights to make Jesus known, we can be confident that, as our children open up the Bible each day, that’s exactly what will happen.
Ultimately, there’s no magic formula to any of this – because ultimately it’s not our efforts that are going to transform the lives of our kids. But as long as we keep prayerfully pointing our children back to Jesus, we can be sure we’re pointing them in the right direction.