This week I’m sharing thoughts from my time on Revive Our Hearts’ with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Reading the Bible for me was always a struggle. Getting the Word IN ME — and my kids! — is what the story of “Together: Growing Appetites for God” is all about. Here’s an excerpt from that interview with Nancy. We pick up where I am talking about the early days of reading the Word to my kids . . .
Carrie: After the morning that my older two kids acted out Cain and Abel, this became a regular routine. We would read a story (the Old Testament is so rich with stories). We would read something, and they would almost immediately be in the living room acting it out.
They would have acted out this section of Scripture. There was Moses and Joshua. Then when we came to David, there are a lot of David’s stories that can be acted out—David and Goliath, David meeting Saul in the cave, David playing the harp and Saul throwing the spear at David. There were just a lot of stories through that section that they could act out.
“Goliath looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him.”
That’s the great thing about kids. They sort of put themselves in the story. They don’t just hear it, they turn around and play that way.
“And he said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’”
Those dramatic stories in Scripture really pique their interest and their curiosity, and hearing the story and being excited about the story is a good thing, I think.
Graham: “Am I a dog?”
Carrie: David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Sam. 1:44-45 NIV). They wanted to act it out because they thought it was an interesting and exciting thing to watch what God did.
“This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”
Maggie: “I come to you in the name of the Lord.”
Carrie: This was very encouraging for me, and it was also helping to reinforce what we’d read. It reinforced it in me and I felt like it was reinforcing it in their lives as well, because they would play that after we read it, and it was very encouraging.
That went on for months because that whole section of Scripture is so full of stories that are ready to be acted out.
Leslie: When Carrie and the kids arrived at Psalm 105, it reminded them of the story of Pharaoh and Moses that they had already read back in Exodus.
Carrie: “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek His face always. He sent Moses his servant and Aaron whom He had chosen. . . . They performed his signs among them, his wonders in the land of Ham.” (Ps. 105:3-4, 27-28).
Leslie: When breakfast was over that day, Graham took on the role of Pharaoh. Maggie and Benjamin were Egyptian guards. Emma had arrived by this time and played the role of an Egyptian baby. The curious thing was, no one wanted to be Moses. They all pretended to talk with the prophet who remained invisible.
Graham: “No! Send him away!”
Carrie: “He turned their waters into blood, causing their fish to die.”
Graham: “Blood, blood! Go get him!”
Carrie: “Their land teemed with frogs that turned up in the bedrooms of the rulers.”
Graham: “Frogs! Brings me Moses! Graaaagh!”
Leslie: Finally Pharaoh very dramatically experienced the death of all the firstborn of Egypt.
Graham: “My son! My son!”
Carrie: “He struck down all the firstborn in the land, the firstfruits of all their manhood. He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered.” (Ps. 105:36-37).
Leslie: Then he rallied his troops to chase the Israelites across the Red Sea.
Graham: “They’re crossing the Red Sea! Let’s go after them!”
Leslie: Pharaoh and his servant, his little sister, began the chase across the living room and into the dining room, then “Pharaoh” collapsed, acting as if the waves of the sea were engulfing him. His little sister didn’t remember this detail and kept running.
Graham: No, Maggie, you have to stop. You are drowned in the sea!
Leslie: One day during their morning Bible reading time, Carrie and the kids read about Solomon dedicating the temple. The presence of the Lord descended and filled the temple in the form of a cloud.
Carrie: ”When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their services because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled His temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
Leslie: That made a big impression on Graham, who was five at the time. He wandered into a bathroom where a hot shower had filled the room with steam.
Graham: There’s a cloud in here.
Leslie: He didn’t understand water vapor. The only way he knew to explain it was by relating it to Scripture.
Graham: I thought God had descended on the temple!
Leslie: Everybody who reads the Bible finds some passages more challenging than others. Carrie found that reading Isaiah with four small children could be . . . challenging.
Carrie: There was a certain mood—you could almost feel it—when we were reading Isaiah for the first time (because there is so much judgment and wrath). It was difficult reading when you, yourself, don’t understand everything that you’re reading, and you’re reading to small children. There was sort of a solemn tone at our table.
Leslie: But then they reached Isaiah 19. After working through some very serious chapters, they were struck with the incredible hope in this passage.
Carrie: It was just like what we had read before, where there was wrath and judgment, and brother was going to be against brother, and there were going to be things about the land like the sea drying up, producing no fish, and that kind of thing.
And so it was feeling like what we had read before. I really didn’t sense how attentive my children were until we reached the middle of that passage, and it says, “But I will send the Savior,” and suddenly my son just jumped out of his chair and yelled, “Yeah!”
That’s not in my son’s nature to be expressive like that. So when he came out with a big “Yeah” it was like, “There’s going to be a Savior!” I was telling a friend that story, and she said, “Shouldn’t that be all of our reaction to Scripture? That we all give a big ‘Yeah’ about the Savior?”
So it was encouraging to see that it was sinking in, but also to see the reaction to the Redeemer.
Leslie: By consistently reading the Bible morning by morning, Carrie and the kids’ appetites for God’s Word were growing. The more they read, the more they wanted to read.
Carrie: We were reading in Psalms one day, and there was a reference to a David story that was in 1 Samuel, and so my kids were eager to go back and read the story that brought about this psalm. We went back to 1 Samuel and began to read this story about David.
As we finished that story, my kids said, “Can we read another one?” Particularly, my oldest son wanted to read more. So I would read another one, and then I wouldn’t hardly get finished and he would want us to read more. We kept reading, and we went to the next story of David.
There’s a whole string of stories that are very exciting, to see what God was doing in David’s life. As we were reading these stories in 1 Samuel about David, I looked up and before I knew it, it was eleven o’clock.
We had started reading at breakfast, and here it was almost time for lunch. I said, “This is great, but we just can’t read anymore.” And he understood that it was no longer the right time to keep going, but when he left the table he said, “Can we do this again one day?”
That was really encouraging, to see them delight in reading and reading God’s Word, and hearing these stories and to want more.
Leslie: For Carrie and the kids, it made sense to read the Bible during breakfast, growing appetites for God’s Word while feeding their appetites for food. But each family needs to figure out the best time for them to read the Bible together.
Carrie: I know there are some women who probably could not do this in the morning with their children; they’ve got to get to a job, they’ve got to get their kids to school. I know there are some women who this particular time frame would not work for them.
But I would encourage them to look at their schedule and find a time that would work for them. That could be after school, that could be in the evening when their kids are getting ready for bed. That could be at dinner time when you’re all together. It could even be in the car.
You could get the Bible on CD or download an audio Bible and listen with your children. You may not feel like you can be the reader but you could certainly listen with them.
I think there are other ways that you could incorporate this into your routine. You may have to give up something in order to fit it in, but I think it would be worth it. I think that would be again where I would say, pray that God would give you wisdom and a plan to know how you could implement this in your family.
It may not be just like the way I implemented it in mine, but I think there’s a way that you could do this. I think you could get to know God with your family through His Word. Be creative.
Leslie: When Carrie Ward began reading the Bible each morning to preschoolers, she had to make a lot of practical decisions. For instance, how much detail do you include when the Bible deals with mature themes?
Carrie: There were a number of times when I would come upon a passage of Scripture, and my mind would just be spinning as I would stop reading and try to figure out, “How am I going to explain this on a level that they will understand without giving them more information than I am ready for them to have? Or use words that I’m not ready for them to be using?”
I would try to just sum up some passages, and often it’s just changing one word, summing up one sentence. Usually, it doesn’t require a large amount of editing or anything.
I certainly didn’t want to take away from the story or the Scripture. I just didn’t want to arm them with things they weren’t ready for, or even weigh them down with information they weren’t ready to have.
So I might just remove a word, or change one sentence, or just sum up one passage in my own words, to help them get a feel for the story and not lose the essence of the story, but not weigh them down with things that I didn’t think they were ready for.
That was my way of handling it, and with the violence—I read most of the violent passages—and my kids didn’t react. They were fine. There was only one violent section that my kids just cringed, and I realized I probably shouldn’t have read that, but it was too late then.
Most of the time, I’d just go ahead and read. The stories that were dealing with more intimate details of relationships, I would try to sum up in my own words. I think every parent has to do what they’re comfortable with, and what they feel like their children are ready to handle.
We have to deal with those topics as parents, anyway, so you have to deal with that when you’re ready, when you feel like your children are ready. I think every parent’s going to have to make that call as they read through Scripture.
Leslie: Carrie and her children discovered that reading the Bible together is a perfect time for families to have fun and laugh together.
Carrie: We were reading a story where there is the king of Judah, the king of Israel and the king of Edom, I believe it is, going up against the Moabites. “So every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed at the border.”
Then my youngest daughter said, “What does that mean to bear arms?” And I came back with, “It means anyone who can handle a gun,” not realizing what I had said. I just kept right on reading.
They were all looking at me with puzzled expressions when my son said, “There were guns in the Bible?” I thought, “Oh, no.” So, it’s often either my fumbling and my reading, or just their take on what we read that gets us tickled.
Nancy: As Carrie continued reading the Bible with her children, and Wes would come into work and tell us about ways the kids were growing, how they were engaging with the Scripture, how they were being creative with it, and just how God was using this in their family; it was such a joy to see the heart and the hunger that was growing. Carrie was growing, and Wes was growing, and they were growing as a couple, and their kids were developing a heart and an appetite for God.
You don’t see that real often in families, especially with young children, and it was very encouraging to me to see how that family was getting to the Word and the Word was getting into them. I remember talking with Wes at one point and saying, “It’s great you guys are reading the Bible. Carrie’s reading with the kids, and you’re talking about spiritual things.”
“If I were a parent today,” I said—and you’ve probably heard people say things like this—“If I were a parent” (that’s the kind of line parents usually don’t want to hear) “I would get my children memorizing boatloads of Scripture because they memorize it so easily. It’s so much harder as you get older, to keep those things in your head.”
Then I went on to say, “In fact, I think I would encourage my children to memorize the entire book of Proverbs before they leave home.”
Well, that’s a big challenge and a big chunk. And I’m not saying that a family is any more spiritual if their kids memorize the book of Proverbs, but I think there are kids who could do that.
Just think what a wealth that would be for those kids to be able to take into their lives with them: the wisdom in Proverbs on sexual relationships and moral purity and marriage, and what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, how to get wisdom, how to deal with finances, laziness, hard work. There are so many different things that would be impressed on their hearts, concepts and biblical truths that would take root in their hearts before they go into adulthood.
I seek you Lord, with all my heart;
Don’t let me stray, Lord, from your commands.
I hide your Word in my heart
That I might not sin, Lord, sin against You.
Your Word is a lamp to guide my feet;
Your Word is a light unto my path;
Your Word is hidden in my heart;
That’s where it will always be,
‘Cause Your Word is living deep inside the deepest part of me.1
Leslie: Yesterday we heard how Carrie Ward got the idea to read the entire Bible to her preschoolers, one chapter a day. And when she estimated how long that would take, the project seemed intimidating.
Carrie: It was going to take me eight years to read the Bible, and that was overwhelming.
Leslie: But the end of their adventure drew near ahead of schedule. As they neared the end of Revelation, Carrie’s husband, Wes, began preparing to commemorate this big accomplishment.
Wes Ward: It wasn’t just me. We both wanted to make the last day of reading the Word a celebration because it is a big deal. For Carrie, on the first time through, it was significant in her pilgrimage and it was something that we wanted to put into the minds of our children, that this is something that is to be celebrated.
Carrie: We got up earlier than the kids would normally get up, and we fixed a larger than normal breakfast to celebrate.
Graham: We got up like we normally do, and then had breakfast, and we all read the last chapter of the Bible.
Carrie: “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’”
Maggie: Dad was there when we finished it.
Wes: It’s a great use of a vacation day.
Carrie: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:16-17)
Wes: We think a lot of holidays and markers and birthdays, and this was a significant marker we wanted to celebrate.
Carrie: “He who testifies to these things says, ’Yes, I am coming soon.’” We just enjoyed the day together and celebrated. This was a real marker for us. “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (v. 20)
Wes: I also wanted to put something into their hands that was a tangible remembrance of what God did.
Maggie: Mom and Dad bought all four of us new Bibles.
Wes: I wanted them to have a legitimate Bible of their own, whenever they began to read on their own, that that would be their home in studying Scripture.
Carrie: I knew that he had purchased new Bibles for all the kids. I didn’t know that he had purchased one for me also. He had written an inscription in each one, and so he read it to each of the kids as he gave them the Bible.
He had written an inscription in mine as well, thanking me for doing this with the kids, but also congratulating me because this was my first trip through the Bible, too. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (v. 21)
It was significant that, after such a long time of struggle, and having never felt like I could succeed in this discipline, to have finally read the entire Bible. It’s what I have for years professed to believe, but to have finally actually read the entire Bible was huge for me. Then to have that coupled with the fact that I got to share it with my kids made it even a bigger moment for me.
Nancy: What a reason to celebrate. Imagine holding the same sort of celebration with your family, knowing that you and your children have read all of God’s Word together.
Excerpted from Revive Our Hearts.