So our family is nearing the end of a book that we loved, and it got me thinking of all the great devotional times we’ve had together over the years. We really believe that our most important job as parents is not teaching the kids to tow the line, but teaching them to enjoy God. In pursuit of that goal, we try our best to enjoy as much time as possible thinking about, talking about, and generally worshipping God together. We have sampled lots of books, listening to some digitally, reading others out loud. We’ve used youtube worship stations to sing along (if you turn up the volume loud enough, you can’t hear our wonky notes!) We’ve watched God-honoring movies, gone on sightseeing trips to places God has worked, and spent time marveling at His creative handiwork in nature. Our kids’ attention and interest level waxes and wanes at different times, but variety and consistency help that time together to be fun and fruitful.
In case any of you are on the lookout for a new read, here are a few that we particularly loved. If you read any with your kids (or on your own), please come back and leave a comment to let me know how it went!
Biography/Autobiography: This is one of our favorite categories of family read-alouds. What better way to enjoy God than to hear thrilling stories of His work in individual lives?
In Search of the Source. This is a fascinating missionary story about the first Bible translation for a people group in Papua New Guinea. The adventures are entertaining enough for the whole family, sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. But the author’s insights into theology flowing from his struggle to translate abstract words and ideas make for thought-provoking conversation starters and a refreshing perspective on our faith.
God’s Smuggler (audio book). We listened to this one on a cross-country car trip. It made the miles fly by! Brother Andrew’s well-known adventures are gripping, and his faith, astounding. The story of his conversion, which made up a big chunk of the book, would be fascinating for Christians or non-Christians alike, and his in-it-to-win-it mentality is inspiring. A book that lends itself to myriad questions: have I seen God work like that? Do I live like that? What exactly do I believe about this or that?
George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans. Brother Andrew clearly falls on the heels of another saint, George Müller. This biography (one of a series written for a young audience), was also a great read, though perhaps a little more sedate. There are some really memorable anecdotes here of God’s miraculous provision.
Bruchko and Peace Child. Both of these are intense, crazy missionary stories perfect for a teenage audience. I believe Bruchko also comes in an audio format, which would be perfect for a long car ride. It’s been a few years since I read Olson’s book, and I remember thinking some of his decisions were a little sketchy, but I also remember the whole family being moved to tears when we got to the end of the story. Peace Child (which takes a few chapters to get past the gory native practices and on to the Jesus-y bits) contains an amazing picture of God’s sovereignty, and ramped up our kids’ interest in missions.
Prayer/Devotional Books: Sometimes we like to read straight-up devotional books. You’ve seen stacks of popular devos in the bookstore, but here are a few you might have missed.
Window on the World. This is a very similar concept to Operation World, but in a lavishly photographed, kid-friendly book. It is a great add-on when you’re already reading through a book of the Bible but want to spice things up. Just take one people group per day, learn all about them, and take a minute to pray for them. Do we really believe our kids’ prayers make a difference? Then this book is a world-changer.
The One Year Book of Christian History. Also a great add-on when you’re already going through a book of the Bible, or any time you’re in between longer books. A quick read at a page per day, you’ll get a good sampling of stories that span the last 2,000 years of church history.
Honorable mentions: Wise Up, by Marty Machowski — a great little study of Proverbs. Includes hands-on activities and even songs for young children. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp — a beautiful, poetic Christmas devotional that you’ve probably already got on the shelf. Starting Strong, by Paula Rinehart — a really well-done little book designed to get pre-teens reading the Bible on their own. Cheesy cover, but good material.
Fiction: You might not think to include a good novel in your devotional routine, but from time to time, it’s a great way to engage your kids (and motivate them to look forward to it!) The key is a book that, while entertaining, is also packed with nuggets that point to Christ. Obviously, C.S. Lewis is the patron saint of devotional novels, and you absolutely must read the Narnia books over the course of raising kids. Our family is now nearing the end of Safely Home, brought to you by the author of such theological heavy-weights as Heaven and Happiness. Not a chapter goes by without food for thought, as it follows the struggle of the underground church in China. Riveting.
Video: Just want to give a shout-out to a fantastic video series for kids. The Torchlighter DVDs are 30-minute true stories about martyrs, missionaries, and heroes. Usually someone dies, tragically, but always the stories focus on God’s powerful work through individuals fully committed to Him. Our favorite is the Gladys Aylward story, about an indomitable little lady who brought the gospel to China, rescuing over 100 orphans along the way.
Finally, for any of you homeschoolers, thumbs up to Sonlight curriculum, our family’s go-to school-in-a-box. Lots of our favorite Jesusy books come from them.