Teaching Kids Scripture Study, Part 1: Light Your Fire First
Maybe it’s because at the first hint of spring we are already planning our camping trips and dreaming of spending the nights around a campfire or maybe it’s our newly acquired habit of watching old Survivor seasons where we have watched countless contestants try their hands at sparking flames, but whatever the reason, fire has been a subject around our house - how to start a fire, help it grow and how to keep it going. I haven't yet had success in starting a real fire myself (need to learn that one before I make my Survivor debut!), but I do believe we are on to something around here when it comes to lighting a different kind of fire: a love for scriptures. This whole discussion all began with the desire to “spark a flame” in our own kids and create a love for the scriptures that we feel in our own lives. But what we kept coming back to is that you can’t teach a child the scriptures, let alone teach them a love of the scriptures, unless you first have the fire yourself.
The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah experienced much opposition in his desire to share his conviction, enough so that in one moment of personal frustration he wrote “O LORD,... I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me...I will not make mention of [the Lord] nor speak any more in his name” (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
It can often feel this way for us in today’s climate of politics, worldly morals, and decreased faith. Maybe we even start to feel some of the frustrations that Jeremiah did when we think of our own faith, let alone thinking of teaching faith to our children. But what is needed now more than ever is conviction and strength in testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. Jeremiah didn’t give in, but instead said “[God’s] word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones...and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:9). For Jeremiah, giving up was a physical impossibility because of the fire he found in God’s word that gave him the energy to persevere in some of the coldest situations.
Much like Jeremiah, we need that “fire shut up in [our] bones” in order to find motivation to answer the constant call from God to improve ourselves, our family and our community, and to stand as a witness of the reality of Jesus Christ in the face of a world that seems to always be fighting back.
The question is, how do we get that kind of fire? We’ve all felt burning moments before, where some aspect of the gospel not only touched us, but lit aflame a desire to change for the better. However, so many of us wish we could feel that more often and more consistently. Just as Jeremiah found the fire in God’s word, so can we! And as we feel that fire in our own lives the next step is sharing it with others, which is exactly why “lighting your fire first” is the first step in teaching your kids faith through scripture study. If we feel that fire we can’t help but share it. So here are 5 steps to help you get your own fire started:
The first thing a fire needs is a clear space to start. Like a budding fire, we need to clear space in our day to actually read and study our scriptures. We need time, a place, and an environment where focus is uninterrupted and undistracted. Particularly in today’s world this can be one of the largest barriers to a good study each day. One of my favorite reminders of this comes from Richard Scott who said, “Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people; It is distraction. He would have good people fill life with good things so there’s no room left for the essential ones.” Somehow and somewhere we have to find a way to clear away the brush of distraction and make a spark.
Once a space is cleared for a fire, the next thing a good fire needs is kindling. A novice fire-starter always wants to start with the big sticks but the expert knows that you start small and grow big. With scripture study we need something to get us started, something for the fire to catch, something that takes a spark and turns it into a flame. To do this we ask questions—personal, relevant, immediate, and important questions and know that we can find answers in our study. "How can I better parent my child who's struggling?" "How should I make the decision about whether I should take the new job?" "What can I do to overcome personal temptations." Many times these questions may stem from the general question, "What's broken in my life that needs fixing?" The more the question matters, the easier it is for the fire to start. Without such a question, reading scriptures, even if done for long periods of time, feels hollow and dull and is about as effective as trying to catch a log on fire with a match.
Once the space is clear and the kindling is set, we light the fire with some sort of spark. This is, of course, the crux of the whole exercise. And so, with our time and space set aside and with relevant, driving questions in our minds and hearts we open the scriptures and start to read. However, because of the preparation, this read is different than in the past. We read deliberately, carefully, and concertedly. We almost always have something in hand to mark and write as we go along. We picture the words and hear the Voice that uttered them. We start seeing things that address our questions and start feeling things that warm our hearts. Truth starts to emerge from this little pile of grass on the ground.
And then, we start loading on the wood by progressing from simply reading the words to searching the Word. We begin looking for patterns and connections, themes and motifs, words and phrases that connect the writings of the inspired authors of the past to our own modern lives and questions. Without the space, we won't have the time for this; without the kindling of questions we won't have anything to burn the wood.
Lastly, we give our fire air. How do you stop a fire? You suffocate it. Cut off the air and you cut off the fire. How do you stop scripture study from becoming a motivating, continuing fire? You suffocate it by closing your scriptures, setting them aside, and leaving the thoughts and the feelings and the possible promptings you just had behind. Of course we can't sit and read all day, but we can lodge the lessons in our lives. Perhaps we take to writing thoughts and impressions in a notebook as we study. Maybe we write a motivating phrase or idea on a sticky note to post somewhere visible. We could simply make sure that we discuss what we've learned and felt with someone else and invite them to join us in living the lessons. Whatever form it takes we give the fire we've worked so long and hard to build the chance to grow and spread to other areas of our life.
Now that you've got your flame going it's on to the next task, helping to light another's fire. Check back in tomorrow for part 2 where we will discuss how to get those kids to experience the joy from scriptures.