At 12 years old, Asher Fun has finished reading the entire Bible, and is on track to doing it again, with the help of a reading plan. He also reads no less than two devotionals every day, Our Daily Bread and Give Us This Day, a devotional written for kids of ages 7 to 12.
A keen reader especially of the latter, Asher can recount his favourite article (of a girl who raised funds to help a cancer-stricken hawker by making and selling chilli) as well as his favourite story in the Bible (Jesus’ shocking resurrection from the dead).
What’s amazing is that his mum, Xiuling, and his dad, Justin, don’t even have to remind him to read the Bible or the devotionals each day. Asher himself looks forward to it, as does his brothers Zachary, 15, and John, 8. Each evening, he spends about 10 minutes reading the two booklets and a passage in the Bible, then about 5 minutes praying to God.
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It’s probably a parent’s dream—to have children so motivated to read the Bible and other Christian material, and to see them learning from God’s Word and applying the lessons they learn to their lives. Yet Xiuling will readily say that it’s only by God’s grace that her three sons have come to love reading His Word.
All she had done, she says, was to introduce the Bible and the devotionals to them when they were young, and to encourage them to read. So how did she manage to inculcate their love for God’s Word? Here’s 7 lessons that she’s learnt over the years:
1. Lead by Example
Xiuling began reading a children’s Bible with each of her three sons when they were young. She also spent time meditating on God’s Word herself, and this was something Asher noticed.
Asher also picked up copies of Our Daily Bread at the homes of his paternal and maternal grandmothers, who both subscribed to the devotional. When Xiuling saw her son’s curiosity piqued, she suggested that he also read it himself.
When children see their parents read and enjoy their time with God, they, too, are more likely to be inspired to do likewise.
This was what really inspired him to read the Bible and the devotionals, says Asher. Watching his grandmothers, his mother, and his elder brother enjoy their time with God encouraged him to do the same. “I observed that they really liked reading,” he says.
Leading by example, notes Xiuling, is one of the most important sources of motivation for children. When children see their parents read and enjoy their time with God, they, too, are more likely to be inspired to do likewise. “It is a challenge for adults to keep to our daily quiet time,” she says, “and more so for kids, so I try to read the Bible with them when I can.”
2. Keep It Short
Xiuling is well aware of the pressures that her sons face at school, and the resulting busyness at home. So she simply keeps their daily devotions short.
“Because our kids are schooling and have different schedules, we usually do it together before bedtime,” she shares. “We read our personal devotional material and then go around sharing. We do not take very long because most are tired at the end of the day.”
She also tries to keep their discussions focused. “My kids can get restless if we talk for too long, so we narrow down the discussion points so they already know what to reflect on,” she says. For example, she tries to think of specific questions to get her kids thinking, such as: “What is God saying about himself? If God is such, how can we live our lives differently or grow as children of God?”
“My kids used to tell me my prayers are too long. I realised that it deterred them from praying, because they tell me they don’t have as much to say.”
Xiuling is equally realistic about praying. In fact, she’s come to realise that trying to get her sons to pray for longer by doing the same can actually demoralise them.
“My kids used to tell me my prayers are too long,” she says. “I realised that it deterred them from praying, because they tell me they don’t have as much to say.”
But shorter prayers, she stresses, does not mean that their prayers are any less meaningful. “In fact, our prayers became more focused on what we are seeking together as a family,” she says. “I also tell them that God loves to hear their voices, and just like I enjoy hearing them talk to me about their day, God loves that too.”
3. Don’t Just Quote Scripture
While it can be tempting to trot out Bible verses at every opportunity, Xiuling has come to realise that this doesn’t really work with children. What really leaves an impact with her sons, she’s discovered, is them seeing how their parents apply biblical truths and wisdom to their own lives.
“I don’t quote Scripture in every situation,” she says. “I think with kids, you have to live out God’s Word for them to experience God’s truth personally. Is my faith real? If we talk about God’s mercy but I don’t seek God personally in my life, it will be mere rhetoric.”
“I don’t quote Scripture in every situation. I think with kids, you have to live out God’s Word for them to experience God’s truth personally.”
She’s also frank about her own struggles in her faith journey. Instead of pretending that she has it altogether, she shares with her sons about how she struggles to do things like forgive others. She explains: “I do this so that they know that faith is not something we talk about, but what we seek to exercise daily with God’s help.”
Asher doing his daily devotional reading.
4. Encourage Discussion
During their daily devotion, Xiuling often finds herself resisting the temptation to turn the session into a lecture. Instead, she reminds herself to give her sons space to express what they feel God is saying to them through His Word.
“I started out thinking that I have so much to tell them about God’s Word,” she shares, “but I soon realised that hearing their simple words of truth with faith speaks volumes, too.”
During discussions, she also avoids shutting them down by correcting their thoughts. “I affirm them when they share what they learn from God’s Word,” she says. “I believe that God speaks to us in different ways through His Word because He knows our individual hearts.”
“I affirm them when they share what they learn from God’s Word.”
Reading devotionals like Our Daily Bread and Give Us This Day also helps, she adds, as they often give examples of how to apply biblical truths to real-life situations. “They’ve helped me in having further conversations with Asher about how children can also live out their faith in simple ways,” she says.
Asher couldn’t agree more. The stories in the devotionals, he says, intrigue him because they show him real-life applications of the Bible. “I’ve learnt that sharing is good for your soul and also good for the other person, that I shouldn’t call anybody bad names, and I should always care for others,” he says simply.
5. Don’t Insist on Set Pieces
While there are many ways to nurture a passion for God’s Word, Xiuling has learnt not to force them on her sons. At one point, she recalls, she had tried to get Asher to write down what he learnt from the Bible, and to record his prayers. But she soon found that it just didn’t work for him.
“I journal my quiet time and I thought that it would benefit him, too,” she says. “But I observed that it was not something he enjoyed doing.”
“I journal my quiet time and I thought that it would benefit him, too. But I observed that it was not something he enjoyed doing.”
Xiuling quickly realised that she was pursuing a fixed “form” of devotion, which could actually frustrate her son and stifle his time with God. So she shelved that idea and focused on conversations, which her son seemed to enjoy more.
6. Go with the Flow
Like many parents, Xiuling and Justin try to get their children to spend time with God every day. But Xiuling remains realistic that this is not always practical every day. “We may miss some days because life gets in the way,” she says.
Allowing some flexibility in devotions and Bible reading has helped her avoid turning quiet time into a chore for her sons. Instead of insisting that they do their reading every single day, she encourages them to just continue where they left off the next day, especially in their devotionals. “Because we have built it into our routine, it is easy to get back to where we left off,” she says. “And the dates make it easy for us to just keep going.”
“I have learnt along the way that it is all right when one kid is sulky or another just does not feel like praying.”
The same goes for the quality of the devotions. Xiuling accepts that there are just days when some of her sons just don’t feel up to reading and praying, such as when there are family quarrels. Instead, she reminds herself that the ultimate aim is to nurture her sons’ love for God, and not just to “follow the programme”.
“I have learnt along the way that it is all right when one kid is sulky or another just does not feel like praying,” she says. “I see my role as guiding and pointing them to Jesus, not trying to fix them or ensure their happiness. So, instead of compelling them to keep to the programme, I encourage them to talk to Jesus on their own because Jesus loves them. I hope that these family devotions will eventually lead them to pursue their own personal relationship with Jesus.”
Asher and John doing their daily devotional reading.
7. Let God Work in His Time
Just as Xiuling tries not to “force” the family devotions, she also tries not to stress herself on their outcomes. Remembering that her role is a spiritual guide to her children and not an enforcer of change, she continually reminds herself to allow God to work on them in His own time.
That patience has borne fruit. Over the years, Xiuling has seen Asher struggle with his own doubts, but also witnessed him learning to “let God in” and walk through his challenges with God.
“There are no overnight changes or dramatic transformations.”
“Asher told me that when he was younger, whenever he got lost or fearful, he would recite Psalm 23:4 to himself,” she recounts gratefully. “The verse helps him to remember God is always with him. As his parent, I know I cannot always be with him, so when he can trust God to be with Him, it helps me in surrendering him to God who is in charge of his faith journey.”
“There are no overnight changes or dramatic transformations,” she adds, “but I am thankful that there is a reverence for God and His Word.”
Xiuling’s tips on encouraging daily devotions:
- Lead by example
- Keep it short
- Don’t just quote Scripture
- Encourage discussion
- Don’t insist on set pieces
- Go with the flow
- Let God work in His time