Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Teaching Kids to Love God: From Theory to Practice

  • David & Kelli Pritchard Authors, Going Public
  • Published Sep 16, 2008
Teaching Kids to Love God: From Theory to Practice

Editor's Note: Read Part I, "The Most Important Thing to Teach Your Public-School Child."

Now that we understand the goal, what are the steps that will get our families there? What do we need to do on a regular basis to nurture this all-out love for God in our children?

A good starting point is what God said to Moses immediately following the Great Commandment, as recorded in Deuteronomy 6. Right after the sentence that says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .” come these words:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (vv. 6-9).

This passage is in fact the Jewish confession of faith, recited weekly in synagogues. It has great significance for Christians as well, as it calls us to infuse daily life with discussion about God’s truth. What we adults claim to believe and cherish needs to become visual and verbal, or kids will never know. They can only grasp what they see and hear from us.

In a minute we will describe for you what shape this takes at the Pritchard house. We don’t want you to think this is the only way to do it—or that you have to imitate our method exactly. We aren’t claiming to be perfect. Other Christian families are raising godly kids who thrive in public school through different means. But each of those families is doing something intentional. They aren’t just assuming that their kids will gain a solid faith by osmosis. They know, as Deuteronomy implies, that parental initiative is essential.

Having said that, here is what we’ve developed for our eight kids:

Every school morning of the week, we gather in our family room at 6:30 A.M. in our pajamas to start the day with Bible reading—specifically, the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Many years ago we heard about Billy Graham’s personal habit of reading five psalms and one chapter of Proverbs each day, thus completing both books once a month (there are 150 short psalms, and Proverbs has 31 chapters—so the math works out nicely). We decided long ago to borrow his idea for our devotion time with our growing family, and we’ve kept it going ever since.

The book of Psalms is all about our relationship with God, while the book of Proverbs is all about our relationship with humanity. Put them together, and you have the necessary wisdom for conducting your life, both vertically and horizontally. No, these two don’t cover everything God has revealed to us, and we encourage ourselves and our kids to study the other 64 books of the Bible on our own. We naturally hear sermons and attend Sunday classes at our church that focus on other books. But together as a family, we concentrate on mining the tremendous wealth of Psalms and Proverbs.

At the time we started, Alyse (our oldest) was just in first grade, but we had also taken in three high-school boys who needed a stable home for a season, and we desperately wanted to plant some of God’s Word in their hearts. We made the decision simply to read God’s Word and let it speak to us all. We began seeing the fruit of that, and have kept seeing it all through the years.

Yes, it’s hard to get everybody awake and downstairs at 6:30 in the morning! Kids show up on chilly mornings wrapped in blankets and still rubbing their eyes. But think about it: The day has to get started sooner or later anyway. We might as well be definite about it. Six-thirty is the “show your face” hour at our house on school days, no discussion or debate.

Our older college-aged kids tell us now that this commitment to get them up every morning to read the Bible together made a huge impression on them. It told them what Dad and Mom considered important—the beginning of knowledge, so to speak. And it started their day, before their minds had been cluttered with trivia, by focusing on God’s reality.

During our morning devotions, we go around the circle and each take turns reading a couple of stanzas or sections, usually from the New International Version. We, Kelli and David, listen for key concepts that tie in with things our kids are currently dealing with, events in the news and real situations that people face. The Psalms in particular keep driving home the point that God is bigger than our issues. He’s bigger than the public school. He’s bigger than the worst thing going on this week. Consider this soaring passage (which we get to read every twenty-third day of the month):

The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
(Ps. 113:4-6).

Irrelevant to school life, you say? Think again. This passage implants in a young person’s mind who the ultimate authority really is. It establishes the true “chain of command” in this world. It also declares that the God of heavens is watching what goes on here below. He’s paying attention.

We talk about these truths as we read God’s Word. And it doesn’t end there. After the Psalms, we hit Proverbs.

The book of Proverbs deals with intensely practical matters, from money to laziness to sex to overeating to mouthiness. We try not to assume the role of the Holy Spirit, by pressing these instructions on our kids; instead, we read the Scripture verses and let God make them relevant. It takes the focus off Dad and Mom so that our kids receive what is being read as God’s wisdom, not ours. If they drop a comment along the lines of “That’s not realistic” or “I don’t like what that says,” we can say, “Well, when you get to heaven, you can take that up with God!”

Every month when we get to the twenty-eighth day, Mom takes the lead for Psalm 136, her favorite. It’s written in the form of a chant:

Kelli: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
The rest of us: His love endures forever.
Kelli: Give thanks to the God of gods.
The rest of us: His love endures forever.
Kelli: To the One who remembered us in our low estate
The rest of us: His love endures forever.
Kelli: And freed us from our enemies
The rest of us: His love endures forever (vv. 1-2, 23-24, emphasis added).

When we finish the psalm, we keep the chant going with our own current reasons to praise God:

Our basketball team was awesome last night—
His love endures forever.
We get to go to the beach this Saturday—
His love endures forever.

This practice supplies yet another building block in the biblical foundation we are erecting in our children’s minds: an understanding that God is the Source of all good things in our lives.

There’s even a creative way to deal with Psalm 119, the longest “chapter” in the Bible. What we do is save that one for the months that have a thirty-first day. Having finished the rest of the book on the thirtieth, we then give this final day of the month to reading Psalm 119 (along with Proverbs 31). Otherwise, we skip it.

But we certainly don’t want to miss the gems of this particular section, such as:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you. . . .
Open my eyes that I may see
Wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me
(Ps. 119:9-11,18-19).

Our morning Bible reading is different from a “Bible study,” in which participants dissect a short passage of Scripture and explore its subtle meanings. We simply keep reading—and keep coming back next month and the next month and the month after that. The curious thing is, while the text remains constant, our life circumstances keep changing. Parents and kids keep growing up, with new experiences and fresh understanding. What Proverbs says about “discretion” means one thing to an 8-year-old (and perhaps has to be explained by a parent), while it strikes a 12-year-old differently. And once a kid hits 16, it has a wider meaning.

Does “familiarity breed contempt”? No. Actually, we find that the older kids enjoy our Bible readings more as the years go by. They look forward to verses they can finish by memory. They also come up with new applications. More than once we’ve heard one of them say, “I don’t remember that being in there!” In these aha! moments, the verse finally becomes the living Word of God to them.

None of us who call ourselves Christian should be arrogant to assume that just because we’ve read a certain passage in the past, we’ve now “got it.” The power of the Bible is that it is evergreen, always speaking afresh to our condition.

Springing from this “evergreen” quality of God’s Word is its unique ability to convey values and shape behavior. We heard about one missionary in Mongolia, of all places, who said that followers of Tibetan Buddhism there found Proverbs in particular appropriate for shaping the character of their young people. These Buddhists felt it would make their sons and daughters more responsible, self-disciplined and industrious in adulthood. The missionary said, “In this culture, I have come to believe that if the gospel is the Seed, the book of Proverbs is a useful plow to break up the hard soil, so the Seed can find a place to sprout and grow.”

Along the way, we have realized a few great by-products of our morning custom. One is that it gives our kids great practice at reading out loud. We see right away how they’re doing at recognizing words and enunciating them, without mumbling. If one of our kids needs help in this area, we catch it right away.

Another “perk” is the opportunity to build vocabulary. We have to stop and talk, for example, about what the word “prudent” means (our kids assumed at first that it was an adjective related to “prude” until we looked it up together!). When we hit terms such as “chaste” or “humility” or “perpetual,” we make sure the meaning is clear to our kids. Kelli has a famous line at such moments: “This could show up on the SAT! We’d better find out what this word means!” Everybody goes, “Yeah, Mom,” but their vocabularies are enhanced nevertheless.

  From Going Public  © 2008 by David & Kelli Pritchard. Published by Regal Books, Used by permission. All rights reserved.

David Pritchard is a nine-year veteran of Young Life youth ministry. He currently serves as area director in the south suburbs of Tacoma, Washington, and as camp manager of Young Life's largest summer camp. Kelli Pritchard has degrees in secondary education and in social work. The Pritchards have been influential in the lives of dozens of young people in their home and lead weekend parenting conferences. They are also cofounders of a community action group to work for improvement in the local school district. Learn more at