The reading of good, spiritually edifying literature is a subject that has been addressed a number of times at the RFPA’s annual meeting. Over the course of past six years, several speeches have been given on the topic of reading. There are good reasons for that. The RFPA’s mission is to publish sound Reformed literature for the Reformed believer. The reading of good, spiritually edifying books is important for the spiritual well-being of our homes and churches. We also need encouragement to read. There is an observable decline in reading today. This continues to be a concern to the RFPA. Opportunity to revisit the topic of reading in a fresh way is afforded by the RFPA’s new children’s book division. This is an exciting continuation and expansion of the RFPA’s mission to bring solid Reformed literature to God’s people. Now, with the publication of children’s books, the RFPA is providing valuable resources for covenant parents to use in the upbringing of their children. We ought to make use of these resources. One of the most important disciplines our covenant children learn is the discipline of reading. Parents must train their children to read. That is the topic we consider briefly.
The importance of training our children to read
Training our children in the discipline of reading is important. To begin, I want to set forth three foundational truths showing the importance of training our children to read. The first is the bedrock truth that our God is a God of the Word. He is a God who speaks. The Word God speaks is reality-determining power. What was God’s first work outside Himself? God spoke! And God’s Word brought the universe into existence! His Word determines reality! God’s Word is also His saving self-revelation. Through His Word, God imparts true saving knowledge of Himself to His elect people. In the deepest sense, the Word God speaks is not a thing but a Person, the eternal Word Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the full saving revelation of God (Heb. 1:1–2). Christ is revealed in God’s written Word, the Holy Scriptures. From a special care for us and for our salvation, God has committed His reality-determining, self-revealing Word to writing, and given it to us, to be preached, to be read, to be hidden in our hearts, to be our only rule for faith and life.
Second, God uses His written Word as the means by which He saves His people and builds up their faith in Jesus Christ. God, of course, begins His work of salvation without the use of means. The Holy Spirit implants the new life of Christ in the heart of the elect sinner, creates the spiritual bond with Christ, and infuses the faculty of faith. But hereafter the Spirit uses the Word of God. Through the Word preached the Spirit calls the child of God to conscious, active faith, so that the believer knows, trusts, embraces Christ, and appropriates all His benefits. God’s Word is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. This establishes the absolute importance of the written Word of God for every believer. The Word is the means of grace, the means of faith, the means of growth and maturation in the Christian life. We must hear the Word preached, but we must also read and meditate upon the Word. The reading of the Word is one of the most important spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.
That leads us to the third truth. God calls believing parents to train their children in the ways of His covenant. Believing parents have the awesome responsibility of raising God’s own children for their heavenly Father. Our children are not our own. They are God’s. We bring them up for their eternal Father. For this calling, God equips parents with His Word. The reality-determining, Christ-revealing, salvation-working Word of God is the means that God gives covenant parents to train His children in the ways of His covenant. Parents must teach their children the content of the Word of God. But they must do more. They must also do everything in their power to train their children in the skills and disciplines that will enable their children to read and understand the Word themselves. An essential part of covenant instruction is training our children in the spiritual disciplines—the spiritual life skills—that maintain a healthy Christian life. For example, the father that wants to train his sixteen-year-old son to care for his new car will do more than teach him about the different parts of the car and how they work. He will train his son to change the oil, check the tire pressure, perhaps even do a brake job. The father trains his son in life skills that will help him be a responsible car owner. So it is with the spiritual lives of our children. Parents must train their children in spiritual life skills that equip them for the Christian life.
The manner of training our children to read
Having laid the theological foundations for the importance of training our children to read, we now face the question: how do we train our children to read? There are three simple, practical ways parents can train their children to be readers from a young age. The first is foundational. Covenant parents must make it a habit to read to their children regularly. If we want our children to grow up to be readers, it starts in the home. It starts with us reading to our children. It is well documented that one of the most beneficial things parents can do for their children is to read to them regularly. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read daily to their children, starting as early as six months. Reading to young children stimulates the part of the brain connected with understanding the written and spoken word. Here is the great benefit we are concerned about. We are a people of The Book. Our faith is Word-based. We want to do everything we can to help our children develop the skills necessary to read and understand God’s written Word. Our children must be trained to read!
There are a couple of ways we can read regularly to our children in the home. One is the treasured Reformed practice of family worship, when the whole family comes together around God’s Word. Family worship is a prime opportunity to read the Word to our children, explain it to them, and apply it to their lives. Family worship is not the only time to read to our children. It is also important for parents to set aside a designated time to read good books to our children. Read to them regularly and consistently, not occasionally. Make a designated reading time a fixture of your family life. The children will come to expect and look forward to it. This will afford parents special bonding time and teaching moments. It need not be long. Fifteen minutes to a half an hour can be enough for younger children. The important thing is that we do it consistently. It can be challenging to find good, spiritually edifying children’s books. Why not start with the RFPA’s children’s books? The RFPA’s children’s division is publishing excellent children’s books for various ages. The RFPA is providing wonderful resources for covenant parents. Let us make use of these resources that God has providentially made available to us! Reading starts in the home. Train your children to read by reading to them!
Second, parents train their children to read by being disciplined readers themselves. It is hard to train our children to read if we parents do not read. It is difficult to foster a love for reading in our children, if we do not appreciate reading ourselves. Parents, you train your children as much by your example as by your words. Your life is the textbook from which your children learn to live their lives. It is not enough merely to urge them to read; you must model the discipline of reading for them by being a reader in your home. Read in front of your children. Talk about what you read. Let your children see that you enjoy reading. Perhaps you are not much of a reader and you are not sure how to start. Reading requires self-discipline. Begin by establishing a regular routine of personal reading and stick to it. Disciplining yourself to be a reader is like athletic training. You do not just get up and run a 5k race. You have to build up to it by consistent training and exercise. Exercise regularly by reading for a short time each day. Start small. Pick a good book and read a chapter. Read fifteen minutes a day. As you become more “conditioned” as a reader, it will come more easily and you will find it more enjoyable. Little by little you will develop a habit of reading. Those big volumes that looked impossible to get through will not be imposing anymore. Discipline yourself to read so that you may train your children to read.
Third, parents train their children to read by fostering a reading-friendly atmosphere in the home. Create a home environment that is reading-friendly and encourages interest in reading. This starts with having a positive attitude toward reading. What is the prevailing attitude towards reading in your home? Maybe there is no attitude because there is very little reading. Maybe the attitude is “reading is boring; it is a good sleep aid, a good way to start off the Sunday nap.” The message sent is that reading is not important and not worth the time and effort. If we want our children to be readers, we have to have a positive attitude toward reading. Talk about reading with your children. Show interest in what they are reading. One very concrete way to foster a reading-friendly atmosphere in the home is to have a designated time for the whole family to read together. It might be for an hour on Sunday afternoon. The whole family sits in the living room and reads a good book. Everyone participates, dad, mom, and the children. Reading can be a profitable family activity! This is an effective way to train young children to read, keep older children reading, and keep yourself reading too.
Challenges we face in training our children to read
There are numerous challenges that we face in our day. I call your attention to three challenges. One challenge is simply the busyness of our lives. We have so much going on in our lives. It is hard to find the time to read ourselves or read to our children. The hard-working man who puts in long hours each week to provide for his family, pay the church budget, and pay the school tuition, when does he have time to read? The hard-working mother caring for children, keeping the home, cooking meals, carting the children to and from school—and a host of other tasks—when will she find time to read? The hard-working covenant student with homework, sports practice, and a job on the side, when will he find the time to read? We are busy. Some of it cannot be helped. Some of it can. Our busyness easily has a negative effect on our spiritual lives because it crowds out more important things, such as family worship, personal devotions, time in prayer, and reading. How do we overcome the challenge of busyness? It is a matter of commitment to what is truly important. In our busy lives it is not likely we will just find time to read. We have to make time to read. We make time for the things that are important to us. Let us make time for our family worship and for reading.
A second challenge we face in training our children to read is disinterest in reading. This can be disinterest on the part of parents or disinterest on the part of the child. One of the factors that stands behind the general slump in reading today is disinterest in the activity of reading itself. We have probably heard this disinterest expressed in various ways: “I know reading is good, but it’s just not my thing. I’m not wired to be a reader. I’d rather do other things. It just puts me to sleep.” Now, it must be granted that God gives people different personalities and aptitudes. That needs to be taken into account. Some children struggle with reading. Some adults find it more difficult than others. Not everyone will be an avid reader, but everyone can and should be a reader.
How do we overcome this challenge? For one thing, we have to take seriously the importance of reading for ourselves and reading to our children. It is not a take-it or leave-it suggestion; this is something covenant parents must do! We are a people of The Book. Training our children to read is part of training them in the ways of God’s covenant. That means discipline! The way to overcome disinterest is disciplining ourselves to read and read to our children. Discipline goes against the grain of our feel-good culture. Discipline means consistently doing something we do not like to do. It is hard. But we do it in other areas of life. We discipline ourselves to get up when that alarm clock goes off. We can discipline ourselves to read. Discipline is a powerful God-given tool for working change in our lives. Do you feel you are not wired to be a reader? The good news is that we are not hard-wired, we can be rewired. Discipline rewires us through the formation of new good habits. Through consistent discipline a man who did not like reading can learn not only to be good at it, but also really to enjoy it. Discipline yourself to read! Read a little bit every day. Read to your children a little while every night. What initially may seem burdensome will become easier and more enjoyable. Stick with it!
But there is another form of disinterest. This is not disinterest in reading itself, but disinterest in reading good, spiritually edifying books. A person may read a lot, but gain very little from what he reads, because most of it is fluff and entertainment. It goes without saying that we may not be reading overtly sinful books, books that promote, glorify, or entice to sin. But there are many books, though not sinful in themselves, that have very little substance or value. It is not wrong to read some of these books; but it is a problem if the majority of what we read is this kind of fluff. The way to overcome this challenge is to discipline ourselves to read widely and train our children to read widely. Let spiritually edifying Reformed books be the hearty meat of your reading diet. Read the books produced by the RFPA. They are written for the believer in the pew. Read sound books that build you up in your Christian life. As you train your children to read, train them to have a taste for a variety of books, especially sound books.
A third challenge that we face in training our children to read is the challenge of digital technology. This is one of the biggest challenges we face, and it is only growing, as technology develops in leaps and bounds. We do not have to look far to see that digital devices are taking over and reshaping our lives. The smartphone has become man’s best friend and constant companion. It is now socially acceptable for people to look at their phones just about anywhere. Whenever there is a free moment, a lull in conversation, out come the phones! We need to be aware of how our usage of digital technology affects our family lives and our spiritual lives. Of particular concern is the way digital technology affects our children and the raising of our children. On a whole, children are spending more time in front of screens and less time reading or having books read to them. We must beware of the serious negative effects overuse of digital technology has. The evidence is substantial and alarming. Numerous books have been written on the influence that usage of digital devices has in shaping the brain. Our brains adapt and rewire to reinforce the skills we use the most. The very way these devices convey information—rapid fire, constantly shifting images, etc.—shapes the way our brains think. Digital technology encourages quick scanning, not deep reading; shallow, scattered thinking instead of the focused, critical thinking involved in reading. Our children have minds that are malleable and developing. As they grow up surrounded by screens and using these devices at increasingly young ages, the question has to be faced: what is this doing to the minds of our children? Are the minds of our children being shaped in such a way that hinders them from reading and understanding the Word of God? This is a serious challenge we face: digital distractions are distancing us from the written Word of God, detracting from our ability to delve into it, and the skills necessary for focused, active, and sustained study of God’s Word. As reading becomes a thing of the past in our digital age, it is all the more important that we read and train our children to read.
How do we overcome this challenge? The answer is not completely getting rid of digital technology. These things are not evil in themselves. They can be put to good use. But we must be responsible and careful in our use of technology, and we must exercise an extra measure of care when it comes to our children. Parents, teach your children the dangers of digital technology. Teach them to use it responsibly. Establish proper boundaries in your home. We do not have to be on our phones 24/7! Counteract this trend by reading! Counteract this trend by training your children to read!
We are a people of the Word, the Word written, and the Word preached. We will be a people of the book until the Lord comes again. Let us be resolved to let nothing hinder us and our children from reading, understanding, and delighting in the Word of God. Let us train our children in the discipline of reading!