Six things I’ve learned reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter

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Every night before bed, my daughter Elizabeth gets to pick two books for us to read.

As far as she’s concerned, The Story of King Jesus will always be the book I wrote for her—and it is—so it’s been making regular appearances in our bedtime routine. We’ve read it a few dozens times now since our first copy arrived.

For my part, the book is an experiment of sorts. I believe we shortchange the gospel when we reduce it to a handful of Bible verses or condense it into a formula you recite. I believe we shortchange our kids when we fragment biblical narrative into isolated stories and treat them as moral fables. I believe our kids deserve a bigger gospel. They deserve to have the Bible presented as a single, coherent story.

The Story of King Jesus is my attempt to do just that. I want to prove it’s possible to share our faith without shortchanging either the gospel or our kids.

My daughter is 4-1/2. She’s just now taking her first steps of faith. I know better than to declare victory yet. But what I’ve witnessed so far gives me a lot of encouragement.

Here are six things that I’ve learned while reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter…

1. She can (and will) use the book to delay bedtime. And I’m all right with that.

OK, I don’t know what implications it has for nurturing her faith. But Elizabeth knows how to use the book to stretch out her nightly routine.

The most sacred bedtime rule in our house—we read each book ONCE—is in tatters when she gives me those big, sad eyes and asks me to read “her favorite book” one more time. Yeah…she knows how to play me.

I find myself in less of a rush, too. I’ll confess… I’ve sped through some of her books at bedtime (Goodnightstars-goodnightair-goodnightnoiseseverywhere-THEEND), but I slow down for this one. Because this story matters. I want her to absorb every word.

Even her regular interruptions are more easily welcomed because, well…

2. She asks surprisingly good questions.

The other night, she interrupted me as we got to the exodus part of the story, where God’s people “were slaves in another country.” We’ve read these words many times, but this time Elizabeth wanted to know what slavery is.

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So we talked about how some people try to own and control others, how this is part of what we mean when we say “God’s good world is broken.” We talked about how “making the world right and good again” (another phrase from the book) means making it a place where everyone is free, where everyone is treated with respect, and where we love everyone they way God loves us.

I love that she’s asking the kind of questions that will help her connect her emerging faith to the world around her—so she can see that God doesn’t just save us from something; he invites us to become part of making the world right and good again.

Kids need to see that our faith makes a difference in this world, not just the next one. The gospel is about far more than where we go when we die. As Benjamin Corey wrote, it’s not about escaping this world; the gospel about transforming it.

Watching Elizabeth process The Story of King Jesus, I’m reminded that our kids know how to ask good questions. We don’t have to shove answers down their throats. We just have to nurture their innate spiritual curiosity.

3. She is naturally drawn to Jesus.

Elizabeth lights up whenever we get to the part about Jesus. As soon as I read the words “something new happened” and “God sent someone special,” she gets fidgety with excitement. She wants to recite the next part before I can read the words, “God sent his only Son, Jesus.” She wants to take in every picture of Jesus doing “good things everywhere he went,” and she wants to tell me about each one. (Some of her interpretations are more creative than others.)

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The Bible is all about Jesus. Jesus fulfills and transforms Israel’s story all at once. The purpose of the Bible is not to serve as some kind of rulebook or user manual, but to point to Jesus, the true logos, the final Word of God.

When we keep Jesus at the center of our gospel, our kids find someone with whom they can connect—perhaps more easily than we do.

4. She’s connecting some of the dots for herself.

The other night, when we got to the part about the kings of Israel—“Some kings were good. Some were bad. Mostly, the kings did whatever they wanted.”—Elizabeth added, “Yeah, just like the very first people.”

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She already gets that Israel’s story is an echo of the garden story—God creates people, gives them a home, offers to live with them, but the people go their own way and lose their home. She’s starting to get that this is our story as well, that it’s not just a story about people who lived a long time ago. She’s starting to understand that what God wants for the “very first people,” and what he wants for Israel, is what he wants for us: to make the world right and good again so we can live with him once more.

5. This story can hold her attention.

My daughter doesn’t have a lot of sit in her. I don’t think she’s ever sat through an entire movie—except maybe Frozen, and that was only once. Come bedtime, her ability to focus, such as it is, usually goes out the window. (In other words, she is a normal kid.) But for all the times we’ve read The Story of King Jesus, it still holds her attention. She wants to know the story behind each image. She’s learned parts of the book by heart. She talks about it during the day.

I think we have a tendency to sell our kids short. We turn the gospel into sound bites. We give nuggets of Bible stories, rendered unrealistically cute and reimagined as moral fables, because we don’t think our kids are up for more than that. We should have more confidence in them and in the story we tell—because, well…

6. She—and other kids like her—can grasp the big story of the Bible, if we give them a chance.

I remember years ago teaching a Sunday school class using a “youth-friendly” denominational curriculum. The kids in my class were bored senseless. I couldn’t blame them. So was I.

So we ditched the curriculum; instead, I started telling them the big story of the Bible (because it was clear no one had ever done this for them). The atmosphere changed immediately. Kids who had been sleeping with their eyes open sat bolt upright. They started asking questions. They wanted to know where the story was going.

As Scot McKnight wrote in The King Jesus Gospel, “We need to regain our confidence in the utter power of proclaiming the one story of Jesus.” To this, I would add we also need to regain our confidence in our ability to tell this story well—and in our kids’ ability to embrace it.

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The Story of King Jesus is available at bookstores now.

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Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, Thoughtful Christian and your local independent bookstore.

4 thoughts on “Six things I’ve learned reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter

  1. Thank you, Ben, for this lovely book. We received our copy in the mail earlier this week (I pre-ordered a few weeks ago). My 4 1/2 year old – also Elizabeth – will love it. I was thinking about saving it for her Easter basket, but reading this had made me rethink that. Like your daughter, Liza is asking me big questions (after cherub choir recently, “Who is Satan?”, “Is God in the rocks?” – to which I answered yes, so then, “When we step on the rocks, does God say ‘ouch’?”). Her curiosity about all things God has really piqued, and I think your book will help her connect the dots, too.

    I’d love to see future blogs about other books you read to your children, ones that you think help them make sense of their faith. A group at my church – “Young Families” – has been sharing ideas about children’s Bibles we like and other stories that resonate with our children to help them experience God and religion in ways that are healthy and theologically consistent with our Episcopalian traditions.

    Thank you for this blog. I’ve been looking for one like it for a long time. And thank you for “The Story of King Jesus” – we’ll read it tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Margaret! I hope your daughter likes the book and, more importantly, that it helps you nurture her curiosity about God. She’s got some great questions!

      Thanks also for the suggestion about future blogs…that’s a great idea. For now, off the top of my head, I can think of four books I really like…

      Jesus Storybook Bible
      Unlike many storybook Bibles, this one actually makes an attempt to connect the individual stories together, mainly by keeping Jesus at the center of the whole thing. I’d like to think it’s a great resource to use with kids after they get the big-picture view from my book. 🙂

      Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu
      I love how this one feels like a storybook Bible for kids all over the world. We used this one for nightly Scripture readings during Advent.

      God’s Dream by Desmond Tutu
      Great book for helping kids understand God’s vision for the world and his children.

      God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner
      This is one of my daughter’s other favorite books about God. (And mine too.)

      Like

  2. I’ve been waiting for the book to arrive since you first announced it on this blog and I pre-ordered it. What an amazing book. Great job. One of the few times I felt passionately enough about a product to write an Amazon review!

    Liked by 1 person

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