Tag: family worship

Long Story Short | Marty Machowski

Our family started reading this book when our oldest two daughters were small. We loved everything about it: the short Bible studies, the chronological walk through Scripture, the way each story points to Jesus.

What we didn’t love was trying to discuss these stories with a four year old while trying to intercept the two-year-old’s plate before it hit the floor. After a few months of failing to convince reality to conform to our vision of happy dinnertime devotions, we shelved Long Story Short and went back to reading The Jesus Storybook Bible at bedtime, when everyone was pajamaed and cuddled up with a quieting cup of milk.

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, I came across Long Story Short while gathering books for our home school year and decided to give it another try. We still have a two year old (just a different one), but we also have an eight year old and a six year old, so I tucked this book into our reading basket in the hope that maybe, just maybe, we might be ready for it.

The first few weeks of the school year were studded with tantrums and protests about reading the Bible, yes, but also about wearing shoes, eating snacks and everything else under the sun (I don’t know what the first few weeks of school are like at your house, but at our house, they are rough).

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

Eventually we settled into a routine. And Long Story Short has been a beautiful part of that routine: the way our older girls see the world has already made from some rich and rewarding discussion, and because we read on the living room floor now, where puzzles and blocks occupy the toddler, it’s actually gone pretty smoothly so far.

Long Story Short is meant to be read five days a week, for about ten minutes a day. Each week has a focus passage, but on any given day, Machowski may send us off into other corners of Scripture to read passages that point the week’s story back to Jesus.

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The book takes us through Scripture chronologically, but it also treats the Bible as a whole, with themes that spread across books and bring Jesus back to the forefront of the story again and again. Reading Scripture this way makes it hard to believe that God’s Word exists to comfort or serve us; it reminds us rather that the Bible exists to help us know the One who is our comfort and strength.

When the toddler melts down and another child goes limp at the mere thought of doing schoolwork and the teapot is empty, I’m so glad that Scripture isn’t full of beautiful but empty verses that remind me to buck up and do better. I’m thankful, rather, that they tell me that I am not enough—but that the one who is enough has adopted us as his children. That is news worth sharing with my daughters.


Long Story Short
Marty Machowski (2010)

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions

Family devotions, we have learned, are fluid. We start a book and stick with it until a baby joins us at the table in a high chair or somebody’s bedtime shifts or a child (who shall not be named) rebels against dinner in all its forms and we leave the table fatigued, having forgotten to pick that book up off the shelf, open it, and read aloud.

Our kids change constantly, and we seem to be always two steps behind them. This makes any kind of routine hard to maintain.

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

Part of me mourns that fact, and the fact that we’ve yet to finish a devotional together, but another part is grateful for what time we have spent with each of these books. That is the part of me that holds out hope that we’ll get back to them one day—maybe when the high chair has been retired for good, and we’re all eating with forks like civilized folks.

Because we have found a few devotionals worth returning to, plus one that has been an anchor in our family worship, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite resources for family devotions with you. Perhaps you are all eating with forks like civilized folks and you can enjoy reading these books with your family—or perhaps you’re a few steps ahead of us and have realized that that may never happen, and it’s time to buckle down and do family devotions anyway. Whatever your circumstance, here is a list of gems for you:

LONG STORY SHORT, by Marty Machowski

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

This book takes families all the way through the Old Testament—through the famous bits and the weird bits, too. It’s arranged by weeks, with each week divided into days, and each day complete with a reading from the book, a reading from the Bible, and a short list of thought-provoking questions.

We tackled this when our two oldest girls were four and under and were pleasantly surprised at how much our four year old gleaned from the readings (the two year old was more interested in finger-painting with her soup). I look forward to coming back to this one and to exploring Machowski’s book on the New Testament, Old Story New(Read the full review.)

TRAINING HEARTS, TEACHING MINDSby Starr Meade

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds | Starr Meade

Our church is collectively working our way through the Westminster Shorter Catechism with this book. Starr Meade orients each week around a catechism question and includes a series of Scripture readings and small devotions to correspond with each day of the week. This one, too, was a winner—but somehow, we only lasted six months before it returned to the shelf and stayed there.

THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book to the girls over breakfast for quite some time. It’s beautiful—the illustrations by Jago are deeper and richer than those in The Jesus Storybook Bible and more mature somehow. And Sally-Lloyd Jones’s meditations on various things truly do make the heart sing. (Read the full review.)

THE FAMILY JOURNALby Songs for Saplings

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

We haven’t used The Family Journal as devotional material exactly, but as a landing place for the discussions that arise as we read together as a family. It is fun to revisit the questions and answers our daughters have learned by heart from the Songs for Saplings albums and to make notes on the spontaneous theological questions the girls throw my way. We have stuck with this one—perhaps because we don’t need to read it every day. (Read the full review.)

The Bible

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Every so often, we dip into Scripture itself. I have also been reading one-on-one with our oldest daughter, so she’s getting portions of Scripture straight from the source and that has been a rich time together for us (though pregnancy naps are edging that habit out already . . . ). (Read the full post.)

THE ADVENT JESSE TREEby Dean Lambert Smith

The Advent Jesse Tree: A Family Devotional for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

The Advent Jesse Tree has seen us through Advent after Advent, so we know that we can stick with a series of readings for at least one month! This is a clean, basic, theologically solid look at who Jesus is, what the Bible said about him before he came, and why his coming matters so much to us. We have loved this one year after year, returning to it even after a fancier book with better illustrations briefly lured us away. (Read the full review, or learn how to make your own Jesse tree.)

THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLEby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

This book has anchored our devotional time since our eldest was eighteen months old. Knowing that our older girls are learning the New City Catechism as part of their schooling has helped direct our family devotion time toward something that will help build a solid foundation for our younger girls. And so The Jesus Storybook Bible comes back again and again as a part of our evening ritual.

It has traveled with us halfway across the country and back and is held together mostly by box tape—not glamorous, perhaps, but a sure sign of a book that has seen service in the hands of small readers. And that is what we want: we want them to know that this is their story. Perhaps as the whole family levels up together, we’ll tackle other, deeper devotional books, but for now, this is our tried-and-true book for family devotions. (Read the full review.)

What About you? Which Devotional books (or habits!) have worked for your family?

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Sally Lloyd-Jones

At our house, we joke about “turning over a new leaf.” It’s not a very funny joke, just one we fall back on when we feel the need to make a change, big or small. “It’ll be a whole new leaf!” we cry, determined to keep our bedroom tidy or to fold and put away the clean laundry before it engulfs our purple couch. But a few weeks later, cat hair drifts across the bedroom floor like tumbleweeds and we find ourselves asking, “Where is that new leaf anyway?”

Well, my friends, ’tis the season of new leaves. I know that some of you are renewing your gym membership while others scrutinize the very fine margins of your budget. You’re scouring your child’s toy box and donating half the toys to a good cause, or vowing to cut back on coffee/booze/sweets/Facebook, and so on.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

Meanwhile, a handful of you are determined to be more intentional about reading to your children. You don’t want to read just anything to them, either: you’re thinking in words like “discipleship” and “training,” if you’re that sort, or you just want to fold something about God into your daily routine. You haven’t the nerve to tackle full-on Scripture and yet, you want to feed your children something substantial.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

If you’re one of those folks, then I’d like to introduce you to Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago, the team behind The Jesus Storybook Bible, this book is a devotional book for kids that is simple but not simplified, so it lends itself to a variety of uses. Older children can benefit richly from reading through it on their own, while families can read it together before bed or around the table. We like to read passages from it over breakfast, an association that has been cemented by our three-year-old, who calls it our “breakfast book.”

As always, Lloyd-Jones brings a depth and honesty to her writing that resonates with readers big and small: she doesn’t write down to anyone, which means that the whole family can enjoy the brief devotions (and stunning artwork). And from the verses cited after each entry, you can springboard into a deeper discussion of Scripture, if you feel so inclined.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

Whatever your new leaf is this year: good luck! My goals are small this year, thanks to Phoebe, and consist of things like “brush teeth occasionally” and “start cooking again (eventually).” “Cuddle the baby as much as possible” tops my list, and I’m happy to report that I’ve got that one down pat.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story


Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jago (2012)

Reading the Bible as a Family

I have already reviewed a number of story Bibles and Bible stories here, but before we move much further down this road together, I’d like to pause and say something important: story Bibles are great. But the Bible itself is better.

Scripture is true and it is beautifully written (remember the image of Noah riding the waves over the tops of the submerged mountains?), but as adults we can grow a thick skin toward the language of the Bible. We begin to skim the stories that we know by heart, and as we do we lose sight of the shocking beauty of the story being told.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

But our children are hearing these things for the first time, and at some point they need to turn those onion-skin pages themselves and know that the words they’re hearing weren’t composed in a home office but in the heart of God himself. They were put to paper in prisons and deserts, written in grief and joy. Men died so we could hold them, leather bound and translated, in our own hands. This is a book unlike any other, and children need to know that from a young age.

Story Bibles are a wonderful aid when introducing kids to the whole of the Bible—especially when children are young and wiggly and love illustrations—but they are tools, meant to lead them on to the Word itself. If we stop at the paraphrase and consider our job done, we’ve merely fed them milk and failed to wean them onto solid food.

But that raises the question: how do you transition from reading story Bibles to reading the Bible itself with your children?

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

This is not a rhetorical question.

My children are young enough that we’re just beginning to move in this direction, so I am no authority. But I am a compulsive reader and an over-thinker of everything, so I have, of course, compiled a list of theoretical options. For those of you with experience reading the Bible with your children, please comment below and share any words of wisdom with the rest of us!

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Sharing Scripture with Your Kids

– Gladys Hunt, in Honey For a Child’s Heart, shares what is probably my favorite approach: read a passage together after a meal. Then everyone, parents included, must ask a question about the passage and answer a question about the passage. Gladys Hunt writes:

This method requires that everyone think through what the passage is saying . . .We experience a great thing:  the joy of discovery. What is discovered for one’s self is always more meaningful than what is told to us by someone else.

– Marty Machowski’s excellent devotionals Long Story Short and Old Story New take families through the Old and New Testaments respectively, with chunks of reading straight from Scripture followed by solid questions. We’ve done Long Story Short off and on, and are continually surprised by what our girls pick up as we read.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

– I know of one family that has read through the classic devotional Daily Light on the Daily Path for years. This is an old book, recently released in the ESV translation, that offers carefully curated readings pulled straight from Scripture—the verses aren’t in their immediate context, but are fitted together into a bigger context that follows a larger theme for the day. It’s hard to explain, really, but the way the verses work together is lovely.

– The one thing I do actively implement is surprisingly simple: I share what I’m reading with my girls. I love M’Cheyne’s reading plan (though I may not finish every reading every day), and when the girls see me reading my Bible they often ask me to read to them—and so we’ve read Psalms together here and there, or passages from James. I read aloud until they wander off, and then go on reading to myself. It’s simple, but they seem to enjoy being drawn into my time with Scripture.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

So, those are my ideas. What about you? How do you read the Bible with your kids? If your kids are older, I’d especially love to hear any insights you might have from your vantage point.