Thursday, December 3, 2009

Devotional Books

This year, as every year, we try to get something faith-related for our children for Christmas. Often, Santa brings these presents to underscore the Christ-centered nature of this holiday. Last year, my two older children got Bibles. This year, we're giving them devotional books.

We do family devotions (kind of sporadically) so I wanted them to have something personal. Something that would stay on their nightstands. Something that they could read alone and meditate on, or read with a parent and talk about. Enter the devos of 2009.

For my 8 year old:

What I like about The One Year Everyday Devotions by Stephen Arterburn and Jesse Florea was that it almost always uses a Bible story for the lesson. Many, many kid's devotionals use a modern story to illustrate the lesson, then they tie that story to a biblical principle. I think this is okay, but I'd rather my kids get really familiar with the Bible itself and what they can learn from it, especially for my 8 year old. Another thing I liked was that this devo uses the New Living Translation for the Bible passages, which is very accessible and understandable for kids. The lessons are a good length and have pithy points that seem more likely to stick with the reader. The writing style is nice -- casual and conversational.

For my sports-crazed 6 year old:

I struggled with a devotional for my 6 year old. I had a hunch he'd be offended by anything that seemed too babyish, but at the same time something like the Arterburn devo is just beyond him. Truthfully, the reading level of Heads Up: Sports Devotions for All-Star Kids by Dave Branon is also beyond him, but I think the subject matter will appeal to him so I'm going to risk it. This devotion (probably more for 9 year olds and up) uses examples of real athletes from a wide range of sports who are living out their Christian faith. There were some nice lessons dealing with things like sharing your faith, and how your behavior can undermine your witness. In addition to the lessons, there are random sports factoids which I think my son will find interesting. We'll be reading this one to him for a year or so, but I think it's one he can grow into.

For my 3 year old:

God's Amazing Creatures and Me by Helen and Paul Haidle says it's for 6-10 year olds, but when I flipped through it at the bookstore, I thought it might appeal to my 3 year old. Some of the lessons are going to go straight over her head, but it has pictures on every page and uses animal characteristics and behavior to illustrate biblical principles, particularly the idea that God has a plan and design for each of us. In one devotion, it describes how a male Emperor penguin incubates its egg on its feet for 60 long days in the freezing cold. Nothing much happens with that egg until the 60th day -- then, there's the baby! Enter the story of Elijah and his perseverance -- what if Elijah had given up because nothing much seemed to be happening? It'll be a stretch for a 3 year old, but I think it's a nice one to grow into.

I want to hasten to say that I went through probably 15 different devotional books looking for ones that would be a good fit for my kids -- for their reading levels, comprehension abilities, and interests. Unless you know the book well, it's probably NOT A GOOD IDEA TO BUY ONLINE. This is one purchase where you need to go to a bookstore (and not Barnes and Noble -- a Christian bookstore so you get a really good selection of devotionals) and spend some time looking through devotionals until you find one that you think your child(ren) will like. And by "spend some time," I mean plan on about 30 minutes or so. If you're not giving it as a surprise, you could take your child(ren) along and let them look, too. I made a list of the most promising ones, then came home and looked them up on one of the Big Two websites to check the target ages and read reviews from others who had purchased them. Then I went back and purchased them.

Why so much care? I want their devotionals to be appealing and inviting, something they look forward to reading with us or by themselves. If we can instill in them this practice now of reading their Bibles and thinking about what they read, it will be something they come back to again and again into adulthood.

Just keepin' our eyes on the prize.

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