When my husband, Dan, was in high school, he went to a boys' camp in North Dakota. A couple who had a desire to disciple young people owned a cattle ranch there, and they opened their home each summer for two-week "Bible and Saddle" camps. Dan went the very first year they started having camps (picture to the left). That first year, they had only one two-week session for boys only. When our first two children were little, Dan was asked to come back as the Bible teacher. By the time our children were in junior high and high school, they had expanded the camp and had two weeks for girls as well. Our oldest son was their first second-generation camper as well as their first second-generation Bible teacher. Eventually, due to age and health factors, the couple had to close the camp, but all our older children had the privilege of attending before the ranch was sold.
The couple who ran the camp lived out their everyday lives with the campers. They taught the kids to study the Bible and to work hard, but they also made room in the day to play. It was properly balanced and had no "bells and whistles"—well, except for the large bell outside the ranch house that clanged for mealtimes.
That camp had a profound affect, not just on Dan's life, but on our family life, that continues to this day. Before every meal, the rancher read the Bible aloud. He would explain, "Just as we need regular food to feed our bodies, we also need regular food to feed our souls and spirits." He didn't read a lot, just a section of a chapter, maybe make a brief comment on what he'd read; then he would pray and the food would be served.
Simple. Impacting. Dan started to incorporate that habit into our own family, reading the Bible or a devotional at every meal. We decided to read it after meals so it would be easier to serve the meal hot, but I'm finding that it's easier to forget afterward and the crunch of time schedules can cause us to neglect this most important habit. Even as I write this, the eyes of my heart are being opened to see the wisdom in the rancher's order of reading the Bible before each meal. There is a significant symbolism in his way of putting the Bible first: he deeply believed and lived out that the nurturing of our spirits was of greater importance than the fueling of our bodies. Our bodies are merely temporal, but our spirits and souls live on into eternity.
Over the years as the children got older, we read Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon's daily devotionals for one of the meals, and the Bible for the other meals. Occasionally Dan would read another book that God was using to speak truth into his life, one he wanted to share with the family. Now, with just the two youngest girls at home, we started reading a chapter of Proverbs after breakfast. Oh, how I wish we had done that every day all during the growing up years of our children's lives! Proverbs is so packed with spiritual, practical, everyday wisdom, and it's conveniently divided into 31 chapters, one chapter for each day of any given month. It was written out of the longing heart of a father to help his son walk in ways that would provide life-long blessing.
Think of this: if you were to start reading a chapter of Proverbs every day from the time your child was first born till he or she "flew from the nest," they would pretty much have the whole book of Proverbs memorized without even having to work at it! The longest chapter in Proverbs is 36 verses; at a 6-verse-per-minute reading rate, the longest chapter would at most take only 6 minutes. And I can almost guarantee that if you were to do this, your own heart as a parent would become filled with greater passion for seeing your children walk in wisdom, mirroring the heart of the writer and the heart of God.
Currently at other meals when the girls are home, we are reading through the New Testament in a different translation than we're used to. Now that Dan is gone and it's my responsibility, I confess that I sometimes forget. But God keeps pulling me back to this three-times-a-day habit.
I've found that if we attach spiritual disciplines to the regular routines of our day, we're less likely to forget, letting the day get away from us without spending time in the Word ourselves and with our children. As part of your homeschooling day, as part of your family routine and structure, I encourage you to read the Bible (or some devotional) at every meal. How about joining me in starting to put it first, before the meal?