You might also need chocolate syrup, toilet paper tubes, and a mouse trap. Why? Because that’s basically how God teaches us, and has always taught His people. Let me explain.
When God brought His people out of captivity in Egypt, He gave them a picture of being liberated from captivity. He also gave them a picture of salvation. Moses was called to the great task of leading them, and in Moses, God gave His people a picture of Jesus. When they were short on food, God gave them manna daily to eat. And in this, He gave a picture of His faithful provision, and of Jesus. When He gave them rules about not mixing threads, He taught them about holiness, separateness, and being set apart.
When He gave them the plans to build His tabernacle and all of its contents, He taught them more about holiness, about substitution and sacrifice, and about obedience. Oh, and He taught them about Jesus. Same thing for the temple, which was not just a picture of Jesus, but also a picture of His believers.
Jesus was the master of parables, easy-to-understand short stories that point to bigger spiritual truths. And the culmination of history is depicted as a wedding, complete with a bridegroom (Jesus) and a bride (His church).
Do you see it?
God has always taught big ideas in simpler terms. He does this so well, He sometimes comes up with the object just to teach the object lesson.
Put yourself in the shoes (you know, the ones that never wore out!) of the Israelites in the desert. Your entire life has been in Egypt, living the life of a slave in a pagan culture. Now, God has come for you, and He promises to take you to your very own land! You have never lived that way, and you have no idea how that even works. No more pharaoh or slave masters to rule over you, God Himself will be your ruler. But He knows things that you do not. For example, He knows that your land is surrounded by other pagan nations, and He knows you are vulnerable to their influence. He also knows the stakes are too high just to hope for the best. So, before you even get to your land, he starts teaching you about holiness and keeping yourself separate. There has never been a chosen people before. So, He sets about teaching you in ways you can readily understand. Leviticus 19:19 tells you not to sow different seeds in one field, not to cross-breed cattle, and not to mix your threads. That seems arbitrary and bossy, but you come to understand purity. You see the difference when you keep things separate, as opposed to when you mix them. God wants you to see yourself in those pictures of purity and holiness.
Object lessons are powerful teaching tools. They flip the switch of understanding quickly and easily. God has used this idea all along, and you should use it with your children. Bonus- it can be so much fun!
Let me give you a couple of examples. A good way to begin to talk about the mystery of the Trinity is to use the example of water. You just take a few ice cubes and put them in a pan on high heat. As they are heating up, talk about the qualities of ice. When they are melted, look at the water, and then return it to the heat. While you wait, talk about the qualities of water. Before long, you’ll have steam, and you can talk about those qualities, too. What are ice, the liquid, and steam all made of? Water! They’re all made of water, but look how different the states of matter are! Like any analogy, it’s not going to be perfect down to the smallest detail, but it sure is an easy way for kids to see how the same essence (water) can have three forms and functions.
Another familiar lesson is about being careful with words. Once you say something, you can’t really take it back. Each child gets a paper plate, a tube of toothpaste, and a butter knife or popsicle stick (or something similar). They squeeze out toothpaste onto the plate, then try to get it all back in the tube. Nothing doing! You can get some of it in, but you’ll never get all of it in. Same thing with out words. Once they’re out, you might be able to apologize or correct yourself, but you can never “unsay” them.
Luckily, there are some really great resources on this very thing. Family Time Training focuses their ministry on this exact concept. They have entire books of ideas, with everything you need to do them at home with your kids. All you have to do is gather the supplies, and read. Really. It’s that simple. And a total blast. When our kids were younger, they used to LOVE Family Time nights, and they would come running when we were starting one up. And years later, they remember what they learned. I am convinced the lessons stuck because the object lessons made them easy to grasp. Here’s a video to give you an idea what it looks like:
I am getting nothing for promoting Family Time; I just love it. Take a few minutes and poke around their website. You’ll find books, online subscriptions, and a free newsletter that promises one free activity every month in your Inbox. With their permission, I have posted a number of these on this blog, so feel free to go browse under Teaching Help, Printables and Downloads .
Another similar resource is Family Life Publishing’s “Just Add Family: Easy Recipes for Faith-Filled Fun,” which comes in a nifty metal box of recipe cards for devotional activities. Unfortnately, they don’t make this anymore, but you can find some used ones on Amazon.
I would also encourage you to follow Young Bible Scholars on Pinterest (just click the Pinterest logo up on the right). I have an entire board called “Object Lessons and Activities” full of Bible object lessons, along with how-to posts to make activities more fun by making Bible costumes, scrolls, etc.
If I could go back in time, I would do more of these with our kids. I really would. The time is shorter than you think. That saying is so true- The days are long, but the years are short. However wide your window is with your kids, you just keep working in that window. And I firmly believe that the most fun and meaningful way to bring Biblical truth into their hearts—and into your everyday life—is through object lessons. Call me crazy, but I know God is onto something!
There are other resources that use this approach to teaching the Bible to kids. If you have one you have used, please tell us about it below. We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out!