Teach Kids the 24 Most Important Words in the Bible

by Steve Young, Children's Minister at the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

The following article appeared in the church's newspaper, "The Southeast Outlook," and is reprinted with permission.

God's Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. I know that I am to meditate on it day and night. When I hide it in my heart, it helps keep me from sinning against God. It is living and active. It has power that is stronger than any earthly weapon.

Here's the thing though: Last time I checked, my Bible had 1,139 pages plus maps. In those pages are 66 books, containing 1,189 chapters with 31,103 verses, for a total of 774,746 words! And I am supposed to tackle all of that? Not only does that seem overwhelming, but to truly grasp all of God's Word seems impossible. Where should I start? What should be my focus? What is most important?

These questions are not something I ask for my own benefit. As a leader in our Children's Ministry, I join with parents in asking these questions on our kids' behalf.

Kids' lives are filled with an incredible amount of busy-ness. They spend about 400 hours on math homework every year and about 500 hours playing video games. And then there's soccer practice, time with friends, dance lessons –– and the list goes on. Is there a primary biblical message on which we should focus through all of this craziness?

A Basic Biblical Passage

A professor once taught me about the Shema. In the Jewish culture, the Shema was and is a fundamental truth in the Scriptures. From what I understand, the devout Jew recites the Shema every morning and every evening. It is among the first teachings a Jewish person learns to say, and it comprises the words uttered as they breathe their last breath. When saying the Shema, a person typically covers his or her eyes to shut out any distractions and to enhance focus on the meaning of the words.

In Hebrew, Shema literally means "hear." It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 –– "Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

This has been described as the pivotal, hinge verse in all of the Old Testament. The truth of the one-ness of God was a revolutionary thought for Moses and his people. Thousands of years later, the power of this declaration and command still is remarkable.

Jesus' View of the Shema

So would it be fair to say this is the most important thing in Scripture? Should we even be asking a question like this?

Let's fast-forward to Mark 12. Jesus was asked almost this very question. Remember when the Pharisees were questioning Him and trying to trap Him? One of the teachers asked Him which of the commandments is the most important. Jesus could have replied, "All of the Scriptures have equal value," but He didn't. He answered the question quite directly. His response was, "The most important one is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' "

And there it is. The Shema. Christ's audience was intimately famil­iar with it and Jesus affirmed that it is the most important command­ment in Scripture. That's huge!

Applying the Shema

So what are we to do with this truth? That's the question, isn't it? Most of us spend a lifetime trying to figure this out. What does it mean to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? It's a drastic call to complete surrender. We are to be entirely consumed with loving the Lord.

My personal goal is to be less concerned with judging myself and others and to be more concerned with loving the Father. My hope and suspicion is that as I do this more purely, the rest will fall into place. If we're created to have community with God, then getting this right is paramount.

And here comes my favorite part. Immediately following the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, we are told to impress God's commandments on our children (Deuteronomy 6:7). So our job is to pass God's com­mands, especially the Shema, to our children.

Teaching the Shema to Our Children

I wonder what this new generation will look like if they learn that their chief purpose in life is to love the Lord wholeheartedly...before we focus on all the rest of the Bible stories...before we get them to memorize the books of the Bible...before they learn the fun Sunday School songs. Is there anything better we can lead them toward than loving the Lord?

So my goal is to develop and grow through the study of the entirety of the Bible –– all 774,746 words of it. I pray, though, that these 24 can define my life's purpose: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."