Sermon on the Mount: A Summertime Plan for Families

One of my favorite things about summer is the change of pace that my kids experience. As homework pressures disappear, and the intense schedule of school and extracurricular activities shifts into summer mode, a different side of my children emerges. They get funnier, they talk more, they revive that long-lost interest they had in robotics… or books… or gardens… or stars. They even get to where they like each other better! And I love it all.

We recognized long ago in the Zinn house that summer is a wide-open opportunity for shaping our characters — our own and those of our children. So we begin praying weeks, sometimes even months, before summer hits — “Lord, what are the best ways you want us to use this coming summer? What are the things you want us to learn? What are the memories you want us to make? What are the risks you want us to jump into?

And always, a part of that, is finding a way connect to God’s Word together as a family — something we don’t always make happen throughout the school year. God’s Word has been a rich reservoir of strength and peace and direction for us throughout the years, softening our hearts, giving us wisdom, shaping our characters. We are convinced that few things will be as life-transformational in the long-run as learning how to get alone with God and listen to him speak to us through the Bible.

Ideas we used in the past

With our preschool and early elementary aged children, we read a daily story (the book of Mark is GREAT for this… often a story means only a few verses) and answered together the questions: “What does it say? What is one thing I can learn? What is one thing I can do?” (By the way, these questions are EXCELLENT for adults, too!)

With our older children, we have expanded the variety of the ways we connect with the Bible — wanting them to experience the Bible in different ways so they can both dig deeper AND find the way their personality connects best with God’s Word.

  • We’ve read large chunks of Scripture as one would read a novel – looking for the big picture.
  • We’ve done topical studies (Godly friendship! A heart for missions! Etc…)
  • We’ve done daily rhythms of Proverbs & Psalms (Read the chapter number corresponding to the day of the month — restart Proverbs at the start of the month, continue through Psalms)
  • We’ve carved out times for individual meditation on a verse or passage when each of us can go for walks or listen to music or sit and journal and connect with God in whichever way seems most natural to us.

But we’ve never, as a family, taken a relatively small section of Scripture and just stayed in it for an extended period of time, until we can breathe it in and out and mine its layers of treasure. That means it’s probably time…

This summer’s plan 

This summer, at Discovery, Sundays’ teachings will all be on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Months spent in three straightforward chapters: Matthew 5-7.

So, in the Zinn house, we’ve decided this is a great time to teach our kids how to really go deep into a passage. We put together the plan below for the Sermon on the Mount chapters — but it’s a plan that could be used for any passage of Scripture at any point in time. 20 minutes a day, 5 times a week. We don’t even have a formal time designated for talking about it as a family (though that is an excellent discipline!) — we’ve just found that when we’re all exploring God in the same way, it isn’t very hard to initiate some natural, “as-you-go” conversations about the things God is showing us.

One note: Not everyone in our house reads and writes with the same ease. And that is absolutely zero reason that anyone should have a barrier to engaging with God’s Word. Enter YouVersion. This is the free Bible App that each of us has on our phones — complete with lots of different versions AND with audio recordings (you can also access it at www.youversion.com). Some Zinn household members prefer to use the audio exclusively — but even those who prefer to read the passages still enjoy the audio sometimes because it gives your brain a different way to engage with the passages.

Why don’t you consider jumping in with us — or adapting this for the best way to fit your family?? For us, our first full week of summer begins June 18 — but you could start this at any time.

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Simple 10-week Study Plan [click for a printable version]

Here are the every-time practices that keeps this from being just “intellectual exercise”:

  • Begin each time in Scripture briefly asking God to open your heart and mind so that you can see and hear what he has for you. Ask him to prepare you for obedience.
  • Close each time by asking God “What are you saying to me?” No — I never hear him audibly, but I’ve learned to trust that if there is something in the passage that is most standing out to me… or there is a situation in my life that is being highlighted… or there is a strong emotion I am sensing… or there is an action step that is coming to mind, I can receive that as God’s voice to me in this time. This is most effective with a journal in front of me where I can then write these things — but I have kids who hate writing and prefer to speak their thoughts into the audio recorder on their phones. Whatever works best for you!

There are two key goals for this plan:

  • The first half of the summer is focused on becoming so familiar with the overall passage that you can easily see Jesus’ primary purpose and specific teachings.
  • The second half of the summer is focused on identifying key verses or short passages, and practicing mining those verses for deep meaning — and then putting those verses to memory (which will be relatively easy after all of the time spent in these chapters). The word “Key” here is completely individual — each person will choose whichever verses God seems to most be using to speak to them, so it is entirely possible that each person in the family will have completely different verses.

Week One (6/18):

  • Read Matthew 5-7 each day. Straight through. No real stopping (unless, of course, God is prodding…), going for the big picture overview.

Week Two (6/25):

  • Days 1-4: Read Matthew 5 two times each day. Consider using different versions — or interspersing some audio recordings to help you engage in different ways.
  • Day 5: Read Matthew 5-7 again.

Week Three (7/2):

  • Days 1-4: Read Matthew 6 two times each day. Consider using different versions — or interspersing some audio recordings to help you engage in different ways.
  • Day 5: Read Matthew 5-7 again.

Week Four (7/9):

  • Days 1-4: Read Matthew 7 two times each day. Consider using different versions — or interspersing some audio recordings to help you engage in different ways.
  • Day 5: Read Matthew 5-7 again.

Week Five (7/16):

  • Days 1-3: Read Matthew 5-7. Consider using different versions — or interspersing some audio recordings to help you engage in different ways.
  • Days 4-5: Break the chapters down into sections and identify a main idea phrase for each section.
  • By the end of this week, you should be getting a pretty clear overall picture of Jesus’ primary purpose, as well as his specific teachings. You will be able to keep these in mind as you move into the coming weeks, when you will narrow your focus to the specific verses or brief passages that are particularly meaningful to you.

Week Six (7/23):

  • Identify your Key Verse (or short passage) #1
  • Day 1: Rewrite verse(s) two times and circle Key Words. See if you can say the verse(s) by memory.
  • Day 2: Write the verse(s) in your own words. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory.
  • Day 3: Look up the passage and the Key Words you circled on www.blueletterbible.com. Make some notes on the definitions and translations you see of each of your Key Words. (If you have too many Key Words, turn this into a two-day exercise). Practice saying the verse(s) by memory.
  • Day 4: Find two different Bible versions than the one you usually use. Both www.youversion.com and www.blueletterbible.com are great for this. Write out the verse(s) in each of these Bible versions. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory.
  • Day 5: Write the verse(s) again in your own words, now that you have the added perspective of the Key Word studies and looking at other translations. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory.

Week Seven (7/30):

  • Identify your Key Verse (or short passage) #2
  • Day 1: Rewrite verse(s) two times and circle Key Words. See if you can say the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verse #1
  • Day 2: Write the verse(s) in your own words. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verse #1
  • Day 3: Look up the passage and the Key Words you circled on www.blueletterbible.com. Make some notes on the definitions and translations you see of each of your Key Words. (If you have too many Key Words, turn this into a two-day exercise). Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verse #1
  • Day 4: Find two different Bible versions than the one you usually use. Both www.youversion.com and www.blueletterbible.com are great for this. Write out the verse(s) in each of these Bible versions. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verse #1
  • Day 5: Write the verse(s) again in your own words, now that you have the added perspective of the Key Word studies and looking at other translations. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verse #1

Week Eight (8/6):

  • Identify your Key Verse (or short passage) #3
  • Day 1: Rewrite verse(s) two times and circle Key Words. See if you can say the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1 & 2
  • Day 2: Write the verse(s) in your own words. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1 & 2
  • Day 3: Look up the passage and the Key Words you circled on www.blueletterbible.com. Make some notes on the definitions and translations you see of each of your Key Words. (If you have too many Key Words, turn this into a two-day exercise). Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1 & 2
  • Day 4: Find two different Bible versions than the one you usually use. Both www.youversion.com and www.blueletterbible.com are great for this. Write out the verse(s) in each of these Bible versions. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1 & 2
  • Day 5: Write the verse(s) again in your own words, now that you have the added perspective of the Key Word studies and looking at other translations. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1 & 2

Week Nine (8/13):

  • Identify your Key Verse (or short passage) #4
  • Day 1: Rewrite verse(s) two times and circle Key Words. See if you can say the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1, 2 & 3
  • Day 2: Write the verse(s) in your own words. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1, 2 & 3
  • Day 3: Look up the passage and the Key Words you circled on www.blueletterbible.com. Make some notes on the definitions and translations you see of each of your Key Words. (If you have too many Key Words, turn this into a two-day exercise). Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1, 2 & 3
  • Day 4: Find two different Bible versions than the one you usually use. Both www.youversion.com and www.blueletterbible.com are great for this. Write out the verse(s) in each of these Bible versions. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1, 2 & 3
  • Day 5: Write the verse(s) again in your own words, now that you have the added perspective of the Key Word studies and looking at other translations. Practice saying the verse(s) by memory. Practice your Key Verses #1, 2 & 3

Week Ten (8/20):

  • Day 1: Read all the way through Matthew 5-7.
  • Day 2: Go back through your journal or audio notes for weeks 1-3, paying special attention to the answers you gave to the question “Lord, what are you saying to me?” Spend some time praying over those responses — and make journal or audio notes of any impressions God is now laying on your heart.
  • Day 3: Go back through your journal or audio notes for weeks 4-6, paying special attention to the answers you gave to the question “Lord, what are you saying to me?” Spend some time praying over those responses — and make journal or audio notes of any impressions God is now laying on your heart.
  • Day 4: Go back through your journal or audio notes for weeks 7-9, paying special attention to the answers you gave to the question “Lord, what are you saying to me?” Spend some time praying over those responses — and make journal or audio notes of any impressions God is now laying on your heart.
  • Day 5: Read Matthew 5-7. See if you can still say your Key Verses by memory. Spend some time in prayer — asking God what the primary takeaways are that he wants you to come away with from these ten weeks. Write these down (or audio record them). With these takeaways in mind, identify and record two to no more than four Next Steps you will take in the coming weeks to continue your forward momentum. Spend some time in prayer asking God to help you to be faithful in these Next Steps — and thanking him for the ways he has met you, spoke to you, taught you in these past ten weeks.