By Kelley Mathews
Café au lait. My grandmother crafted my first taste of the ambrosial drink that combines hot black coffee and hot milk, loading it for me with sugar.
And I wasn’t the only 7-year-old enjoying java. I was raised in south Louisiana, where children begin their love affair with coffee by starting with café au lait. Our palates mature as we grow, until we take our coffee dark and bold, but we begin sweet and light.
In a recent class at church, our teacher paused in his study through Hebrews to examine the biblical author’s frustration with the believers he was writing to:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (Heb 5:12–13 ESV)
Spiritually, we all start out with milk. My 8-year-old (who, for the record, is not yet addicted to any sort of coffee) has been reading the Action Bible for months. As he re-reads many of the stories, he excitedly asks “Did you know . . .?” Young believers—no matter what age we start—typically learn some Old Testament stories, prominent parables and miracles of Jesus, and the nativity story. We may learn basic doctrines such as the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith. We learn that praying and reading our Bibles is important.
Such basic truths are essential to an accurate understanding of God and a fundamental method of communing with him. But like drinking café au lait, we aren’t meant to stay there. The Action Bible is appropriate for my 8-year-old—not my 18-year-old. We are called to grow into a mature faith that makes room for the harder stories, the complex doctrines, the challenging responsibilities of obedience to the One we profess to follow.
For exponentially increasing a believer’s faith, one of the most helpful tools I’ve discovered is a Bible overview. Context is critical for Bible study, and an overview can help readers see how the famous stories they learned as kids fit into the big picture. Where does Abraham belong in the Bible’s grand narrative—or David, or Isaiah? What was going on in the world when Paul went on those missionary trips? Who came first, Moses or Ruth? Knowing a story’s context not only increases your understanding of God’s Big Story—his plan for mankind—but also helps you recognize nuances and deeper meanings within each narrative.
Let’s not underestimate the ability of children to learn this, nor overestimate how many adults actually know it. Give them context, and immature believers (of any age) will understand their Bibles better—which, in turn, increases their ability to know God better and share his good news to the next generation.
Take your coffee any way you like it as you open up God’s word each day (I still enjoy an occasional café au lait). But keep moving to a bolder, deeper understanding of him. It’s what you were made for.