117 – How to Lead a Family Devotion
In 30 years of working with men, no pain men face seems to hurt as much as “child pain.” On the other hand, if your children are doing well, all of your other problems will fit into a thimble.
Now that I have two grown, happily married children who are walking with the Lord, I can look back and see what set the stage for their spiritual walks. One VERY important activity was to set aside a time for a brief family devotion at the beginning of most days during the school year. It was not so much the activity itself as the “message” about how important Patsy and I deemed devotions, the discussions that it got our family into, and the spirit of prayer it fostered both then and now.
I wrote up how we did our family devotions for the book, Devotions For Couples, Zondervan). Here is an edited version of that chapter…
As my personal ministry I teach a large Bible study on Friday mornings. No small commitment, I usually spend fifteen hours a week on this ministry, most of which is preparing the message.
One day it fell on me like a heavy boulder. You are giving your very best thinking to these men, most of whom will not be in your life more than a few years. Meanwhile, you are doing nothing for your very own children — the ones you love the most and who most need you.
I reasoned that if I was going to share biblical truths with others that I should also share them with my family. So we began holding a fifteen minute family devotion just before the kids left for school.
We did not even begin to attempt this every day. I have a standing Friday morning commitment, and the kids from time to time needed to leave early or were running especially late (I say “especially” because they were always at least a little late!). So we usually made it three or four mornings a week.
We only did devotions during the school year. During the summer we took a break. It’s good for kids (and dads) to have a break. Besides, they got up at different times during summers.
How did we do it? On a typical morning,
we would start at 7:00 a.m. and end at
7:15 a.m. Do I need to mention that
many times the kids were not ready at
7:00? It didn’t matter. Instead of
delaying the devotion, we had them
stop what they were doing for 15
minutes. We put the dog in her bed and
didn’t answer the phone (yes, it would
ring from time to time).
From the start I tried to set an upbeat, enthusiastic tone, although sometimes I didn’t feel that way myself. I tried to hook them with a story, quote, or question that related to their world and interests. Some were better than others. Next, I related the point of the opening hook to the Bible. Next, I pointed out the spiritual principle and how it could apply to us that day. Finally, I closed off with a question or asked if they have a comment. I allowed about ten minutes for all of this. It would have been just as effective to simply read from a youth devotional like “Youth Walk” (check with a Christian book store).
After the Bible portion of the devotion we closed in prayer. In the early days it became clear that the prayers were shallow and self-centered: “Lord, let us have a good day and bless our family.” So we changed formats and began to pray for one needy or hurting person each day in addition to personal and family needs. This request could be suggested by any of us—the kids, Patsy, or me. They could be a youth, an adult, or a family. The problems were usually related to health, finance, or broken relationships. It was not necessary that everyone in the family knew the person we prayed for personally.
We got off to a rocky start. I didn’t pay close enough attention to the time, and made them run late on several occasions (they received detentions if they were late for school). Several sessions ended with a stormy conclusion! Finally, my wife had the idea for me to keep a travel clock in the top drawer of the end table next to where I would sit. I would watch the time and, just before we prayed, I would tell the kids exactly what time it was so they could relax. This was a small, but very practical consideration.
From time to time our daughter, who is older, would read something that touched her and ask if she could do the devotion. Usually that was at the last minute after I had already prepared something, but I always eagerly said yes to her initiative. (We could always do mine the next day!)
Patsy and I had a desire to disciple our children so that they can disciple others. Letting them lead helped train them. When I was away on a trip I had one of the kids take over for me. This was helpful. Today, both of our grown children lead Bible studies.
Most mornings they didn’t start out looking very interested. This was hard to get used to. If the hook was moving or especially relevant they got into it, but not always. Many mornings their eyes look glazed over and I wondered if it was worth all the effort.
My daughter attended a small discipleship
group of teenaged girls led by a woman in
our church. She told my wife one day, “I
don’t know what you do in those family
devotions, but often when I ask a question,
Jen says, `Well, my dad says this,’ or `My
dad says that.’ She makes great
contributions to our group. That
must be a special time!”
After hearing that, I stopped wondering if it was worth the effort! Why not give it a try! “Routinize” daily devotions into your family life. Set realistic expectations. If you have a couple of false starts, don’t abandon the idea. Is it too bold to suggest that the spiritual health of your children may be at stake?
Establish them in this habit when they are young, and they will mostly likely stick with it when they grow up. The Bible puts it this way: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
If not this method, then find something else you can do to “routinize” daily devotions into the lives of your children. If you do, all of your other problems will fit into a thimble.
AN ACTION PLAN
STEP 1: Read and discuss this article with your wife and decide what you want to do.
STEP 2: Ask your children for their input about how to make this idea work for them.
STEP 3: Set your first daily devotion. Consider 15 minutes as a guideline.
STEP 4: Follow or adapt this format….
- START ON TIME: it sends a good message for all of life.
- TONE: upbeat, positive attitude.
- HOOK: a story, quote, or question related to their world and interests.
- BOOK: relate the hook to a Bible verse.
- PRINCIPLE: relate the biblical principle back to their world (take about 8 to 10 minutes on this point).
- QUESTION OR COMMENT: involve them with a question, or by inviting a comment.
- PRAYER: involve your children in praying for the fate of the world and specific people in the world.
- END ON TIME: to keep them from getting flustered.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world. David Delk is the President of Man in the Mirror © 2003. Patrick Morley and David Delk. All rights reserved.