Spiritual growth personally is important. As you become married with kids, the importance of leading your family spiritually becomes even more important. The primary means for us has been having a family devotional life. Heidi and I started family “devo’s” back in the early days while it was just us. We had to find our rhythm, figure out how to have it be our “style” that fits us and our lifestyle, etc. . While they should look different to many families and in many different seasons, our family devotions would be a means through which we would teach our kiddos the Bible and the different spiritual truths that are meaningful to us as a family. When they were young we would focus on its stories and, as they grew older, we would focus spiritual disciplines, understanding doctrines, etc. Where we first concentrated on the great characters and events of biblical narrative, we later adjusted our focus to Proverbs and the epistles and living out the Christian life. Family devotions have to be more than the mere acquiring of knowledge. It’s shaping the spiritual, emotional and relational trajectory of our family.
When my kids were little, I bought a Bible with great pictures in it and simply told the story as I knew it. And at times, even added some extra flavor to keep my boy even more interested at bedtime (for example, Daniel not only was thrown into a den of lions but there were raptors and T-Rex’s in there at times too-but the angel still closed the mouths of all of those filthy beasts and spared Daniel’s life. As they got older we found this wonderful (but cheesy) family devotions book that had stories with Scriptures of choosing God in hard times. While the stories varied every day (365 of them) with “Billy and Susie” that we changed to “Anja and Magnus” while memorizing the verse of the day and even acting out the Scriptures with our hands. Now that they are older, we read practical books like James, Philippians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Proverbs, etc.
Also, I thought I would share a tool Heidi and I made for our family which originated when Anja and I ran out of gas while we were a block from a gas station which hasn’t happened since I was in college. I forgot to check the gauges on my car dashboard. Dad fail! But it was a life lesson that we have to “check our family gauges” so that we don’t “stop moving forward” as a family because we failed to check our dashboard of our family life. So as part of our family devos we talk through each gauge every few months and have great talks by asking the questions and measuring on a scale of 1-10 how we are doing. It’s helped us to have honest questions as the kids are getting older as to how we are doing as parents, what God is doing and how we are growing as followers of Jesus. See our gauges I designed for our family below:
Simply put, we’ve found family devotions is a crucial means of declaring our family’s priorities. By turning to the Bible and prayer, we’ve tried to model the centrality of these practices in the Christian life. By gathering the family for shared devotions usually after dinner, we display the priority and necessity of hearing from God and speaking to God. And I think we also declare something about our priorities when we show that when we are together which is usually at dinner which is why we choose to do it there.
These daily times together have also proven an important means of building closeness within our family. There are all kinds of things we can do to build relationships between the four of us. We have long since seen that shared experiences ultimately mean far more than accumulating possessions (we’ve lived in DC, Phoenix, Mobile and Minnesota as a family). We decided a while back, that home isn’t a “place” but it’s whenever and wherever we are “together.” So our collection of experiences on our journey have shaped our kids beyond what any object or thing ever could. While we continue to exchange gifts and celebrate birthdays and holiday big-time, the gifts are almost always soon forgotten. But the memories of vacations, special occasions and other special times are burned in their memories that they will have long after their toys are for sale on my wife’s yearly garage sale (the most un-wonderful time of the year).
So we choose to value experiences and not things. And our devotions call us to a family experience each day. And while few of them are remarkable on their own, it is their gradual accumulation that adds up to something special. Eventually family devotions is viewed as more than a brief time each day but something closer to a single, enduring shared experience we share together.
And there is the benefit of building a habit that adds structure and stability to our family’s shared life. As we have emphasized family devotions, we have found it becomes a kind of organizing structure to the life we share together. My hope is that these frequent devo moments will continue to call us all to be in the same space at the same time for the same purpose—to be together in there presence of God for at least a while. It is the kind of habit, perhaps like eating together and attending church together, that anchors a family. Nowhere else do I get to affirm, hug and love from a huge sense of spiritual depth than when we get to be together as a family while praying and reading the Bible together.
Then, finally, there is this: Through family devotions we model personal devotions. By relating to Jesus as a family, we teach how to relate to Jesus as individuals. All the kids need to do to build a habit of private devotion is to begin to imitate and individualize our habit of family devotion. We have modeled how to pray and what to pray for; we have tried to model how to understand the Bible and how to properly apply it.
There have been many times over the years when I’ve felt like our habit of family devotions has been hit or miss, awkward or boring, etc. Though I’ve never been tempted to give up, I’ve decided it’s important to change it up. But looking back on nearly 21 years of doing family life together, I see there are many wonderful benefits to be had through faithful simplicity. I’m increasingly convinced that some of the best and most important lessons go beyond characters, stories, and doctrines. It’s our shared moments of being together to experience God as family that I can give to my family as a gift that they will have for the rest of their lives!
Any thoughts you would add?