Men, we are to be the ones who, more than anyone else, teach God’s Word to our families. Think about it. I get one hour a week as a pastor to teach God’s Word to the people of Antioch Community Church. The dads in the church get the other 167. The problem is, the typical dad in the typical congregation is not using any of those 167 hours to train up godly children. Why not?
Here’s the key: he must be convicted that it is his job. Ephesians 6:4 says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” The Word commands us to do it. But the Word commands us to do a lot of things that we don’t do, or we start doing and then stop. If it is a conviction that you must bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord, that you are the prophet of your house, responsible for hearing from God through His Word and prayer, and communicating with the rest of the family what He is teaching you, then family devotions are essential. You will be able to start and maintain family devotions if this is your conviction. But it must be a conviction. What if it’s not, and you want it to be? Pray. Repent. Ask a brother to pray for you. If conducting family devotions is a preference, then anything that comes along can bump it off your radar. If it is a conviction, then national disaster or personal tragedy may delay you, but nothing can stop you. So, get started on doing what is right, and pray for the conviction to come in God’s time.
Second, you need to have a plan for family devotions. If this is something new for you, I would recommend that you keep it very simple to begin with. Meet for fifteen minutes, and the best way to do that is to pick a fifteen-minute slot during the day that is going to be the most consistent. For us, that happens to be first thing in the morning. For some, it may be at bedtime or at suppertime. But if you pick suppertime, that may eliminate three out of seven nights if you are not home together every night for supper. If so, you have limited your impact as prophet. Maximize the time. Once you have a time, choose a plan. We have used many different things for family devotions, and I can make suggestions for you. But here’s the bottom line: you need to read Scripture together. Pick a book of the Bible you want to take the family through, Dads, and then read a chapter every day. Proverbs is a great one. Take turns reading. I do the math real quick and divide up the verses among the members in my family. Right now there are six of us at home, and everybody reads. It seems like yesterday that there were nine at home, but only four or five could read. Divide up the verses, and read the chapter. Next, go around the circle, asking each child to share something they learned from the text, or to ask a question about something they didn’t understand. This has been one of the most exciting and challenging things about family devotions for me as a father, because my children can ask some very tough questions. Encouraging them to ask questions has forced me to study more, to dig deeper, to cry out to the Lord for wisdom in His Word.
After your time in the Bible, spend some time praying. I will usually ask for prayer requests. Then we get on our knees to pray, partly because that posture discourages sleep, and partly because a physical attitude of weakness and dependence helps promote a spiritual humility in prayer. We go around the circle, and each one has to pray, even if it is just a sentence. They also need to pray out loud, and in a voice that everyone can hear. I have told my children that the only reason we have some of the great prayers recorded in the Bible, like the one the disciples prayed in Acts 4, is because someone wrote them down after hearing them. There is a time for us to pray silently, but this is not that time.
Here’s the really exciting news. Leading family devotions as the prophet in your house does not require a Bible or seminary degree. You do not have to be an elder in your church, or even sing in the choir! As Gregg Harris likes to say about the church, “It runs on regular.” Same with family devotions. They run on regular. Normal guys can do it, and as they say, God must really love normal guys like you and me, because He made so many of us!
Here’s more exciting news: twenty-one days a habit makes. That means that if you start tomorrow morning and do this Monday through Friday, you will be hooked, totally addicted, in less than a month. It may take that long for your children to get used to getting up a little earlier, too, so be patient. Don’t be upset with yawns and grumbling. Expect resistance at first, possibly even from your wife. A friend of mine wanted to have family devotions, but was having trouble getting buy-in from his wife, mainly because she was used to sleeping a little later, and this was going to change the schedule for her. Finally, he said, “Honey, wouldn’t you like to be able to look back twelve months from now and say, ‘We had family devotions consistently for a whole year?’” She admitted that she did want to be able to say that. “Well, then,” he said, “can I hold you accountable for that by waking you up for family devotions every morning?” She agreed, and now they have been consistent for several years, and it has been a blessing to their family.
Though family devotions are a non-negotiable and the very cornerstone of your home discipleship, there is much more you can do to teach your children the Word. Make it a topic of conversation at the dinner table. Bring up something you heard on the radio, or at work, and ask, “What does the Bible say about that?” Read good Christian biographies aloud after dinner. Discuss movies you watch as a family and the worldview that is presented and how it lines up with or conflicts with Scripture. In other words, talk about the Word as you sit, as you walk along the way, as you lie down, as you live together as a family. (See Deuteronomy 6.)
J. Mark Fox is Pastor of Antioch Community Church, in North Carolina, where he and his wife Cindy have served since the church began in 1987. This excerpt is from his forth-coming book Equipped to Lead.