Your wife is standing up trying to keep your baby from screaming, your two-year-old is jumping up and down on your lap, your oldest child is asking to go to bathroom, and in the midst of it all you are trying to impart some lesson, any lesson, from God’s Word. For many fathers, this is what leading a family devotional is like. It is frustrating, it is discouraging, and it can seem more like a chore than an enjoyable family experience.
Many fathers desire to “bring their children up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). For most, they immediately think of family devotionals. Then, after a few nights of chaos, they give up, thinking they are not up to the task. But there are other ways and methods of fulfilling this command. Family devotionals are only one way we teach our children.
In Deuteronomy 6:7, God instructed the Israelites in how to pass on the greatest commandment to their children: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” You can point out four different occasions from this verse that you should teach your children, but it is clear that God means this to be a lifestyle. Day in and day out, you are instructing. You go to bed teaching and you wake up teaching. You teach when you are at home and when you are traveling. Family devotionals alone could never fulfill these instructions. Let’s consider 7 ways we can make training our children a part of our everyday life.
1. By spending time with them
Quality time with your children will only come when you give them a quantity of your time. Quality time cannot be forced; there is no telling when it may strike. It may be while you are driving down the road and your child asks if God made the clouds. It may be while you are working on your car and your child begins to talk about what they think heaven will be like. These are moments that are important and meaningful and you don’t want to miss them.
In addition, your children need to see you live as a Christian (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12). You show them control by not cursing when you hit your thumb with a hammer. You show them humility by sincerely apologizing when you make a mistake. You show them your priorities by forgoing some of your entertainment or relaxation time to read the Bible or listen to lessons from the Word. Only by spending time with your children can they see these things.
2. While watching TV
When watching a TV show (or reading a book) with your children, pause every so often to talk about the choices (good or bad) characters are making and the consequences of their choices. Then, see how it plays out on the show and talk about the difference between shows and real life.
You can show them the importance of setting nothing wicked before your eyes by averting your gaze if something inappropriate pops on (like cheerleaders when you are watching football). It’s a good opportunity to teach them when to avert their eyes, too. If there is a show you have chosen not to watch because of its immoral content talk about why you aren’t watching it in an age appropriate way.
3. While eating dinner
Sitting down with your family to eat is a great way to spend time with them and have meaningful conversations. Talk about your days, but talk about God too. Talk about prayers God has answered. Talk about Bible passages you have read or moments in your day that reminded you of something in the Scriptures.
At the table, you can show respect for others by listening to them and by using good manners. You can show gratefulness and contentment with what God has provided for you and your family (hint: don’t complain about the food).
4. While putting them to bed
I’ve heard that what we review right before going to bed is easier for us to remember. Why not use this to advantage with your children? As they are in their beds, go over the books of the Bible and memory verses. Glenn Colley has a program called KidSing that is designed to review Bible facts with children at the beginning of evening worship services, but it also works very well to review these facts with your children as they are going to bed. It is simple: you ask a question and give the answer several times until the children learn the answer. Then, ask the question and have the children give the answer by themselves. The following questions and answers are especially important for children to learn:
• What’s your number one goal? To go to Heaven
• What’s your number two goal? To bring as many others with us as possible
• What’s your purpose? To bring glory and honor to God
• What’s God’s plan for marriage? One man and one woman for life
• What’s true success? Living a life that leads to Heaven
• What’s true failure? Living a life that does not lead to Heaven.
5. While walking with them
If you are out in God’s world, you have a great opportunity to discuss God and His creation (cf. Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1). As you walk with your children, point out the design in the world around you. It is present in every leaf and every bug. This ever-present design declares to us that God did what He did for a purpose and He has a purpose for us. As you get out of your car at night, have your children look at the vastness of the stars and consider the eternal power of God.
6. Conduct spiritual check-ups
When you have those times of one-on-one interaction with your children, take the time to see how they are doing spiritually. Show them you care more about their relationship with God than about them getting their chores and their homework done. Ask them how they are doing spiritually. Are they praying? Do they think about God? You might consider asking the following questions that come from Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley:
- How is your heart? (Younger kids will need to know you are not talking about their physical heart, but how they are feeling and thinking)
- Has anyone hurt you? (If anger is building in their lives, you want to teach them how to deal with it before it becomes a major problem)
- Has anyone broken a promise to you? (You especially want to know if you have broken a promise)
- Are you worried about anything? (Children sometimes worry and need their parents to comfort them)
- Is there anything you need to confess? (Guilt can weigh on your child’s heart or make them calloused if it isn’t addressed. Give them an opportunity to come clean and admit their faults without criticizing or punishing them)
7. Family devotionals
Yes, sometimes they are frustrating. Even when they are frustrating, however, they have their purposes. They teach the importance of setting aside time for God. They are good behavior practice for worship services. They provide opportunities to train young boys in song leading and even preaching (let them give some of the lessons). Above all, family devotionals are a great way to show your children you love God, enjoy singing songs of praise, praying, and reading His word. Personally, I try to make sure we have a devotional on Saturday night. I like to think that at least one day of the week we go to bed thinking about God and wake up thinking about God.
All of these methods will not work for every family, but give them try. If they work, great. If not, try something else. The methods are not as important as getting the job done. We must find ways that do work for our families to talk about God and the Bible.
by Jeremy Sprouse
Jeremy Sprouse has been married to Erynn since 1999. They have six children. Jeremy preaches for the Patrick St. Church of Christ in Dublin, TX and is the author of To Train Up a Knight.