Like most well-meaning Christian fathers, I was determined that my family would have a family devotional. In my mind, I had pictured a Norman Rockwell painting of a nice Christian family with me as the loving father seated at the head of the table with my Bible open in front of me. My adoring wife would be seated at my side and our scrubbed-clean, well-dressed boys would be dutifully and obediently seated in their places with their Bibles opened, of course. I would then lead my family through the great truths of the Scriptures, enlightening them in the ways of God, pulling deeply from the wells of my education and vast reading.
Okay, I’ll give you a few minutes to stop laughing before reading on.
Getting my twin sons to sit down long enough to do anything, much less stay at the dinner table for a deep reading of Scripture was like trying to get a cat to take a bath. Sure, you can finally get the cat into the water, but you’ll pay a price. And yes, I could have forced my sons to sit still long enough to go through the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm, but at what price?
The price of them resenting Scripture, the church, and faith in general? I wasn’t willing to pay that price. I know too many pastor’s children who grew up resenting the church and everything associated with the church for the way church members treated their parents and for being forced to do things the church expected the pastor’s kids to do.
Trying to force a devotional on me wouldn’t have worked for me when I was growing up. I learned to love Scripture from my father. He taught a Sunday School class for over 40 years. My favorite picture is him sitting in a chair, pen in one hand, Sunday School book in the other, and an open Bible in his lap. When my dad would get excited about something in his study, he would run into the den where my brother and I were watching television and say, “Boys, listen to this!” He would give us his entire Sunday School lesson standing in the doorway and then say, “Isn’t that something?” as he went back to his chair in the living room.
Naturally, I wanted to know more about this book that fascinated my father. Since then, I’ve spent most of my life studying this fascinating book we call the Bible.
Like my father, I ended up doing the same thing to my sons. As I prepared my sermons or Bible studies, I would talk to my sons about what I was learning. It wasn’t planned or formal. I just found ways to work it into our everyday conversations. When I took the boys to school in the morning, one of them would read a passage of Scripture for the day and we would pray together. Bringing them home at night from various events became a good time to talk about what I was reading and, as they grew older, what they were reading.
There were very few formal times of devotional study. This was just our daily conversation.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are encouraged to teach the great stories of God’s deliverance to their children. They were to teach their children the laws of God, and they were to do this while they were walking along the road or sitting around the house. In other words, this was the common, everyday subject of their conversations. There wasn’t anything forced about it. Nothing scheduled. Parents were to look for those moments in the day when the stories and teachings of God would make sense. When those moments arose, parents would talk to their children about those Bible stories as naturally and comfortably as they would anything else.
Now, this assumes we as parents are going to be serious students of the Word. Several years ago, our church changed from an entertainment focus of student ministry to a discipleship focus. When we did this, the parents got mad. Do you know why? Because the students were coming home and asking their parents questions about the Bible that the parents couldn’t answer. So, we had to change our disciple groups to help the parents get to a place where they could help their children.
Several years ago, while I was touring the Holy Land, I watched as rabbis and other worshippers walked to the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem and stuck their prayer requests in the cracks of the wall. From a distance, the wall is covered in flecks of white paper that looked like it had just lightly snowed on the wall.
That image has come back to me over and over. I thought a lot about it when I was with my boys. This is what I was doing. Day after day, in little moment after little moment, I was sticking Scripture into the cracks of their lives. While it didn’t look like much at any given moment, over time the impact added up. No, we never had a formal devotional time, but our lives were filled with Scripture readings, quotes, debates, and teaching.
Our time may not have been formal, but it was intentional. Over the years, I stuck hundreds of Scripture moments in the cracks of their lives.
And each time I did, I prayed that the Spirit would pull out whatever verse He needed just when my child would need it the most. I tried to stick enough in there to last my sons a long, long time.