Growing up in a broken home, far from Christ, the idea of “family devotions” wasn’t even on the radar for me. I wasn’t even aware of the concept, let alone the value behind it. However, after the Lord saved me in High School, began discipling me in college, and blessed me with a beautiful bride and three precious daughters in the years to come, I began to understand the need for me to spiritually lead and invest in my family in some very intentional ways.
The problem I faced, like most men, was where to start? What does spiritual leadership actually look like in the home? Am I even qualified? What if I try and I fail? For the longest time I felt that spiritual leadership meant I needed to put a pulpit in my living room and begin explaining Greek words to my wife and 3 young girls; or better yet, that being a spiritual leader meant I needed to have an answer for everything, always be 5 steps ahead of my wife, and be decisive over every household decision—even down to which restaurant we should eat at on the weekends. Based on all that criteria, I knew I was destined to fail. And rather than trying and failing, it would just be easier to drift into passivity and avoid responsibility all together.
Thankfully, over time, the Lord began to show me that true spiritual leadership was less about having an answer to everything and “preaching” sermons to my family in the living room… and more about having a humbly submitted heart to the Lord that was willing to cultivate the kind of soil my home needed, so that by God’s power, healthy spiritual fruit could grow (1 Corinthians 3:7, John 15:4). Like a gardener over a vineyard, my role was more about removing barriers to spiritual health, as well as intentionally taking advantage of everyday opportunities to point my family towards the One who can cause the growth. I saw this idea best evidenced in Moses’ instruction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6…
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” - Deuteronomy 6:4-9
I saw through this passage that true spiritual investment must start with myself (i.e.- “…shall be on your heart”)—meaning, I can’t give away to my family what I don’t first possess. Devotion to God must begin with me. But then I noticed the pattern for how I was to cultivate and impart spiritual deposits into my family… (i.e.- “when you sit in the house, along the way, at night, in the morning, etc…”) All of the sudden, I began to realize that spiritual leadership was less about producing an event and more about embracing a rhythm within the daily life cycle of my family.
Small, little, intentional deposits along the way…
As a result of this understanding, my approach to spiritual investment in my family began to change. Here’s some of the ways I have tried, along with my wife, to be intentional about cultivating a healthy spiritual garden in our home where godly fruit can grow…
FAMILY MISSION STATEMENT
Years ago, my wife and I decided to craft a mission statement that could both define what it is our family exists for, and be used as a teaching tool for our marriage and children. We wanted it to be simple, clear, biblically based, and easy to understand. Our mission statement is: “The Sumlin Family exists to bring Glory to God by loving Him above all else, and reflecting His love to the world around us.” We eventually created a crest around this statement that we could frame, and even included undergirding values that would support that mission statement, and help us to stay accountable to God in our every day decision-making. Values such as “People are more important than things, Time is worth more than money, God’s Word is to be trusted more than man’s, etc…” Over the years, with this framed on our wall, it has served as a great catechizing tool for our family to constantly remember why we’re here and what we should be doing. My kids have even called me out, at times, when they sensed decisions that were being made that seemed to have us drifting away from our mission.
Instead of preaching sermons in my living room, I wanted to find a way to get our family into God’s Word, together, on a regular basis—and I wanted to do it at an age appropriate level. Years ago I discovered two phenomenal resources that our family has used over and over again… The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd Jones) & The Gospel Story Bible (Marty Machowski). For the past several years, I have made it a practice to sit down with my three daughters, at least 4 nights a week (just before bed), and read one or two stories from these bibles. We simply read, discuss the chapter questions, and pray about what we just read. Over the years, I have seen the Lord greatly fan the affection of His Word in my daughter’s hearts through our short little devotions together. It’s also greatly sharpened my wife and I as well.
In addition to some basic bible storybook reading, my wife and I have looked for ways to fan the affections of Christ-centered Worship in our home as well. Recognizing that worship goes beyond just singing (but certainly includes it), we have looked for multiple ways to lift the ‘eyes of our hearts’ towards Christ throughout our day… from memorizing small chunks of scripture together, to singing songs together from albums like the Family Devo album (both in the car and at home), to tucking scripture verses in our children’s lunches, to repeating basic catechisms to one another, to painting our favorite scripture on our walls and bathroom mirrors, to utilizing resources like The Family Worship Book (Terry Johnson) and Family Worship (Donald Whitney), etc... --Anything that puts God’s promises before us and lifts our affections towards Him and away from lesser things.
DINNER TIME CONVERSATIONS
We made the decision early on to put our kids in public school—which also means we made the decision early on to help them detox from much of the ideologies they picked up during the day. One of the ways we’ve learned to help our kids be ‘in the world without being of the world’ is by utilizing our dinners together as great conversations pieces to cap off the school day. We typically spend a solid 4 nights out of the week eating a home cooked meal around the dinner table—just us, together. After spending the first part of our meal praying over various missionaries we support, we then begin to ask our girls “is there anything you heard or saw at school today that didn’t seem to line up with what you’ve been taught at home or what God has taught us in the bible?” It has been amazing to see what kind of fruitful discussions have come from just that one question over dinner together. We also go around and share “highs and lows” from the day so we can celebrate victories and pray through defeats.
Always wanting to find ways to hide God’s Word in our hearts, my wife has really redeemed what tends to be some pretty quick breakfast’s in the morning as we get our girls ready for school. She uses another Sally Lloyd Jones’ book entitled Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing to provide tiny little nuggets for our girls to think about as they head off to school. We love for our days to begin and end with God’s promises.
Just recently, my wife has gathered together with 3 other mom’s of young daughter’s to form an after school discipleship group, taking all of the girls through basic bible lessons utilizing the Family Devo website. Every week a different mom shares a brief lesson based on one of the songs and scripture passages, while the other mom’s rotate with crafts, prayers, etc.. It’s already served as a great catalyst towards spiritual devotion with our girls and their friends.
Again, those are just a handful of small, little—but intentional ways we have found to cultivate rich Gospel soil in our home that God uses to bring about spiritual health and increase our affections for Christ. Nothing that I’ve mentioned requires a seminary degree, but rather a humble heart, available time, and intentional commitment. The key is just to start somewhere. I hope in some way, this might encourage you and your family to prayerfully consider what cultivating devotional soil might look like in your home.