From left to right: Hudson, Molly, Anna, and Will
“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” (Deut. 6:6-7).
The practical expression of the greatest commandment is teaching our children God’s Word.
I’ve failed too often at this over the years, and it’s tempting to blame my failures on them—they’re too squirmy, too quarrelsome, too preoccupied, and… too many! Year after year, the guilt for my insufficiencies as the spiritual leader of my family started piling up. But over the course of many failures, I’ve learned a few things. It’s a discipleship rhythm that works for our young family, and it will work for yours, too.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Life has a rhythm, and we should allow that rhythm to affect the way we disciple our families.
As the passage above states, sometimes you “sit in your house” but at other times “you walk by the way.” Sometimes you “lie down”, but at other times “you rise”. Life has a rhythm, and we’ll never disciple our children by fighting it.
Celtic Christians Understood the Rhythm
When the Celts became Christian, they understood well the rhythm of life, and they allowed this rhythm to affect family discipleship. They had special prayers for when they rose and went to sleep… when they walked by the way and sat in the house. Here’s one example of a Celtic bedtime prayer:
“I lie down this night with God, and God will lie down with me.
I lie down this night with Christ, and Christ will lie down with me.
I lie down this night with the Spirit, and the Spirit will lie down with me.
God and Christ and the Spirit, be lying down with me.”
Psychologists Understand the Rhythm
Psychological studies repeatedly reveal that kids with family routines are more emotionally and socially advanced. According to Deuteronomy 6, they are also more spiritually advanced.
So how do you develop the right routine?
I wouldn’t recommend implementing everything at once. But here’s what Alicia and I have learned through years of trial-and-error.
The Rowntree Morning Routine
“And these words that I command you shall be on YOUR heart…” (Deut. 6:6).
We have no business teaching our children to love God if we don’t first have His Word on our own heart. What is your spiritual rhythm? On most mornings, Alicia and I both wake up well before the rest of the family to individually seek the face of God and read His Word. Alicia rises a little after me, so I wake her up with coffee and a simple prayer.
“you shall talk of them when you rise…” (6:7).
As the kids and I leave for school in the morning, we always say to Alicia, “I bless you in the name of the Lord,” and she replies with the same statement. I got the idea from the way Boaz and his laborers greeted one another (Ruth 2:4). It’s not an empty statement; it’s a request for the God of the Universe to bless my family. We pray this blessing every time someone leaves the house.
“…you shall talk of them when you walk by the way” (6:7).
Driving my kids to school is an essential time for discipleship, and it lasts only 5 minutes. We pull out of the driveway, praying the same prayer every time:
“Father, I pray for Anna, Hudson, Will, and Molly: Help them to laugh a lot and learn a lot; walk with them and hold them by the hand; protect them from spiritual and physical harm; help them to have a great day with their teachers and their friends. Father, I pray also for Mom and Dad: help us to walk all day in the love of the Lord, the fear of the Lord, and the favor of the Lord. Amen.”
After we pray, we sing the same song every single time: “This is the Day that the Lord has made”. It sets the tone for beginning each day with joy in our friendship with God. This is an important tone to set, because we often leave the home with stress and arguments… until a song of praise resets our mind.
After we’ve prayed and sung, a kid reads the verse of the day from my Bible App. I ask them what they think it means and how they think it should affect their day at school.
The Rowntree Evening Routine
“you shall talk of them when you sit in your house…” (Deut. 6:7)
We sit down to eat meals together on most nights. After blessing the food, every family member shares one thing we are thankful for and one thing we are stressed about. After each person shares an item of gratitude, we say together, “Thank You, Lord.” After each person shares a stressor, we say together, “Help us Lord.” I tell the kids, “Just like you told US what you’re thankful and stressed about, prayer is telling GOD what you’re thankful and stressed about.” It’s our way of making prayer feel natural, like conversation with a friend.
“you shall talk of them… when you lie down…” (Deut. 6:7)
At bedtime, we have another rhythm. The kids gather around me, and we all pray the same prayer together every time:
“Father, I pray for Anna, Hudson, Will, and Molly. Help them to love You for all of their days. Give them friends who love You, mentors who love you, and someday, a husband or wife who loves you. Help them to walk in the fullness of their calling. Protect them from spiritual and physical harm. Forgive all of their sins. Give them special experiences with You. And help them to be friends forever with their mommy and daddy. May their mommy and daddy see the day when all of their children grow up and love You with all of their hearts. Amen.”
After we pray this prayer, we sing three verses of “Amazing Grace” together. Once all the kids are in bed, Alicia and I pray once more—a consistent and specifically chosen request for each family member, according to individual areas of needed growth.
The Rowntree Weekly Routine
“You shall teach them diligently to your children…” (Deut. 6:7).
Once a week, we have a formal family Bible study. It’s usually on Monday or Tuesday night, depending on what our calendar looks like for that week.
Typically, we begin by worshiping together to music. We invite the children to celebrate God extravagantly—hands raised, dancing, jumping, or reverently putting their face to the ground. (Amazingly, the kids become more “reverent” when they are exhausted!)
After a song of worship, we all sit down and discuss a Bible verse, passage, or story. I typically just pick one at random, or else I choose one that seems to be appropriate for what our family is going through at the time. After reciting the story or passage, we ask a few questions: (1) What does this mean? (2) What does this teach us about God? (3) What does this teach us about people? (4) How should this story affect our lives?
The beauty of this is that you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to ask questions.
Because my children are young, we make the story fun by “acting it out” afterward. We’ve dramatized “Noah’s Ark” in my driveway with hoses and water guns to make it rain. We’ve re-enacted the story of Jericho at the local park, where we walked 7 laps around the playground equipment (it didn’t collapse). We even made a game out of the “fiery serpents” that attacked the Israelietes—picture kids belly-crawling on the ground like snakes as they try to tag our ankles.
I want my children to remember that the Bible is exciting and fun.
Last of all, my family practices a Sabbath. We’re not legalistic about it, but if an omnipotent God took one day to rest, it’s probably wise for a busy and tired family to rest also. Just like God celebrated His work of creation on the seventh day, we all take some time to celebrate what God did in our lives over the past week, sharing our memories one-after-another.
“Help--My husband doesn’t take initiative!”
This is a sad reality for too many households. On any given Sunday, one in four wives attends church without her husband. 60% of weekly attenders are women, and 75% of mid-week participants in church activities are women. Statistically, women pray more, read their Bibles more, and go to church more. Meanwhile, the sons of Adam perpetuate his original mistake, abandoning our post as leaders in the home, sacrificing the discipleship of our families at the altar of career.
If you’re a woman, and this is your reality, then kudos to you for continuing to love God in a painful environment. In the absence of your husband’s leadership, you can still leave a monumental impact, just as Augustine's mother led her son to Christ, despite his pagan father.
Persevere in prioritizing God for yourself and your children. Pray for and respect your husband (1 Pt. 3:1-8). And tell your spiritual family you need help.
“I feel like a failure!”
When God first began to convict me about leading my family well, it felt like a dark cloud of guilt had descended upon me. One day I went to church feeling this, and a prophetic woman walked up to me, with no prior knowledge of how I felt. She said, “Michael, I sense you’ve been feeling guilty about not being a good enough dad. God wants you to know that He thinks you’re a really great dad.”
If you feel guilty for not doing enough, then that prophetic message is for you. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is meant to be a catalyst for growth, not a cloud that hangs over you.
Hassle-free family devotions don’t technically exist. Almost everything I do with my kids involves hassle. But following your natural rhythms makes things infinitely easier.
Natural rhythms are what enable my children to hear the Bible everyday, worship God through song everyday, and be prayed for multiple times a day. I don’t even have to bribe them.
More likely, they will notify me when I miss a prayer.