How to do a family devotion

The lost art of the family devotion

One of the most important responsibilities for the Christian family is to pass on the faith to the children. But the thought of leading a family devotion sounds about as fun as a root canal. Schedules are busy, kids get antsy and hard to keep still, and  activities pull the family in a hundred different directions. Is it even possible?

I believe it is, and its not as hard as you might think. I have four kids. One girl (10 years old), and three boys (ages 8, 6, and 4). Life is chaotic and busy, and yet we’ve been able to find a weekly rhythm where we do a family devotion. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time, the parents don’t need to be theology experts, and the kids will enjoy it more than you may expect.

Three ingredients in a family devotion

I was first challenged to do family devotions while in seminary by my spiritual disciplines professor, Dr. Don Whitney. He suggested that every family devotion should have three main ingredients: singing, reading, and prayer. Simple.

Wednesday night is family devotion night at the Clary house. The kids even look forward to it and make sure to remind me of it.

For the singing part, I ask each kid to choose a worship song and then find it on YouTube with the lyrics (like this and this). My oldest son and I grab guitars and play along, but everyone sings along. We turn the volume up loud and have fun with it.

Next, for the reading part, we choose one Bible verse or story and then talk about what it means. Sometimes I’ll ask one of the kids to read, sometimes my wife or I will read it if its longer or harder to read. This time is challenging and humbling because kids are always thinking and they have excellent questions. Even as a pastor, I often find myself without answers, and I’ll just tell them, “that’s a great question; I don’t know the answer.” That’s OK. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to provide a space where the kids can ask.

Finally, we pray. Usually by this time, my four year old is losing his mind and can’t sit still any longer. The others are getting antsy, too, and that’s fine. We ask each child for something they want to ask God for and then we pray. Sometimes we give each child time to pray, and sometimes my wife or myself prays for everyone.

Don’t expect it to be magical

What I’ve described above can take just a few minutes or could go much longer, depending on how many kids and what comes up.   Honestly, sometimes I look forward to this and we have a great time together. But more often, it tests my patience as kids fight over songs and say unkind things to each other. And on occasion, by the time we’re finished I’m more frustrated than when we began. Trying to herd cats for 15 minutes can try anyone’s patience. It’s not magical, its often an exercise in discipline to just get through it. But as the kids grow older, the prayers, the songs we sing, and the scriptures we read give the Holy Spirit kindling to burn. It helps them to hear mom and dad confessing sin and thanking Jesus for his grace again for another week.

It can be amazing or exhausting. Either way, we’ve invited God to our home and worshiped him together as a family. And in these few minutes we recognize that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of the Living Room.

8 Questions to Ask Yourself Regarding Freedom in Christ

Read the whole thing here.

1. Am I fully persuaded that a course of action is right?

2. Can I do it as though I were doing it for God?

3. Would following a course of action be a stumbling block to other Christians?

4. Does this course of action promote peace?

5. Does this course of action edify others?

6. Is this course of action profitable?

7. Does this course of action enslave me?

8. Does this course of action bring glory to God?

Starting a New Church Through Criticism and Complaining

In the heart of every leader is this inevitable dissatisfaction with the status quo which drives him to lead. That’s normal. Some have even called it a “divine discontent.” It is part of God’s call on a leader.

There is an ugly and sinful side to this, however, and it affects those of us who plant churches. This attitude is the desire to plant a church to correct all wrongs, excesses, and theological inconsistencies of our prior church experiences. Instead of setting out with a positive vision of a desired future, we end up starting an anti-movement and attracting a bunch of malcontented complainers who are great at diagnosing the problem but are much less motivated to trust God with anything positive and truly transforming.

I’ve been reading A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards and he addresses this problem.

He likens complaining church planters to Absalom. Absalom was King David’s son, and thought he could lead the nation better than his old man. So he sniped off a few people who were dissatisfied with the status quo.

Absalom was attractive and cool (2 Sam 14:25), and his dad was aging, tired, and mired in scandal. He had the hip new ideas and the youthful charisma to carry it out. He didn’t start an insurrection right away, however. He carefully planted seeds of distrust in the existing leadership. He listened quietly to those who had complaints and slowly gained their confidence.

He seemed so humble and unassuming, but in his heart he was basking in the admiring glow of others who shared his discontent.

Church plants can start this way, too. A young, hip leader with all the charisma and cool ideas listens to all the stories of people’s dissatisfaction with their churches. He listens patiently and coolly while hearing about other churches that don’t “get it,” and how other churches have “wounded” them. He slowly builds their trust with his disarmingly mild demeanor.

It all seems so positive and fresh. But it is an insurrection in the making.

Edwards offers this observation:

A man who will lead a rebellion has already proven, no matter how grandiose his words or angelic his ways, that he hs a critical nature, an unprincipled character, and hidden motives in his heart. Frankly, he is a thief. He creates dissatisfaction and tension within the realm, and then either seizes power or siphons off followers. The followers he gets, he uses to found his own dominion… God never honors division in His realm.

Soon enough, however, this hip young man becomes the tired, aged pastor whose ideas don’t seem so fresh anymore. He is not on the cutting edge now. He might have been crafty and talented but there was little depth of character in his heart. The demands of ministry dull his creativity.

But lurking in some small group is another young leader, drinking coffee and listening to others complain about how this once hip church has lost its edge. Now he seems to have all the fresh ideas. When a church is built on complaining about previous churches, its only a matter of time until those complaints are directed towards the new church.

Church planting is kinda cool these days. I wonder how many church splits try to dress up their fissure as a “church plant?” People get angry and divide churches over secondary matters and then give it a positive spin by calling it a “new church plant.”

This is not Kingdom Growth, this is insurrection.


I find it curious that men who feel qualified to split God’s kingdom do not feel capable of going somewhere else, to another land, to raise up a completely new kingdom. No, they must steal from another leader… They seem always to need at least a few pre-packaged followers… Beginning empty-handed and alone frightens the best of men. It also speaks volumes of just how sure they are that God is with them.

People starting new churches (or new ministries of any sort, for that matter) should have a positive vision for what they want God to accomplish.

If we start with a negative vision of wanting to correct the errors of previous church experiences, we only end up being that negative experience for the next church planter.

Getting a Divorce from Porn

There’s a guy in my church who’s gotten serious about killing his desire for pornography.

After realizing that he has had a longer relationship with pornography than any girlfriend, he decided that he’d had enough. He was married to pornography and it was time to get a divorce. This isn’t a “struggle,” he’s not going to “work on it” or “try to get better.” He’s given her the divorce papers and the relationship is over, its final, and there’s no trial separation.

Men need to get radical with pornography and quit playing games. Jesus said if you eye causes you to sin, gouge it out! (Matthew 5:27-30)

I have gained his permission to reprint his poem, where he serves divorce papers to pornography and breaks free. The Divorce Papers was written by Patrick Harner.

The Divorce Papers

She’s been with me since before my brain
grew into a mature mass of configured nerve trees
that could separate the theo-
from the -ology,
and could see the dynamic features of my family
each individual a mess of undulating everchanging waves
sometimes crashing shores,
tsunami’s devouring fisherman and babies,
oceans sometimes the clear mirror
to children discovering 2/3s  of the earth in all its complexity,
but never the same.

Yes, she’s been with me since before that,
back before I played football
or discovered the joys of track and field
the exquisite feeling of lacing up a pair of spikes
and running as fast as you can
straight ahead, air and speed.
Like a field. Or a barn. Or looking at a tree.
Something you could do all day.

She’s been with me thirteen years longer than any girlfriend.
Longer than I played baseball. Longer than public school.
Longer than I’ve known my greatest friends from college.
It’s easy to love her. A slave master, who gives me exactly what I want every time.

My desire for mud pies
and not a holiday at the shore.
So this is my divorce paper,
that I’m laying down.
I’m sick of you mucking up my business.
I’ve had enough of your sabotaging.
Your destructing bulldozer ways through my relationships
with flesh and bone women.
I’m through with you oppressing me.
You’re a bad wife.

This is my divorce paper to my self.
I’m divorcing the old dead self,
the man that wants to be at the bottom
of some loud mouthed prostitute’s house
not smelling her well placed scents,
because he is dead.
Do away with her Jesus!
Do away with him Jesus!
Please, end this marriage.

10 Ways to Redeem Your Time

I gave a recent sermon at Christ the King Church regarding the Bible’s teaching that we should “redeem the time.” This means that every second of every day counts and should be dedicated to God. But how do we do this when time always seems so short?

After some reflection, I’ve compiled a list of several things that have helped me to make the most of my time.

  1. Repent of wasted time. I needed to change my orientation towards time and realize that there was just way too much wasted time in my life. Ask yourself: how many hours per week do I spend using Facebook, or mindlessly touring the internet? How many hours a week staring glassy eyed at a TV screen? How much time reading mindless novels or magazines? Video games? I’m convinced that much of what we commonly consider “entertainment” can easily be refiled under “waste of time.”
  2. Repent of unfruitful busyness. Just being busy doesn’t redeem time either. In fact, mere busyness can be a symptom of disorganization, which is a big time waster. Ask yourself: do you keep a schedule? Are you mastering your time or are you subject to the Tyranny of the Urgent (where the “urgent” supplants the truly “important”)?
  3. Determine your priorities. For me, my priorities are in this order: (1) Christian, (2) husband, (3) Father, and (4) Christian leader. These priorities will determine which activities will be permitted to crowd out other activities, and in what proportion. For example, my priorities as a husband and father will automatically rule out most evening activities, since we schedule the evenings as family time. However, on occasion, my responsibilities as Christian leader will cause me to allocate evening time for ministry. A great proportion of my time is dedicated to ministry, which is also a vocation. For me, this is the  means by which I provide for my wife and children (priorities 2 and 3), which is my Christian responsibility (priority 1). Balancing these priorities is a learned skill which will take a lifetime of effort to master. I am grateful for C.J. Mahaney for this insight.
  4. Schedule it! There is no way a person can redeem his or her time without careful attention to a schedule. A schedule enables you to dictate where you will budget your time. You are controlling your time by scheduling, and then you obey your schedule. Schedules provide accountability. It also gives you a journal of your activities that you can look back on. For me, I do this on google calendar. This is the central digital hub, which syncs with iCal on my Mac and also on my iPhone. When I schedule something from my phone, it shows up on iCal. My wife also has access to this shared calendar and she can add stuff to it as well. This keeps our family’s time organized.
  5. Go to bed. It’s foolish to stay up half the night and sleep half the day away (Proverbs 26:14, Proverbs 6:9). Determine how much nightly sleep you need and guard it carefully. I get about 8 hours per night.
  6. Redeem your commute. There are countless fantastic podcasts available for free download. Instead of listening to music all the time, or talk radio, use this time for spiritual nourishment. I’m currently listening to a seminary course from Brian Chappell on Christ Centered Preaching for free. Many long commutes have become sanctuaries where God has met me in prayer, or through great preachers. I’ve even listened to most of the Bible in the car while commuting. If you drive 30 minutes per day, that’s 3 hours per week, which is roughly 150 hours per year. Most college level courses are only about 36 hours of total classroom instruction time per semester. You can accomplish a lot in the car.
  7. Redeem Time with Concentration and Focus. I’m a daydreamer. Since most of my time is spent writing on a computer, the momentary writer’s block can easily turn into an hour of daydreaming and time-wasting.
  8. Make a To-Don’t List. This has been a lifesaver for me. Just because someone is asking me to do something doesn’t mean I have to do it. When my list gets especially long, I make a list of things that I’m simply not going to do. This enables me to put time towards my passions and not towards other people’s passions.
  9. Redeem leisure time with enriching activities. There’s nothing wrong with watching sports or movies or playing on the internet. But it is helpful to expand the repertoire of leisurely activities to include things that challenge the mind and enrich the soul. Trade in some TV time for a walk outside to enjoy beauty and pray. Trade reading ESPN articles for reading a theology blog or journaling. Create some art (even if you suck at it!), get to know neighbors, etc. All of these activities can improve one’s use of time.
  10. Build in margins. Nothing can wreck your time like the unexpected accident, home repair, traffic congestion, illness and so on. Build in some margins by adding a little time to each scheduled activity so you’re not derailed by the unexpected.

Bonus suggestion… Always have a good book close by. I never leave home without a book. If I’m going to the doctor, or the mechanic, or an appointment, I can always sneak in a few pages by carrying a book and showing up early.

Some other very helpful reading on redeeming the time is Jonathan Edwards’ essay, The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It.

Ok, there’s my list. What other suggestions do you have for redeeming your time?