by Michael Kelley
Deuteronomy 6 is the text of the shema. The word literally means “hear,” and it’s the beginning of the greatest command:
“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).
This is the oldest fixed prayer in Judaism, and even today is recited at least twice a day by observant Jews. This is also the answer that Jesus gave when an expert in the law asked Him what the greatest command was:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matt. 22:37-38).
This – the love of God with all of our being – frames everything else. In fact, you might rightly say that if we get this right, then everything else will fall into place because the love of God forms the framework for every other action, attitude, and decision we make. The text in Deuteronomy goes onto to emphasize just how important this is, and it’s in this emphasis that we also find a command for us as parents:
“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
There is no doubt that we, as parents, should be the primary spiritual influence on our children. This responsibility cannot – and should not – be delegated to a church program, though we should work in concert with the church for the overall growth of our kids in Christ. But what strikes me most as a dad is the emphasis on constant repetition we find in these verses.
Repeat the Word of God. Talk about His commands when you’re coming and going, when you wake up and when you go to bed. They should be as ready in our minds as if we had them written on our hands and foreheads. In other words, talk of God and His Word should be the constant backdrop to every conversation.
And this is where we come to one sure-fire way to self-destruct your family devotion.
Perhaps you’re already in the rhythm of some time each day, maybe around the breakfast table or when the kids are going to bed, of reading the Bible together, praying together, even singing together. This is a good thing. It has been for our family. We do this as parents because we want to take hold of that responsibility of stewarding the hearts of our children. We want to see them grow in Christ and in their love and knowledge of God’s Word.
Again, this is a good thing. Very good, in fact. But can I share with you a warning about having a time like this?
The potential impact and power of that family devotion will no doubt be minimized if the only time you talk about the things of God is in that single environment.
If the only time our family prays, or talks about Jesus, or points each other to the truth of God is during that 15 minutes, then we are subtly emphasizing to our kids that the Bible is for spiritual times. But the rest of the day, we just have to live our lives. This is not a Deuteronomy 6 kind of devotion. In fact, if we do this, we are treating the family devotion time like a magic formula – something we check off on our list as parents that we think will ensure our kids will love and follow Jesus.
Don’t think of your family devotion as the destination; think of it as the launching pad for all the other moments you have during the day. Come back to the Word again and again. That doesn’t mean you have to have multiple, set aside times for the reading and study of God’s Word. That, too, seems to be to violate the spirit of Deuteronomy 6.
Instead, what you want to have is a family culture that is rooted in God’s Word so that it indeed is the constant background of everything else you do. You want it to be the most natural thing in the world when a child is discouraged, or when a family decision has to be made, or when you are simply processing what’s happening in the world together to bring up what God says about this situation in His book.
Yes, parents, read the Bible together. Yes, parents, set aside a time to do so. But also move toward not just a moment, but a “when you” kind of philosophy so that the Word of God might be deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of your family.