Passing on the Truth of God
About the Guest
Author Don Whitney, a professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary, coaches moms and dads on the lost art of family worship. Whitney reminds parents that they don't have to prepare a devotional in order to worship. Reading a bit of Scripture, saying a simple prayer, and singing a hymn is a simple way to worship, and keeping it short increases frequency. It also teaches kids the priority of worshiping God.
Don WhitneyDon Whitney has been Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY since 2005. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, for ten years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. Don grew up in Osceola, Arkansas where he came to believe in Jes...more
Don Whitney coaches moms and dads on the lost art of family worship. Whitney reminds parents that they don’t have to prepare a devotional in order to worship.
Passing on the Truth of God
Bob: Don Whitney was faithful as a dad when his kids were still home to lead the family in regular family worship. He said the experience at the time seemed pretty unremarkable.
Don: Not one time, ever, would I have walked away from family worship, saying: “Oh, the Spirit of God came in great power upon us tonight. We were on our faces before God; the Spirit’s presence was just atmospheric in our home,”—never would I have said that. Most of the time, I would have walked away, saying: “I wonder if that did any good whatsoever. I wonder if anything happened.” There was nothing remarkable, ever.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 3rd. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If you have tried to have some kind of family devotions or family worship at your house, and it just hasn’t worked well; there’s hope. Stay with us. We’ll talk about it today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to go to the spiritual gymnasium today, and there is a spiritual trainer who is going to meet us here and help us figure out how we can get some of the spiritual flab off in what we do together, as a family, in worshipping God.
Dennis: And what family doesn’t need some coaching about how to recapture either the breakfast table, or the dinner table, or—
Bob: —the bedside—
Dennis: Yes; whatever.
Bob: —the carpool—wherever it is.
Dennis: Figure a way to meet God and bring your kids into both the knowledge of God and the experience of God in your family. And to do that, we have Dr. Don Whitney joining us again on FamilyLife Today. Don, welcome back.
Don: It’s always good to be here. Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Don gets paid to help people know how to read the Bible—
Bob: He’s a spiritual trainer. Is that a good description of you?—spiritual coach?
Don: I suppose so.
Dennis: Yes; you kind of like that!
Don: Well, I think all pastors are, too; but I’m a professor of biblical spirituality, so that’s what I teach.
Dennis: And he teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and has written a book called simply Family Worship. Bob likes this, because it’s—how many pages?—it’s less than 75 pages. [Laughter]
Bob: Tiny—yes; I do like tiny.
Dennis: And the print’s pretty big, so it’s good.
Bob: You know, you bring up this subject, though—I just have to dive in here. Some people have just heard we’re talking about family worship and they say, “What else is on the radio today?” because they feel convicted—they go: “We don’t do this very well. I tried this three times—
Don: Yes; yes.
Bob: —“I tried it Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night—Thursday, I say, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’” and they’ve just given up on this discipline. Can you help us here?
Don: Yes; I certainly can. This is doable by any family—and especially, speaking to men—they may feel as though their wife is more spiritually mature / their wife knows the Bible better—but anybody can do this. One of the many myths I’ve encountered about family worship is guys get the idea that family worship means they have to prepare some sort of devotional.
They say: “I don’t have the time to do that; and if I had the time, I’m not a preacher, I’m not a speaker, I’m not a writer—I can’t pull that together—and so, we can’t have family worship.” And that’s not necessary—I’ve never prepared—I just pick up the Bible and read / start reading where we read the night before.
Bob: So that’s all you did when you did family worship with your family?
Don: Nope; three words: read, pray, sing. Read the Bible, pray together, [and] sing together.
Dennis: What if you can’t sing?
Don: Yes; that’s what I get the most pushback on. I believe I can make a biblical case for doing that in worship—it takes me a few minutes to line that out. Spurgeon said—that great British Baptist preacher of the 1800s—he said: “I agree with Matthew Henry when he says, ‘Those who read the Bible do well. Those who read and pray together in the home do even better; but those who read, pray, and sing do the best of all.’” There’s a completeness to that kind of family worship that’s much to be desired.
Bob: As long as it’s a joyful noise, it doesn’t matter what kind of noise it is.
Don: That’s right. It doesn’t have to be four verses of a hymn or something like that—it can be just the Doxology / one verse of a hymn—I mean, something like that suffices.
Dennis: As you talk about the theme of family worship, I think one of the reasons we’re not good at it is—we’ve lost the dinner table. Families are so mobile today it’s difficult to find time when we’re all together to be able to do it. At least, this was a big deal for us as we raised our kids. What we did was—as the kids got older and mobility increased, we used breakfast as a time to grab some moments—read a devotional, pray about it—but we didn’t sing about it, Don. I’m sorry we missed the third part of the trilogy there.
Don: Okay; yes.
Dennis: Do you agree, though, that we have to find out what works for us?—but we also have a problem with what we’re doing at the dinner table too.
Don: Yes; flexibility is a necessity. It may be that a given family will do this at a certain time most days of the week; but there may be one day a week they need to do it at noon, or at breakfast, or in the minivan on the way to a ballgame somewhere—however they can work it in—where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Dennis: My kids knew that, as I drove them to school—it wasn’t a long prayer—but I would pray about something that concerned us. I would close it by praying, “Father, keep my children / these children from temptation, from harm, and from evil; and watch over them, I pray, this day.”
I think about it—if I was raising kids today, I think I’d be even doubling down on praying especially all three of those things; because it seems like our kids are in the apex of where the cultural battle really is today.
Don: Yes; and that’s why family worship is, I think, essential for those families, even if they go to church; because once or twice a week they’re exposed to the greatness and glory of God is probably not enough to impress them with God so that, when they graduate from high school, they’ll want to continue on their own. I mean, we have all kinds of studies, and our personal experience tells us, that there’s a great percentage of kids, who come to church—they’re in the youth group.
Once they finish high school, they’re gone; and they have no sweet memories of family worship or something like that that might be the means of preventing their departure from the faith in the first place or the means of restoring them. What better way is there for you to teach your values / to teach your core biblical beliefs to your children and not just farm it out to the pastor or someone else?
Dennis: One of the things that we fought—as we attempted to teach the Scriptures, to apply it to our lives / to our kids’ lives, have some discussion around it—is to really fight the issue of the kids’ lack of response—a visible / any kind of: “That was great, Dad!” “That was terrific, Mom!” “Thanks for sharing that! That was fantastic!”
Don: I’ve never heard that.
Dennis: Yes; you write something about that. In fact, there was a moment that occurred in your daughter’s life, when she graduated from high school—
Don: That’s right. At the Christian school where she graduated, it was the tradition for the parents to present the diploma to the graduate / to their child; and then they would make some remarks, encouraging the child, and congratulating them as a graduate, and blessing them there.
And then, the graduate would, in turn, speak some prepared remarks to the parents, thanking them and so forth.
My daughter thanked my wife and said a number of very precious things to her; and then, she turned to me and she began by saying how much family worship had meant to her; but she never got finished, because she just collapsed on my shoulder, in cap and gown, in tears. Dennis, I am not exaggerating when I say she wept harder than I had seen her since she was a preschooler. The picture of us together is my favorite picture of the two of us. She gave me, later, the transcript of what she’d prepared, and it was thanking me for what family worship had meant to her.
Now, lest your listeners misunderstand—they may think that that means, when we had family worship, she sat in rapt attention with her hands folded—
—I mean, not one time, ever, would I have walked away from family worship saying: “Oh, the Spirit of God came in great power upon us tonight. We were on our faces before God; the Spirit’s presence was just atmospheric in our home,”—never would I have said that. Most of the time, I would have walked away, saying: “I wonder if that did any good whatsoever. I wonder if anything happened.” There was nothing remarkable, ever.
And you know, what it’s like until this day—I mean, she’s married and has her first child of her own now—and to this day, when they come home—we have family worship in our home—do you know what it’s like? “Hey, would you all put your phone down please? We’re trying to have family worship. Would you all listen up? I’m trying to read the Bible here.” [Laughter] That’s the way it always was; that’s the way it always is. When you have a family, in the family room, doing family worship, they do what families do in the family room—the three-year-olds are rolling around on the floor, and they’re being real families. And yet, you do this night after night, year after year, and the Word does its work; and God may do things that you never imagined He was doing.
Bob: Well, and two things about your story—the first is—I think it’s a great encouragement to hear the reality injected into that narrative—that family worship at the Whitney household was not 90 minutes, every night, with you waxing eloquent on the Scriptures—
Don: Yes; ten minutes, maybe—most times.
Bob: But I also think this is where I did not do as well in this area with my family, as I wish I could have; because I’d have a week where we plowed hard. At the end of the week, I’d just go, “I don’t know that that did any good,” and I’d just forget it next week. Why keep doing something where you don’t feel like you’re winning? And then I’d get convicted, and I’d start it back up again. So it was this whole roller-coaster thing.
Bob: And I look back at it—and I think what I was looking for was—each moment of family worship to have a payoff in that moment.
Bob: Your illustration with your daughter is that the payoff happens in the prolonged use. You have to have the long game in view here; don’t you?
Don: Yes; the effects of family worship are very rarely episodic—one night / one moment. The effects of family worship tend to be cumulative.
Bob: And cumulative over, not just a couple weeks—
Don: Right; years.
Bob: Yes; so if a listener is listening today and they go: “I didn’t—we didn’t have this when I was growing up. I grew up in a Christian home, but we didn’t do family worship. It feels a little artificial to me to be doing it. I’m married and I have a one-year-old, who’s not going to be able to catch any of this. Maybe I should wait until my one-year-old is three, and we’ll start on their third birthday.”
Don: I encourage couples, from the night they become engaged—but with that, let’s say, 13-month-old, who doesn’t even know what you’re saying—it’s very important to have family worship; because they’re learning. What they’re learning, if we could put it in adult language, would be something like this: “Boy, I don’t know what it is we do here every night.
“Dad reads from this leather-backed book, and I don’t know what he’s saying. And then, they close their eyes, and put their heads down, and talk—I have no idea what that’s about / what’s going on. We sing—I like that part. But I don’t know what it is we do here every night; but whatever it is it must be important, because we do it every night.”
They’re learning that—so they’re learning that family worship is a priority / they’re learning that it is important—and they’re learning things that they don’t even know yet that they’re learning and you can’t measure. You do that, year in / year out—they know what family worship should look like and how to do it, because they learned it at home.
Bob: And that’s the big picture that they’re learning; so that, even when they’re 18, they may remember half-a-dozen specific family worship nights, where God showed up and spoke to their hearts; but they have the big message, which was: “The Bible matters, praying matters, God matters. We spend time with Him, as a family, every day.”
Dennis, I’ve heard you share this—about times when you led family worship. At the end of it, you thought, “I’m not sure anybody heard anything.”
And then, three weeks later, you hear one of your kids repeating back—
Dennis: —a fragment of what I’d shared.
Dennis: But it stuck. Part of that—and I want you to comment on this—part of that was because I was tackling some of the issues they were facing, as teenagers, in their culture, like the issue of modesty. So we looked at a passage of Scripture and talked about the subject of modesty. On one occasion, I played a FamilyLife Today interview with a woman who was an expert, from the Scriptures, on the subject of modesty.
To Bob’s point—sometime later, we were out—I think going to some athletic event—and a couple of her friends were in the back seat. I overheard her talking to them about the contents of that FamilyLife Today broadcast, which was applying the Scriptures to an issue that she’s facing in her life—
—maybe something frightening / maybe some news that came across on the TV or in the newspaper.
Did you do that? Did you bring the Bible to bear on those issues?
Don: Yes; but only when I thought it was on her radar. I didn’t want to bring in something that was important to me but she saw no relevance in. So I didn’t do it that frequently. What we did—that I think most brought the Scriptures to bear in her life—and I kind of stumbled upon this—we would read from two passages every night. We would always read a section of Proverbs that went along with the day of the month—you know, on the fifth of the month you read Proverbs, Chapter 5 / that thing—there’s a chapter for every day of the month in the Book of Proverbs; and then, we would read from wherever else we were in the Bible.
I just kind of stumbled upon the idea, one night, when I realized she wasn’t listening. As we were going through Proverbs, I said, “I want you to pick one verse for me to explain to you, and I want you to pick one verse for you to explain to me.” I cannot tell you how dramatically that improved her listening.
Sometimes, there, I would see her pick a verse that revealed something she was concerned about—something in the culture or something in her life—that would then give us the opportunity to elaborate on it and perhaps bring in other Scriptures.
Bob: If a dad says: “Is it okay for us to just do a few verses every night?” or “Do we need to do a chapter?” or “Does this need to be 15 minutes of Scripture reading?”—
Don: No; I think a good rule of thumb is about ten minutes. If you have very young children / preschoolers, perhaps even more brief than that.
Dennis: You’re talking about ten minutes for the whole thing.
Don: Yes; that’s right—to read the Bible, pray together, and sing together.
Dennis: One of the things Bob said is—he didn’t feel like he did a good job, but I know this to be true about Bob—he used the dinner table as a chance to debrief and have some stimulating discussion around things that were occurring in their lives and bring the Bible to bear on those circumstances.
Bob: And attempt to, yes, instill a biblical worldview and biblical thinking in these issues that our children were facing.
But I think some dads/some moms—sometimes, I would get a little intimidated about a passage of Scripture—
—because I’m going to read it; and our kids are going to go, “So those verses about where there was a demon in the house, and you swept the house, and the demon was gone, and he brought back seven other demons—what does that mean, Dad?”
Bob: I’m going to go, “I have no idea what that verse / what that passage is all about.”
Bob: Some dads will go, “I’m not reading that, because I’m going to get put on the spot.”
Dennis: And “My dad’s not a seminary professor of biblical spirituality like you are.”
Don: Well, for starters, that should drive the man to the Scripture; and practically-speaking, a good study Bible, that has very helpful notes—can be a good family worship Bible, just for those kinds of occasions—just, off the cuff, ask a question—you know, “So, here…”
Bob: “Let’s just read what the study Bible notes say,” and explain it that way.
Don: Right. That can be an on-the-spot help for someone in that case; but it should drive the man, as spiritual leader in the home, to investigate, “What does it mean?”—to ask his pastor / to use some other resource—
—that’s a good thing. It’s also a good thing for him to admit, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
Dennis: One of the things that we did—and this is just because I like stories—is we had a devotional that had a passage of Scripture that you read—many times, it was a single verse—and then the story was a story of heroes, who had taken their faith and had paid great sacrifice, sometimes giving their lives on behalf of their faith, to go share Christ with people in another country. I wanted them to hear stories of really great people who lived out their knowledge of God with the experience of God.
Don: Yes; we’re blessed to be in a time where, just in the last three to five years, a tremendous number of family worship resources have appeared—some of them, like you just said, that provide illustrative stories that provide other resources for children that are very young/early preschool to teenagers in the home.
If someone is willing to look—maybe ask their pastor—but they can find a lot of resources out there that will help them in so many ways in family worship.
Dennis: And there are practical tools, here, at FamilyLife Today to also help folks. Barbara’s created a series of books around the themes of forgiveness, courage, truth, and gratitude. I just think about the one on truth today—it’s a reminder that the Bible is true and “This is how we spot a lie,”—is to know what the Bible says about life, and about circumstances, and about issues so that, when the culture is trying to seduce us / when that culture is trying to convince our children to believe a lie, they’ve heard the truth and they know what a straight line looks like; because they’ve heard it, seen it, then they’ve had a story illustrated. That’s what Barbara does in this Growing Together series.
Don: Yes; let’s just face this straight up—any man, who wants to lead his family in worship—no matter how ill-equipped he feels / no matter how ignorant of the Bible he feels—has no lack of resources to help him. If he sets his face toward leading his family in that way, he will have no lack of resources that can help him all along the way.
Dennis: They can be found. Your book—again, less than 75 pages—I think will give a lot of men courage to take their wives by the hand, first of all, and know how to lead her and pray with her—and maybe pray together—but beyond that, to minister to the souls / the spiritual needs of his flock. That’s what was on your heart when you wrote this book, Family Worship.
Don: Yes; that’s right. What better way to evangelize your children every day?—to present the gospel to them through the Bible as it is read / for them to see their parents centering their lives on Christ. I mean, your family sees you at your worst; right? Let them see you at your best.
They see you when you don’t act like a Christian; let them see that a real Christian, who is also a sinner, at the end of the day, comes back and wants to center his life on the Bible, and the gospel, and maybe need to ask forgiveness of the family—whatever—but let them see you at your best. What better way to transmit your core beliefs to your children? There are just so many benefits of doing this; but most of all, God deserves to be worshipped, daily, in our homes by our families.
Bob: And the dad who says: “You know what? I’ve tried this half-a-dozen times. We go for a while; I flop. I just don’t think this is my thing.” I mean, guys don’t want to go back and try to do again things they’ve not done successfully in the past.
Don: That’s right. It’s a mission that they have failed in the past, and that’s hard for a man to do sometimes.
Bob: So what do we do?
Don: Well, first of all, we really haven’t touched on the biblical basis for family worship; and that’s the first third of the book. So, if this is a biblical responsibility for a man, he needs to man up, and take his responsibility, and lead his family spiritually. We demonstrate, in the book, how any man can do that, regardless of whether he feels spiritually less mature than his wife or knows the Bible less than his wife.
It takes no preparation—any Christian man can do this. But it may be that he has to say: “Look, I have a lot to learn. I failed at this in the past, but I want to put on this badge of godly manhood. I believe this is my responsibility, and I want to try this again. Will you help me?” I think most Christian wives would be thrilled to hear that sort of thing.
Bob: I think you’re right.
Dennis: And if a dad is looking for proof that it his biblical responsibility, just take a look at the first seven verses of Chapter 78 of the Book of Psalms, verses one through seven. It talks about two things very clearly: first of all, passing on the truth of God and the truth about God to your kids; and then, your experience of God. It’s not just truth that you’re passing on; you’re passing on how you have experienced God today to your children.
Dennis: And frankly, if your kids are hearing you talk about your experience of God—in my opinion, there is no greater fence that you could build at the top of the cliff to keep these kids going to church, embracing their faith when they grow up and they’re slung out into the culture—than having a mother and a father who know the truth about God, and are living it out, and are experiencing Him on a daily basis.
If they see that / if they watch you experience that, that’s going to make a huge difference in their lives.
Bob: And again, I would encourage listeners—moms and dads—to read, not just the first third of this 75-page book, but to read the whole book. You can do it in less than an hour. It will give you practical help as well as a biblical basis for what you’re to do in leading your family in worship.
We have copies of the book, Family Worship, by Don Whitney in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
You can order the book from us, online; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. We also have copies of Don’s book, Praying the Bible, which is a great book to help you in your personal prayer time and to help you be more consistent and to be more fruitful as you pray your way through passages from the Bible. Again, check out both books, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order either book: 1-800-FLTODAY is our number—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Here, in the first week of the new year, we’re still kind of scrambling around—checking out the mail as it’s come in / going through and tallying up all of the donations we received at yearend. We don’t have the final totals yet; but we are so grateful that so many of you gave us a little boost, here, at the end of the year.
You made a yearend contribution that helped get us ready for the new year and for all of the strategies and plans that we hope to accomplish in 2018.
Every time you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, what you’re doing is helping extend the reach of this ministry—helping us reach more people more regularly through this radio program, through our website, our resources, [and] our events. You become a partner with us in helping us effectively develop godly marriages and families. You’re helping a lot of moms and dads / a lot of married couples every time you make a donation. We’re grateful for that partnership.
If you’re a long-time listener—you’ve never made a donation—why don’t you start the new year by going to FamilyLifeToday.com and making an online donation?—or call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’re grateful for those of you who listen regularly, and we’d love to have you join us as financial partners as well. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how we can help our parents or how we can help ourselves in the transition time from being able to take care of yourself to needing some kind of help and assistance. Jim Stroud is going to be here tomorrow with some strategies on that transition time of life—when, as we age, we need more help. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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