Everyday Godward (On Leading Family Devotions)

I was honored to write the following on the sometimes rowdy, always unpredictable discipline we call family devotions in the Reinke house as a chapter in the new book, Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood (Desiring God, 2014), pages 64–73.

You can download the entire book for free here.

Everyday Godward

When the Apostle Paul said a man must first learn to manage his household before he can manage a church, he must have meant managing a church is something like managing a household. And that means being a father is something like being a pastor (1 Timothy 3:4–5).

I believe it.

Just like a pastor leading a church, a husband is called to lead his household in many different directions: in pulling his family into greater depths of the gospel, in pushing back the tide of worldliness, in pushing his family up in Godward joy, and in sowing deep seeds of gratitude. Pastoring children is a labor requiring a lot of thoughtful paternal attention. It always has.

On the heels of Israel’s dramatic rescue of Israel from Egypt, Deuteronomy 6 sets forth an ancient (and relevant) model for fathers today:

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.

These words are equally applicable for moms, but for the sake of this chapter, I’ll focus on how this passage shapes a dad’s calling (Ephesians 6:4). Although we are separated from Deuteronomy by time and geography and culture, Scripture remains true for every father today. Dads are called to the glorious labor of chiseling the words of God deep into the lives of our children, and this labor demands our entire schedule (breakfast and bedtime), all of our situations (activity and inactivity), and all of our locations (our comings and goings). There’s never a moment with his family when a father is not on-call to love his children by pointing their attention Godward.

As a dad of three kids (12, 8, and 6), this is the lesson I’m trying to learn myself. As I attempt to serve my family in this Godward direction, here are some of the most valuable lessons I’m learning along the way.

1. Dad leads family devotions … to Jesus.

Some dads choose to lead family devotions as a liturgy with a concrete style and format, with a Scripture reading, a short homily, and a concluding hymn. Other dads take a more informal approach. My personality favors the structured approach, but over the years the Holy Spirit has given some of the most impactful family devotions to our family when “my plan” seemed to take sudden turns toward the unexpected.

Take one Monday evening in our house, President’s Day 2014. The family lingered at the table after a meal (and drooled over the President’s Day cherry pie). A few Googled-and-printed presidential portraits were scotch-taped to the wall. I opened with a prayer of thanks for the lineage of American presidents and a prayer for our current president. As we pushed back the empty plates, I grabbed my Bible, and we began walking through my carefully planned devotional. I explained that civil authorities (like presidents) are God-given blessings for our flourishing. I read Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13–17.

So far, so good.

Next I moved on to explain the goodness of civil punishment that keeps us safe, and I flipped open to Romans 13:1–7. Here’s where things unraveled a bit. Apparently the Marvel Comics Translation of the Bible I was reading said, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad …. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (ESV). That phrase, “an avenger,” leapt from the page into the ears of my (up until that point) moderately-interested 6-year-old son. “The Avengers!” he said in his own love language (and probably in his Iron Man pajamas). At this point I could have smiled and nodded and kept reading, but I felt compelled to stop and go along with the sudden detour.

There was a connection here. The Avengers are dramatized fictional images of the civil powers God has ordained to preserve justice and order in society. We walked through each character briefly—Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, and Thor—and reviewed how each hero helps in the fight for justice. Fascinating discussions, of course, but I knew I had to turn this unraveling devotion toward Christ. So I asked: “But who is The Avenger?” Confused looks. “You know it,” I said again. “Who is The Avenger?” Slowly it dawned on them, and the devotion took a sudden turn to the return of Christ—The Avenger—who will return to bring cosmic peace and order. I had no intention of talking about the return of Christ after President’s Day dinner, but that’s the way it unfolded in the moment. We ditched the presidents, delayed the pie, and detoured directly to Jesus.

Dads, leading family devotions is our calling, and leading family devotions to Christ is our final aim. If I have a liturgy at the dinner table, it looks like this: Start by reading the Bible and end with Jesus. What happens in the middle will often unfold in ways unexpected and glorious.

2. Dad models a real relationship with the living God.

Deuteronomy 6 addresses a father’s heart before it addresses the hearts of his kids. And this is by design. God’s commands are written first “that you [dad] may fear the Lord your God” and then to pass that to “your son and your son’s son” (Deuteronomy 6:2). And the point gets restated: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). Dad is an object of gospel grace from God before he is a conduit of gospel grace to his children.

Dads are not propped up as models of moral perfection, but as models of holiness (at their best) and a model of repentance and contrition (at their worst). My kids are watching me, watching to see how I respond to affliction and adversity and to success and victory. God has designed my life to be a legacy I pass on to my children.

3. Dad models joy in God.

But if my so-called obedience appears to my children as gruff, stern, and stoic, I am lying about God. As a Christian Hedonist, I believe God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. This is the legacy I want to leave with my children. Son, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Daughter, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

This end—this aim—shapes everything about my leadership in the home, and it’s not a stretch because if fatherhood echoes pastor-hood, leading my family in joy is central to my success as a dad (2 Corinthians 1:24). Dad himself is called to model faith, the all-encompassing embrace of God. In the words of Deuteronomy 6, I am called to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might. More than modeling right moral choices, I must model joy—a mighty, heart-filled, heart-saturated delight in God that spills over into everyday joy.

Dads, the model is incomplete if we model duty with a sour attitude. John Piper, a father of five, says of raising young kids: “Children need to see daddy is happy—happy with God, happy in being with the family, and of course happy in worship at church and happy in devotions at home. If dad is morose, bored, and withdrawn, he is saying, ‘That is what it is like to know God.’”

And that is simply untrue.

4. Dad reorients his family to the metanarrative of the gospel (daily).

With joy taking such a central role in our homes, the Ten Commandments are not given simply for stoic obedience training. Obedience is designed to flow out from God-initiated deliverance, as Deuteronomy 6 sets forward beautifully in the tender setting of a son who turns his head up to his father:

When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”

There’s a time for young children to simply learn yes from no and obedience from disobedience. Disobedience brings negative consequences; obedience brings positive consequences. By God’s grace, this obedience at the training-wheel level can be replaced later by a robust, gospel-centered obedience when our children are old enough to understand the redemptive story of Christ.

And this introduces one of the tensions dads face. We’re called to instruct children in two truths simultaneously. First, it’s impossible for any sinner to earn God’s favor with our best obedience. Such a favor with God comes only in the merits of Jesus Christ, applied to us when we embrace him by faith (Philippians 3:2–11). Secondly, we cannot say we embrace this glorious Jesus if we consistently disobey his commands (John 14:15; 1 John 2:1–6). Both points are essential in our training (and more on the second point in a moment).

My point here is simple, but essential. The gospel message is the redemptive supernarrative that covers all of time and history, and the gospel message redefines our very existence. The gospel message is a supernatural story of deliverance that makes Jesus glorious and provides the necessary context for mature obedience. It is our glorious calling, dads, to reorient our families to Jesus and to this supernarrative every day.

5. Dad trains his kids in moral vision.

Out of the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection (indicatives), we find the full context and meaning and empowerment for obedience (imperatives). When the moral training wheels come off, the supernarrative of the Gospel holds them in balance.

As children grow, they find themselves in more and more situations when mom and dad are not around, when immediate consequences for disobedience cannot be meted out. Take school for example. As a family, we have over the years sent our three children to a mix of public school, private school, homeschool, and public academy. And while each of these educational options has their particular strengths, every option has its particular weaknesses and temptations for each child. A child tempted to self-exaltation and sinful comparison in a private school may be tempted to laziness in a homeschool setting. A child prone to man-pleasing at public school can be just as prone to the pride and elitism of the private school.

In whatever context our children are called to demonstrate maturity in this world, dads are called to envision obedience for them, and this obedience flows out of the gospel. Out of Christ’s self-sacrificing love for us, our children are called into the world to show love to fellow students and teachers. We help our kids identify pride and self-seeking as we teach them to pray for the children they meet. By the work of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us the power for such a radical, selfless morality. The Spirit brings the power necessary for the hope-filled moral vision offered by dad.

6. Dad models God-centered gratitude.

All the blessings our family receives—house, food, sports, movie nights, dinners at home, dinners out, even life and health itself— come from the almighty God who sustains us and provides us with everything we enjoy.

We pray before meals, not only because daily gratitude to God for food is a pattern we find in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:1–5). Food does not appear on the table like magic. Dinner on the table requires God to call and gift men and women, folks we often don’t know. I want my children to know that before we enjoyed bread on our table, there was a farm boy who watched his dad farm, who felt the desire to farm himself, and labored in the soil to raise and harvest wheat. Then that wheat was hauled by a man who was called by God to drive a truck, who delivered the wheat to a bakery where men and women were called and skilled by God to make the bread. Next, another truck brought it to our local store, where a night clerk in the dark hours stacked it on shelves, and then a checkout clerk helped finish the transaction with mom, and now we have bread on the table for dinner. Why? Because God ordained a string of individuals—men and women—whose lives were meticulously fashioned and woven together into one long line with the aim of providing us our daily bread.

Money doesn’t make bread; people make bread. Behind the simple provision is a God who has built a complex chain of sovereignly ordained commerce for the goal that our family have bread on the table, which we in turn lift up in adoration to the God who somehow orchestrated all these details with the aim of blessing us.


Those are just a few ideas of how leadership in the home gets worked out in my life. And if I sound like an impressive father, it’s only because space (and perhaps pride) forbids me from documenting my glowing faults and inconsistencies. Growing as a dad is the fruit of the Spirit’s gracious work in making my failures into lessons. And if I have learned anything about being a father, it’s that the calling of Deuteronomy 6 is too big for me alone. I need a God, I need a Savior, I need a church, and I need a wife in the gargantuan work of raising sons and daughters and leaving them with a glorious legacy that God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in him.

Deadbolting the Idols Out

While intermarriage appears to have been tolerated early in Israel’s history (Abraham, Joseph, and Moses married foreign women, perhaps for political reasons), this later changed. In fact, intermarriage was especially forbidden when Israel was at its weakest, according to John Goldengay. “Ezra and Nehemiah assume that the little Second Temple community living among other peoples is too weak to risk the loss of its identity by absorption into the wider group through intermarriage” (OTT1:747–748). But the concern was larger than identity, and it’s not hard to imagine why. A foreign wife carried her foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage, and likewise, a foreign husband carried his foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage. The addition of these deities into an Israelite home invariably shaped the spiritual devotion and worship practices of a family, making any wholehearted worship of the living God impossible (see 1 Kings 11:1–13). Goldengay takes this one step further by suggesting that Israelites may have been tempted to intermarry to secure divine insurance, a way to broaden one’s base of collected gods to better ensure personal blessing, peace, and financial prosperity. Whatever the motive, intermarriage with a non-believer, he writes, “compromises the principle that Yhwh alone is the one from whom the community must seek help and guidance for its life concerning matters of a moral and religious kind and concerning the future” (Ex. 34:12-16, Deut. 7:1-4, Ps. 106:34–36). Thus, the forbidding of intermarriage in Old Testament history was not a matter of racial preference, a point made especially clear with the Moabite people. It was faithless Moabite women who led Solomon’s heart astray and it was the faithful God-fearing woman named Ruth, also a Moabite, who became the great-grandmother of King David, thus finding herself in the lineage of the Savior. The bottom line: intermarriage was forbidden to preserve undistracted devotion to Yhwh. John Piper summarizes the point well: “The issue is not color mixing, or customs mixing, or clan identity. The issue is: will there be one common allegiance to the true God in this marriage or will there be divided affections?” God wants our homes to be places of guarded worship for Himself alone. There’s application in there for us all.

Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts by Octavius Winslow

Book review (from 2007)
Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts
by Octavius Winslow

Over the past five years, Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, MI) has become a household name in reformed publishing. It was RHB, under the direction of Dr. Joel Beeke, that brought us the Works of Thomas Goodwin 12 volume reprint (2006), The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety by J. Stephen Yuille (2007), Jeremiah Burrough’s commentary on Hosea (2006), The Path of True Godliness by William Teellinck (2003), A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards (2007) and the other ‘Profiles in Reformed Spirituality.’ RHB produced the 2006 TSS book of the year, Meet the Puritans, by Beeke and Randall Peterson.

Another noteworthy achievement from this five-year span is the re-typeset and newly reissued devotionals written by Octavius Winslow — Morning Thoughts (2003) and Evening Thoughts (2005). These two volumes, first published 150 years ago, should be considered some of the best devotional literature in print today.

Octavius Winslow (1808-1878)

Winslow enjoyed a lengthy ministry as a pastor and writer. His many books all rise to peak expressions of the beauty of our Savior. Rich reformed spirituality saturates each page and few authors have risen to his levels of sustained doxological expression of thanks for the Cross, of sobering real-life reminders of living under the Cross, and helping the reader draw spiritual strength from the Cross.

Several years ago, at a time when I needed to learn how to affectionately respond to my growing theology, I was told to read The Precious Things of God (incredibly it remains out-of-print). This was my introduction to Winslow and it made a significant impact on my soul. became, from that point onward, one of my favorite books apart from Scripture. It continues to be–I think–Winslow’s greatest achievement although it’s one of the most difficult of his books to find in printed form [although it is available as online text, at Google books, the Internet Archive, and now on the Kindle].

Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts both capture this same warm spirituality of Winslow. It’s no surprise his many works are accessible online for free. Thankfully this has not prevented many of his works to be reprinted by multiple publishers like Banner of Truth and Tentmaker. Just recently RHB has edited, re-typset and reprinted The Fullness of Christ (2006) and Our God (2007). Both are classics!

Morning and Evening

A morning with Christ is the best way to begin a day with Christ. But the evening devotions – oftentimes overlooked – play an important role as well. Winslow begins the second volume by looking to the evening temple lamb sacrifice as our pattern. “The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even” (Num. 28:4 KJV).

“The devout Israelite was thus taught to close the day as he began it: with a sacrifice for sin” Winslow writes in the preface to Evening Thoughts. “Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, meets this new and depressed condition of the believer. To Him how blessed, before slumber seals the eyelid, to take all the sins, the imperfections, the wanderings of the day, and with a fresh believing view of the cross lie down peacefully and repose beneath a loving, forgiving Father’s care!”


These two devotionals were originally published in 1856 and 1858. The selections are hand-picked by Winslow from his pre-existing works. They begin with a passage (KJV) and then expound one or two principles from the text at hand. The text has been re-typeset and slightly edited to increase the readability of Winslow’s writing.

Morning Thoughts was originally published in a larger print to accommodate an elderly audience (approximately 14 pt font). The text in the second volume, Evening Thoughts, was shrunk because of space limitations (approximately 12 pt font). The sharp re-typeset editions make them easy to read in either size.

The readings are short (2+/- pages each) and I normally read them slowly, and always I read them twice.

Both volumes are similar in size and construction. Morning Thoughts is 788 pages and Evening Thoughts is 733 pages in length. Both are hardcover and feature durable Smyth-sewn binding and very clean white paper. An index to all main Scripture citations is found at the end of the second volume. There is no topical index, which would have been helpful for preachers and readers using the devotionals as a reference.


The text is only slightly edited and eliminates minor hindrances to readability. One example will highlight this. Here is the original text from the morning of January 7th:

“The Atonement itself precludes all idea of human merit, and, from its very nature, proclaims that it is free. Consider the grandeur of the Atonement- contemplate its costliness: incarnate Deity- perfect obedience- spotless purity- unparalleled grace and love- acute and mysterious sufferings- wondrous death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession of the Savior, all conspire to constitute it the most august sacrifice that could possibly be offered.”

And here is the edited RHB text:

“The atonement itself precludes all idea of human merit, and, from its very nature, proclaims that it is free. Consider the grandeur of the atonement, contemplate its costliness: incarnate Deity, perfect obedience, spotless purity, unparalleled grace and love, acute and mysterious sufferings, wondrous death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession of the Savior. All conspire to constitute it the most noble sacrifice that could possibly be offered.”

Notice the many dashes are removed for commas and “august” is replaced with a more contemporary word “noble.” On the whole, the editing is minimal but effective.


Winslow was particularly skilled at broad application to hit each reader. He would apply one theme across a wide spectrum of saints in various life situations – the joyful, the suffering, the lazy, the struggling, the young and the old. These volumes will appeal to a broad readership and will make great general gifts for Christian friends. The choice selections are easy-to-read and will suit family reading times. Even small children can easily follow the beautiful selections. And family prayer will be compelled from these powerful readings. Pastors will find here a wealth of quotable material.

It’s with great joy I recommend Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts.


Title: Morning Thoughts (1856) / Evening Thoughts (1858)
Author: Octavius Winslow (1808-1878)
Editors: Joel R. Beeke and Kate DeVries
Reading level: 1.5/5.0 > excellent editing makes them very readable
Boards: hardcover (not cloth)
Pages: 788 / 733 = 1,521
Volumes: 2
Dust jacket: no
Binding: Smyth-sewn
Paper: very white and clean
Topical index: no (would be helpful)
Scriptural index: yes (for both volumes at end of Evening Thoughts)
Text: perfect type, re-typeset
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Year: 1856 and 2003 / 1858 and 2005
Price USD: $20.00 from RHB / $20.00 from RHB
ISBNs: 1892777290 / 1892777452

QA: Family worship and unattentive children

tssqa.jpgThe TSS mailbag is filled with excellent questions from readers. One such question comes from Phil, a man striving for a consistent family worship schedule despite an unattentive little child. What to do? Dr. J. Ligon Duncan has written about family worship and so I passed the question along to him for his advice. He kindly responded with this excellent perspective:

My own answer is you start family worship as soon as possible, as soon as one is married, and continue it after children come along, no matter how young the children are (and the younger the better). The point is not for the youngest children to be able to comprehend (or even to sit still during it!). The point is impress upon them, by paternal example the priority of God and his word in all of life. They learn this, even if they comprehend nothing in the reading, praying and singing, simply by seeing a father pausing day after day to read the word with his family.

Here is what I said in Give Praise to God (P&R):

“Now there is a whole host of practical questions and problems that come to mind once we determine to begin family worship. How long should it last? It should be regularly brief, as little as 10 minutes when the children are very young. Gradually, it will run a little longer as they grow older and conversations strike up. Don’t kill it by trying to go too long. Pace yourself. Regularity and repetition is the key. When should we do family worship? When it works – morning/breakfast, suppertime or bedtime are the three most common times.

“… There are dozens of potential hindrances: a lack of discipline, a lack of sense of the importance of family worship, a lack of experience of family worship in one’s own upbringing and more.

“But above all, there is the enemy of idealism. You have this picture of a Puritan family sitting around the table attentively and reverently reading the whole book of 1 Chronicles at a sitting, singing half the Psalter from memory, and praying for ninety minutes, and then you look around your table and your wife is rolling her eyes, your two-year old is throwing left-over spaghetti around the kitchen, your eight-year old is making faces at her sister and your teenager would rather do calculus. Don’t let the gap between the ideal and the reality stop you! Those unattentive children will grow up and thank you for persevering, and the memories of a father who loved them enough to make that kind of an effort will etch a permanent affection in their hearts.”

J. Ligon Duncan
First Presbyterian Church

Excellent advice! Thank you Dr. Duncan. For more insight on family worship see Duncan’s chapter in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (P&R: 2003). Duncan lays the foundation for family worship – Scripture reading, song and prayer – and then addresses several other common hurdles to success.


Have a question to throw in the TSS mailbag? Pass it along via email (tony AT takeupandread DOT com). Thanks for reading! Tony

The importance of family worship

“Worship God in your family. – If you do not worship God in your family, you are living in positive sin; you may be quite sure you do not care for the souls of your family. If you neglect to spread a meal for your children to eat, would it not be said that you did not care for their bodies? And if you do not lead your children and servants to the green pastures of God’s Word, and to seek the living water, how plain is it that you do not care for their souls! Do it regularly, morning and evening. It is more needful than your daily food, more needful than your work. How vain and silly all your excuses will appear, when you look back from Hell! Do it fully. Some clip off the psalm, and some the reading of the Word; and so the worship of God is reduced to a mockery. Do it in a spiritual, lively manner, go to it as to a well of salvation.”

– Robert Murray M’Cheyne