My daughter, Laurelen, graduated from a small, classical Christian high school. The school enjoys a commencement tradition in which the parents hand the diploma to their child, but only after speaking a few words of encouragement (usually accompanied with some nostalgia) to him or her. The graduate responds with some brief, prepared remarks of his or her own.
From her response to us, here’s the section Laurelen specifically addressed to me:
Dad, I can’t think of learning to read, reading, or books without thinking about you. I remember how encouraging you were when I first learned to read. I would finish those little books, so proud of myself, and you would encourage me to start another one right away. I remember you reading to me when I was little and telling me how exciting it would be when I learned to read and could read to you. For as long as I can remember, you’ve been bringing home books from used bookstores for me to read and enjoy. By the time we moved from Kansas City, I had 4 or 5 bookcases full of books that you had lovingly brought home for me.
Reading has always been such an important part of us as a family. Dad, the way you have so consistently led us in family worship every single night of the week for every night of my life [Note: her memory certainly failed her here] is so meaningful and inspirational to me. I’m going to cherish those moments together for as long as I live. You have been a wonderful, loving, spiritual leader for my entire life. Not only our time reading the Bible or Christian books together, but also our time reading classic books will be something I’ll remember forever. Thank you so much, Dad, for making that such a huge part of our time as a family.
As meaningful to me as they obviously were, Laurelen never finished reading these two precious paragraphs (which, with her permission, I copied from her manuscript). When she started talking about how much family worship had meant to her, Laurelen began to cry. And when I say cry, I mean I cannot remember her weeping that hard since she was a preschooler. She came and sobbed on my shoulder, and the photo of that moment is my all-time favorite of the two of us together.
“Are you listening?”
Now before you imagine something that isn’t true, I want you to know that I cannot recall once in the thousands of nights before Laurelen wrote these words when we concluded family worship and I had some atmospheric sense of the presence of God. Not one time did we finish family worship where I would have said afterward, “The Lord evidently moved in great power among us tonight.”
“Many times after family worship, I wondered if anything good had been accomplished.”
On the contrary, most nights our family gathering was more like, “Will y’all pay attention; I’m reading the Bible here. . . . Please put down your phone. . . . Are you listening?”
Many times after family worship, I wondered if anything good had been accomplished. Almost nightly I had to remind myself to trust in the Lord to do his work through his Word, and not in my perceptions or feelings about what had or had not occurred.
Often came the nights when I perceived no enthusiasm to gather for family worship, and frankly, many times I had very little myself. In many such cases I knew we needed to proceed with at least a brief time of family worship out of sheer discipline and a resolve that refused to cave in to plausible excuses of everyone’s fatigue or busyness. Sometimes I sensed that to mandate family worship on that occasion would be received as harsh and legalistic, so we settled for simply singing the “Doxology” or offering a brief prayer. And I second-guessed myself just about every time I had to make such a call.
Be faithful, take the long view
Strive for faithfulness in family worship, not immediate results. I fully understand that what you may see night-after-night, week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year in family worship may be uneventful. Just realize that the effects are rarely immediate; usually they’re cumulative.
“Strive for faithfulness in family worship, not immediate results.”
Oaks aren’t grown by the effects of an occasional spectacular day of weather, but by long-term, consistent exposure to the elements that encourage their growth. The same patient persistence is true for growing “oaks of righteousness” (Isa. 61:3).
Give your family years of faithful—if unspectacular—leadership in family worship, and you’ll agree it’s worth it all when someday, perhaps far from now, unexpectedly, you get a response like this.
Donald S. Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. A longtime pastor and author of numerous books on the Christian life, he is also founder of The Center for Biblical Spirituality and is author of numerous books including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Praying the Bible. This article was originally published on the Crossway blog.