Feeding our families is one of the basic, yet essential, things we do each day. We know that if we neglect this most simple of parenting tasks it won’t be long before one (or all) of the family starts to complain that they’re hungry. Left for long periods without food, the inevitable will happen – hunger, malaise, and eventually… death.
That’s why meal times are an essential, non-negotiable part of our lives. And yet, it seems as though Jesus would have us see that there is something more essential in life than food. In Matthew 6:31-33 he says:
“…do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)
How much time & energy we expend thinking about our meals! But Jesus effectively says, “Dont worry about these things, instead put the kingdom of God first, knowing that God will provide for our physical needs.” After all, as Christians we know that the food we provide for our children isn’t really food we provide at all – it is all the generous gift of our loving heavenly Father (that’s why Jesus taught us to pray, ‘give us today our daily bread’ as part of the Lord’s prayer)!
All this got me thinking recently about the opportunities that meal times could provide for our family to be setting our sights on the kingdom of God. Why not use the time we inevitably gather together for essential physical sustenance as a moment for spiritual nourishment as well? But, how do you get started with something like that? How do you have fruitful time for a 2 year old and 2 grown ups approaching the big 3-0? (And something that will be helpful as children grow older?)
Well, we recently stumbled across a book that we’ve found really helpful to get us up and running: ‘Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters’ by Nancy Guthrie. Each day it gives you 2 or 3 bible verses to read together, a short devotional reflecting on those verses and 3 discussion questions to help you talk it through as a family. Although a lot of it is too tricky for Emily (our 2 year old) to understand at the moment, she loves it and is now asking for the book at tea time, and often says, “Say my name, Daddy,” because she’s excited to be the next to be asked a question! That’s a joy to see, and I can only imagine she’ll get more from the devotions and discussions as she grows.
It’s not just good for children, though. As we’ve been reading this together most days, my wife, Jennie, and I have both been encouraged to set our hope more fully on Jesus; challenged to examine the motivations of our hearts and bring them more fully in line with the gospel; and found our marriage spiritually revitalised. As we let God, through his word, shape our mealtime conversations, it reminds us and encourages us that the Lord God is at the centre of our family’s life and we desperately need his agenda to be the one that shapes us as we seek to live for him together.
So, if you’ve never thought about starting a family devotion, why not take the plunge and prioritise the essential spiritual nourishment of your family as you gather to eat the food that our gracious heavenly Father has so kindly given you? It’s not as hard, burdensome or weird as I thought it might by and, as Psalm 1 reminds us, it is only as we meditate on God’s word that we will be nourished for a lifetime of serving him.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
Psalms 1:1-3 (ESV)