Making the Most of the Mealtime Prayer

In our home, spiritual formation and instruction happens “along the way.” We have a three-and-a-half year old and a 20-month old. Our oldest is not quite old enough for a formal “family worship” time. Yet she is old enough to comprehend some spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer. Our youngest even sometimes has the awareness to stop what she is doing to pray with us. In our home, we pray all the time. We pray spontaneously for needs that arise in our family or in others. We pray on our way to worship with God’s people. We pray at bedtime. We pray when there are meltdowns. But one of the most advantageous times to form and instruct our children in prayer is, of course, at meals.

Most mealtime prayers for Christians, I would guess, are simply rote prayers, offering up our “duty” to God. We say the same thing over and over because we are either really hungry or, if we are honest, we don’t really know what to say when people are around–especially squirmy, chatty children.

Parents (especially dads), I want you to rethink your mealtime prayers. Dads, I especially want to challenge you here: this is prime opportunity to lead quietly, humbly, and simply in the mundane moments–before a meal. Mealtime prayers can lead our family to feast on the goodness and beauty of the Triune God, not the food on the table. These prayers do not have to be long. In fact, your kids (and maybe your spouse) will probably resent you if they are. A short prayer can be just as formative and powerful as a long one. (Let’s not forget: the Lord’s prayer is pretty short!)

So, let me suggest a few simple mealtime prayers to say with your family:

Father in heaven, thank you for another day of your mercy. You did not have to sustain us until now, but you have and any more moments we have together will be because of your sovereign grace. We praise you for your providence in giving us food to eat. Help us glorify you in our eating and drinking by remembering this food comes from you. Remind us as good as this food is, your Son is our true soul food. Only he can satisfy us and make us whole. No amount of meat, bread, milk, or even ice cream can do that. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Father, you are glorious and good. This food reminds us that we are dependent on you, but you are dependent on no one. We must eat and drink to have energy, but your energy is self-contained and you never get tired. May we never forget our need for your constant help, whether we feel tired or not. We live ultimately not on food alone, but on every word that comes from your mouth. We are thankful for Jesus, your ultimate Word, who died and rose from the dead to redeem us so that we might live through him. In his name I pray. Amen. 

Father, there is no one like you. Before we eat this great meal, we want to recognize that you have created every flavor, designed each smell, and assigned certain textures for this food and drink. Help us enjoy our meal and remember that you have kindly given it to us because you are good. Most importantly, would we remember that your Son Jesus became a part of creation and took on texture, flesh and blood, so that he might do for us what we could not do for ourselves. May we feast on him today. In his name, I pray. Amen.

It’s not important to use these exact words. But for the joy and progress of your family, we parents need to exalt Jesus and his good news, and do it often–even before feasting on macaroni and cheese.


Quiet Time Confessions of a Pastor-Dad

photoWhat you see to the left is a picture of my nine month old daughter Hope and me from an early morning a couple weeks ago. This is characteristic of my morning “quiet time” (what I refer to as “personal worship”–I’ll use the terms interchangeably here). More often than not, early in the morning, I settle down with a Bible, a notebook, and a squirmy, noisy, giggly, grunty baby girl on my lap.

I’m a pastor, but I’m mainly a dad, so that means my personal worship times look less like the shekhinah glory and more like grabbing fingers, laughs and cries and babbles, diaper changes and bottle feedings all interwoven with reading, meditations, confessions, laments, praises, thanksgivings, and supplications.

Children are a blessing from the Lord…unless they are present during my quiet time! Has that thought ever entered into your mind? If you are a parent (especially a mom!) of young children, then you know the difficulties of trying to balance everything being a parent brings and trying to carve out time in your busy schedule for personal worship. It’s not only difficult, it can be overwhelming and even a source of bitterness and anger.

So think about the last time something like this has happened to you. Now take a step back. When Hope (or Bailey, our two-and-a-half year-old) “messes up” my quiet time, and I get angry or frustrated or just annoyed, I’m making a personal worship event about me rather than about Jesus. I’m slipping into performance-mode. At that moment, I forget that personal worship times are vehicles to cultivate repentance and faith in my life. Nothing more. Nothing less. Reading Scripture and praying and journaling and singing, etc. are means of grace that God uses in his kindness to make me look more like Jesus. So what being angry, frustrated, or annoyed reveals is that I’m really basing my standing with God and my progress in the faith on how my quiet times go. Quickly, I’m on the road to believing a different gospel (see Galatians 1).

So when a crying or laughing or giggling or snorting baby “interrupts” me during a time of worship, it’s imperative that I remind myself that my righteousness is in Jesus, not this worship event; my sanctification is in Jesus, not how holy I feel during this time; my hope is in Jesus; not how well this ends up.

This is good news—gospel—for my quiet times. It eliminates pride: if things go well, I remember that God is not more inclined to me than before because my good works merit me nothing. It eliminates fear: if things go badly (or get stopped altogether!), I rest knowing that if God gave his Son for me while I was an enemy, there’s infinite grace for this particular moment.

Now with this good news, I’m liberated. My personal time of worship doesn’t define me or shape my identity. Rather, its one tool, one instrument, one means to the end of knowing, worshiping, loving, and obeying Jesus.

I’m liberated to use this time, as a tool, to love and disciple my kids, rather than twist this time into a pseudo-savior and grow annoyed that they keep me from “going deep” with this idol. I can take advantage of this moment to model to our daughters what it is to believe the gospel and repent of my self-righteousness. Even though they are young, I can discuss with them what I’m reading. It’s never to early to teach them how to read and meditate on the Scriptures and pray and sing. I trust that over time God will use this to woo them to himself.

“But,” you ask, “what about my quiet times?!” Press on. If you have a literal “quiet” time, great. Take advantage. But for the other 95% of the time, engage with God and worship him in the mess of life. Kids are messy. Parenting is messy. Life is messy. Why should your quiet time be any different?

Life Ministry

Talking to Your Kids about the Sacraments

Parents, you have probably wondered where you begin when it comes to talking to your kids about sex and drugs and choosing friends and why nothing good happens in Taco Bell’s parking lot after 11pm. I know I have. But have you ever wondered how to talk to them about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

In this post, I want to think through how we can talk to our kids about the sacraments. It’s one thing to explain them as something Jesus told us to do. It’s another to talk about them in a holistic, gospel-centered way so that they are seen as much more than mere memorials. If we can do this well, by God’s grace, they will become what God intended them to be for us and our kids: means of grace that cultivate vibrant, spiritual life.

Let me suggest three emphases to tether ourselves to as we think about and discuss the sacraments with our kids (or anyone for that matter!). There are certainly other things the sacraments emphasize, but these three are most critical in my mind.

  1. Gospel on Display. When the sacraments are rightly taught, administered, and received, we are dramatizing the gospel. Baptism points to Jesus passing through the waters of death, only to rise again to new life. It is God’s confirmation that we have risen from spiritual death and one day will rise bodily from the grave. The Lord’s supper points to Jesus’ being given up for us and our participation in his life and death and with his people all over the world. Furthermore, in an age that is increasingly visual, our kids may often ask, “Why can’t God give us something to see to prove himself, to prove his love?” The truth is, he has: he has given us water, bread, and wine–three very physical, tangible, visual elements to demonstrate the gospel to us.
  2. Body and Soul. Because God has given us physical means (water, bread, and wine) to understand spiritual realities, the sacraments teach us that God cares about all of us, body and soul. It reminds us that we will forever be embodied souls.  Baptism and the Supper both give physical form to our faith. Since we are embodied souls, we need a way to sacramentalize our faith (i.e. use physical means to point to spiritual reality). The sacraments teach us that God loves our bodies and values materiality–after all, he made everything material! We don’t worship our bodies as god; we don’t reject them as gross; but we rejoice that our bodies are to be stewarded as a gift because of Christ who gave up his own body that our soul and body might be redeemed.
  3. A New Family. The sacraments are for God’s new covenant people: his sons and daughters who were redeemed by the blood of his Son. When we are baptized, we are initiated into a new family, God’s family. We now have new allegiance. Our first allegiance is no longer to our parents, children, aunts, uncles, or even a spouse. It is to God and his people, the Church. Baptism is therefore for those who are united to Christ and have God as their Father. The Lord’s Table is a family meal and outsiders are not welcomed. This is a visible sign to the world that there are insiders and outsiders. It is a visible sign to our children that only belief in Jesus opens up the door for us to come to this meal. In light of these things, we must model for our children priorities that are in accord with the gospel and our sacramental faith. Where and how are we spending our time, money, energy, words, etc.? If we really are members of a new family, it will show in our lives.

What other things do the sacraments emphasize?

Life Theology

Roe v. Wade and the Ultrasound of Our Second Baby

January 22 was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As Joe Carter at TGC writes, “To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Center for Reproductive Rights released a creepy video in which actor Mehcad Brooks attempts to humorously sexualize and anthromorphize the abortion-on-demand law.”

January 22 was also the day that my wife and I went to see an ultrasound of our second child. (I’m proud to say that our baby is a girl—our second.) It was surreal to think we are celebrating the life of a little girl, one we get to see through the common grace of modern technology, on the same day others are celebrating the slaughter of millions of little girls and little boys.

Today, our daughter is just over nineteen weeks old. Did you know that according to the latest statistics, 1.8% of abortions kill babies that are between 18-19 weeks? That is almost 22,000 people.

That’s 22,000 people who have their heart beating about 155 beats per minute.

That’s 22,000 people who have a 3 cm-long femur.

That’s 22,000 people who have two fully-functioning kidneys.

That’s 22,000 people who start to grow hair.

That’s 22,000 people who can taste, see, smell, and touch.

That’s 22,000 people who can hear their mommy talk and sing.

That’s 22,000 people who have the ability to suck their thumb, cross their legs, and push back when the ultrasound tech presses in.

Of course, there are nearly 1.21 million total babies each year—3,700 each day—in the United States who are killed. The majority (nearly 90% of babies), however, never get the privilege to develop this far. This right is stolen from them. If we remember anything from our childhood days, it should not be so, for “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

In light of that, consider these four simple arguments from Scott Klusendorf that prove true Dr. Seuss’s wisdom. You can remember these arguments with the acronym S.L.E.D.

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

When the day is done, abortion is killing babies. Not tissue or cells. Babies. They will not turn out to be anything else. They will not be birthed as trucks or frogs or trees or laptops or dogs. They are human. Babies.

This is terribly bad news. But there is good news. Don’t you long for some good news? The good news of the gospel is that God saves sinners. Everyone is a sinner—including those who have had abortions, supported abortions, and made creepy abortion videos. Also hear me say, this includes Christians who have been unmerciful and even nasty toward those who have aborted babies. This also includes me, the Christian blog writer, who needs Jesus more than you can imagine! The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived the kind of life we should have lived, in perfect obedience to God, died on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins, and rose from the grave as proof that God accepted his payment. This is for everyone. All who come to Jesus receive hope, forgiveness, healing, and new life. All who cry out for mercy and grace will be heard.

They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and played the whore in their deeds.

Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes
and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive.

Save us, O Lord our God!

(Psalm 106:37-47)


Family Meals and Family Worship