It is a strange notion in our world today to consider the majority of the homes across our land and in our great state of Tennessee starting each day with family prayer time or family devotions. Indeed growing up in a small town church in central Arkansas no one ever mentioned the notion at all. I never read one article on it, never heard one sermon on the topic, and certainly never saw it in practice.
In recent years, as we have begun to implement family devotion time in our house, we have discovered it was not as foreign to previous generations as it has been to this one. As I completed “Carry a Big Stick” earlier in the week, I came across a quote by President Roosevelt that is out of place today in our modern world. Yet at the same time, it served as a source of great encouragement to a father who is trying to train up his children.
Morning prayers were with my father. We use to stand at the bottom of the stairs, and when father came down we called out, “I speak for you and the cubby-hole too!” There were three of us young children, and we use to sit with father on the sofa while he conducted morning prayers. The place between father and the arm of the sofa we called the “cubby-hole”. The child who got that place we regarded as specially favored both in comfort and somehow in rank and title” pg 170
This is Teddy Roosevelt talking about his father. It is certainly not out of place for children to want to be near to their father. That hasn’t changed since creation. The thing that is encouraging, although lost in today’s culture, is simply that the families then had something called “morning prayers” and they partook of this ritual as a family!
It is interesting that at the same time this was occurring in New York city, there was another father I read of last year leading his family in regular devotion as well. Far across the sea in Scotland a contemporary of President Roosevelt was knelling at the family alter with his father. In his autobiography, Missionary to the New Hebrides, John G. Paton goes into great detail about what his father’s practice was and how it impacted his life.
Speaking of his father James Paton: “…there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had here-tofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathizing mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practiced probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a potion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening prayer, –falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family alter, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there and blessed to others, as well as ourselves, was the light of such an example! pg 20-21
Continuing Mr. Paton tells about how family devotion can directly impact a community, aside from the obvious effect it will have on the household members.
“I have heard that, in long years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of hell, and at last led me to the only Savoir.” pg 21
It is an interesting aside to know that the island of cannibals that Mr. Paton gave his life to, is today according to the CIA statistics still overwhelmingly Christian. (scroll down the page to “Religion”.) As amazing, is the fact that 120 years later it is still very much Presbyterian. Over 31% of the population has maintain the denomination of the man who evangelized the island. Read more from his book and how his father’s life influence him here.
The point we need to draw from these men as we examine the impact they had on the world around them was the fact that they were raised by a father who was faithful to discharge his duties before God. It is easy to talk about a vision for Tennessee where we focus on reforming impersonal entities such as the government, healthcare, and education. However, it is entirely different when we begin to understand it starts with us and our families.
A father can change the world by fulfilling his Biblical obligations and disciplining his children in Christ.
Family Worship – J.H. Merle D’Aubigne
Family Religion – John L. Girardeau