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Had I known that asking one question every night would change our lives so completely, I’d have started doing it years ago. It’s not just any question, though. It’s a very special one.
This one question has changed attitudes, hearts, and relationships over the years because it has shaped who we are as a family unit and as individuals. We almost always ask it at the dinner table, but if we forget for some reason, one of the kids will always pipe up and get it going.
Why? Because they notice how important it is, too. In fact, for us, it was one of the starting points of intentional family discipleship.
The Model We Follow For Intentional Family Discipleship
One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is found in Acts 2, as Luke describes the beautiful beginnings of the Early Church. In Acts 2:42-47, it’s all laid out. I call this the “magic formula” of family discipleship.
As parents, my husband and I shepherd our own little flock of believers and it just seems logical that we should focus on these same areas of growth with our own children.
There’s no arguing that family discipleship is crucial. But where do you start? Honestly, it’s taken me more than a dozen years as a mom to feel like I am actually starting to “get” it.
As we’ve been studying it, we’ve broken it down into the four areas of growth Luke identifies in the aforementioned passage: (1) teaching, (2) fellowship, (3) breaking of bread together and (4) prayer.
Gather Around the Table
Let’s start with the fact that the Early Church broke bread together. Why start there? Well, in a family, this is hopefully already happening (and if it’s not, it’s an easy place to start). We eat at least three meals each day (sometimes more…I have teens, after all!).
The Early Church knew the importance of breaking bread together. They would sit around their tables with “glad and sincere hearts.” Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? I know it does to me.
But the next part is just as lovely: they did it with awe in their hearts and praise to God. This really stuck out to me when I read Acts 2 and is something I felt the Holy Spirit impress upon me to make happen in our home. But how?
That became the question to answer.
How do we as parents help make the family table a gathering place of glad and sincere hearts that meet with awe and gratitude?
Maybe it’s just at our house, but the family table is much more apt to be filled with cries of indignation over someone looking at someone else, spilled drinks, the airing of grievances, and siblings picking on one another.
What sounds lovely in the abstract seems impossible in reality.
The One Question To Ask Every Night
One evening was worse than the others and I could feel the frustration mounting inside of me. In a moment of sheer desperation, amidst nudging and pouting and chaos, I spit out: “So, what are you thankful for today?”
The table got really quiet and everyone just looked at me. Like I had five heads or something. They were not expecting a probing question so much as a frustrated request for calming down.
“I don’t know,” shrugged one teenager. “Ummmm…” stammered another sibling.
“I know! That we’re all eating dinner together!” shouted an exuberant little one.
Honestly, I was surprised, because that is one thing I wasn’t feeling particularly gratuitous about at that moment in time. But I was glad his little heart was happy about it.
“Okay, who’s next?” I prompted.
After a moment I realized we’d have to go around the table and give each person a turn if I wanted total participation. That first night, it took some pushing, prodding, and waiting in awkward dead silence to get answers. But eventually, it happened.
So the next night, I asked the same question. And the next. That’s now the one question we ask every night. If we miss asking it at the dinner table, we do it before bed.
I’ve found this one question has done more to alter the tenor of our home than nearly any other effort.
Gratitude changes hearts; theirs and mine. Instead of focusing on problems and offenses, we focus on blessings and where they come from. You can’t go wrong with praise and thanksgiving.
People Feel Loved at the Table
When you utilize the gift of hospitality, you extend the love of Jesus to people. That’s true whether the people are those who live in your home or relative strangers.
Taking the time to create a lovely place and serve up a nourishing meal shows those at the table that you care about them. It can be super simple or very elaborate; it’s the heart that counts.
However, even the author of Proverbs recognizes that it’s not about the feast at the table, as much as it is the peace and love that pervades the home (Proverbs 17:1). We’ve had amazing dinners of hot dogs and baked beans
We’ve had amazing dinners of hot dogs and baked beans or $5 take-out pizzas, just as we’ve had wonderful times surrounding steak and baked potatoes.
As a mom, I want to remember to pour out the same intentional effort to bless my children as I do the acquaintances that we invite to share our table.
Have you ever spent hours (or even days) getting ready for a meal with extended family or friends? I personally love cooking, setting a lovely table, and making it an occasion when we have company coming. But one day, God put it on my heart to do it for my family…just because.
It was time for me to show them that they were priorities to me and not afterthoughts. Now, I try to make at least one meal a week super special simply to show them how much they matter.
And over that meal, we try to focus on conversation that uplifts, encourages, and makes us think about the many blessings God has given us.
With Glad & Sincere Hearts
Why do you think Luke didn’t just stop at mentioning that the believers in the Early Church ate together? Why did he take the whole thing one step further to specify that it happened with glad and sincere hearts?
I’ve spent a long time pondering that. The author of Proverbs also knew this truth, so I believe it’s one we all need to really understand and implement.
I think it’s because, as with the rest of Scripture, God is truly concerned with our hearts more than our actions. If they gathered and ate together in disunity, the Church would have stagnated.
If they griped over their bread about their neighbors or shared the local gossip, no one would have felt drawn to that community.
The believers wouldn’t have grown in closeness, and those who didn’t believe wouldn’t have found them irresistible. That same thing can happen in the family.
Instead, we know that their hearts were knit together, their lives bore the fruits of the spirit, and the Church evidenced many miracles that drew the attention of the lost.
And it all started with the four corners of the discipleship model set by the Early Church: teaching, fellowship, the ‘family’ table, and prayer.
Don’t you want that in your family? I know I do. And more than that, I want our family to be a vessel God uses to reach our neighbors. And it all starts at the table with the one questions to ask every night: What are you thankful for?