You can be an outlier, too

February 1, 2011

In his book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell writes that a common denominator in those who excel in their discipline is that they have spent more than 10,000 hours practicing it. I thought about that with regard to families who spend time reading the Bible and praying together. There is no way I could calculate the value of more than 20 years of family devotions in our home. We normally have them every weekday morning. More than 5,000 times we have gathered as a family early in the morning to read the Bible and pray. Add to that the amount of time we spend in the Bible individually and in the Word at church or home groups, and that easily doubles the total. How do you put a price on that? How can I measure what effect that has had on my children’s faith, their knowledge of God and his Word, their desire to pray and expect God to answer, their ability to answer the skeptic with a clear word?
I believe about family devotions the same way I believe about preaching: It needs to be, as Isaiah said, “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” Family devotions should be simple, and there are lots of ways to do it right, and plenty of resources. Most of the time, we have just read through a book of the Bible a little at a time, talked about what we read, spent time in prayer. For example, today is January 29, so we might read Proverbs 29 together. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, one for each day of the month. We take turns reading around the circle and then I ask each of my sons and daughters, “What stood out to you? What did you get from that?” One of my children might say, “Dad, I like verse 11: ‘A fool vents his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.’” We will talk about that for a minute and make application. Or one might ask, “What does it mean when it says, ‘Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint?’” I will try to give an answer if I know, or I will say, “I don’t know, but let’s study it and find out.” After we read and discuss the Bible, we will share prayer requests and go around the circle and pray. Let me say to you Moms out there: If Dad is not available, you can certainly lead the children in devotions.
There is a story (legend?) of a boy who grew up on the farm a long time ago. One day he decided to pick up the brand new bull calf. Over his head. The next day, he did it again, and every day after. As he grew stronger, the bull calf grew bigger. Until one day the man could lift a full-grown bull. He had grown up with it. That story teaches me two things. First, children will grow stronger each day as they study the Bible. Second, so will Dads who take the challenge to lead the family in devotions. Some fathers are frustrated, even envious as they see other men who are more mature in the Word. What they don’t see are the hours and years of time in the Bible that has gotten those men where they are now. There’s no shortcut to learning the Bible. The best way to learn is little by little, teaching it and living it in front of your family.
You can be an outlier in something that has eternal value.