FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Diving Into Family Devotions

with Tim Shoemaker | December 9, 2019
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Does the idea of family devotions seem boring to you? Author Tim Shoemaker wants you to know that while family devotions may take a little effort on your part, they definitely don't have to be boring! Shoemaker has been volunteering as a youth leader for 25 years, and he's learned a thing or two about capturing the attention of kids. Today, Tim is excited to share ideas and object lessons--like his coin trick, toilet paper race, and lit pickle trick--that will teach your kids about God and His principles.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Tim Shoemaker wants you to know that while family devotions may take a little effort on your part, they definitely don’t have to be boring! Tim shares object lessons that will teach your kids about God.

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Diving Into Family Devotions

With Tim Shoemaker
December 09, 2019
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Tim Shoemaker remembers a breakthrough that happened as he was attempting, as a dad, to lead his children spiritually.

Tim: One time I tried this little coin trick that I knew. It was a little object lesson kind of thing—tied in a little nugget of truth at the end. I have three sons—they were engaged; they liked that. A week later, I did another one that I knew, and they were engaged. Then I started doing these little object lessons—just something to tie in a nugget of spiritual truth. In time, they were starting to ask me, “Dad, when are we going to do family devotions?” I'm like, “Oh, my goodness; something has changed.”

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 9th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to hear today about the power of creative object lessons to teach spiritual truth to your kids. If you think, “I'm not creative,” that's okay; we're going to have a bunch of ideas for you. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. If we went back and you scored yourself on how you did with family devotions in the Wilson household, when the kids were growing up—so a letter grade—we’ll go letter grade today. What letter grade are you giving each other for the family devotions?

Ann: Oh, each other?

Bob: Or just together, as a couple.

Dave: I give Ann an A-plus. [Laughter]

Bob: That was the right answer.

Dave: She was amazing.

Bob: Really?

Dave: No, I'm not kidding. She was creative, energetic—she understood boys. You know, we had three sons—

Bob: Right.

Dave: —so they were crazy and running around.

Bob: Was this something you did regularly? Were you, daily, doing family devotions?

Ann: No; and I wasn't real consistent, which I felt guilty about.

Dave: I was going to say the opposite—yes, she was consistent; and she was very creative. It was daily. I mean, she—

Ann: I would have a Bible principle daily—that is true.

Bob: Really? Okay.

Dave: She was teaching spiritual principles, along the road, as you go—

Deuteronomy 6—laying down to bed/eating the meal. I give her an “A”-plus. I give me an “F”—[Laughter]—maybe a “D”-minus. [Laughter]

Ann: No, no; you do not deserve that. That is not true.

Bob: What grade does he deserve?

Dave: You better say “A”-plus. [Laughter]

Ann: “A”-plus! I give him an “A”-plus.

Dave: No, I was not an “A”-plus.

Ann: I wasn't an “A”-plus, either.

Bob: I think all of us look back and go, “I wish we had done better.”

Ann: Yes; exactly!

Bob: Right, we never feel like we really nailed it.

Ann: What were you, Bob? I want to hear it.

Bob: Oh, I was—


Dave: Let's call Mary Ann and ask her.

Bob: She'd say it was not making the honor roll at school—how's that?—right? [Laughter] It was down in the “B”-minus/maybe the “D”-plus—somewhere in that range.

Ann: And honestly, because it's hard—it's hard to keep kids engaged; it's hard to keep their interest; it's hard for them not to get bored—and then, you give up.

Dave: You know, here's the evaluation of how we did: when our youngest was in college, I think we asked him, when he was a sophomore, “Hey, who are the 12 disciples?”

Ann: No, no; this is 13 years old.

Dave: Thirteen; yes. He said Moses was one of the 12 disciples. [Laughter]  I go, “We did a really good job there.” [Laughter]

Bob: We've got Tim Shoemaker joining us on FamilyLife Today. Tim, welcome.

Tim: Hey; I'm happy to be here. Thanks, Bob.

Bob: Tim is an author; he is a speaker. You've been volunteering at your church to do youth stuff for how long?

Tim: Oh, boy; over 25 years, for sure.

Bob: And you're still doing it?

Tim: Yes; in fact, during the school year, my wife and I have the high school seniors' small group. We meet with them once a week, and she makes dinner.

Bob: Your kids are out of school—they're grown; they're married.

Tim: Yes.

Bob: But you're still hanging out with high school kids.


Tim: Yes.

Bob: Have you seen a doctor about that? [Laughter] No; this is a passion for you.

Tim: It is.


Ann: Tim, based on your book, I would want you to be my leader and my kids' leader.

Bob: The book you're talking about is a book called The Very Best, Hands-On, Kinda Dangerous Family Devotions: 52 Activities Your Kids Will Never Forget. This comes after—you've written a whole series of books: Smashed Tomatoes, Bottle Rockets: …and Other Outdoor Devotionals You Can Do with Your Kids.

Dave: Where were you 25 years ago?

Bob: I thought the exact same thing. Don't you all wish we'd had the Tim Shoemaker voice in our ears?

Ann: Yes.

Bob: I want us all to listen to something to start off this conversation on family devotions that will cause all of us to go, “Okay, we're not alone in terms of trying and feeling like we're failing sometimes.” When we were putting together the Art of Parenting video series, one of the things we wanted to talk about was family devotions. You're going to hear a lot of voices. If you could see the video—in fact, you can see the video—it's online at if you want to watch this.

You're going to hear a whole bunch of voices, all of them talking about family devotions and what it looked like in their home. Let's just listen to what's from the Art of Parenting on family devotions.

[Art of Parenting Excerpts]

Alistair Begg: I don't want to say we were sporadic; we were sporadically consistent; you know. Our kids understood, and we did our best; and it has been patchy along the way. I'd like to have that time all over again. I read some of the books; I go: “Goodness gracious. I was horrible at this.”

Dave Wilson: Ann always had this idea that I often heard about in the early years, when they were toddlers, that we would have a family altar. Once a week, we'd all come together; and I would lead us in teaching Scripture, and prayer, and the whole deal.

Ann Wilson: Oh, the image in my head was the best. It was just this beautiful time: “Oh, dad. Tell us more,”—that was my image.

Dave Wilson: And the kids would sit there and fold their hands and listen—that was your vision.

Actually, we tried that a few times; and they were running around the house, and screaming, and yelling. I ended up throwing the Bible at them. It was like, “Okay, that's not going to work.” Some families can do that and some do it and it works; it didn't work for our family.

Ron Deal: We had devotionals with our kids when they were younger; but then they got older, and we had to change how we went about that. They became young adults and they moved out of the house. Now, I send a text—it's a group family text—and sometimes, we get to have a conversation around that text; and sometimes we don't. I'm just trying to keep the Lord in front of them.

Kevin DeYoung: We are like most families in that we struggle. It's hard work to have this family worship or this devotional time at the table, because our kids are running all over the place. I don't mean that figuratively; I mean it literally—they're running all over the place—on things/around things. It's very easy for me to think of family worship times that have been less than ideal. I'm not sure I have any that have been ideal.

It is worth it; it is worth it. I think of my parents just methodically reading a passage of Scripture with us—nothing fancy at all—but the impact, over years of the Bible and prayer with Mom and Dad, is immeasurable.


Bob: Well, again, that's from the Art of Parenting. Hearing you guys reflect on what those moments were like—and you throwing the Bible at your kids—

Ann: I want to set it straight: he did not throw a Bible. [Laughter]


Dave: I did not throw a Bible—I might have wanted to throw a Bible, but I didn't. We figured it out a different way. But we need Tim Shoemaker—that's what we need.

Bob: I'm just wondering—you've written books giving us creative ideas of what we can do in family devotions. Did this just come naturally to you?

Tim: Oh, not at all. I was stop-and-start with family devotions, as a dad; I wrestled with it. I grew up in a family, where my dad led family devotions five nights a week.

Bob: Wow.

Dave: Really?

Tim: Yes, he read just a little devotional, like Our Daily Bread. I grew up with that, and I knew it was my responsibility to do it. But when you see those kids bored, or you see them messing around, not listening—that's so intimidating to a man—and you'd rather do just about anything.

I'd find a book; I thought, “This has promise; let's try this”; and that didn't work. After a while, I had probably half a bookshelf of books that I started and stopped in my journey.

Bob: I'm just laughing here because I was the exact same way: “If you do this and the kids seem bored—and when it's over it's like, “Can we go now?”—and you're just like, “Who wants to do that tomorrow night?”

Ann: And then you don't want to get angry as you're doing it: “You guys are going to listen to God's Word!” [Laughter] And then you feel guilty.

Tim: That’s right.

Bob: The momentum in those situations is: “Just quit, because nobody likes this; and you just need to quit doing this.” But you didn't quit.

Tim: No; thank the Lord.

One time I tried this little coin trick that I knew. It was just a little object lesson type of thing—tied in a little nugget of truth at the end.

Bob: What coin trick? What did you do?

Tim: I don't remember what it was; it was just some little coin trick; you know.

Bob: You spun it, or you hid it, or something?

Tim: You make it disappear; you do something like that. I have three sons, so they were engaged; they liked that. A week later, I did another one that I knew; and they were engaged. Then I started doing these little object lessons—just something to tie in a nugget of spiritual truth; and they’re engaged. In time, they were starting to ask me, “Dad, when are we going to do family devotions?” And I'm like, “Oh, my goodness;—

Dave: There it is.

Tim: —“something has changed.” I was naïve enough to think I was inventing something; it was a whole new way of doing it.

In time, I started writing these things down. I thought: “I don't want my sons to struggle like I did. Maybe someday they can use these.” As it turned out, a publisher picked those up. That started a whole different journey that I had not foreseen or planned, but it was God's plan.

Dave: So you go from a coin trick to chapter number one. This one is “The Leaf Blower.” [Laughter]

Tim: Right.

Dave: I mean, these things grew a little bit. I've got to be honest—as I read through some of your devotionals, which were very creative—I thought, “I would love to do this as a sermon at my church.”

Ann: He did say that last night.


Dave: I said that. I would bring a leaf blower in; I would get the toilet paper roll. And you need to tell us what this means. I thought, “These are visuals.” And my wife's the queen of visuals. Not only will kids get it, but adults will get it as well. They teach truth in a very creative way.

Bob: There's something about bringing an object lesson or a visual to bear with kids/with adults—it doesn't matter. You seem to sense that, intuitively, with your kids—that, if you had an object that they could connect with, they were paying closer attention.

Tim: Yes; they definitely did; they were engaged.

What you do is—as you give this little object lesson—or maybe it's a little activity/something that's very hands-on, that's engaging—

Ann: —and a little bit dangerous; [Laughter] right?

Tim: Even better——they're leaning forward. If you pull out safety glasses [Laughter],  they're already there. When you do that, they're totally absorbed in it; and then you transition to a nugget of spiritual truth. The two become etched in their mind.

Bob: So, what's the leaf blower illustration Dave was talking about?


Tim: I start with a toilet paper race. I'll get a couple of people come up and use their pointer fingers as a spool, and they're unrolling toilet paper.

Ann: So, one person has the toilet paper on their fingers and the other person is—

Tim: Yes; yes. Well, we have two people do that so we’ll make it even. I'll have a third volunteer up with me, and generally, if you can get a kid up there to help you: “Alright; we're going to race these two men over here. These two guys are going to unload this toilet paper—you've got a full roll; unload it, guys—you start.”

Now, let's say, Ann, you're my assistant; okay? Now, we're going to do it a little bit different; and we're racing the other two guys. All of a sudden, I pull out the leaf blower.

Ann: It's probably hidden, too, for suspense.

Tim: Right; right. You pull that out, and you've got a small paint roller bolted on the end.

You take a thousand sheet, single-ply toilet paper; and you can unload that in one continuous stream in, like 10 seconds. [Laughter] It is fantastic! Of course, we end up blowing away the competition. [Laughter]

The thing is—of course, when we start that race, they're working as hard as they can. We come along with a different method and are way more effective. The whole idea—this is a picture of life with the Holy Spirit. You know, as Christians, we go through life; we're working as hard as we can; we're trying not to get disqualified in some way.

Like here, with this program, we're saying, “Mom/Dad, we've got to teach our kids about God and the principles He's given us to live by.” They are like unrolling that toilet paper: “How am I going to do that?”

Bob: “Trying as hard as I can!”

Tim: “I'm already doing as much as I can.” The leaf blower helps illustrate: “That's life with the Holy Spirit. He flows through us; He does things that we would have never guessed.” Many times—Him flowing through us—He's just changing our heart. Something that was very hard before, now, becomes very easy.

Bob: So, I'm hearing that illustration—great illustration/great picture; right?

Ann: Yes.

Bob: Two things that I'm thinking, as a dad. Number one: “I'm not creative enough to come up with that.” Well, you've solved that; because you put the illustrations in a book for other dads to use. But then I'm thinking: “Okay; I've got to get a leaf blower; I've got to get a paint roller; I've got to get the toilet paper—this sounds like a half-day project.”


Tim: No; you know what? It takes about ten minutes to put it together. You can duct tape the roller on. It's not—


Dave: It's in the book. I saw that part; because I was trying to figure out: “How do you get this in there? You bolt it on; you can…”; yes.


Tim: It's easy; it's easy. Not all of them are that elaborate. And, you know, you can always get a friend. There's always a guy around at church; right?—“Let me at this; let me try this.” You never really have to worry much about that; most of them are very easy. They're things that you've got around the house, oftentimes; you can use them to make an impact.


Dave: While we're on it, talk about dangerous and easy—I didn't understand the plug the pickle into the light socket?


Ann: Yes, tell us about that one, too.


Tim: Okay; so you take a little light utility cord; in fact—


Dave: [Laughter] You've got one; of course, you do. [Laughter] Brought that on the plane; brought it in the studio. He's pulling it out.


Bob: You know this is radio; right?


Tim: I know; we're not going to show anybody. [Laughter]


Ann: This helps us.


Tim: You take a little light utility cord—like a little extension cord you'd put on a small appliance—and at the edge, you cut off the socket end; right? You can separate those wires and expose a little half inch or inch of the copper wire inside. Just wrap it around the head of a nail, put a little tape around there, and you have got yourself everything you need.


Now, you take a dill pickle—put it on a plate/like a paper plate. Do not plug it in yet, please. You take one nail—you stick it in one side of that pickle and one nail in the other—a positive and a negative. Plug it in, and that pickle starts sizzling. Then you see the steam come out; and all of a sudden, it lights up. It lights up like there's a battle inside/like there's fireworks.

Bob: The pickle lights up?

Tim: It lights up. It’s the world’s most dangerous night light.

Ann: What do you mean, it lights up? [Laughter]

Tim: It lights up!

Ann: You see it?

Tim: There's flame inside of this pickle, and it lights up! You go in a darkened room and the kids are like, “Wow!” [Laughter]

Ann: You do it in a darkened room?

Tim: Yes; but you don’t darken—you have somebody on the light switch. You don't darken it until you've plugged it in, because you don't want to fumble. [Laughter]

Dave: How did you get that through security at the airport? It looks like a weapon.

Tim: You know what?—a checked bag. TSA—I'm always getting notices in my luggage. [Laughter]

Bob: I bet you are. [Laughter]

Tim: You know, what guy travels with a vacuum and all these weird things?

Bob: Where did you even come up with the idea of taking a cord and turning it into a pickle?


Ann: —a weapon.

Bob: Yes.

Tim: Here’s what—as you start doing object lessons, you begin to think in object lessons more, so you come up with more ideas. And then, people start coming up to you when they know you do object lessons. Somebody came up to me and said, “Have you ever electrocuted a pickle?” [Laughter] I was like, “No,—

Ann: “But tell me more.”

Tim: —“but, tell me what happens, exactly.” He said, “I don't know what you could teach with it.” I said: “Don't worry about that. Just tell me; if there's a good effect, I want to see it. We'll figure out something.” You know what we teach with this?

Bob: No.

Dave: I want to know.

Tim: Alright; the pickle is you, Dave, as a Christian.

Dave: Oh?

Tim: You've got two influences in your life—you've got a positive and a negative—positive: it's the Holy Spirit; negative: your old nature. These two are at war inside you, and sometimes you're going to feel that battle inside. It's like a war—things that you want to do, but you know that you shouldn't; or maybe something that you're doing that you know you need to stop.

This battle: “How do you stop the battle?” Well, with the little pickle experiment, you could take out one nail, or you could take out the other, and it's over; or you could unplug, of course. Same thing with us, as Christians. You know, when we die/when we unplug—it's over. But in the meantime, we can remove either the positive or the negative influence in our life and the battle will be over.

What happens with a lot of people is—they quench the Spirit. They push that back and the battle's over, and they're not feeling guilty. But that's not the picture the Bible gives us—He wants us to, with the power of the Holy Spirit and some self-control—we push back that old nature, battle after battle after battle, until after a while, that's not a battle anymore. It will be something else.

Bob: You know, all you'd have to do is see the electric pickle once; and every time you saw a pickle from then on—

Ann: I will never forget it—just seeing this—especially if you're a visual learner. Jesus taught in parables that created a picture.

Tim: Oh my goodness. I'm so glad that you brought that up. He did it all the time. Some people say, “Oh, well; you bring props/crutches”; you know? Well, if it was good enough for Jesus—He was the master teacher: “Whose inscription is on this Roman coin?”—all these different things.

We're not doing a Bible study here; a Bible study is a deep look into the Word. This is devotions, so what I really want to get is one nugget of truth across. Generally, you can do that in five minutes—ten minutes, tops—but five is generally better.

Dave: So, you have the gun loaded up; right? I mean, I'm reading this—what is it?—spudzooka?

Tim: Oh, yes.

Dave: I mean, you've got the potato in the gun. You're going to blast it into a wall.

Bob: Now, wait. This is a real potato gun you're talking about here?

Tim: Yes; yes.

Dave: That's what I read.

Bob: Did you make a potato gun? [Laughter]

Tim: Yes, you can get plans online. [Laughter]

Ann: You are a genius. [Laughter]

Tim: No, no, no; it's just fun stuff. If you've got boys, they love it! Shoot that potato gun—oh my goodness; they can shoot far. [Laughter]

Ann: Tim, I'm imagining our boys at a certain age—I could see them inviting their friends.

Tim: Yes; definitely.

Bob: The other thing I'm thinking is youth pastors grabbing this and going,—

Ann: Absolutely.

Bob: “This is my next year of youth group,”—right?—“I can take one of these and do a whole youth group built around some of these activities.”

Dave: Well, I can tell you this—the congregation at Kensington Church—they're going to get these in the Sunday morning sermon. [Laughter] I'm sort of kidding, but I would say this to the mom or dad: “This is your call. Think about this, because it's real easy to farm this out—it's like, ‘The church will take care of the spiritual growth of my kids; the Christian school will do it.’” Guess what?—“It's my job.”

I may not be as creative as Tim Shoemaker, but I have a tool now that can help me. I can figure out some way to make sure I am the one—my spouse and I are the ones: “We're going to do this. Whatever it takes, we're going to do this. Good or bad, we're going to do it. We're not going to let somebody else just do that. We're going to use others as well, but this is my job.” It's like—man, if you're listening to the broadcast today, today's your day to say: “Okay, today's day one. I'm going to figure out a way to take some spiritual leadership in my home.”

I honestly felt like I did that at church; and when I got home, it's my resting place. I realized, as a pastor: “Guess what? These disciples in this home are the most important disciples that I have. Why wouldn't I bring the same energy here and do this?” I had to say, “Okay, this is something I've got to do.”

And I'll say this—we know this because we're older—you have a small window. That window's closing. It's going to be gone, and you're going to miss it. So, seize the day.

Bob: —and seize the book.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: Go to; get a copy of Tim's book, The Very Best, Hands-On, Kinda Dangerous Family Devotions—I love the Kinda Dangerous part. We've got Tim's book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is called The Very Best, Hands-On, Kinda Dangerous Family Devotions by Tim Shoemaker. Order online today at, or call 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

And by the way, if you're starting to think already about New Year's resolutions, how about this for a resolution? Get together with five or six other couples in the new year, once every other week, and go through the Art of Parenting together in a small group. We believe the Art of Parenting can have a profound impact on the direction of your family. Find out more at

Now, what we've been talking about today with Tim Shoemaker is a big part of what we're all about, here at FamilyLife®—helping moms and dads pass on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife is with us. David, as 2019 is about to come to a close, we have been sharing with listeners this month about ways that God is using FamilyLife to help equip husbands and wives and moms and dads.

David: Yes; nothing describes FamilyLife more than our heart to see one generation pass on the living truth of God to the next generation. And listening to Tim this week reminds me of a letter we received recently from a FamilyLife Today listener. She wrote and said:

Thank you for FamilyLife Today; it has been a lifesaver to me. I've listened over the past five years on my long commutes to and from work, and it has become one of the favorite parts of my day. I look forward to the wisdom, and teaching, and biblical encouragement from FamilyLife. It has absolutely changed, for the better, the way I am a mom to my four-year-old son.

I'm so grateful; I was able to gain so much biblical wisdom and insight for how to raise my arrow, even before he was born. Your show has brought me great comfort over the years. It has helped me through some very challenging times, and I cannot thank you enough for what you have done in my life and for my son's life.

I share that today just so I can say to our ministry partners: “Thank you. Thank you for influencing this mom. Thank you for bringing the truth of the gospel and the wisdom found in Scriptures to parents. Your financial support makes all the difference.”

Bob: Now is a great time for you to make a yearend contribution in support of the ministry. We've had some friends of the ministry who've agreed, during the month of December, that they will match every donation we receive, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.5 million. That's a very generous offer on their part. If we're going to take full advantage of their generosity—which they want us to do—that means that we need to hear from listeners like you. Be as generous as you can possibly be, knowing that however much you give, your donation will be doubled, thanks to this matching gift.

Go to to donate online or call 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” You can make your donation over the phone. Thanks, in advance, for your support of this ministry and for supporting tens of thousands of people who tune in to FamilyLife Today every day for practical biblical help and hope. Thanks for making that possible for them and for you.

And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. Tim Shoemaker will be here again with some more creative ways we can engage with our kids/with our family around spiritual matters.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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