Holy Habits of Highly Effective Families

Families need all the help they can get these days–including our own!   There is more evidence telling us that strong families contribute to a child’s well being.  At the same time there is more evidence showing us that the family is a mess.   As a pastor and now seminary president, I can tell you that many Christian families are a mess as well.  Unfortunately, in many Christian homes, there is not that much that distinguishes us from the statistical norms.  Which is why I want to direct your attention to Luke 2.

Most of us heard Luke chapter two read during the Christmas season rehearsing the account of Jesus’ birth.   The strange thing is that many churches stop with the account of angels praising God and singing “glory to God in the highest.” We ignore what comes next.

What comes next is an account, albeit a short one, of Jesus’ childhood.  It is here that we learn some holy habits of a highly effective family—the family of Joseph and Mary! It is not comprehensive.  Nor is it presented as a manual for parenting.  Nevertheless, it is instructive.  Here are a few of those holy habits, which I commend to you in this new year.

One habit I discern is the habit of giving children meaningful names (2.21).  His name was Jesus.  There was intention in the naming process.  It wasn’t that Mary and Joseph said to each other—“hey, you know what, everybody’s naming their boys Jesus these days—it’s a popular name, it just sounds good.  Let’s name him that.”  That’s typically our approach to naming our children.  We say—“I like the name Emma or Isabella” (two of the most popular girls names) or “I like the name Jacob and Michael” (two of the most popular boys names) “so that is what I will name my child.”  Or we them name them after countries, perfumes or natural objects.  It’s amazing how people are naming their kids these days!

Jesus was named intentionally, not haphazardly, after one of the great heroes of the Old Testament and his name means “The Lord saves.”  Now granted, an angel got into the act and had a little something to do with it.  But throughout the Bible there is an important pattern of naming children intentionally.  Why?  Because to name something is to influence and have power over it.  It is to teach and remind the child every time he or she hears its name.  In Jesus’ case, he must have thought countless times—“my name is the same as that great servant who followed Moses.”  Or “my name is a continual reminder that the Lord saves.”  And eventually—“my name not only reminds me that the Lord saves, but it tells me something about my heavenly Father’s mission for me.”

It is a holy habit.  It requires much prayer to name a child.  But Joseph and Mary were very intentional about their son’s name.  From that powerful act, Jesus learned about his own mission.

Another habit of this holy family is that after their baby’s birth, they “presented him to the Lord” (2.22) “in accordance to the law” (2.39) in the temple to be circumcised and dedicated.   In the process, a godly saint named Simeon took Jesus up into his arms and blessed God (2.28).  This highly effective family recognized that their son was a gift from God.

If you are Baptist, you most likely have your children dedicated.  If you are Presbyterian or Anglican, etc., you will have your children baptized.  But even when you have them baptized, that baptism, though we say it parallels circumcision, involves a dedication.  Highly effective spiritual families receive their children as gifts from the Lord (Psalm 127) and present them to the Lord asking for His blessing.  They then continue with intentionality to raise them in the Lord.  They come up with a plan to train them in His ways.  This is more important than ever for raising young children in 2011.

A third habit of this highly effective holy family is that they had customs that strengthened their spiritual identity.  Verse 2.41 says that this family “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.”  Verse 42 adds “they went up according to custom.”  Think about that.  They had family customs.  Despite all the trouble of the long trip, they were committed to go up repeatedly to celebrate the Feast of Passover, among other feasts.  This was a celebration that reminded everyone of their identity as a holy people set apart to the Lord.  It recalled God’s amazing saving acts in the past.  As they heard and saw the story acted out each year, it drove the message of God’s redemption and their unique calling as His people more deeply into their minds and hearts.

Highly effective families still do this.  They have rituals not for ritual’s sake, but for the sake of telling THE story.  For Christian families, Advent can become a significant teaching time.  Lent and Holy Week can also become spiritual tools to remind our families of who we are and what God has done for us in Christ.

A final habit I’d like to highlight comes in verse 49.  On one of their trips to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, he disappeared from the family caravan.  His parents eventually found him in the temple.  Jesus said to them, “I must be in my father’s house.”  No doubt these occasions in the temple were very formative in Jesus’ life.   He was full of questions for the teachers there.   And no doubt when he was back in Nazareth growing up, he was shaped in the local synagogue there quietly learning the Torah and finding out what pleased his father.   This time in the “house of the Lord” shaped him.

As you begin this new year, keep in mind that faithful worship as a family has a huge influence on a person.  It is not determinative.  But there is so much evidence that time in church (a healthy church where the gospel is proclaimed, and God’s Word is preached) is so important for our own increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (2.52).

Of course, in Luke 2, we have much more than holy habits being commended to us. For in this chapter we learn that the messiah, the world’s savior, was growing as a man in his understanding that he was the Son of God on a unique redemptive mission from the father.  It is this redeeming mission that is the central thrust of Luke 2 and brings hope to all the families of the earth no matter what shape they are in!   But in celebrating the coming of the Son of God into this world, let’s not forget the blessed family that Jesus had and the God-ordained shaping influence they had on Jesus’ life and mission.  Let’s learn from them as we seek to build our homes on the rock of His Word in 2011 (Luke 6.42-7).

Categories: Personal | Comments


  • Linda Graves says:

    Thank you for writing this, Dr. Sweeting. I hope you and your family are well. I am thankful for your ministry, and especially the time our family became acquainted with you and your family at Cherry Creek Presbyterian. We were blessed by your sermons. I am so happy you are continuing to write.
    God Bless you

  • Barbara Dega says:

    Dear Don,
    Just read your Inaugural Address and this post…oh, how I miss your preaching, still! Praying for God’s strength and good health to keep you doing what you do best…encouraging us in His Word. Love to Christina.

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