Some Suggestions for Family Devotions
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)
“…God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself…” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Section 6, emphasis added)
I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season celebrating the Incarnation and birth of our Savior, and welcoming in the new year. Since this is a time of year for resolutions, I would encourage you to resolve this year to begin the practice of family devotions, if you do not already engage in the practice.
A lot of Christian teaching today emphasizes the vital importance for the believer of spending time each day in personal Bible reading and prayer. This is often called “personal devotions” or “quiet time.” The practice of daily personal devotions is a spiritual discipline that can greatly help us grow and mature in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and those of us in the Reformed and Presbyterian expression of the Christian Faith have always recognized the importance of such “secret” (private) worship. But while salvation and spiritual growth are indeed very personal matters, at the same time we believe that God works covenantally within the corporate context of believing families. God’s Word teaches that God promises to be God to us and to our children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). His covenanted mercies continue in the line of successive generations. This does not merely mean that we believe in applying the covenant sign of holy baptism to the children of believers (although we do believe that!). It also means that Christian parents (especially fathers – Eph. 6:4) have a solemn responsibility before God to raise their children in light of their baptism, which means raising them in the nurture and admonition of our Lord, raising them to repent of sin and trust in Christ alone, raising them to be disciples of Jesus. One very important element of raising our children in the Faith involves teaching them the Scriptures and praying with and for them. In other words, family devotions.
Taking our children to church is absolutely vital and central to raising them in the Faith. A “lone ranger Christian” is an oxymoron, for when God saves us He also connects us to His Body, the church. So we certainly do need to be “church-centered families.” Christian Schooling or Christian Homeschooling can also offer additional positive reinforcement to the truth of God’s Word our children learn at church. But our covenant children also need to see us as their parents model worship, prayer, praise and Bible reading before them. Furthermore, Scripture assigns to believing parents the primary responsibility of passing on the faith to their children, as Deuteronomy 6:6-7 implies; the church plays an important secondary and supportive role in this endeavor. If we take our children to church but never worship together as families, then we are unintentionally teaching them that their Christian faith has no relevance to family life, and that talking about the things of the Lord is only appropriate in a church setting.
I will be the first to admit that I and my family sometimes struggle with the practice of family devotions. While our goal is to have quality family devotions on a daily basis, I have to confess that some days our family devotions are rushed, careless, and perfunctory; and some days go by when we let other priorities crowd out our family time with the Lord. Just as personal devotions can become perfunctory and can degenerate into a mere ritual of just mouthing prayers and “going through the motions” if we are not careful, so the same thing can happen with family devotions. We must always aim at wholehearted devotion to God in our worship, whether we are talking about that worship which takes place in our personal devotions, our family devotions, or our corporate worship in the gathering of God’s people at church. But we should also take comfort in knowing that even though our most sincere and heartfelt efforts at worship still fall far short of the honor that is due to God’s awesome Name, God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ covers the imperfections of our worship, and in turn fuels our worship with a grateful heart for the amazing salvation we have in Jesus. So even though I can’t claim to have “arrived” at perfection when it comes to the practice of family worship, or to be an “expert” in the practice, based on my own experience of both successes and failures at the practice of family devotions I believe I can offer some simple suggestions that might help you and your family in the practice of family devotions. Here they are:
(1) Come up with a game plan. If you want to get into better physical shape, then it requires that you come up with a plan for doing so. You may need to go on a diet. You will certainly need to exercise on a regular basis, which means you will need to carve out time in your schedule to do this. Any worthwhile endeavor in life (like getting in shape, or learning a new language, or pursuing a new career, or whatever) requires careful planning. Family devotions is no different. Talk with your spouse about this. Look at your schedules and your children’s schedules. Come up with a game plan for when you are going to spend time together with the Lord, and then put your plan into practice.
(2) Be consistent. Whether the best time of day for family devotions is in the morning before work and school, or after dinner, or in the evening before bed, seek to be consistent. Of course, this requires discipline and intentionality, and you won’t always “feel” like doing devotions. When a slothful spirit arises within you or when distractions entice you to skip family devotions, repent of your sloth and lack of focus, and resolve to seek the Lord’s face together as a family, however you may feel.
(3) Incorporate appropriate biblical elements of worship in your family devotions. Family devotions doesn’t have to be elaborate, complicated, or lengthy. If you are just getting started in the practice, then start off by spending just five minutes a day reading the Bible and praying together. Once you get into a routine, you may want to increase the length of time to ten or even fifteen minutes (though I would not recommend making family devotion time overly-lengthy). Worship elements like Bible reading, prayer, and the singing of praise can be part of family devotions. Using a good Bible story book for children is recommended. You may also use a sound daily devotional (like the Tabletalk devotional magazine, for instance) and Bible-based catechism as well in providing your family with instruction in the faith.
(4) Don’t get discouraged by “dry spells” in your family devotions. Almost every believer experiences periods of spiritual dryness and emptiness in their walk with the Lord, and in their personal devotions. The same can happen with family devotions. What should be done at those times when family devotions seems to be just as dry as dust, no matter how hard you might try to make it meaningful to your family? Don’t give up! Just keep pressing on. Keep on using God’s means of grace which are appropriate for the family context (Bible reading, prayer, singing praise). Who knows, God may be testing your perseverance! Often our loving heavenly Father will bring renewed springs of living water into the parched desert of your souls, sooner or later. So take heart, and keep on pressing through to renewed refreshment in the Lord.
(5) Just do it! The main thing with family devotions is just to make sure that you do it. You don’t have to be a theologian or an “expert” in the practice to begin. All you need are hearts renewed by the love of Christ, a Bible to read together, and voices to raise together in prayer and praise to your faithful, covenant-keeping God. What are you waiting for?