“This Book of the Law… you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous…” (Joshua 1:8)Family devotions, aka “Family Altar” or “Family Worship” can encompass a variety of different elements. The three main elements that I’ll focus on in this blog are the most common, and include prayer, scripture reading, and singing.
1-Prayer: Our Communion with God
“…pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thess. 5:17-18)Prayer is so integral to a strong Christian life. God wants us to be praying throughout the day (1 Thess. 5:17-18). We are children of God, and have free and open access to our Father in Heaven. John Piper called prayer a war-time walkie-talkie, and that it should always be done in light of our overall mission in life- “That His name be glorified, and that we might live for fruitful ministry.”*
This imagery is helpful because it reminds us that we are in a war, and if we don’t keep connected with our commander in chief, we’re dead in the water. Satan will pick us off, we’ll be overpowered or enticed by the world, or we’ll lead our family into a spiritual minefield. We need to stay connected with God through prayer. And train our children how to do the same, while they’re still under our roof. Some day they’ll be off to face the world on their own. They’re gonna need all the help they can get. Train them to use their “walkie-talkies” well.
When asked by the disciples how to pray, Jesus said, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13) We should be praying that God’s will be done, as well as asking for the things that we truly need.
When the whole family comes humbly before the Lord in prayer, we are declaring our eternal adoption as sons and daughters of God. And we can experience His presence with us on a deeper level. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” May our children feel His presence when we pray to Him on a daily basis. May they see the power of being connected our Father God who holds ALL things in His hands.
Here are some basic ideas on how to start praying during family devotions. Parents should pray first and model the proper attitude, structure, content, and length of prayer for the children. Children will pick it up pretty quickly from just observing Mom and Dad. For those with really young children, it might be helpful to have the child repeat a prayer word for word with the parents. Never shame or yell at your child for making innocent mistakes when they are learning to pray. Encourage them in their prayers.
We like to tell our children “Good prayer, child’s name” or “that was a good one” after each of them pray. They really appreciate the compliments, and it takes away the fear of making mistakes. Prayers can include Adoration, Confession of sin,Thanksgiving, and Supplication (A.C.T.S./ I didn’t invent this acronymn), as well as personal, family, and other needs. In our family, our children usually start off by repeating something simple, such as, “Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Please help me to love and obey you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Try to maintain a nice balance between joyfulness, and reverence. Let your children see you praying with a heart of love, sincerity. Even when they’ve grown and left the nest, your children will forever remember the times when your family prayed together.
2-The Reading of Scripture
What is the standard of the Christian life? How do we equip ourselves for accomplishing our mission here on Earth? How do we train the next generation in the ways of God? All of these answers can be found in the Bible. The apostle Paul’s wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Did you notice the words “all” and “every” in those verses? That’s right, the whole of scripture. It’s all good. And it’s all you’ll ever need to equip yourself for Godly living. Our standard is God’s word, and not the latest trends, or opinion’s of man.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…” 1 Tim. 3:16We equip ourselves by reading the Bible, and applying it to our life. And we can train up a Godly generation by teaching our children the truths of the scriptures, and showing them how to live them out.
If we’re trying to build a strong spiritual foundation for our children, it’s going to involve a lot more than buying them Christian T-shirts, listening to Christian radio while on the way to school, or sending them off to youth group on Wednesday nights. Anybody can do that. And sadly, for many Christian families, that’s the extent of their weekday “devotion to God.” Yet just look at the current spiritual foundation of most families, and churches in America today and you’ll see that something is not right. Why is this? There are many reasons. But two of the major ones are a lack of scripture reading in the home, and two, the disconnect between hearing and doing God’s word throughout the week.
We need to read the scriptures to our children, and we need to show our children how to apply the Bible to their lives. We must encourage a daily habit of Bible reading- “Blessed is the one….whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
It’s gotta start in our minds, and hearts. And then it needs to quickly make it’s way into our hands, and feet. Remember the parable of the man who built his house upon the rock- “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” His house was on solid ground. This is what we want for our children. After all, what was the difference about the man who built his house upon the sand? He heard the words of God, just like the other man. The only difference was he didn’t “do” anything with them.
Could you imagine a man who had a garage full of top quality tools, and yet he never learned to use them? Or a collector of weapons who never trained to use them. What a waste! The truth needs to start in our minds and hearts, and then quickly lead to action, or else we’re all gonna sink when the storms come.
Scripture Reading: Application
Men are leaders in the home, and thus should be the initiators in family worship. Scripture reading should be done primarily by the husband (as long as he’s a Christian), although it might be beneficial to give the wife, as well as other children a chance to read.
It’s best to have some kind of direction when starting family Bible reading. You can use a yearly Bible reading plan, and just stretch it out to however fast or slow you think is good for your family- possibly reading smaller portions when your children are younger and moving to larger portions when they are older. You can find a list of different reading plans HERE. (The app YouVersion, also has different bible reading plans.) Most plans are for reading through the Bible once a year, which is a bit much for a family worship setting. Pace yourself, and see how the family responds to different speeds.
Our family tries do 1 or so chapters a day. At this rate, I think we’ll finish reading through the entire Bible in 4 years. I told my family that we’re going to celebrate when we get through it all, hopefully in the next few months. They really look forward to it. If the father is gone from the home a lot, then by all means the mother should lead the children in daily Bible reading. A good duration to start with is 5-10 minutes per day, depending on your circumstances. If you miss a day, don’t give up, just continue the next day.
Allow for family members to ask questions about the text, summarize the text, or share related thoughts they might have. This will help everyone get more out of the reading.
I recommend husbands to read ahead of time, and prepare for the family scripture reading. Think of some good questions. Feel free to read the notes on a study Bible or Biblical commentary if it helps clarify things in your mind, so you can help your family with the text. But don’t ever make the excuse that since you didn’t prepare, then you’re not going to read the scriptures to your family. You wouldn’t deprive your child their daily food, even if you’re the worst cook in the world.
We’re not seeking perfection. We’re seeking the willingness to get started, one day at a time. The rewards are eternal.
3-Singing Praises to God
Why should we sing praises to God? The Biblical demands that we do so. God alone is holy, worthy, and deserving of praise. He is the great Creator and King of all the Universe. Truly, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;” (Psalm 92:1).
Singing songs unto the Lord is just one way in which we can praise Him. Obviously, we can praise Him through our lifestyle, thoughts, words, and deeds, but for the purpose of this blog we are focusing on the importance of singing unto the Lord, as a family, on a daily basis.
“Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:2)
Our singing unto God should be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. For “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) We should aim to cultivate a daily habit of singing praises to God during family devotions. Your whole family will enjoy learning new songs, learning great spiritual truths, and enjoying greater intimacy with their Heavenly Father.
We all know that a happy tune lifts the spirit of a man, and can give him encouragement, joy, and strength to persevere in hard times. And just like a group of soldiers with their marching songs, we too should have our “marching songs.” We should sing of God’s goodness, sing of our need of Him, sing of His greatness, sing of our mission in life, and sing of all the other great truths of scripture.
Just as a group of soldiers sings while marching, we too should sing throughout our day. It lifts the soul, and brings us closer to our commander and chief. What a joy it is to know that we are on the winning side. So let’s sing with all of our heart, soul, and strength. Onward Christian Soldiers!
Singing Praises: Application
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
As with scripture reading, I recommend that the man of the house lead the family in the singing time of family devotions. Of course when the husband or father is not present, then the mother can lead the children in worshiping God.
Remember the importance of why we are singing praises to God in the first place. This should help us in the choosing of theologically sound, God glorifying, and mutually edifying songs. Beware of the many modern “worship” songs that focus on man and not God. They tend to have a “gimme, gimme” feel to them, or they make Jesus out to be just one of our pals, or worse, our boyfriend. We are singing to the God of the Universe. And so, try to avoid the theologically-shallow, the mind-numbingly repetitive, the emotionally-draining, and the man-focused garbage that permeates a lot of modern day, “relevant” churches.
Hymns are good, a lot of the old praise and worship songs written before the 90’s are theologically sound. Singing the Psalms, or using a Psalter is also nice. But also remember that it’s good to encourage the writing and singing of new songs to the Lord. “O sing unto the Lord a new song:” (Psalm 96:1) Imagine if your spouse or child wrote a song about you, and sang it for you. It would mean so much to you because it came from their heart. Likewise, we should encourage singing new songs unto the Lord.
During family devotions you might ask everyone to choose a song that they like, and have everyone sing it together. Keeping it short and sweet assures that the time doesn’t drag on too long, and become a burden to everyone there. If you would like to incorporate musical instruments, that’s wonderful too. Just don’t let it turn into a one-man show, with jam session solo’s. If you can’t play any instruments but would still like to sing along with music, feel free to sing along with a music CD. The important thing is that we worship in spirit and in truth.
Supplemental Materials and Activities
Other elements that can be added to Family Devotions include Bible Memory, Catechism, Online Sermons, Christian Music, Devotional Books, Christian Biographies, etc. All of these things can encourage and stimulate spiritual growth.
In the next part of family devotions, I’ll cover the most common family worship problems, and tips on how to get started right away.
*Piper, John “Put in the Fire for the Sake of Prayer” (2008) Retrieved April 3, 2015 from “http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/put-in-the-fire-for-the-sake-of-prayer”
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