The Importance of Family Devotions

The evening meal is finished. The father sits on one end of the table, arms folded over his chest, content with the good meal he has just eaten. His wife stands across from him, scooping the remaining food on a plate for one of the children. The children sit between their parents, chattering away about their day, still picking away at the remnants of food on their plates. After a few minutes, the father rises to pass out Bibles to everyone at the table. The children fall into silence, hands folded and Bibles open before them. Each family member reverently reads a verse of the evening’s passage. After a lively discussion of what they read, they sing a psalm, and close in prayer. On a couple days of the week, they will even read out of one of the creeds, or discuss the Sunday sermons.

This is the good, biblical, and vital practice of family devotions! Is this found in your home?

A Christian who lives in a home with others leads a busy devotional life. Not only must he take time, every day, to study the Scriptures and pray by himself (personal devotions), but he must, if he is married, read the Scriptures and pray with his wife (marriage devotions). In addition to all of this, he who lives in a home with others must take time, daily, to study the Bible and pray with his family (family devotions). It is this last form of worship – family devotions – that we will develop in this article.

Family worship is not tradition for the sake of tradition, but rests upon two solid pillars.

The first sturdy pillar family worship rests on is the evidence for such worship in the Bible. Family worship includes thorough instruction of children, instruction which Israel was called to give: “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates” (Deut. 11:18-20). Surely, what stands at the center of the happy, God-fearing home in Psalm 128 is the worship of Jehovah – as a family. Then, remember that Joshua declared that he and his house would serve Jehovah (Josh. 24:15). Other such passages exist. Family worship finds good support in God’s Word.

The second strong pillar family worship rests on is the doctrine of the covenant. We heartily believe and confess the doctrine of the covenant: the relationship of friendship God establishes with His elect people in Jesus Christ. When a family is gathered together to serve God, they experience fellowship with God in the reading of His Word, in the singing of His Word, and in prayer. Furthermore, they enjoy fellowship with each other as they sit around the Scriptures. Also, knowing God establishes His covenant in the line of generations, they take seriously the command to instruct their covenant seed, and they partially fulfil this in family devotions. These devotions have solid support in the doctrine of the covenant.

Worshipping   together   is   vital   for the health of the Christian family. Your body requires food for proper functioning. Just so, you require spiritual nourishment for proper spiritual functioning. It ought not be that our spiritual nourishment is limited to Sunday worship; if that is our only meal for the whole week, we will be famished by the time the next Sunday comes! Yes, we eat a hearty meal on Sunday at church, but we should follow that with many meals during the week, Monday through Saturday, feasting on the Word in our homes. Without eating, we grow weak. By eating, we grow strong. Do you wish your family to be strong? Worship God together!

Because family worship is so important, we must zealously guard against its most formidable foe: busyness. The husband is too busy at work, preventing him from making it home on time for devotions. Without her husband, the wife is too stressed out to carry out devotions with the children after an already hectic day, so she usually skips them. Children have homework to do, besides frequent obligations outside of the home in the evening – when will they have time to set aside to worship with their parents and siblings? Soon enough, the busy schedule swallows up worship in the home.

Considering family worship to be essential, and knowing how easily it slips away in the rush of life, we do well to make it a priority. Parents, we must be committed to daily communion with our children in the Word of God and in prayer. Young people, we must diligently see to it that nothing takes us away from this worship at home. Such disciplined consistency in this area of the Christian life might mean shuffling the family’s schedule, waking up early, or staying up late; whatever it takes, we must make this worship a priority.

Knowing that such worship is necessary is one thing, but knowing how to go about it is another. Perhaps there are fathers reading this article who are intimidated by the task of leading their families, or mothers who would like to know more about the “how” of family devotions. It could be that some of the youth wonder how they can profit the most from these devotions with their siblings and parents. I provide below some basic guidelines for this worship.

  • Maintain reverence.   It is at home that children learn how to sit still and quietly during a time of worship – valuable lessons to learn for public worship, and even school. Children are taught, from an early age, that this is, after all, worship of the holy God.
  • Read the Word. Read systematically through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter.
    Encourage family participation by giving all the members of the family a Bible, and have them take turns reading the verses. Reading a whole chapter is not necessary, especially when the chapter is long. Stop reading, when necessary, and explain words that the children do not understand; reading with comprehension is crucial.
  • Discuss the Word. Too often the Bible is shut immediately after the last word is read. This is one of the most serious mistakes in family devotions. Keep the Bible(s) open! Fathers, explain the doctrines in the passage. Teach the history, and help the children see the “big picture”. Reach for a commentary when discussing difficult verses, or accompany your reading with a good devotional. Ask good questions of the children. But especially, apply the passage personally to the family: struggles, sins, joys, school life, marriage, parenting, discipline, and more. Use this time to encourage openness, especially among the children. Talk to them and ask them about their love for God, their struggles and disappointments, the temptations they face, and their life of sanctification. And never forget to bring them to the heart of that Word: Jesus Christ and His cross.
  • Sing the Word. We want our children to love the songs of Zion. What better way to instil this love in them than by passing Psalters around the table and singing a number or two? Worship Him with singing!
  • Pray the Word. Allow the scripture passage previously read and discussed to colour the after-meal prayer. Filling our prayers with scripture makes them fresh from evening to evening. Furthermore, fathers, pray for each child by name, and especially for the wife and mother in the home. Pray for the church, local and worldwide, so that the children have a love in their heart for the body of Christ. Also, teach the children how to pray. From their early days, we instruct them to say, “Lord bless….” When we judge that the time is right, we should teach them to lead the family in prayer, for their own growth in the discipline of prayer.
  • Integrate sermons. Saturday devotions can be used to prepare for the Sunday sermons.   Mondays are also a nice day to reread the passages of the sermons, and to discuss God’s Word that was brought. This serves not only to fortify the connection between home and church, but also further to press upon the heart the messages heard in church.
  • Study the confessions. We are Reformed. Partly what it means to be Reformed is that we are confessional. Family worship is an excellent time to introduce our children to our creeds, especially the ones they may not be so familiar with. For example, open up the Belgic Confession, read an article every day, and briefly explain it. May our homes be places where the confessions are living documents!

Family devotions – the pillar of the Christian home! Let us seek God’s grace to be disciplined in this necessary worship. “…[B]ut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).

Written by: Rev. Ryan Barnhill | Issue 47


The Importance of Personal Devotions IV

Reading the Bible is an important part of our personal devotions. How we read the Bible is very important. The Bible is the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of Jehovah God, the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. I used to explain to my students in Seminary that the Bible was a “portrait” of Christ; and that through the study of the portrait, we could come to know God. Jesus himself said this in John 14:9: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” God is made known to us through Jesus Christ.

Paul uses a similar figure in I Corinthians 13:12: “:For now we see through a glass (mirror), darkly; but then face to face.” The Bible is like a mirror. While we are on this earth all we have is the mirror. Christ is, so to speak, behind us, but is reflected in the mirror. When we get to heaven, we turn around, look away from the mirror, and see him “face to face.”

We make the Bible an important part of our devotions when, as we read it, we ask ourselves the question” What is God saying in this passage about himself? We can find an illustration of this in the passage I have quoted before in I Peter 5:6, 7: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you”

When we ask ourselves, first of all, what does this text say about God? there are several answers. For one thing, the text says that all the afflictions of this life come to us from the hand of God. That is, he is sovereign over our whole life. That surely is a good place to start in our meditations.

Second, the text says that God’s hand is mighty. We know that this is true, for God is omnipotent – all-powerful. But in this context, it means also that when God’s hand is upon us, and our afflictions are very great, we indeed experience it as a “mighty” hand of God.

Third, the text says about God that God exalts the humble. That is a wonderful promise – especially when we look at the verse just before it: for the God who exalts the   humble also resists the proud. Those are important things about God that we ought to know.

Fourth, the passage also tells us that God cares for us. There are times in my life when it seems to me that God cannot possibly even have time for me. He is so great, so immense, so glorious that we cannot even comprehend it. And, as Isaiah says, all the nations of the earth are as grasshoppers in his sight. He moves the stars in the sky. He rules sovereignly over all the billions of people in this world. He has much to do. How can he possibly take the time to pay any attention to me? I am so small, so wicked, so insignificant. But there it is in the text: “He cares for you.” That says a lot about God: about his grace, his mercy, his compassion, his love.

And I think anyone can see that if once we see what the text says about God, the text means a lot more when we ask ourselves the second question: What is the text saying about me?

Even here we have to be careful. There are all kinds of pitfalls and traps into which we can fall. Let me mention a few. Sometimes God says nothing about me personally, but rather about his church. And he speaks to me only because I am a member of the church – something he says elsewhere. But it is very different to ask: What is God saying to me? personally? from the question: What is God saying to me as a member of the church. If we are, as Paul says, members of the church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3:15), then

when in that verse he speaks to me, he speaks to me in the church; and he says something about my calling and my responsibility as a member of the church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth. Ah. Then what he has to say directs me to ponder my responsibilities as a member of the church, which is created and formed by God to stand for his truth in the world.

Sometimes God simply says things about his own glory and power. I used to read Isaiah 40:18-27 to my students. And then, when it sank in what God was saying about himself, especially in comparison with idols, then we could read verses 28-31. What a powerful word that is to me – after letting everything in verses 18-27 sink in. Try it once. Read it for your devotions. Think about it carefully, sentence by sentence. Hear God telling you how great he is. And then when you get down on your knees to pray, read verses 28-31. If those words do not make your heart soar on the wings of eagles, there is nothing that can move you.

Sometimes God speaks directly to us with fierce reprimands – as he does, for example in Isaiah 1:10-17. Don’t say that those words are spoken only to the wicked reprobate in Judah; they are, of course; but they are spoken to you and to me. They cut like a whip into our souls; they break all our stubborn hearts. Or read James’ words: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because y ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:1-4). And do not say that this is spoken to wicked people, and not to you. James spoke these words to the church of which you are a member. The cut like a whip into our souls. They almost knock us senseless as a caning would. They come like thunder from heaven. God says this to me!

Yes. What does the Bible say to me? That is an important question. But we do not always like that very well and would rather slide over such passages with a hasty glance and immediately forget them. But when the publican in the temple did not dare to look to heaven, but cried out as he beat his breast: “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and went home in the joy of forgiveness, then God is speaking to us also, and leading us gently and kindly to the cross to tell us what he did there for such sinners as we are.

Sometimes in our grief and sorrow God through Christ comes with love and tender compassion. I need to hear the word of Christ again and again: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. And I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). How sweet those words can be to my troubled soul.

There are other things that are involved in this part of our devotions. I mention a few. First, in order really to learn what a text is saying about God and about us, we have to read the text in its context and hear God’s Word in the context of the whole chapter, and the whole book.

Some outrageous explanations of Scripture have been preached because this important rule is forgotten. One minister preached a series of twelve sermons on the twelve lions on the steps leading to Solomon’s throne (I Kings 10:20), one sermon on each lion. He made each lion a Christian virtue, such as love, hope, compassion, wisdom, etc. At the end of his series, one of his parishioners said to him: “You preached twelve sermons on Christian virtues, but there are more than twelve Christian virtues mentioned in the Bible. Why did you not preach on them?” The minister responded: “I couldn’t because there were only twelve lions”. (Anyone who makes those lions symbols of Christian virtues is putting into the text something that God did not put in.)

Another minister did not like the new fashion in women’s hair-dos. The new fashion was to pile one’s hair on top of one’s head. And so he preached on the text: “Top-knot come down.” After the service, some women, not too happy with the sermon, asked him, “Where in the Bible do you find that text?” His response was, “The text is in Matthew 24:17: “Let him which is on the housetop not come down.” (This sort of thing is playing with Scripture and making a game of it.)

And yet ministers are fond of doing similar things, especially some Baptist ministers. I heard one Baptist minister once tell his people that the purple cord by which Rahab let down the spies from Jericho was a picture of an artery in Jesus’ body, for just as the spies escaped wicked Jericho by this purple cord, so we escape the wicked world by the artery of Jesus that poured out blood when a spear was pushed into his side. We must not do this sort of thing, for we make Scripture mean more than God wants it to mean. And the person with the most vivid imagination becomes the best preacher, because he can find the most surprising things in a text. The way to avoid this evil is to explain a text in its context and in the light of the rest of Scripture. “Scripture interprets Scripture,” the Reformers shouted. How true. Let us follow their good advice – also in our daily devotion.

In such a way as I have described we “meditate” on Scripture. Meditation on Scripture is the key to our devotional life. Arthur Pink, the author of “The Sovereignty of God,” a book you all ought to read, said somewhere that the way to meditate on a given verse is to ask yourself what every word in the text means. I think that is solid advice. There are, of course, words that are only prepositions or exclamations, but paying attention to each word helps us to understand the text.

We must, after such thorough meditation, then face the question: What does the text as a whole mean? I do this when I make a sermon. I think about, write notes on, every word and every point of grammar. Only then do I proceed to ask myself the question” What is this text teaching? What is its main theme? And how does every part of it say something about this one theme?

To succeed in this we frequently have to read a text over and over and over again until we are completely familiar with it. You say, “Yes, but all that takes too much time.” Well, it is better to read only one verse, or even a part of a verse, and understand it than to read fifty verses and not know five minutes later what they said. God’s word is worth our best efforts, and our best efforts will give us much blessing.

Questions for discussion

  1. Find a passage in the Bible and apply to it the principle of “Scripture Interprets Scripture.” It would be good if at a discussion, the group would all work with the same text in private, and each would report back at the next meeting.
  1. Look up Galatians 5:4 and discuss what this verse means when taken out of context and   interpreted by itself. How do you harmonize it with Galatians 6:15?
  1. Why is it very wrong to misinterpret a text? Is there a difference between misinterpreting a text out of ignorance and by mistake? And deliberately making a text say what one wants it to say?
  1. My father had a lady in the congregations who told him that she was commanded by God to marry a certain man, who turned out to be married to another woman. She told my father that if he would not approve, he would be telling her to disobey God, something she would never do. What was the right answer to give her?
  1. Why is it so wrong always to do nothing else but apply the Bible to ourselves only?
  1. If some friend from another church says that John 3:16 proves that Christ died for every person, how will you deal with that? Is it possible that the Bible has two meanings? What if the person is a sincere Christian?

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 6

Family Devotions: A Mark of God’s Peculiar People

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 1 Pet 2:9

Look back to what you were before your conversion. Whenever you are tempted to be proud of your present standing, remember the horrible and miry clay out of which sovereign grace alone has plucked you. When you are on the throne, recollect the dungeon from which the grace of God uplifted you. When you are in full possession of your spiritual faculties, and are rejoicing in the Lord, do not forget the time when you lay sick, even unto death, until the Great Physician passed that way, and healed you.

What a great change conversion is! And what a great change conversion Works! How wonderful is the effect of regeneration! We had not obtained mercy, but now we have obtained mercy; we were not a people, but now we are the people of God.

How the apostle (1 Peter 2:9) delights to set forth these contrasts between the past and the present of the Lord’s chosen people! By remembering what we were, we are made to appreciate and enjoy more what we now are. We may well praise him who has wrought this wondrous change in us. We were not His people, we were sinners of the Gentiles, not the chosen Hebrew race. In times past, we were not worthy to be called a people, but we are now the people of God. We had not obtained mercy, we had not even asked for it; some of us were so blinded by our self-righteousness that we did not know we needed God’s mercy, or did not want it; but now, we have obtained mercy.

Christians are a special people because God has purchased and preserved us for Himself. We are His possession now. We are distinct from the world and we are called to live our lives as people in the world but not of it. Jesus said concerning His disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16).

Today, let us rejoice that we are God’s peculiar people and victoriously walk in His marvelous light. May our words as well as our actions truly declare His praises!

Are we the children of the Lord our God? Are we separate from the ungodly world, in being set apart to God’s glory, by the purchase of Christ’s blood? Are we subjects of the work of the Holy Ghost? Lord, teach us from these precepts how pure and holy all thy people ought to live!

Be encouraged today, daily prayer: Father, as we deal with the temporal demands of this day, may the principles that guide us be of eternal origin. We seek not to blend in with the world but to be the salt of the earth. You have made us a peculiar people who are called to be the light of the world. May our light shine for all the world to see so that our good deeds bring praise to Thy holy name. Amen.

Ye are the salt of the earth: …Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt 5:13-16)

“Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.” (Psalm 78:1-8)

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

Psalm 78 takes us back to Mt. Sinai and the Covenant made with Israel there. God promised to be the God of His people, to be their Friend, and God told them that they would be His special and peculiar people. As His peculiar people, they were given the law of God, representing their duty in His covenant with them. Should they break the law, they would be violating the covenant.

These verses tell us that the content of this Psalm is for the children and generations to come. These verses give the goal in teaching our children the testimony and law of God, the biblical history of Israel and God’s dealings with them in grace.

As many families know, family devotion is a difficult task. Though many reformed families know its importance, being disciplined enough to have family devotion is very challenging every week.

Along with Sabbath observance and the catechizing of children, family devotion has lost ground. Fewer and fewer households are taking it seriously. We should be persuaded that family worship is as needed today as it has ever been in the history of the church. The reasons we do not and would not do family devotions are as much as the amount of lesser things that fill each day.

In addition to public worship, it is the duty of each person in secret, and of every family in private, to worship God. Family devotion or worship, which should be observed by every family, consists in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and singing praises; or in some briefer form of outspoken recognition of God. Parents should instruct their children in the Word of God, and in the principles of our holy religion. The reading of devotional literature should be encouraged and every proper opportunity should be embraced for religious instruction.

If there is nothing from Monday morning to Saturday night, the church is left with precious little time in Sunday school and worship to fill the spiritual void of a week of confrontation with the fallen world and our fallen natures.

So how does one become motivated to have “the want to want devotions”? We should make family devotions a “real” priority in our families. It is often a high priority in our families that is not “real”. We would rather jog, read mountains of magazines, and have lots of other mediocre excuses for not doing family devotions. We must recognize that family devotions are foundational to Christian living in the home.

Family worship and devotions are a vital part of the thriving Christian family, making time for it should be a priority. If you have to give up some event or adjust schedules, do it! Your family’s eternal souls are far more important than soccer games and careers. By establishing a consistent and daily family worship time, you are leading your family to a deeper devotion to God, the Word, His people, and the generations to come. The teaching of our children is important as it touches on every aspect of their being; their mind, their heart and their behavior.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that this is a command and a calling. It comes especially to parents, but also to the whole church. There is a generation arising in our midst. There is a world and a satan out there attempting to draw them away. How will they be kept? Yes, only by God’s grace. But grace never means carelessness. On our part, they will be kept only by diligent teaching. God will use that to continue and preserve His covenant.

Proverbs 4:1-27 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding… Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

For our children, we pray that they will take heed to their father’s or parent’s instruction during family devotions or family worship. For ourselves, we pray that the Lord will give us the will and the strength to instruct our children in our home. In this way, we show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.

Written by: Daniel Teo | Issue 5

The Importance of Personal Devotions III


Personal devotions consist of Scripture reading and prayer. Scripture reading ought always to be first, because Scripture is God’s speech to us and we need God’s speech to us and his word in our minds before we can say anything to him. Our prayers are always a repetition of what God says, or our prayers are rmly based on and in uenced by what God says. If we are very troubled, for example, we bring our troubles to God because God says to us, “Cast all your care upon him, for he careth for you” (I Peter 5:7). And that very verse tells us how to cast our cares on him, for it first says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (verse 6). If God did not say to us that he cares for us, we would never dare to bring our cares to him, for he who created all things and is so great that he is greater than the whole universe, can hardly be interested in and concerned for our little problems. But he is; he himself says so. And even if it is difficult to imagine how this is possible, we believe what the Bible says.

That is just an example. We will talk more about that when we talk about prayer as a part of our devotions. But now we are talking about reading Scripture. There are some dangers that we must avoid when we read Scripture. Let me list some of them.

1) One danger is that we jump around all over Scripture, every day reading a passage from a different place. This is, generally speaking, not the best way to read the Bible. It is better to read one section or one book. By one section, I mean, for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Or by one book, I mean Genesis, or Judges, or the Gospel According to John.

2) Depending on how familiar we are with Scripture, we ought to read the simpler passages before the more difficult; and read the more difficult only after we have improve our ability to read Scripture with understanding. It is better to read Acts than Ezekiel, or I Samuel than the prophecy of Zechariah. We ought to go from the simpler to the more difficult. Et, we must not be fooled by what appears to us as something very simple. John’s epistles and gospel may look easy, but they are the most profound books in the whole Bible. When I was first in the ministry, it took me so long to make a sermon that I looked for simple texts. John’s epistles seemed to me to be exactly what I was looking for. I was thankful to God that I did some work on the epistle before I began to preach on it, for I soon learned that John’s writings were no the simplest parts of Scripture, but the most difficult. And so I abandoned the idea of preaching on John’s writings. Since then, I have ventured from time to time into John’s writing (especially his epistles), but I never felt very satisfied with the sermons I did preach. I kept thinking: There is a lot more in the text than I can see. In an effort to understand more fully these epistles and John’s gospel, I have read them for my own personal devotions. That has helped.

3) We must not try to read a large and long passage every day. It is better to read two verses and know what they mean than 50 verses and not really know what they are about. I do not recommend these many programs that tell you how to read through the whole Bible in one year. That program is simply getting someone to read a lot, but understand almost nothing. There is no profit in reading merely for reading’s sake; so that I can say, “I read the whole Bible in one year!”

Avoiding those dangers will help us with our reading of Scripture. My father used to tell us, and I found that to be true, that when we are children or young people we like the historical parts of Scripture the best. When we are adults, we like the “meaty” parts of Scripture the best: the epistles and prophets. But when we get old, our favorite is always the Psalms. I find myself turning constantly to the Psalms, and how I love to sing them.

I do not mean that the Psalms are not very precious to any child of God. They are, indeed, because they are a complete biography of the Christian’s spiritual life. There is no single experience of the child of God which is not found in the Psalms. We can see ourselves reflected in them on every page. But be that as it may, there are some rules to follow in reading the Scriptures – if they are to be truly devotional and be a part of our personal devotions.

The most important rule is that we understand what we read. There is not much sense in reading the Bible if we have no sense of its meaning.

Once again, I use as an example from our family devotions. From the time our children were small until they married and left the house, we were careful to be sure they understood what we read at our mealtimes. To do that, I would take the time to explain what we were going to read before we would actually read the passage. Just as soon as the children were learning to read, even if they knew only less than half the words, they would take their turn reading a verse. Throughout the reading, every child was encouraged to stop the reading and ask what something meant. This frequently opened the door to discussions (especially as the children grew older), and sometimes we would only read a verse or two because of the long discussions we would have. In fact, we would sometimes have Bible Dictionaries at hand to look up strange words, such as: what Ed was; what is an acacia tree; what is shittim wood; where was Tyre and Zidon in relation to Canaan; etc.

The point I am trying to make is that understanding is crucial. A very rule in order to understand a text is that we do not, first of all, ask ourselves the question: What does this text mean to me and for me? How does God speak to me? How does this text help me? This sort of approach is self-centered and will not have good results in coming to an understanding of God’s Word. The very first question we must ask ourselves when we have read a verse or part of a verse is: What is God saying about himself in this verse?

I cannot emphasize this enough. Are we so self-centered that we are interested only in ourselves and really care nothing about God? If so, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. If my wife and I have been forced to be separated from each other for a while, and I receive a letter from her, then my great interest in the letter is not: What does she say about me? I can’t even imagine reading her letter in that way. I would, I think, skip over it all and try to find those parts of the letter in which she talks about herself: How she is doing? Is she well? How is she keeping busy? Does she have any problems?

If you should ask me why I am so interested in what she says about herself, my answer would be: I love her because God has given her to me to take care of. I want to know how she is doing.

The Bible is God’s letter to his church. He does not give us this letter, in the first place, to talk about us; he gives us this letter so that he may tell us about himself. Never forget: Scripture is the infallibly inspired word of God in which he reveals himself to us as he is in Jesus Christ. We cannot properly know what the Bible says about us, unless we know about what the Bible says about God.

How can we know that we are God’s people unless we know that God has chosen us eternally in Christ in the decree of election? How can we know we are his people unless we know all about the suffering and death of Christ on the cross? This is so true because I know that I am a terrible sinner and that I cannot be God’s child except in the suffering and death of Christ. The more I know about God and Christ, the more I can and do know what I have to know about myself.

Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion says that there are two things we have to know. We have to know God and we have to know ourselves. But the two are in that order: the knowledge of God rst, and only then the knowledge of ourselves.

Let us not be sel sh, self-centred, spoiled brats in our reading of Scripture. Let us take our cue from David: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).The result will be that the starting point of our devotions will be the awareness of the greatness and glory of God. This is important so that we do not talk to God as if He is our next door neighbor. And, not only that, but it will be the way to understand how great God is and how small we are; how great, therefore, is his mercy and love to us poor sinners, and how undeserving we are. Sometimes our devotions will consist of little more than a cry of thanksgiving to God and a song of praise to him who is so great and so glorious. When we attain that height, we have begun to understand what devotions are all about.

I have some more things to say about our reading of Scripture, but they must wait.

Questions for discussion:

1. Why is it better to take our devotions from larger sections of Scripture rather than jumping around from one text to another?

2. Why does a child of God want to know as much as he can about God?

3. Why is doctrine important for our personal devotions?

4. Some Christians read a devotional book (like Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening) for devotions. Is this a proper way to have devotions? What is best? To add a devotional book to our meditation of Scripture, or to read a devotional book in place of our meditating on Scripture?

5. Is it permissible and helpful to look up commentaries on a verse we are using for devotions?

6. Is it helpful to make use of Bible Dictionaries or Biblical Encyclopedias to help us understand a passage better?

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 5

The Importance of Personal Devotions II

Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, considered his personal devotions to be crucial for his life and work. He rose at 3:00 every morning to meditate on the Scriptures and pray. He continued this meditation and prayer until 6:00 or later. One of his servants asked him once: “Dear Brother; you are so frightfully busy; how can you afford to spend three hours or more in your devotions?” His answer was, “The busier I am, the more I need those devotions.” That remark of Luther has often put me to shame. Three hours? If I spend a half hour, I am doing well. The greater the busyness, the more important the devotions? How easy it is for you and me to say to ourselves that we are much too busy for our devotions and we will have to skip them for the day. Or, at the end of the day we say to ourselves, “You are so exhausted that you can’t even stay awake long enough o have devotions. You had probably better just forget them today. The Lord will understand how tired I am.” Maybe Luther was the great man of God that he was because he knew the importance of devotions and faithfully practiced them.

I know I am speaking of family devotions, but the importance of family devotions reflects itself in our private and personal devotions. My father told us that his father had to be at work at 7:00 in the morning.

Because these were the days when automobiles were not yet used, my grandfather, who had his own painting business, had to harness the horse, hitch up the wagon and proceed at a horse’s pace to the place of work. This took a great deal of time and he usually had to leave the house by 6:00 AM. But he insisted on having family devotions at the beginning of the day. And so all the children had to be out of bed and at the breakfast table shortly after 5:00.

We tried to practice that when our children were home. It didn’t always work because sometimes our boys had to leave for work around 6:00; I had to take them to work; the distance to and from the place where the boys worked was probably nearly 30 miles. The result was that I and the boys (who worked in the celery fields, had our devotions together at breakfast; and then we had our devotions with the rest of the family when I returned. But we did always have devotions together at the beginning of the day. Both Mrs. Hanko and I considered it important to read God’s word together and pray together as a family. And we always tried desperately to have family devotions at the supper table. If the children were home, we also had devotions at noon. In every case we began with prayer and ended with Scripture reading and prayer. At the beginning of the meal we sought

God’s blessing, and at the end of the meal we gave thanks to God.

This seeking of God’s blessing is important for God’s gifts are sanctified by God’s word and by prayer I Timothy 4:3-5).

What Should Be Included In Devotions (Scripture Reading)

Personal devotions are as important as family devotions.

It is quite clear from Scripture that the main essentials of devotions are the reading of Scripture and prayer. These two elements are important because, being consciously in God’s presence (which is what devotions are), is really a part of covenant fellowship with God. And covenant fellowship has as its main characteristic that those within the covenant have fellowship by conversing together. If they do not speak to each other, they have no fellowship, but each goes his or her own way. A man and his wife live in the covenant of marriage because they can and do talk together. So it is with God and his people. God speaks to them and they speak to God.

But we do not talk to God in the same way that we talk to our neighbor, or even our friend. God is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He is great and beyond all description. The difference between God and us is far, far greater than the distance between the most powerful king and a small spider that spins a web in the corner of a ceiling in the palace. God’s greatness must be preserved in all our fellowship with him.

As far as our devotions are concerned, God always opens the conversation. He speaks first. He must speak first. But His speech is powerful, quickening, creative. His speech has to be first, for our speech is always and must always be a response to his speech. In fact, God’s speech really creates our speech, for his speech brings with it grace and mercy and love.

God’s speech does not come to us out of the air. It is not some inner voice which only you can hear. It is not the whisperings of the Spirit in our hearts, so that we say, “God told me to do this … or that.” That sort of thing is the nonsense of Pentecostalism. If that is the way God speaks to us, we can make God say anything we want him to say – and many people do just that. They use the speech of God, which they hear in their hearts to justify things that they should not do. They think they hear God when they feel something, — whatever that feeling may be.

God’s speech is in the Bible. That is the only place you will find it. Nowhere else in the whole world can it be found. But that speech of God in the Bible becomes a speech we hear by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God, Paul says (Romans 8:16). But the Spirit does not speak except through the Bible. The Spirit ties himself to the Bible. He will not speak at all without using the Bible.

It reminds me of something that happened in the Netherlands to a minister. He told his wife one week that he was not going to make a sermon, because he believed that the Spirit would give him what he had to say when the time came. That Sunday morning his wife could not to church, because she was sick. And so when he came home from church, his wife said to him, “Hans”, for that was his name, “what did the Spirit say to you this morning?” He mournfully shook his head and said, “All he said to me was, ‘Hans, Hans, how lazy you were.’”

You can see the point as far as our devotions are concerned. Bible reading is God’s word. That word we must hear first, before we can speak to God. Our speech in our prayers is a response to what God says. It is not a response in the sense that we answer questions from God. It is a responses because we learn who God is, what he does, and why he loves us in Christ. Knowing all these things, we can say that we will tell God all that lies on our hearts and he will surely hear us and answer us.

So Scripture reading must be a part of our devotions. We will wait to discuss this matter of how to read Scripture for another article.

Questions for discussion:

1. If God speaks to us only through the Bible, how do we know the will of God for us in the circumstances of life about which Scripture does not speak? For example, if we want to marry someone, how do we know it is the will of God that we marry the person we have chosen for our husband or wife? How does a minister who has a call to a different congregation know whether or not to move?

2. Are there any decisions we make in life without God’s direction that our completely our decisions?

3. How can we be sure, having made a decision, that it is the right one? Or cannot we be sure?

4. Does God’s word help us at all in these situations?

5. Why is it important that we read Scripture before we pray? Is this always necessary?

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 4

The Importance of Personal Devotions I


I think it was the last time Mrs. Hanko and I were in Singapore that I was asked to contribute one or more articles on the subject of personal devotions. I had forgotten all about it until Josiah kindly reminded me of my unfulfilled promise. I consider the subject an extremely important one and am happy to write for Salt Shakers.

Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School, where a lot of my children studied for either all or a significant part of their primary education, had a teacher in the Sixth Grade, who was one of these “born teachers.” Some teachers are that way. They receive gifts from God that sets them aside from others as having all those gifts that are necessary to teach children effectively and in a God-fearing manner. They really do not need any education in how to teach. They just know. She was in Hope School for many years, and most, if not all, my children enjoyed her instruction as they passed through the Sixth Grade.

I mention this because she taught the children the importance of devotions in their lives. She prepared calendar charts of each month with each day of the month on them. She prepared one for each child. The children were required to practice personal and private devotions every day of the month. They were to fill in the space on the chart for that day with the Scripture passage they read and some of the things they had told the Lord in their prayers. Many of these children, under her direction and encouragement, formed life-long habits of personal devotions that continue to the present. Mrs. Hanko and I are thankful for what she did for our children and for all the children of the covenant.

Scripture’s Mention of Private Devotions

Although the Bible does not, so far as I know, use the term “personal devotions,” such practices are referred to in other ways in many difference places in Scripture. I can mention a few. We read that Job, when he had received all the bad news of the destruction of all his possessions and the death of all his children, “arose, rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped (Job 1:20).

The Psalms often speak of the personal and private prayers the Psalmists made to God. But they speak too, of more than prayer. For example, in Psalm 77, the Psalmist was so troubled that he was convinced that God had ceased to love him and had abandoned him. But then he recovered from this dreadful state of mind. He tells us: “This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings” (Psalm 77:10-12).

The Psalmist found relief in calling to mind God’s great works, meditating on them and speaking to God of them. These great works of God were, of course, to be found in those books of the Bible that the Psalmist possessed in those days.

Our Lord gives special instruction to us for the prayers we are to make; but also mentions our own private devotions. In Matthew 6:6 he speaks especially of these private devotions: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into they closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to they Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

When messengers came to Peter from Cornelius while Peter was staying in Joppa, “as they drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour” (Acts 10:9). Peter was not aware of the fact that these messengers from Cornelius were coming, but he was waiting for dinner and spent the time in private prayer.

What Devotions Are

The word “devotions” is the noun of the adjective “devout” and the verb “devote.” All these words mean “dedication,” “consecration” or, “piety” and refer to worship. It is this last point that needs emphasis. To practice devotions is to worship God.

To worship God is to enter consciously into God’s presence so that we are in God’s presence with our minds and souls. We cannot come bodily or geographically into God’s presence. So, to engage in devotions is to enter into God’s presence in our minds and hearts.

Now, it is possible, of course, to go through the motions of devotions and not really to engage in them; we go through the ritual, but our minds are on many different things. This is what the Bible calls “Lip-service,” and is something particularly abominable to God (Isaiah 1:11-16). It is possible for us, even though we are on earth and God is in heaven, to enter into his presence when we think of him as the Scriptures tell of him and speak to him as if we were together conversing about various things. It is a great blessing that God gives us. He makes it possible for us to do this, because he gives us the Holy Spirit in our hearts (Romans 8:15, 23, 25, 27).

There are many ways in which the child of God has devotions. He has devotions in church on the Lord’s Day, when in singing, praying and listening to God’s Word he is consciously in God’s presence. He has devotions with his family when parents and children gather to read the Scriptures and pray – and, perhaps, sing. He has devotions when he meets with fellow saints for Bible study; or when he and one or more friends pray together. Always, devotions are coming consciously into God’s presence.

But the Bible speaks also of private devotions; that is, devotions in which a child of God is alone with his God. That is what we want to talk about in this and a following article, or articles.

Why Devotions Are Important

We need devotions because we are still very sinful and imperfect people. It is our calling to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. That means we are to love God all the time, every moment of our lives. In heaven this will be possible, for we will see our Lord face to face and we will be every moment consciously serving our God. But, while we are on earth, we cannot attain to such heights of devotion.

We are too busy with our studies, our entertainment, our obligations at work, all the other things that occupy our time and energy. For hours on end and even days we do not even think about God or about our calling to be dedicated to him. And so we need to set aside certain periods in the day to put out of our minds all our daily distractions that occupy so much of our time, so that we can come to God and live in covenant fellowship with him in our devotions.

Such devotions are crucially important and we cannot survive spiritually without them.

Although we will talk more about devotions in another article, here are some questions that you can answer and use as good subjects to talk about with your fellow saints.

Questions of discussion

1. Look up the text in Psalm 77 that I referred to in the article and explain what it means to “meditate” upon God’s mighty works. How do we meditate?

2. Why does the Psalm speak of meditating on God’s mighty “works”? The Psalmist was in deep spiritual trouble when he wrote this Psalm, (Read from the beginning of the Psalm how deep his troubles were.) How did meditation on God’s mighty works help him spiritually to escape his troubles?

3. If you have found the answer to question 2, then answer this question: Is it possible to conclude that God’s mighty works are for other saints and not for me? What then do we do?

4. Are their differences in our prayers and the contents of our prayers in our own private devotions from the devotions of a family, or the devotions of a child of God in the worship services?

5. If you conclude that there are differences, then be specific as to what these differences are.

6. Read Isaiah 1:11-16 and answer how our own sin of lip-service is really the same as Israel’s sin.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 3