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