Family devotions

In my last post I mentioned that it is the Father’s role to lead his family spiritually. In many families this role has been handed over to the church, Sunday school, Christian school or sometimes Mum. While spiritual input from all of these areas can be very beneficial, it is primarily the Father’s responsibility. One tangible way that Dad can take hold of this role is by leading his family in daily devotions (sometimes known as family alter or bible study time.)

WHAT ARE FAMILY DEVOTIONS?

  • Regular bible study with the whole family. This time can also include worship (in the form of singing), prayer, and possibly catechism and scripture memorization. Catechism and scripture memorization are both important, however some families do them separately at other times throughout the day.

WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?

  • In short – God tells us to! It is not enough to take our children to church and youth group and hope for the best. We must disciple our children, teaching them in our homes, with the Father as the primary lead in this area.
  • We become the prime spiritual influence in the lives of our children – it allows us to shepherd our children’s hearts; preparing their hearts for the gospel and salvation, building their faith and strengthening a biblical worldview.
  • Worshiping and communicating with God is vital for the whole family, not just Mum and Dad.
  • It promotes personal spiritual growth, helping us (and our family) to learn the bible, it’s doctrines and teachings in order that we know what we believe and why. If our children do not know God’s word they will be unable to honour, respect and live by it. Children need to learn that the bible tells us what to do and gives us insight for daily life; that it is relevant to them and their everyday situations. As families study together, parents can weed out errors in belief and misunderstandings
  • Worshiping and studying God’s word together builds family unity, strengthening and building healthy family relationships.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

  • The “how” of family devotions changes with each family’s unique situation, time constraints, ages of children and a myriad of other factors. Find a way that works for you and do it – regularly!
  • Decide where; Lounge chairs, around the dining table, on the end of beds, sprawled on the lounge room floor…
  • Decide when; As soon as the family is awake, immediately before or after a meal, after dinner clean-up, just before bed? Ideally choose a time when children are fed and well rested.
  • Decide how long; this depends on the age of the children. Keep it to a reasonable time limit, but not so short that you cannot give adequate attention to God’s word.

TODDLERS AND YOUNGER

  • Give thanks before meals. Hold the child’s hands and encourage them to join in with “Amen” at the end. Encourage them to echo or say simple prayers as they are able.
  • Pray with and for the child at bedtime
  • Have your own devotions in front of the child
  • Read short, colourful bible stories. Perhaps ask a simple comprehension question or two afterwards.
  • Sing simple bible based children’s songs together
YOUNG CHILDREN TO MIDDLE YEARS
  • Bible stories are still important, branching out into the lesser known ones.
  • Spice up your devotion time by acting out stories, using puppets or pictures, involving the children in role play and re-tell.
  • Introduce real-life stories, applications and real Christian “heroes”
  • Ask questions for comprehension and real-life application of what they have read; “What would you do if..?”
  • As children can read, have them take their turn to read out the verses being studies.
PRE-TEEN TO TEEN
  • Discussion, sharing and engagement become much more important.
  • It’s ok to not always have the answer – model how to find out.
  • Personal devotions for the children should be well and truly up and running – perhaps set “homework” and discuss together, work through devotional books together or research tricky questions.
  • Discuss current affairs and politics and the biblical basis for decisions making in these areas. What are the biblical rights and wrongs of what is going on?
  • Teens take time – make sure you plan for it!
MULTIPLE AGES
  • Beware of dumbing everything down for the younger children, they will pick up more than you think.
  • use a mix of resources; some days may cater more for the younger, others the middle or older.
  • Young children may stay for the first part of devotions then head off to bed while the older children delve in more deeply.
  • Involve the older children in planning and running the devotion time.
  • Everyone may do the same bible study together, with younger children having a children’s bible story at night before bed and older children working through separate studies in the evening

FORMAT

  • Sing together. Perhaps a kids bible song, contemporary worship song  and a traditional hymn. Do not neglect the great hymns of the faith; the words in these will teach spiritual truths to children and will lodge in their memories for a lifetime. Voddie Baucham’s article on family worship touches on why we should sing hymns: http://web.me.com/voddieb/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/11/5_Answering_Your_Questions.html
  • Study the bible. There are many ways to do this. A couple are: Chapter by chapter (simply work your way through books of the bible from start to finish in small chunks), following a theme or topic or read 1 proverb, a section of a psalm and a couple of verses from the New Testament each day.
  • Several great ideas are included in an article by Al Troester here: http://www.wholesomewords.org/family/famaltar.html)
  •  Perhaps Dad could read through the selected text to begin with, then ask those children who can read to take it in turns to read 2 lines each and those who cannot yet read to echo the words of each verse after you. Dad then teaches back through the selected text – children are asked to contribute to discussions or ask questions after he has explained each line or two. Each person finishes the bible study section by telling something they have learnt or can apply to their own lives. Always look for the applications and personal lessons after each reading and teaching time.
  • Pray. All family members take a turn to pray for whatever is appropriate that day. It is helpful to have some kind of prayer journal or recording system to help with purposeful prayer and to notice the answers to prayer that God gives us. Record the date it was prayed for, what was prayed and leave a column to record God’s answer.
  • Catechism. The catechism is a series of questions and answer that children memorise to learn the main doctrines of the Christian faith, building a strong foundation for world view and ensuring they know what they believe. (More info on this another time:)
  • Scripture memorization. (More ideas on how to do this another day too :)


Children who stand strong in their faith: Walking against the crowd

One of the topics raised amongst our GEMS leaders a little while back was how to go about raising children who are able to stand strong in their faith even when no-one else is walking with them and they are away from the sheltering influence of their parents and family. How do we prepare them to be in the world but not of the world; to be able to choose the narrow path and walk against the flow? (Even if that means standing alone because “every one else is doing it!”)

I believe the key is that our children must develop their own genuine saving faith and not be relying on ours to carry them through. They must have the Holy Spirit as their strength and their own conviction to stand on God’s word and to follow His commandments and statutes. Our teaching as parents must be overt, deliberate, ongoing, free from hypocrisy, giving a good role model and above all, reaching the heart of our children. Our teaching will be molding the external behavior of our children, but this must transition to heart knowledge, to the child internalizing the beliefs for themselves. We can only do so much here and pray that God will do the rest. In the end, when a difficult test comes, only if our children have chosen God and His ways for themselves will they make the difficult decisions and stand alone if necessary, because otherwise they simply will not want to!

Dads should be leading their family spiritually. There are many ways to do this, including holding family devotions, leading world view discussions on current affairs, discussing what they believe and why and relating that back to the bible. Be deliberate in teaching the bible, memorizing scripture, training character, reading inspiring books with a message and praying together. Soak your children in the beliefs, understandings and world view you want them to have well before a time of testing will come. Decisions made ahead of time without the emotions and pressure of the heat of the moment, decisions that have been discussed, thought through, prayed over and become an internalized way of life will not be overturned quickly. We all can think of actions and decisions made in the heat of the moment that we wish we could change and would have done differently had we previously thought through the issues involved.

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 6:7 ESV)

We need to keep the lines of communication open; talking about everything. Make time alone to share, bond and discuss those innermost thoughts and feelings. Work to surround your children with peers who are being raised with similar convictions, standards and beliefs. Two or more standing together is so much easier than one standing alone. Foster a close relationship. Fill their love tanks. A child who knows that they are unconditionally loved by their families will have an extra inner reserve of strength to stand firm. A needy, empty child will turn to those who fulfill those needs that are not being met at home.

Certain personalities will be more naturally able to take a leadership role and less likely to blindly follow the crowd. All of us need to be able to make the hard decisions though and learn not to follow when the leaders are leading in the wrong direction. Teach your children about personality types and love languages. Help them to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and areas that they will have to be particularly vigilant in. Help to identify why they feel the way they do and to be able to be objective about their decision making.

Guard your child’s ear and eye gate. Give them excellent literature to read that portrays great role models and biblical worldview; do not pollute their innocence with worldly ideas through literature, magazines or on screen. Choose television programmes very carefully or better still get rid of the T.V. completely. The more exposure to non-biblical thinking we give our children the more they will be subtly bought into the idea of the world’s norms and tend to adapt them as their own. Slow attitude change is often hardly noticeable but Hollywood has its own agenda and it shouldn’t fit with ours as Christians. If the role models they are watching and listening to are “doing it” then children are being nudged in that direction and may begin to normalize non-biblical behaviour and accept it as ok.

Shield your child by not putting them into situations that will likely test them before they are ready to handle it. Be aware of the scenarios faced at sleep-overs, parties, weekends away and the like. I had good friends who were fairly like-minded, with careful parents. It was only through the grace of God however that I came through the parties, sleepovers and get-togethers we attended relatively unscathed. I’m sure my parents would have been horrified to know what went on at some of the places we went to – even those with so-called responsible adults in attendance!

Substitute inappropriate situations with alternatives if there are such available. For example, the end of year 11 was a time to go away camping with all the highschoolers and a time of drinking, partying and a lot of other things we don’t need to list. There was no way my parents were prepared to let me go away unchaperoned and luckily for me many of my friends’ parents felt the same way. My Mother volunteered to take us all camping and attended as the supervising adult (much to my embarrassment at the time.) She did turn out to be remarkably “cool” and as it was this or nothing everyone came and we had a great time together.

There are no easy answers and no quick fixes. Equipping our children to stand strong on their convictions is a process and we build on to that equipping every day for years.

  [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

(Galatians 6:9 ESV)

Family Devotions with Joel Beeke

I highly recommend listening to Joel Beeke (here) as he speaks at the Conference for Pastors on Family Worship. He gives a simple yet profound message on the importance of family worship (family devotions/bible study time) with tips on how to go about doing it successfully. I think most Christians would agree that having time together as a family to study God’s word is important, but many find it difficult to know how or where to start. This talk may be what you need to get you equipped and off and running as you seek to lead your family to Christ.

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