Family Devotions: Good Intentions vs. Good Practice

7 Dec

Over the last several years I have become convinced that gathering as a family for daily devotions is a vital element of the spiritual development of my children and the spiritual unity of our family. We started 10 years ago with a prayer journal, a Bible story book and a baby. Since then we have added three more babies,  gone through more different ways of doing devotions than I’d like to admit, and had times of great joy and periods of sad inconsistency (the inconsistency was mostly owing to my own failure to initiate devotions and make them a priority).

Can I find a Scriptural command which says, “Thou shalt have family devotions?” No. But principles about the spiritual nurture of our children abound in both Testaments (see Deuteronomy, Proverbs, the New Testament letters as a start). We are likely to short-change our children spiritually if we do not gather them together daily to read Scripture, pray and share our lives with God together.

So how do you get started?

1. Just do it. Sometimes the Nike slogan is right. Family devotions is one of those times. The most important thing you can do is begin.

2. Consider Your Audience. If you have three children under 5, they probably aren’t going to benefit very much from readings from Calvin’s Institutes. I remember one time I got the bright idea to read from A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God for family devotions. My 10 year-old son enjoyed it, but the readings were intolerable for my younger daughter. I have forever spoiled her on A.W. Pink. I would hate for my children to grow up loathing classic Christian literature because I exposed them to it before they were ready. A good place to start with younger children is a good story book. The Big Picture Bible and The Jesus Storybook are good places to start. Using the Bible, along with these resources, can be very effective. For children in the elementary grades, I believe it is good for the Bible itself to begin to be central, but there are good resources to for this age as well. The book Long Story Short is a resource for elementary ages we have used that was pretty good.  There are two other things you need to consider in thinking about your audience: ages and time. If you have children at vastly different ages, try to engage each one during devotions. I really struggle with this, as sometimes the younger children get left behind, but it is a good goal to remember. I have found our family has about a maximum attention span for devotions of about 15 minutes at this point. Maybe in years to come we will see this expand, but this is where we are right now. Keep in mind the ages of your children and their ability to listen and interact when you plan devotions with your family.

3. Find a Consistent Time. For us, this has become the morning, but for years we had devotions at bed time. But for the last few months, we began to see that one night I would have a meeting, one night, my wife would be at a meeting, one night we would be at church, one night, one or two of the kids would be with the grandparents. So we came to realize that family devotions were only happening two or three times a week with the whole family together. Therefore, we moved to the morning, when we are all together. Maybe you don’t have a time when you can all be together. If that is the case, I want to plead with you to consider re-adjusting the rest of your schedule to make family devotions possible. Spiritually leading your children is more important than their extra-curricular activities, or yours.

4. “Don’t Grow Weary in Doing Good.” Galatians 6:9 applies to family devotions. Family devotions are a good thing. Don’t give up. Sometimes our devotions seem like a waste of time. Sometimes I am disorganized. Sometimes I know I don’t lead well. Sometimes, my prayers seem like lead balloons. Sometimes the kids get started giggling and it becomes difficult to rein them in together. But I don’t want to give up and I encourage you not to give up either. Sometimes devotions will be great, often they will be less than great. It’s OK. The long-term benefits of devotions for your family will make the drab days worthwhile.

A final word . . . Devotions are only one piece of the puzzle.

I urge you to have devotions as a family. If you lead your family in this way, you will bring great blessing to your children and God will be honored. But family devotions are only one part of the picture of a godly family. If you are at odds with your spouse constantly, even if you have devotions, they will be somewhat empty. If you have long-standing conflicts, devotions will be seen as hypocrisy rather than worship. If you have devotions but spend the rest of your time at home complaining or swearing or getting drunk or gossiping or watching junk on TV, you are undermining the spiritual progress of your family by your lifestyle. So devotions are good, but they are not a cure all for the family. They can help the spiritual progress of the family, but they can not guarantee that progress. Only the work of the Holy Spirit and the loving care of godly parents can foster such progress.

Tomorrow, I plan to deal with a question that may be on the minds of some who read this article. What do I do if I want to do family devotions but my spouse does not want to participate?

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about family devotions that you’d like to share, use the comment tab below. What has worked well for your family?

3 Responses to “Family Devotions: Good Intentions vs. Good Practice”

  1. Shannon December 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Thanks for the article and the encouragement. We started family devotions a couple months ago but stopped after we went out of town for a couple days – planning to start back real soon.

    • jsf08 December 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      That’s great Shannon. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. tacticianjenro January 10, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    Our father is working overseas for 15+ years now. I’m with my mother, and two older sisters. Both of them are graduates, and I’m the only one in college. We do talk about spiritual matters now and then, but with our personalities, it’s more like we seek God on our own… it’s hard when there’s no male figure (on our case, it’s just me, and I’m youngest) who takes the lead, but I figured God has it all planned out and has a purpose regardless of how we grew up or whether we have devotions or not.

    Just my take on this. God bless!

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