My mom was the queen of routines, and suppertime at our house in the 80s and 90s was on a pretty strict schedule. My dad went to bed shortly after 5 p.m. so he could get up in the middle of the night to head off to work. This meant our family ate dinner at 4 p.m., with devotions immediately following.
We all adjusted our schedules to accommodate this important family mealtime and worship. As a kid I knew we were a little abnormal, since I was the only kid running home from the pool at 3:45, but it was routine enough that I never questioned it, and it was clear this time was important to my parents and to our family. We never skipped reading the Bible (always straight through, unless we skipped a few passages in Leviticus or Numbers, which I’m sure other parents did too!).
Now that I’m a parent myself, and juggling an often too-full schedule, I realize how remarkable this was for my parents to pull off for so many years. They could have easily decided we could all eat at different times or skip devotions, but my parents knew this time around the table was important, and therefore they found a way to make it work.
Too many families today, I believe, are slaves to their jam-packed schedules and don’t prioritize devotions as much as families in previous generations. Many other parents didn’t grow up with family devotions themselves, so they aren’t in the routine or just don’t know how to start.
I believe we need a revival of family worship in our homes, creating space to disciple our kids, teach them the Bible and doctrine, and have tough conversations about how to live as Christ-followers in our ever-changing culture. Some of the best conversations we’ve had with our kids have happened during this set-aside time.
In talking with other families and trying to encourage them to build a family devotional habit, there are four challenges that often come up.
The challenge of time
The first obstacle is finding the time. Like my parents did in my home growing up, I encourage families to pick a time and just be as consistent as you can. You can choose breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even bedtime. It just needs to be a time when the whole family can be present. This gets harder for families as kids get older and involved in more activities, and that’s often when many families give up.
Our family has been intentional about what we commit to, trying to preserve our family dinner time as much as possible, but I’ll admit it can be really tough So there may come a day when we switch to breakfast devotions instead of dinner.
The challenge of plan
The second difficulty deals with choosing a format and resources. The simplest plan is often the best, and you can always switch it up. But the most basic elements are reading, praying, and singing. Donald Whitney has a great little book titled Family Worship if you want to dig a little deeper into these specifics.
If you’re wondering what to read, the easiest and most obvious answer is the Bible. You honestly don’t need other resources, but they certainly can be helpful. I’ll admit that I’m a lover and hoarder of Bible storybooks, and we’ve read many. Yet we made the mistake of waiting too long to just simply read an entire book of the Bible straight through as a family, as my dad always did.
The first time we read the book of John together as a family the kids were on the edge of their seats the whole time, excited to hear pieces of the story that they hadn’t heard in Sunday School or from a Bible storybook. And every night they begged for more. It wasn’t above their heads, but rather spoke directly to their hearts. Let’s not forget the power of the Word itself.
The challenge of age-appropriateness
The third obstacle can be keeping everyone’s attention, especially in a big family with a variety of ages. With little ones, it’s often best to keep the reading short, and you can always lengthen the singing or prayer time if everyone is really engaged. Still, if attention spans are short, you can sing while you clean the dinner table or simply listen to a worship song on YouTube.
To help your kids pay attention during the Bible reading, allow them to keep eating, or even draw the story to keep their hands busy if that helps them. If you’re snuggling on the couch before bedtime, some kids like being wrapped tightly in a blanket, while others prefer to have their personal space.
My point is to let kids be kids during this time, as long as they’re being respectful and listening. Allowing a little movement is a great alternative to everyone tuning out. You can also ask simple questions after reading to check how they’ve been paying attention, and most kids will love beating a sibling to the answer. We also try to switch up our materials every once in a while, so we’re not always catering to the youngest child or the oldest. And if what we’re studying that week is mostly over the 5-year-old’s head, that’s okay. He’s still absorbing a little knowledge, bonding with our family, and learning the importance of spending time with God on a regular basis.
The challenge of consistency
Lastly, many families struggle to simply stick with it. I think the biggest problem we as American Christians face is our busy schedules. However, since we can also face laziness, bad attitudes, and apathy, let me encourage you with verses from Psalm 78:
“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children.” (Psa. 78:4-6)
I love this verse because it reminds me that the habits our family creates today will not only impact our kids’ souls and their spiritual lives, but also our grandkids too. What an amazing thought and encouragement. For the sake of generations to come, let’s make family devotions a priority in our homes this next year and encourage other families to do the same.