Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Family Devotions

So far in this series of articles, we have looked at three spiritual disciplines: reading the Bible in personal devotions, praying in personal devotions, and devotions in marriage. This time we consider the discipline of family devotions: worship in the home among the husband, wife, and children.

It is on good biblical grounds that fathers, mothers, and children take time each day to worship as family. Family worship includes thorough instruction of children, instruction which Israel was called to give (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. Joshua declared that he and his house would serve Jehovah (Josh. 24:15). Besides passages like these, there is the doctrine of the covenant: the relationship of friendship God establishes with His elect people in Jesus Christ. In family worship, we experience fellowship with God, give expression to family fellowship in the truth, and take seriously the command to instruct our covenant seed.  

The importance of family devotions cannot be overstated. This worship in the home is our daily spiritual nourishment. Even though many families eat a big lunch on Sunday, they still need to eat food from Monday to Saturday for their nourishment. Likewise, we enjoy a hearty meal under the preaching on Sunday, but still must feast on the Word as families in the home throughout the week. These meals nourish us, help us grow, and prepare us for the chief means of grace on Sunday.

Because family worship is essential to the spiritual life of the home, it must be the priority. This is why these devotions are a discipline of the Christian life: families see to it, with firm resolution and purpose, that they will, and that they will daily, sit together to worship God. Recreation (including sports) will always take the backseat to devotions. But what about college classes and work schedules that are difficult to work around? Flexibility is required in some cases: perhaps early morning or late night devotions are necessary.

Here are some guidelines for these family devotions.

  • 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. Keep it 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. 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 salvation, their struggles and disappointments, the temptations they face, and their life of sanctification.
  • Sing the Word. We want our children to love the songs of Zion. What better way to instill 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 color the after-meal prayer. Filling our prayers with scripture makes them fresh from evening to evening. 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 the time is right, we 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, if the information on the sermons is available. If not, Mondays are a nice day to reread the passages for 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.

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).

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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