I recognise that many readers of this blog won’t be at the same stage of life as me, with four young children (ages 9, 7, 4, and 1 after a recent round of birthdays), but I hope you’ll bear with me for a post on “family devotions”.
Recently Matt Hosier posted a book review of “Gospel Powered Parenting” in which he challenged fathers not to “wimp out” of doing family devotions just because they are hard. It was a timely reminder for me, since I have allowed our family worship to become sporadic, and so we have upped the frequency of them again. Just so no one reading this has a romanticised idea of what our family devotions are like, the main challenges I face are…
- fights and arguments (seem to break out as soon as I start reading from the Bible!)
- eagerness to leave the table (children eating their dinner in 30 seconds flat so they can get back to doing what they were doing before dinner)
- constant interruptions (needing the toilet, spilling drinks, falling off chairs, asking questions in the middle of prayers)
- lack of concentration (ever felt like you’re talking to yourself? welcome to family devotions)
I think mealtimes make sense since the whole family is gathered. We always eat together as a family in the evening (breakfasts are a little more chaotic), and so I try to fit something in after we have eaten. Between courses is a good idea, as there is an incentive for everyone to stay at the table. You can even use pudding as a bribe to behave during devotions, but I’m not sure how “gospel-centred” that approach is.
My main approach has usually been to read a few verses of Scripture, make a few comments on it, suggest a topic for prayer, and then encourage everyone to pray briefly. Occasionally, my children’s prayers will indicate that they took something in, which is always encouraging. Also, we sometimes get into discussion, as the Bible reading raises questions. But don’t expect the questions to be directly related to the topic you wanted to emphasise. Often my children ask tangential questions that need a long answer (“Why can’t I get baptised now?”, “Why don’t I ever hear God speaking to me?”). I try to briefly answer, and provide fuller answers one-to-one with them, or in future family devotions.
Our attempts to sing have met with limited success. Our children each have their own favourite songs, and don’t take well to singing anyone else’s! They also insist on wildly running round the room while we sing, resulting in lots of accidents (or sulking if we ban it). Probably I need to select a repertoire of songs that we all know and like and choose one for each time.
I’d love to hear what you do with your families. What works well? I certainly don’t feel like I’ve arrived at an ideal model, but I am a bit more determined not to wimp out when it doesn’t seem to be going according to plan. I’m not saying that I will stubbornly persist with an idea when it is clearly not working, but I am not going to be so easily discouraged.
Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them. Deut 6:6-8 (CEV)