Parents, how many of you are intimidated at the thought of leading your family in daily devotions? And just so that we are on the same page, daily devotions are a time set aside for you to read a passage of Scripture with your family, discuss it, and end in prayer.
If I had to go out on a limb (a strong one so that I didn’t break it and fall), I would assume that many parents have an overwhelming feeling at the thought of leading their family through such a time. Maybe apprehension sets in because you may think, “I don’t know a lot about the Bible myself,” “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t really know what to do,” “I don’t have it together myself,” “I’ve really never taught kids the bible,” or “My kids can’t sit still long enough for me to do one.” Or you may have questions like: a) Where do I begin? b) What passage of Scripture do I read? c) What do I say? Or d) Is there a good family devotional book that I could buy and use?
These anxieties and questions are very real, and ones that I, as a pastor, have had at one time or another.
To hopefully bring some aid to both you and me in the area of daily devotionals, I think it is important that we answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of family devotions?
- When and how long should they be?
- What do I want my kids to learn during that time?
What is the purpose of family devotions? The purpose is simple: to draw your family into a corporate time, as a family unit, to focus upon the glory and centrality of Jesus and to remind everyone that Jesus is the hero of the family.
Regardless of whether or not you have a three year old or a seventeen year old, this (or something similar) should be the purpose of your family devotional time.
As believers, when our children leave our home, they should know that the hero of their family continues to be the hero of their lives, namely Jesus!
When and how long should family devotions be? I think the issue of time may be one of the biggest questions or even obstacles that [busy] families have. Parents’ workload, their long workdays, and the children’s busy extra circular schedules, seems to suction all the time out of families’ schedules.
I understand the time restraints. But, let me be somewhat bold and vulnerable here. I think family devotions are too important to neglect. And, in all honesty, I have neglected that time far too much as a father.
The truth is, I don’t think family devotions are neglected because of busyness, but because of a lack of discipline.
What we value, what’s important, is what we invest in. When family devotions become an important, even an essential, time for families, parents will build the margin to see that they are done.
For Joannie and I, we have built in that time during their bedtime routine. After their pjs are on and their teeth are brushed, we all gather in one of the bedrooms. I’m not going to lie, sometimes they file into the bedroom like little good soldiers armed and ready to listen and participate; other times, they come in like little wrestle-mania wrestlers body slamming one another; and still, other times, they come in trying to find their missing Legos they weren’t worried about for the last 72 hours.
As many of you can attest, family devotionals not only require discipline, they require patience. [I don’t want to yell and threaten them that they are about to meet Jesus when I am about to share Jesus with them.]
Once settled, we spend anywhere from five to fifteen minutes reading, discussing, and praying. Yes, that’s it. Family devotions do not have to be a long drawn out ordeal. Sure, it may feel like a long drawn out ordeal as you settle-down your younger children. But once they are settled, it doesn’t have to be long. [And Joannie would add, there may be times that it seems that all hell breaks loose—that their attention span is that of a gnat, one child is swinging of the bunkbed like a monkey, and the other one is slapping at fleas jumping off from the dog—and the best thing to do is simply close the time in prayer. And that’s o.k.]
Family devotions are not about quantity of time but quality of time.
What do I want my kids to learn during that time? This is an important question, and one that builds on the first. So, if we want the family to concentrate on the glory and centrality of Jesus, how do we go about that? To help our family concentrate of the greatness and glory of Jesus (even to a 9, 7, and 4 year old) I created the acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y.:
- F- Faith
- A- Adoration
- M- Mission
- I- Intimacy
- L- Lost condition (sin)
- Y- You
As of now, our family is going through the Storybook Bible, which is a great resource! [If you don’t have the Storybook Bible, I would encourage you to download it (it’s on Amazon for $3.99) or purchase it.] After reading a passage, Joannie and I methodically walk through F.A.M.I.L.Y. asking the following questions:
- Does this passage/story teach us about Faith in God? Faith simply means trust, belief, or confidence in God—who He is, what He says, and what He promises. Scripture is full of men and women who trusted and believed in God.
- Does this passage/story teach us about Adoring God? In other words is there anyone in this passage that responds to God in worship, praise, thankfulness, or gratefulness? Or is there something that God does here in this passage that you would respond in worship, praise, gratefulness, or thankfulness?
- Does this passage/story teach us anything about God’s Mission? For me, I have communicated to my children that God is on mission to create (to save) a people for himself from all peoples (nations, languages, people groups, and types of people). Thus, I ask them if the passage we are reading communicates anything about God creating a people for himself? I am trying to engrain in my children that God’s mission includes far more than solely evangelism; it also includes how we live, work, go to school, and treat others.
- Does this passage/story teach us anything about Intimacy with God? Here I want them to see what it means for people to have a relationship with God. I also want them to see that those who have an intimate relationship with God—those who know God—live differently from those who don’t. A relationship with God is transforming!
- Does this passage/story teach us anything about the Lost Condition (the sinfulness) of man? In asking this question, my goal is for them to see how man— whether they know God or not—struggles with sin and how sin is demonstrated and manifested in a person’s life. What has become clear, especially through observing Jesus’ disciples, is that man not only needs Jesus for salvation—to be saved from the penalty of sin—but for sanctification—to continue to be saved from the ongoing presence of sin in our life.
- Does anything in this passage/story stand out to You? Here we give our children a chance to share with us something that stands out to them, or a chance to ask a question that they may have.
Some may be wondering if every story or passage of Scripture has every element that I have just listed? Some do, some don’t. Some may be wondering if we ask every question, every night? Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Again, it isn’t the quantity—it is the quality. There are some passages and stories where it may be more advantageous to concentrate on the mission of God, and others where it might be more advantageous to discuss adoration and the lost condition (sinfulness) of man. I would encourage you to let the Spirit of God lead you in those moments.
In short, if you are parent and do not have a family devotional time, I would encourage you to start. If you have young children under the age of 12, I would encourage you to use the Storybook Bible and walk through the F.A.M.I.L.Y. acronym. Or, if you don’t have the Storybook Bible, I encourage you to grab a child-friendly bible version and start in one of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—and walk through the F.A.M.I.L.Y. acronym.
Family devotions do not have to be overwhelming or intimidating, they can be short, simple, and sweet. And if done consistently, over time, parents will find that family devotions will be an investment that shapes both the heart of your child(ren) and you.