Is It Time for Family Devotions?
by Mary Hamilton
Ask five people for their reaction to family devotions and you’ll likely get five different responses. A father who didn’t grow up in a Christian home may break out in a cold sweat, feeling wholly unqualified to lead family devotions. Mother may release a wistful sigh as she expresses a desire for a time of family devotions with her children. Teenagers may roll their eyes at the idea of sitting through a boring time of Scripture reading that has no apparent relevance to their life.
But family devotions don’t have to be boring, complicated or one-size-fits-all. When tailored to your own family, they can become a sweet time of fellowship and Christian training that will produce fruit in years to come. Here are some suggestions for getting started.
Choose a time. Just like exercise, family devotions must be a regularly scheduled event. But they can be scheduled whenever it’s convenient for your family. Some might choose to spend 15 minutes at breakfast, sharing a devotional reading. For others, suppertime or bedtime might work best. Still others might designate the evening, sometime after homework is done but before the kids get ready for bed. Experiment to see what works best for you. Frequency is an individual choice as well—daily, every other day, weekdays only or one night a week. But not designating a specific time and day(s) makes it easy to forget and to cancel for any reason.
Be comfortable. If the kids are more comfortable sprawled on the floor, there’s no reason to make them sit up on the couch as if they were in church. In fact, varying the location can make family devotions more interesting for everyone. Try having them outside when the weather is nice. Or declare an occasional pajama devotions night. Be as flexible and creative as you like.
Choose appropriate material. Spend some time at your local Christian bookstore or an online retailer when looking for resources, and pay attention to the recommended ages. For preschoolers and early readers, picture Bibles and The Beginner’s Bible are excellent tools. When my children were young, we read through The Beginner’s Bible several times, laying a foundation of familiarity with many Bible stories. As they entered school and learned to read, The Beginner’s Bible became a challenge for their home reading requirements. Reading it all the way through on their own became a celebrated accomplishment.
As children grow into grade school and junior high, you’ll want to vary the readings with other activities to keep them interested in family devotions. Consider using a book of object lessons to provide a visual, interactive experience that draws their attention. Other ideas include memorizing the books of the Bible, the names of the disciples, a Psalm or some other verses. Practice reciting these over and over together until everyone has learned them. Biographies also make interesting devotional material. My children enjoyed listening to biographies of leaders in the faith like Billy Graham, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot and Martin Luther. We read biographies of missionaries, as well as Christian athletes and inventors. Learning how faith motivated people to accomplish great things and how they applied their faith to daily life encourages all of us to do the same. And don’t forget to incorporate Bible readings, especially during seasonal times like Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. Valentine’s Day is a great time to explore what the Bible says about love. And why not use Halloween to see what Scripture has to say about death and the spiritual realm?
During the teen years, school and social activities make it harder to have consistent family devotions. With children’s ever-changing schedules, it may become necessary to hold family devotions with any who are available. Or you can scrap the consistency for the rare occasion when everyone is sharing a meal together. By this age, teens are able to contribute and explore deeper truths. You can share and discuss what you’re studying or learning in your own quiet time. Ask what has made an impression on them in their quiet time or during youth group or worship. Discuss what they’re interested in—school problems, dating issues, personal integrity, job-related things. Together, identify the root concern and look up what the Bible says about it. Now is the time to apply all those earlier lessons. Recall the Bible stories from their childhood and read the full scriptural account, discussing any parallels to their own situation. Compare and contrast their circumstances to those familiar Bible figures and discuss the best way to respond to similar situations.
Close with prayer. At first, you may want to choose a focus for prayer each night, such as praise for one of God’s attributes, thanks for a particular blessing, intercession for someone else or a personal concern. If your children are comfortable praying out loud, ask them to lead the closing prayer. If not, designate one person to start the prayer and another to end it after everyone has voiced a simple sentence prayer.
Family devotions work best when we relax and drop expectations of what they “should” be. Trust me—it’s not always going to be a satisfying exercise, especially in the beginning. Sometimes your family will complain or show little interest. But let me encourage you to keep trying, because eventually you’ll discover the kids really were listening after all and the impact might surprise you. The key is to be consistent and shape your family devotions to fit your family.
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