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Family Discipleship

7 Principles to Guide Family Devotions

In a previous article, we have begun to think about the importance of family worship. In this post, we’ll examine seven principles that have guided our family:

1. Simple and consistent beats the elaborate.When we open the word around our children, we are simply laying one brick in the foundation of their understanding. We do not need to have elaborate discussions every time. Think of the football team with running plays that make three or four yards at a time. They are not spectacular but each play moves the ball down the field. Every time we have opened up the Scripture and discussed some aspect of Scripture we have been successful. Remember our help from J. C. Ryle:

We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal — not to be forged and made useful at once, but only by a succession of little blows. Their understandings are like narrow-necked vessels: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled and lost.

Five or ten minutes day on a regular basis beats twenty-five minutes that lasts for only five days. Our children may not remember everything you say but they are getting fed on a regular basis. Be consistent in the time of day and the place where you meet. Children flourish on consistency and routine.

2. Be simple and consistent and you will get deep. The football team that runs enough three or four yards will have some plays break into the open. Similarly, when we open the Scriptures consistently, a godly discussion can and will break out. There have been many times our family have opened the Bible or a book and just read the portion we decided on. After a short prayer, we dismissed the children and we moved on to other things. However, every so often, a long conversation would break out of those times. I had not planned it. It just happened. Deep happened because consistency happened.

3. Expect inconsistency and failure. Given the busyness  of our culture today, demands of work, lack of church encouragement, and my own flesh, I should expect that I will falter at times. But I don’t give up. This is a long-term calling that will be going upstream against my flesh. I will take the lead to open the word with my wife, my children, and (Lord willing) my grandchildren. If I miss a day, I will start again. If I miss a week, I will start again. If I miss a month, I will start again. I expect that I will fall down. But I will start again. Oh, how many times have I said to the kids, “Hey guys, I have not been leading us to God’s word as I should. Tonight we are going to get back into the habit.”

4. The key is the father opening the word. The most important thing is that my kids see me functioning as priest of the house and that they see my love for the word of God. The material I am conveying is important but not most important. The material can change with the age of the children. When the kids are young use short Bible stories.  Other items such as prayer and singing are great if you can work to them. However, reading and discussing something beats doing nothing. The most important thing is they have a fond memory of their parents opening the word and talking about it.

5. There is something supernatural about the oral reading of the word of God. Paul told Timothy to read the word publically (1 Timothy 4:13). Why? Insights that are not present when reading silently, come in through the ear gate. When we hear something we process it differently than when we read it. Furthermore, verbalizing those scriptures cements them in the mind of the listener and the reader. The Scriptures should be read aloud in the home. Let one of the memories my children have when they leave home is Dad and Mom loving to read the word of God aloud.

6. Family devotions must be tied to a regular prompt. I will forget to make devotions a part of my day unless it is tied to a daily action. Part of the genius of Deuteronomy 6:7 we are told to talk about Scripture when we sit together. Or at least families should sit to eat together on a regular basis.  Something special happens when people eat together. Christians throughout the centuries have used a daily meal as the prompt to also open up the nourishing words of Scripture. Tying devotions to the prompt of a daily meal helps produce the momentum of expectation in children. Our family has tried to tie devotions to the evening meal.

7. Variety is the spice of life.  There is no one right way of doing family devotions. The right way to do family devotions is the way that is not exasperating to your children and makes the word of God seem “good.” Here is where I humbly differ from saints of old. There is no one right method. Every method gets stale after a while. As a wise parent, I want to mix it up to make family devotions interesting and applicable.  The wise parent will shepherd his or her flock according to what they need.

For the next post, we will look at ten different suggestions for simple family devotions.

[i] Ryle, The Duties of Parents, page 5.


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