What first comes to mind when you read those two words placed side by side? Reluctance or intrigue? Frustration or encouragement? Guilt or joy?
If you're like most busy Christian parents today, the thought of personal devotions (or times of reading and reflecting on God and the Bible) is challenging enough, but much less intimidating than that of family devotions. Many parents feel that they should have in place a consistent time of strengthening their family spiritually, but often they just don't know where to begin or how to continue with it.
Often the biggest roadblocks that stand in the way of a parent initiating a meaningful devotional time at home is what he or she assumes about such an experience. There are some myths that can get in the way of bringing the Bible to life in your family.
1. Family Devotions Have to Be Led Just Like a Church Service
Who says? These notions are more traditional than they are Biblical. Jesus certainly was not bound by any rigid structures or imposed orders of worship in the manner in which he trained the Twelve. He incorporated dozens of diverse object lessons and teaching tools to inspire and equip them. He generally preferred a parable to a podium. Parents can do the same. The methods and mediums for instructing your family in Christ are quite simple and there are multitudes from which to choose.
2. Everybody Has to Sit Still and Be Quiet for Family Devotion Times to Be Really Effective
Still and quiet are not synonymous with toddlers or teenagers! Toddlers, for example, not only want to engage everyone around them conversationally, they want to touch and experience life in its many forms. The best learning experiences for a child are those in which he is not only inspired to consider truth cognitively, but challenged to demonstrate it physically.
There was a time in the Gospels when the disciples wanted the children around Jesus to "keep their seats" and to "remember their place." Apparently the kids were all clamoring to get close enough to touch Jesus and, perhaps, sit in his lap. While the disciples saw the children's behavior as inappropriate and bothersome; Jesus, on the contrary, saw it as an irresistible invitation to influence their lives and shape their souls. He put it this way: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these...' And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them'" (Mark 10:14-16).
3. Devotions Should Simply Involve Reading the Bible Together
The first time my wife, Pam, and I ever sat down with our first-born 2-year-old to share in Family Devotions, I was determined that we would begin with Genesis 1:1 and dutifully read through the Bible together. There I was sitting at the kitchen table -- just me, my wife, my beautiful little daughter and my Bible. What else did we need? I had reasoned that if we read it "dramatically enough" being really expressive verbally then Kristin, our daughter, would eventually start comprehending it.
My wife had her doubts. Still I plowed ahead.
I had a lot to learn.
Between Kristin's oblivious sound effects and my frustrated retorts, the tension escalated. Within five minutes I felt a complete failure at family devotions and was ready to throw in the towel and go watch Jeopardy instead.
We soon discovered that in order to get our little girl involved and interested in Family Devotions I would have to do much more than merely engage her ears. She needed me to not just read the passage, but to wear it. Her eager eyes, inquisitive mind and moldable spirit needed something more than mere creative intonations.
4. Dad Must Always Lead the Devotional Time
Not necessarily. Perhaps more important is a dad who makes sure every week that a devotional time is led whether by he or his wife; or, a mom or single parent who does the same. There may be weeks you are overloaded at work and you ask your wife, or husband, to lead them or vice versa. You may also choose to rotate weeks as a couple.
Essentials for Exciting Family Devos
If the previous list represents what we may falsely assume about family devotions, what is it that we can honestly expect? What makes these times in the Bible as effective as possible? Simply put, the following is a list of basics that has freed us up as parents to not only lead devotional times, but to genuinely enjoy doing so:
1. Establish a 'Family Night' Each Week
We have chosen Monday nights as ours. This has helped us say "no" to any other commitments and to work hard at keeping sacred a night that we can focus on being together in and around God's Word. I remember a time when we were encouraged that one of our nine-year-old son's public school teachers told us, "Robbi always looks forward to his Monday nights at home!" In addition to a devo time, we usually plan some kind of fun meal together and, sometimes, even a table game to play.
2. The Central Goal of Family Devotions Is Impressing God, His Word and His Ways, Upon the Souls of Your Children
In speaking of the commandment to love God, Deuteronomy instructs parents that "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, emphasis mine). Parenting includes far more than imparting information; it involves shaping souls.
3. For Family Devos to Work, Ground Rules Must Be Realistic
We regularly emphasize to our kids what is required of them to make our family devotion time the best it can be. A few of our ground rules include:
- You can ask any questions you want to during these times.
- If you disrupt our devotional time repeatedly, after having been corrected, you will be sent to bed early and will not share in the remainder of it.
4. Keep It Simple
Trying to cover too much of a subject, or too many subjects, in one sitting is overkill; the kids won't retain it all. For example, if you are walking together through the life of a Bible character, don't rush through it or try to cover too many aspects in one evening. One key focal point, event or principle may be enough to fill one night.
Look for Part 2 of this post coming soon.