Every Christian family should have a routine time of focusing on the scripture and praying for one another. This time is commonly called "devotional" or "Family Devotions". Some call this Family Worship or the Family Altar. Our family uses the simple term "devotion".
Our family's devotion time is a routine practice of coming together as an entire family to read or study the Bible and pray for one another and other pressing needs. A hymn is sometimes included.
You can start a daily family devotion right now with just a Bible. Daniel chapters 1 through 6 are each fascinating stories. Genesis chapters 40-47 tell of Joseph. These 14 chapters are interesting for all ages and a great place for a fresh start. Commit to read one chapter together every night followed by family prayer. A good time is right after dinner while the family is still together and the TV is off.
Dad should use these 14 days to prepare a more thorough Bible reading plan and get a Study Bible that will help explain difficult passages encountered later. For a simple, useful guide I recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds which organizes Bible readings according to basic doctrinal truths.
By "routine" I mean daily, though there are exceptions if the family is away from home or a family member is out for an activity. "Routine" also refers to a special time set aside each day. This can be morning, noon, or night but consistency comes more easily if you settle on a general daily schedule or pattern.
A Faithful Leader
Christians I know are almost unanimous in believing that a regular family devotion is a good idea, but many have trouble consistently practicing it. There are many resources and ideas for family devotions, but most are generally ineffective. The key is not picking the right resource, but having a passionate leader that will commit to this family practice. The father is to be that leader. If he is committed to the idea and makes it a priority, it will work. Men can do anything if they are committed and passionate. The tools and ideas are out there, but the best tool can do nothing if not used by a committed workman.
If a father does not have the commitment and passion to train his family, he needs to assess his own character and heart before attempting to lead his family. If Jesus is His Lord, and a man loves Christ dearly, he will have no trouble wanting to share his love, experience, understanding, and passion with his family. Such a dad may fail initially in his method, but will be determined to continue working with his family until his family is effectively understanding and sharing the zeal the father has.
Teach These Words Diligently
A father may be committed to Christ himself and see that his wife and children are fully committed and therefore think a regular family devotion time is unnecessary. Some fathers see these instructions in Deuteronomy 6:6-7:
"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
...and rightly conclude that this is a lifestyle and therefore setting aside a family devotion time is unnecessary. I agree that if someone is teaching each child throughout the day, it may be unnecessary to come together for a dedicated time of formal teaching. But surely such a family would relish the opportunity to come together and sing praise to God, to lift their voice to Him in prayer, and to joyfully list for all family members the wonderful things the Lord had done that day. Such a family would delight in a dedicated time of reading scripture and prayer, making daily family devotion a necessity driven by their shared joy.
If your family is like most I know, you can only fulfill the command to "diligently teach" if you diligently dedicate time each day for a regular family devotion. The key is diligence - family devotion cannot be a simple convenience or of a low priority that is easily displaced by other trivial activities.
Fathers who are committed to family devotions and ready to start are in one of two situations. He may have only a wife or a wife and infant children - or he may have older children already settled into a lifestyle without family devotions. Starting in a family with only very young children is obviously easier. Time spent in the evening reading books or watching videos or simply playing can be easily adjusted to read the Bible, sing, and pray. Young children will delight in this.
For the family with older children, the father's zeal and passion will need to lead the way. He cannot simply turn off the TV in the middle of the kid's favorite sitcom and expect the kids to be ready to read a Psalm. He needs to prepare his family days before beginning. If his zeal, gentleness, lovingkindness, and other spiritual fruit are evident, the kids will be ready to participate. If you are not in the habit of reading together as a family, dad can initiate that with some other classic book and more easily wean the kids from TV, videogames, and other individualistic forms of entertainment. But if dad is not committed and excited, the kids will see only hypocrisy in his desire to teach them and the family devotion will fail.
What To Do - Scripture
The Scripture should be the centerpiece of your family devotion. After all, we are instructed to "teach these words". Today's Christian families have the same problem as the families in Old Testament Israel - we forget what God has said. So we need to hear His word daily and in rather large doses. A verse or two every day is not enough. This leads to hearing only a few of God's words and then each family member going on about what it might mean. Better to hear plenty of God's words then discuss them or work together to answer the questions.
Dad can read all the scripture or the family can take turns. Each member of the family should have a copy of the same Bible translation and follow along, being ready to read when it's their turn. Dad may want to have a study bible for his reading. Dad's understanding of God's Word should go beyond the footnotes in a study bible, but such a bible is very helpful in answering the simple questions that children might ask. See Family Devotion - Scripture for more ideas. See Simple Bible Reading Plan for a simple yet thorough plan every member of the family can use to start their personal daily reading.
What To Do - Topic Studies
With regular Bible reading as the centerpiece, other resources can be used to draw together Biblical ideas. These include short biographies of missionaries or others impacted by scripture, topical studies in Proverbs or the Gospels, and catechism reading and study. For younger children, it may be helpful to mix in a version of a Biblical passage from a children's story bible. Since these are paraphrases and usually omit long passages of scripure, these should not be used extensively. Family Devotion - Topics covers this more fully. Ideas for devotions on baptism and overcoming worry are also available.
What To Do - Review Church Teaching
You may want to use one devotion each week to review and discuss the teachings from the prior Sunday's church service. The readings and sermon texts can be read, Dad can summarize the teaching and children can ask questions and discuss. As your children mature, they should take notes in the church services and share those notes in this family devotion time.
What To Do - Prayer
After a period of study and discussion, the family should pray. Dad should begin by thanking God for what was just studied and learned and asking Him to enable the family to faithfully fulfill what's been learned. Then various petitions can be made. These can be for needs mentioned in church the week before, for personal family needs, and other concerns such as neighbors, missions, etc. See Family Devotion - Prayer for more details.
What To Do - Memorization
In addition to regular reading, the family should work together on memorizing passages of scripture. We've had success memorizing sections of scripture up to a chapter or more in length by simply taking a verse at a time. Memorize a phrase or sentence, making sure not to start the next phrase until everyone has the current phrase well memorized. To start memorization of a phrase, the first day dad reads it twice then reads it a few words at a time letting the family repeat those words. The next day the few words at a time are read and repeated back, two or three times. This continues for a couple more days. Then on the 4th or 5th day, Dad reads the whole phrase and the family attempts to say it back, again two or three times. By the 6th or 7th day, the phrase should be memorized. After the first phrase is memorized, the next phrase is started. All previous phrases in the passage should be repeated each day. After the passage is completely memorized, it should be repeated in its entirety once a week for 2 months. We do this during the drive to church Sunday mornings. After the 2 months is done, the passage should be repeated in it entirety about every 3 weeks. So far with this method, we've been able to retain passages memorized more than 2 years ago. Catechism questions/answers and church creeds can also be memorized with this method. See Family Devotion - Memorization for more ideas and suggestions for scriptures to start with.
What To Do - Sing
Some families enjoy singing together, for others it's more difficult. If your family is musical, singing may be a good way to start devotions as all will enjoy it. If you are not a musical family, singing can wait. Eventually, you will hopefully want to sing together as a family. This may be daily, or only singing a "classic" every now and then. You may choose to start your daily devotion time with a song or end with a song.
You can pick up a standard hymnal at many used book stores and start by singing those with familiar tunes. Our family has enjoyed singing the psalms - many of which are set to classic, familiar hymn tunes.
All you need is dedication and a Bible. We recommend these other resources as well. These are not gimmicks but have proven useful to us over time.
The Reformation Study Bible is convenient for Dad to answer simple questions during the family's reading time. It's in the English Standard Version which is a readable and highly accurate word-for-word translation. Also recommended are inexpensive copies of the ESV (about $5 each, brand new) so each family member can follow along and take turns reading. The Bible Atlas is also recommended to show the context of various passages.
It's helpful from time to time to spend a week or two looking at the catechism. This helps draw together various biblical truths. These two books are excellent resources. The first is highly recommended. Training Hearts, Teaching Minds provides a 5 day study for each of the 107 questions of the Shorter Catechism There is one or more scripture readings for each day and a paragraph or two of discussion. You can do several passages at once, not having to wait 5 days for each question. Really a splendid resource. Small Talks on Big Questions considers several questions from the Childrens Catechism in each section. A scripture passage is paraphrased and a story is told of a historical event or person that illustrates the truth of the catechism questions considered. Not as complete theologically as Training Hearts but effective for children who love great stories.
Children's Bible Stories
Bedtime Bible Story Book covers the whole Bible in 365 single page stories. Great for very young children. The Child's Story Bible is similar but the stories are longer, making this more suited to ages 4-8. These books can be read in addition to actual Bible passages. You should not rely on these extensively for your devotion as they are abridged stories based on the Bible and not the Word of God itself.
Proverbs for Parenting arranges verses in Proverbs according to topic such as Obedience, Envy, Self-Control, Love, Friendship, Mercy, etc. A helpful resource for any Christian that can be used to focus on various areas during your family studies. Wise Words is a collection of 18 original stories. Each is like a fable that has a moral based on a principle from Proverbs. Some of the stories have more mature subject matter and are suitable for children ages 10 and up. Our 24 Family Ways stresses character, relationship, and attitude topics.
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