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De-Mystifying “Family Devotions” – Part 1

Today I’m delighted to feature the first of a series of guest-posts on family devotions by Scott, my husband of almost 12 years. That fact alone speaks volumes about his patience, his ability to stay calm when others (that would be me) are upset, and the wisdom with which God has blessed him as he leads our family.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your might.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children,
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.”
Deuteronomy 6:5-7
“One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4

Let’s face it. The idea of organizing, leading and maintaining a consistent time of “family devotions” in the home can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

Between the long hours at work, the many responsibilities outside of work, and the daily demands that fall into the category of “all other,” it seems there is never enough time for any kind of focused family devotions. And so we walk around with a perpetual sense of discouragement. We know we need to be doing it. But it’s just so hard to fit it in on top of everything else.

Part of the reason we don’t even start (which can apply to pursuing any spiritual discipline in life) is because it mystifies us – we don’t know exactly what it is, or should look like – or because the ideal we have created in our head is simply unattainable.

We conjure up false expectations of family devotions time: our kids, sitting in perfect formation like military cadets, their hands pressed together and bodies still, not one hair out of place, and not one cross word spoken between siblings.

We fantasize about deep theological talks with tiny toddlers that plunge the depths of the depravity of man, the horrors of hell, the glory of God and the power of the cross of Christ. While none of these expectations is completely out of the question, they are rare-at-best during real family devotions with younger kids. And if held onto tightly, they are a recipe for disappointment.

Commending the works of God to the next generation should be a way of life for pastors, parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, aunts and uncles alike. What I refer to as “family devotions” is a small fraction of the fuller-orbed vision set forth by Deuteronomy 6. But I believe it is a critical time that may actually be simplerand more urgentthan we make it out to be.

I cannot overstate the brevity of life, and the urgency to teach the children in your life about God while today is called today.

I have been a father for ten years. My oldest child, who was born ten years ago, did not live to see her ninth birthday, and is home with the Lord today. The time God has given each of us to teach the next generation is terribly, terribly short.

My fondest memories of my daughter are the nightly bedtime routines we spent together in family devotions – especially the last time.

On the night before she slipped into eternity in her sleep, we sang some praise songs, just like we always did. I read a short passage of Scripture. We shared prayer requests, and each of us shared something we were thankful for. Each of the children who were able to talk muttered a short prayer. Then I prayed and tucked everybody in bed. As I tucked my oldest daughter in bed, I kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear the same words I had been whispering to her every night for about the last year of her life:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Those were the last words I spoke to her. They are permanently etched in her tombstone today, and serve as a persistent reminder to me of the preciousness of focused family devotions. Had my last words to her been throw-away words – or worse, bitter words – God’s grace would have sustained me through the inevitable guilt. But instead, I live with the sweetness of having pronounced a blessing on her, which brings a smile as I consider the degree to which God did indeed “make His face shine” on her, beyond that which I could have ever asked or imagined.

the back of Elli's headstone

God summons us to teach and declare His mighty acts to the next generation. And any given day may be your last opportunity to do so. Family devotions is a time to declare God’s greatness in a focused format that, when done with some variety and creativity, kids will grow to love and enjoy, making it an enduring highlight of your home life.

In my second post on family devotions, I will describe some practical (and perhaps some surprising) ways to help as you embark on your own style of family devotions.


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