At the heart of Christian parenting is the call to disciple your children. When God entrusts children into our care, he isn’t merely tasking us with the job of feeding empty stomachs, or ensuring that our children have clean clothes to wear, or a warm bed to sleep in. As important as all of these responsibilities may be, they pale in comparison to the work of nurturing the faith of our children.
Of course, creating genuine faith in the hearts of our children is ultimately accomplished by the Holy Spirit; yet scripture makes it clear that the Holy Spirit uses us as the instruments of planting and tending the seeds of faith. When speaking to the Israelites, God impresses upon the community the vital role parents have:
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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:6-9).
The message rings true today. God’s word is to be such a part of our lives that it becomes second nature to us; it works its way so deeply into us, that it is who we are. How can we do this? Consider establishing a discipline of family devotions. Here are some ideas to make this work.
Routine often gets a bad rap in our world. When something is routine, we may view it as mindless and therefore less valuable. While healthy practices can devolve into meaningless routine, it need not be so. In fact, well-used, routine can be a way of structure and ordering our lives, much the way an exercise regimen is designed to help us reach our physical goals. A time for family worship will be different for each family. So, ask yourself, when are you most likely to all be together? For some families, 15 minutes before everyone races off to work and school is the ideal time. For others, Sunday afternoons will be better, and for still others, after-dinner devotions is the perfect time. Of course, you may even choose several times throughout the week for devotions; our family usually spends time reading the bible after dinner, as well as having family-worship on Sunday afternoons.
Make God’s Word Central
There is no more important book than the bible; God’s word reveals everything we need to know for life and salvation! Putting God’s word at the center of your devotions communicates to your family that His word is authoritative, and life-changing. While devotional books can be useful, and helpful, they should never take the place of God’s word. At a young age, focus on simply teaching your children the stories of the bible. They may not yet grasp complex theological themes, they may not yet see how the whole bible holds together, but they need to delight in the stories of God’s word. As they grow older, they will learn to put the pieces together and to draw the meaning from the message of scripture. But this will prove more difficult if they have little familiarity with the stories of the bible. Read the stories together, and ask questions of your family. Begin by asking questions for facts (“What happened to Daniel when he refused to pray only to King Darius?”) and then ask older children questions of meaning (“Why didn’t Daniel stop praying to God?”). Finally, ask questions of application (“How might we be challenged to compromise our faith?”).
You might also consider having each family member take a turn in leading family worship. Recently, our church discontinued evening services, and, while this was a sad occasion for our church, our family decided to use this time for family worship. Each member of our family takes a week, and they have the opportunity to share something they have been learning from God’s word. In addition to learning from each other, this also allows each person to develop the skill of leading others in bible study. We’ve created this time to be interactive; we ask questions of each other and we engage God’s word together in a time of bible study.
It has been said that “the family that prays together, stays together.” While this is probably too simplistic, the importance of prayer can’t be overlooked. There are different ways of incorporating prayer into family devotions. When our children were younger, we always recited the Lord’s Prayer before breakfast. Now, since my kids all get ready for school at different times, that proves difficult. Instead, each family member prays before dinner. We encourage them to be sensitive to prayer needs around them and to lift those needs up together in prayer. It also offers us as parents a teaching moment. We can recognize what elements of prayer might be lacking from the practice of our prayer and help our kids expand their vocabulary of prayer. For example, we naturally gravitate towards prayer requests—asking God for his provision, for healing, for a good day, and the like—but we also want to encourage prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, and prayers of gratitude.
We also encourage each one another to share prayer needs. In our Sunday worship time, we allow time of sharing, and this is important because it helps us see experience the vulnerability of prayer. Acknowledging our need before others reminds us that we have personal weaknesses, or struggles that we need God’s help with. But sharing these needs helps us honor one another as we lift them up to God.
Of course, this is only a starting place! You know your family best, and how God may be leading you to lead your family in worship. Perhaps you will sing together, or perhaps you will use a resource like the New City Catechism to learn by heart important theological truths. A pastor mentor of mine recited the Heidelberg Catechism with his kids on the drive to school!
In some ways, these are small practices: reading the bible day in and day out; praying with and for each other; singing songs together. And, they may feel very “routine” but God graciously uses these routine disciplines to shape and nurture the seeds of faith that can take root, and grow, producing fruits of faith in the lives of our children.