Getting Started with Family Worship
I remember clearly the first time we had “official” family devotions. Our oldest, Jude, was two and our (then) youngest, Jenesis, was nine months old. My husband, Judah, had suggested we start working on some scripture memorization every evening, along with a song and prayer. Simple. I was all for the idea, but unsure of how well our energetic little two-year-old would handle it.
We sat on our bed with Jude, Jenesis watched from her crib, and I was preparing for lots of wiggles and wandering thoughts as well as little, if any, attention on what we were doing. As we repeated Genesis 1:1 several times, sang “Jesus Loves Me,” and prayed together, I was pleasantly surprised at how present Jude was; excited, even, as he listened and clapped and sang with us. The next evening proved to be the same… and the next. And it wasn’t long before he was asking us every evening when we would have our “family worship.”
Seeing the Fruit
Almost two years have passed since then, and family devotions are still anticipated with excitement most nights of the week. It has become a regular part of daily life. We’ve tweaked and added a few things, and we haven’t always been perfectly consistent. And we do have to deal with squirmy children and plenty of reminders to stay focused. But we’ve begun to see evidences of the fruit that comes from diligently teaching our children the truths in Scripture in a structured way, and helping them “store up [God’s] word in [their] heart” (Psalm 119:11).
They light up every time they hear a song in church that we sing together at home, or when a verse is quoted that they have memorized. They are beginning to grasp the significance of “big” words like “rebellion” or “humility” as we explain them on a simple level. And Jude, now four, is asking questions almost daily about things he has been learning since he was two, genuinely desiring answers. Judah and I have been amazed as we’ve watched the Lord working on his little heart, and grasping things we would have thought were far beyond his comprehension.
When do You Begin?
It’s hard to give a straight answer to the question of how soon to start regular family devotions. But let me come at it with a bit of a different perspective. When we are considering the physical well-being of our children, we start teaching them as infants through actions and words what will either be good or harmful to them. We teach them not to go near the stairs, put their fingers in outlets, and not to put small objects in their mouths. We feed them food that is going to bring strength to their bodies, and we keep them clean and clothed. We teach them not to wander into the road or too near the edge of a pond.
And we do all these things before they understand the full extent (or any extent) of the “why” behind it because we love them. If this is the case for the good of their physical bodies, how much more diligent should we be when it comes to their spiritual and eternal well-being? To teach them, before they can even grasp the concept, that knowing and loving God is more important than anything else?
Entrust the Process to God
I know some parents who are afraid that teaching truths before children can fully understand them will “turn them off” to God. Others are afraid that it will just lead to legalism. And yet for others, it simply seems too daunting to know where to begin. The wonderful thing is, though, that we aren’t dependent upon our own efforts to open our children’s eyes to the truth. The Holy Spirit is the one who will do that. We are responsible to obey God by leading these precious little ones in our care to Jesus.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.”
This passage indicates that our children should be accustomed to hearing God’s Word spoken of in every context; it should be a lifestyle of continually thinking on the things of God and learning more about Him. The format doesn’t matter so much. It’s simply that our children should know from their earliest of memories that God is the very foundation of our lives, and that seeking Him is the highest priority as a family.
There is no formula for this, and each family will need to seek the Lord for wisdom on how best to practically work this into their lives. But here are some things to get you thinking.
1. Establish good communication with your children from infancy
When Jude was a baby we purchased a book about how to help your children develop well in their first years of life, and even be ahead in their learning abilities. I eagerly began reading, and after a very short time was surprised at what I found. Most things were very simple; making eye contact with your child, smiling at them, copying their noises, engaging in play with them.
What came to me as I was reading these things was that what you are doing is setting the stage for good communication from the very first moments of their lives, opening a door to be able to both speak into their lives and for your words to be received.
If they know you love them and genuinely care about them because you have shown this pattern to them in all areas for as long as they can remember, they will be prepared at a young age to hear about spiritual things from you as well. Your children may not be infants, but it is never too late to begin working on healthy, loving communication.
2. Start simply
You don’t have to have an extensive program in place to begin family devotions. What matters is that you start somewhere in being intentional with communicating truth to your children. For young ones, attention span can be very short, as most parents can attest to.
So keeping it to one or two things along with prayer, like memorizing a Bible verse and singing, or reading a Bible story and learning a particular truth about God, is plenty. And as they grow, the devotional time can grow with them.
3. Be consistent
What is one of the top ways you know something is important to someone? They are consistent in it. In the same way, your little ones will know that spending time as a family learning about God and growing in our love for Him is important if it is a regular focus. No, it probably won’t be possible to be completely consistent, but in general there should be an understanding that this is a daily part of our lives that is of high priority. Consistency isn’t about never missing, it is about regularly doing.
Another aspect that can aid in daily consistency is having a time of day you stick to. Children thrive on stability, and so having a regular time of day when family devotions are held can be helpful to establish an anticipation of that time. Jude and Jenesis, almost every night before bed, remind us that it’s time for family devotions if we aren’t quick enough to tell them first!
4. Pray for wisdom
This may seem very simple, but it is so, so critical. I can’t tell you how many times I have been searching for words to explain a biblical concept or define a word, and have come up empty. But Judah and I have found in those moments that the promise from James 1:5 never fails. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
This isn’t just a nice-sounding idea. This is rock-solid truth, and God will always come through if you ask Him for wisdom. He promises that if you believe He’ll give you wisdom when you ask for it, it will always be given. So pray often, living in dependence upon Him for what you need to train your children, and trust Him to work on their little hearts and draw them to Himself.
God cares more about our children’s souls far more than we ever could. So we can trust that as we seek to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) that He will provide all we need to do so, and that He will be using our obedience to soften and ready them to follow Him, even from the youngest of ages.
For more resources on family devotions, check out our new Family Discipleship Curriculum, designed to equip parents to effectively lead their children to know Jesus and walk with Him. Learn more about the Family Discipleship Curriculum and sign up for your FREE one-week trial subscription!