Redeeming the Concept of Devotions

Right at the outset, I have to come clean: I despise the word “devotions.” Having come from a background where a person’s spiritual maturity was gauged by how well you were doing in your “personal devotions,” the term came to be associated with a legalistic, external, and counterfeit mechanism of measuring one’s spiritual growth. Nevertheless, I think the term can be redeemed if we understand it not as a way of evaluating one’s spirituality, but as an exercise in communing with the Lord through His word. That’s the way I’m using it here when I speak of “family devotions.”

The Dilemma of Family Devotions

I didn’t grow up doing family devotions, and when I became a father, I was barely beginning to rightly understand the need for my own personal devotional time. As I came to understand the great value and necessity of communing with the Lord through His word for me personally, it was not long before I began to think on how this sort of exercise could be a priceless tool in this seemingly daunting task of being the spiritual leader of my home. At first it was awkward and unnatural, but as I began to get the hang of it, it became something that I not only looked forward to myself, but that the whole family anticipated.

Perhaps you’ve considered this idea of family devotions but have no idea where to start and feel, as I did, completely inept for such a thing. You may see the value in it, understand its potential impact upon you and your family impact, and even be willing to invest the time, energy, and perseverance necessary to lead your family in this area. But the whole thing seems overwhelming and you’re not sure where to even begin. Well, every builder needs a set of blueprints and some tools in order to get started on a project, so let me walk you through a template for what I call ‘Bible Time’ (because I still have not been able to get past my loathing of the word ‘devotions’) that I’ve come by through trial and error over the years.

Perhaps you’ve considered this idea of family devotions but have no idea where to start and feel, as I did, completely inept for such a thing.

Toward a Template for Family Devotions

1. Set a time.

Schedules will differ from one family to the next, so find a time that works best for everyone. My preference is to do it at bedtime because we’re all home at least three or four nights out of the week, but the key is to fix a definite time that will work consistently for your family dynamic. At the same time, don’t be legalistic about this; learn to be regular but flexible. My rule of thumb is that, if we are home in the evening, we have Bible Time. If we’re out, we skip it and simply say a quick prayer as a family before bed.

2. Read the Bible.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many parents with little children are afraid to read the Bible to them, thinking it will be over their heads. They look for the latest children’s story Bible, complete with pictures. I’m not saying that these are all bad, but there is something about reading the Scriptures just the way God had them written that is powerful. Maybe your kids don’t understand some things, but over time they will, and they will benefit most from hearing the pure, unaltered word of God from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15).

3. Use a devotional guide.

This is not absolutely necessary, but it saves a lot of time in preparation and serves to keep your devotion times focused and interesting. A good devotional guide will list a passage of Scripture to read and provide some questions to ask your children. Some even provide a summary of the passage along with helpful illustrations. Some churches provide a weekly devotional that corresponds to what the children are taught in Sunday School. This can be an invaluable tool to help guide your family devotional time and follows the biblical pattern of the church coming alongside you as you bear the responsibility to “bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). You will also find that your children will be more involved since they already know something about the passage you’re discussing. If your children are older, you can follow the same format, but make the question and answer time more of a discussion.

While there is a plethora of worthless material in this genre available, there are some great resources published by various ministries and authors. Here are a few I recommend:

Generations of Grace Family Devotional
A devotional that corresponds to the lessons that are taught in the Children’s Ministry of our church

Long Story Short & Old Story New
Counterpart devotional guides that take your family through the Bible in ten-minute segments.

ESV Family Devotional Bible
This guide includes the entire text of the ESV and guides your family through it in a year, complete with devotional material and discussion questions.

New City Catechism
A new catechism in the traditional catechism style.

4. Pray.

Avoid short, rote prayers. This does not mean that your prayers have to be super-long, drawn-out supplications that put mom to sleep along with the kids, but use this time of prayer to model for your children how to pray. Pray through a couple of points from what you read and discussed in the Bible passage, thanking and praising God for who He is and what He’s done, and confessing any sins that the passage has exposed about your family. Ask God to give all of you a heart of love for Him, and obedience to Him, and pray specifically for your children’s salvation. Pray for your pastor and the elders of your church, and pick a “missionary of the month” to pray for. Finally, pray for one or two pressing needs in the lives of your family and your church family.

This sounds like a lot, but if your prayer is focused it doesn’t need to be any longer than a few minutes. Dad should typically lead in prayer, but it is good to include mom in the prayer time as well, and if your children are older, allow them to take turns praying, too (perhaps assign them particular things to pray for).

5. Sing.

Yes, sing! This may be the most intimidating part of the whole deal for some parents, but Scripture commands us to lift our hearts and voices to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving (e.g. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and we need to teach our children to be comfortable with doing this. Not only this, but Scripture states that singing to one another is a form of teaching, and so through singing, we are teaching and reinforcing the truths of the gospel that we are seeking to instill in our children. This means that we need to be careful to make sure that the songs we choose are not merely silly children’s songs (although I’m all about some of these!), but that the bulk of the songs are filled with substance. This is a great opportunity to familiarize our children with the great hymns of the faith. I like to pick a “hymn of the month” and that way we sing one song enough times that our children come to know it well. Over time, you can allow your children to pick the songs from the pool of good music you’ve introduced them to.

6. Keep the focus on the gospel.

In everything you do, from what you emphasize in the Bible reading, to prayer, to the song you sing, keep the focus of your devotion time on the gospel. This will keep your family’s attention where it should be, exalting God for who He is and what He has done, and declaring our great need for Him and the salvation He offers in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is what your children need to hear consistently, it is what you need to be reminded of regularly, and it will keep your devotion time from lapsing into a cold, moralistic routine.

In everything you do, from what you emphasize in the Bible reading, to prayer, to the song you sing, keep the focus of your devotion time on the gospel.

Faith-Building Fun with Your Family

There are many different ways to do a family devotion time; these are merely suggestions to help you get started. Some families get very creative and elaborate; some stick to the basics. I suggest you start with the template I’ve suggested and then begin to add elements or change them up however you see fit. One of the things that our family has added when our kids were little was ‘storytime.’ We wanted our kids to enjoy reading, and kids love it when you read to them. We decided that, if we were careful about what we selected to read to them, we could not only encourage them to be readers themselves but further reinforce their faith at the same time. Reading about a chapter per devotion time, we read through the entire Chronicles of Narnia and then moved on to the children’s version of The Pilgrim’s Progress. If your children are older, you could read more advanced books, or maybe take turns reading. Once you get started with a regular family devotion time, it is really quite exciting to begin to think of ways to improve it.

Wherever you are with family devotions, I pray that these tips will help you as you seek to lead your family closer to Christ.