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I don’t know if you’ve ever tried sitting down with your family for a planned time of Bible reading, prayer, worship or all three.
If you haven’t, imagine unicycling into a lion’s cage, balancing a ball on your head, and holding raw steaks out in front of you whilst listening to some vintage Black Sabbath.
I imagine the carnage is fairly similar.
You see, if anyone out there has children who sit quietly, listen attentively, read their Bible sensibly and pray dutifully during family devotions, I’d really like to know their secret.
My experience of family devotions has been that our time together is more likely to contain fart noises than devout prayers; arguments over whose turn it is to get the Bible than engaged discussions about what it contains; fidgety seat-swapping than heartfelt worship.
We now face a long time at home with our children, with numerous opportunities for teaching them all sorts of things. We may decide that now is our opportunity to teach our kids to speak Mandarin, to play the piano, to ride a bike at long last.
Yet there’s nothing more important than teaching them how much God wants a relationship with them, of this I’m certain.
SO HOW THE FLIPPIN’ HECK ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS WHEN OUR KIDS WON’T SIT STILL??
I will answer this question, I promise, but first let’s back up a little and ask ourselves why we should bother at all.
Why are family devotions important?
The onus for our children’s Bible teaching and spiritual input is on us as parents – not churches, not children’s leaders, not summer camps.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face: this does not mean that our children’s response is down to us. That’s entirely down between them and Jesus. But our job, as parents, is to teach our children wisely, and at the very heart of this is nurturing their faith by teaching them what we understand of God and giving them the tools to unlock the Bible for themselves.
Getting together as a family to spend time deliberately in God’s presence not only helps to do this, it also models to our children the importance of our faith at the centre of all that goes on in our home and in our family. If we are parenting with a spouse who shares our faith, then it’s important that our children receive teaching and input from both of us, not just the parent who happens to be the primary caregiver.
And – much as it doesn’t feel like this, when what was supposed to be a meditation on the Sermon of the Mount morphs into World War 3 between your children – family devotions unite us as a family. They give us important shared experiences around faith which go in the memory bank.
We know from reading the Old Testament how important it was (and still is) for the Jewish people to keep reminding each other of how God had been faithful to them. When we come together as a family to hang out with God, we start to build up a collection of stories of God’s faithfulness.
“Do you remember when we prayed for that and God did it?”
“Do you remember when we read this and the Holy Spirit spoke to us about our situation?”
Of course we can and should be offering age-appropriate resources to our children individually – but family life is busy, and getting round to doing a daily devotional with each child may not feel very achievable.
And even if we are managing to read the Bible individually with our kids, children learn so much from each other. Having a family devotion together enables our kiddoes to learn from their siblings, as well as from us. So powerful! (Yep, even when accompanied by animal impressions…)
Now at this stage you may be feel rather ill-equipped. Perhaps you haven’t been a Christian long, or you didn’t grow up in a Christian home.
But that’s OK! Be encouraged: God has given you your child/ren because YOU are the best person to nurture them in every way – yes, including spiritually!
It’s OK to answer questions with ‘I don’t know – shall we ask someone?’ or to stumble over your prayers aloud with your child. They will see that God loves us just the same, that we don’t have to be or say anything special to come to Him.
And, as you come together with your family, God will teach and nurture us too – family devotions are good like that!
So how do we get this show on the road?
Pick a time. A time when you can all be together. (So, at the moment, that translates to basically anytime.)
Mealtimes can work, if you’re sat round the table together anyway. But you may want to try and do it at breakfast or lunch, rather than dinner when the Ghost of Crazy descends. (Or is that just in our house?)
Choose a resource. I mean, you can just open the Bible and read together – that’s good – but if you need a little help there’s plenty of stuff out there for Bible devotions, prayer times and other creative ways of engaging with God.
For ideas, check out my blog post 10 Best Family Devotions – I’ve listed a real range of different resources, so whatever your family set-up and preferences, you’ll find something to suit.
Keep it short and keep it simple. You don’t have to force your kids to sit round a table for 30 minutes – or even 5. Plenty of resources offer ideas for creative, arty, outdoors or other kinds of active learning about God.
And then try to stick to your daily time as much as you can, so that it becomes a habit. We all know that habits are formed when we do something consistently for a set number of days. None of the psychologists agree on what that number is – but the principle is true: do something enough, and it becomes habitual.
No time like the present, right? 😉
It’s OK to be noisy
I want to encourage you that this ain’t a bad thing.
We have ideas as parents about how our children are going to behave, what they’re going to achieve and who they’re going to emulate. We have these even before they’re born.
But when we apply these expectations to our children’s spiritual lives, expecting our kids to change personality in an instant to make our lives easier, several things happen:
* Our kids zone out, as they associate discipleship with having to switch personality
* Us parents get stressed, feeling like the only way we can read the Bible together is to engage in full-on crowd control
* We miss out on all the interesting questions and comments our children might give, if allowed to express who God has made them to be
* We all forget that there is fun and laughter to be found in reading and applying God’s Word together
* And, potentially, we stop bothering altogether…
Impossible though it seems, there’s going to come a time when you’re less influential in your child’s life than you are now. So, while they still look up to you, there’s an amazing opportunity right there to teach them how to get into the Bible, and for them to see just how much you value it and let its words affect your life.
So talk louder to cut above the noise, ask (shout?) questions to get your kids involved, allow them to thank God for cheeseburgers and pray for swimming pools. Don’t be afraid to ask them to quieten down either – but don’t let the noise or the chaos put you off.
Because however loud, however interrupted, however chaotic – as we draw towards Jesus with our messy, noisy, authentic lives, he will meet us and transform us, individually and as a family.
You try stopping him.
Adjust your expectations
So maybe your kids really DO sit and listen when asked. Mine don’t. And that’s OK – we’re all different.
But if your kids are not acting as you’d want them to, maybe consider whether you’re expecting too much of them.
If family devotions are a new thing, it’ll take time to get into healthy habits. If it’s too late in the day, maybe your kids are tired and not wanting to take in new information. Be patient, stay calm, and assess your expectations and your motivation behind them.
Plus: we are naturally influenced by our own culture and how we were raised. Do we need to sit still to absorb the Bible passage that’s being read? Do we need to start all prayers with ‘Dear God’?
Allow your expectations to be challenged – and pray for God to work through you in the lives of your kids.
What if we fail?
Honestly? You can’t!
We don’t follow a legalistic God, who sets rules for our devotion to Him. We want to get to know Him better, and we want our kids to get to know Him better – and that’s why we try and study His Word and pray together.
It’s that way round!
Family devotions are a means to an end – not an end in themselves.
Whatever we manage – whether it’s the odd family devotion here or there – or whether we go in, all-guns-blazing, for two weeks, then do nothing for the rest of the year, I want to reassure you that God’s word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:10-11). God is powerful to plant seeds in our children’s lives from the little that we offer them.
He’s directing this show, not us – we just need to come on stage and improvise like we know what we’re doing.
It’s not a fix-all solution
If you’re thinking family devotions might be the answer to your family’s discipleship needs, think again.
One of the most important traits we can show to our children when it comes to our faith is integrity: that God is our number one priority in every area of our lives.
If all we do is schedule a daily reading of the Bible together, and spend the rest of the time not talking about God or bringing prayer into everyday situations, what we’re passing on to our children is not a love of God and His Word, but a daily ritual which our kids will drop as soon as they’re old enough to choose for themselves.
However, my experience of family devotions has been that when we’ve done them (and, I’ll be honest, our practice is piecemeal at best), it’s influenced our conversation and family life a lot more than when we haven’t.
Whenever we make it a priority to spend time with God as a family, we start to see the words of Psalm 34:1 come true in our home: “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”
I have huge hope for you – that you are the best person to introduce your child to Jesus, and that God has equipped you with everything you need for this awesome role.
But I need you to do something too. I need you to not stress out about your role as a Christian parent. I need you to relax about the times when your best-laid plans go pear-shaped. And I need you to know just how much God wants to draw close to you, so that you’re in a healthy place to nurture your child’s faith too.
If you’re in a small group, please try to stay connected during this time! Check out my post on How to Lead a Discipleship Group (When You Can’t Meet in Person).
And for help nurturing your children’s faith, I can highly recommend BRF’s excellent Parenting for Faith videos – free to download. They’re reassuring, offering practical ideas which are easy to try out in everyday life.
Why not watch them with your partner, or with friends (individually, then discuss in WhatsApp or Skype)? And check out BRF’s guide on how to run the course online.
And if you haven’t yet requested my free e-book 30 Ways to Pursue God (through the Exhaustion of Parenthood), I’d love to send it to you. Just click here, enter your email and check your inbox. Beware: it may end up in your spam folder – but it definitely isn’t spam 😉
Above all, just know that whatever you can do, and whenever you can do it, will be used by God for His glory in our homes and families.
Awesome! Crack on, my friend – God is powerful, and He will do it!