It’s Monday evening. The clock registers 8:45. I’ve just arrived home from a meeting. My husband is scrambling to finish an essay for his online college course. Our son is cranky. He didn’t eat much for supper and needs a snack. While I’m cutting up fruit for Isaiah and pouring him a drink of milk, my husband swivels in his office chair away from the computer. Do I have time to proofread his essay because he really needs to look at his lesson plans for tomorrow? (He’s a teacher.) “Sure,” I say. Then Isaiah wants to read. Michael reads to him, while I look over his essay. Afterwards, I check my social media accounts.
By 9:30, I’m eyeing the toys on the floor, wondering if I have the energy to put them away. It’s bedtime. I’m exhausted. But we haven’t had family devotions yet? Would it hurt to skip them tonight? I’m seriously thinking about it. We just went to church yesterday—twice. Michael and I will both have our own personal devotions in the morning. And after all, my son is a toddler. Does he really get anything out of family devotions anyway?
The rationalizations tumbling through my tired brain sound plausible. And some evenings—I am ashamed to admit it—I give in to the excuses. However, if I pause for a minute, I hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit though the hubbub. “Sing,” I hear Him say. So, I settle on the sofa, and a song comes to mind, “Thou art worthy. Thou art worthy.” I start singing, and then my husband is harmonizing with me, while he heads to the recliner. Our son is soon sitting on his dad’s lap. Our family worship has begun.
Family worship—often it goes by the term “family devotions” today, but my grandparents’ generation called it “family altar” or “family worship.” Call me old-fashioned, but I like those terms. Family devotions can sound like a duty, something to check off the list; but in my mind, family worship comes from the heart. The terms “family altar” or “family worship” emphasize the sacredness of the daily time spent together with God.
We can all grow through intentional, scheduled times of family worship in our homes.
Family worship will look slightly different for each family, partly depending on the ages of the children involved. This is what it looks like in our home. For five minute to ten minutes, we sing, read and recite Scripture, pray, and then sing again. As our son is a toddler, ten minutes is enough for him. While we sing, a peace pervades the room—God is near, as He always is. Our son is learning to sing along—lisping the words—his joyful participation bringing a smile to our faces. After we sing some worshipful songs and children’s choruses, we may read a short passage of Scripture or one of my son’s Bible story books. My husband and I take time to hold each other accountable about our personal devotions. How is the Bible reading plan coming? Are you on-track? And we may even share a devotion that stood out to us in our private reading. Then my husband always leads in prayer, and we close with a song.
Family devotions need not be limited to families with children. All homes can benefit from family worship. I wish I could say my husband and I had shared a daily devotional or worship time together for the first part of our marriage—during the ten years before we had children. As a couple, we viewed devotions as a personal discipline. And although we talked about spiritual things frequently, we didn’t make time for worship in our home. Looking back and seeing some of the mistakes we made, the trials, and the times of spiritual leanness, I believe family worship would have strengthened our home and drawn us closer to God. Couples, adult children living with or near parents, and young families with children—we can all grow through intentional, scheduled times of family worship in our homes.
Now that we have started this routine as a family, I look forward to it. For a few moments, we are still before God. We glorify Him. We thank Him. We cast our burdens upon Him. We find a “haven of rest.” And the promise of Matthew 18:20 is made real to us again, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
But so much works against these moments of worship in the home, and I’m sure that all Christian families face similar struggles. Social media notifications, work responsibilities, unanswered texts, evening duties, homework complications—these distractions seem to last until bedtime. How can we make time for family worship? And how can we get all the kids together in one room—and quiet—for any length of time? Who is in charge of making sure that family worship happens—Mom, Dad, or someone else? What happens when the family is going three different directions, and everyone is working different shifts?
These are valid questions. They have tripped me up many a time. And all I know to say is: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1a). A few minutes spent encouraging each other in the Lord and blending our voices and hearts in worship—it’s made our family stronger and our marriage more joyful. And I know the time spent in prayer together has ultimately drawn us closer to God. Generations of Christians have built their homes around the family altar—it’s not a radical new method. It takes work, but it’s worth it.
Generations of Christians have built their homes around the family altar.
As I’ve learned, the best approach is not to overthink it. If your family already practices family worship or devotions, stay encouraged and engaged. Evaluate your time together as a family. Have you slipped into a rut? What could you do to make family devotions more worshipful? As children grow, their needs will change, and your devotions should change too. Scripture memorization, more comprehensive Bible reading, prayer requests and praises, intercession, Bible study books, and reading Christian biographies together—these are all activities that can help a family spiritually.
If your family does not have a consistent devotional time together, gather everyone in your family this evening and start again. Whether you are Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt, or Uncle—if you have children in your home all the time or regularly—be intentional about family worship. Sing. Pray. Read a Bible story. Recite some Scripture. Invite the great Creator of the universe, and our Redeemer and Lord, into your living room. He will come. And as I’ve experienced, when He comes, the home—the family—is never the same again.