I haven’t always been a family devotion guy. It’s not because I didn’t want or aspire to be, I honestly did. But we went a long time as a family before pulling the trigger and trying to integrate this practice into the regular rhythm of our family life.
We’ve been doing morning devotions together for about five years now – long enough to where our kids expect that we will. It’s a long road, as are most things with young children I’m finding out. Though revival doesn’t break out every morning over eggs and toast, our continued hope and prayer is that times like these build into the love and discipline our children will have in the future when it comes to God’s Word.
Through those five years, we’ve tried different things, failed at a bunch, and have learned some things along the way. So, as encouragement to those of you just starting out or maybe some affirmation for those of you already in the process, here are six things to help as you start having family devotions of your own:
There’s a pattern to everything, a routine for most every part of life. And any time you disrupt that routine, even for the noblest of reasons, there is going to be backlash. So, before you get started, you’ve got to commit to consistency. Decide on the time of day and keep it at that time. For us, it’s 7 am at breakfast. That will likely change in the coming years, but if you don’t pick a consistent time then it’s doubly difficult to keep the practice going.
What’s more, in our experience, the days that feel like discipline to do this far outweigh the days where you feel like the kids are actually engaged and learning something. But then again, isn’t that often the case in our own lives with our own spiritual growth and development? And yet we keep going because we believe in the power of God and the power of His Word.
For us, we try to change things up once a week. Monday through Thursday, we do a Bible study and prayer for around 15 minutes or so, but Friday is different. On Friday, everyone shares one specific thing they are thankful for that week, and one prayer request. For a while, those prayer requests were pretty predictable – that I would have a good day, that I would do well on a test, that I would be kind to friends - those sorts of things. In recent days, we’re tried to bring more variety into those prayer requests as well, asking the kids to share a prayer not for themselves but for someone else, or to share something they’re thankful for that’s not about an activity they get to do that weekend.
3. A Sense of Humor
As a dad, one of the great things having a family devotion does for me is it helps me not to take myself too seriously. Every once in a while, we will be talking through some great truth from the Bible, I’ll be making an incredibly insightful and valuable point in a truly beautiful way, and...someone will burp.
Game over. But such is life with kids. And in truth, that’s okay. I can’t help but think it was a pretty undignified scene when the kids were crawling all over each other to try and get into Jesus’ lap, and yet He let them come. Snotty noses and all, he let them come. Keeping a sense of humor while trying to instill this discipline, in the end, is a helpful reminder that, as parents, we are really stewards of these children. We do the best we can in faith, but ultimately it is only God who convicts of sin and brings our children – any children – to an understanding of the gospel.
So we laugh, and then we go at it again.
This isn’t just about a husband and wife working together to pull a devotion time off, although if you have that option, it’s obviously helpful. It’s about finding and using tools to help you. It’s incredibly intimidating to sit with your family, having only the Bible in hand, and to open it up and read. I think that probably works better when the kids are a bit older. For now, we’ve found the books, Long Story Short and The Jesus Storybook Bible to be really age appropriate and helpful tools that make family devotion time more manageable.
What’s more, we recently finished a season where we read through an abridged version of Pilgrim’s Progress together. The point is you don’t have to go at it alone. There are a lot of great tools out there. Make use of them.
I don’t mean preparation in the sense that you have spent two hours studying the devotion you are going to walk through the next morning. I mean “preparation” more in the sense of creating a conducive environment.
In order to make sure we have time before school for devotions, Jana and I have to get up earlier than we used to. We have to be completely ready for the day with breakfast going when the kids get up at 7. And they get up at 7 every stinking morning. While it often means that I read through the devotion the night before, it also means, to a greater extent, doing anything we can do to make the morning run more smoothly. This would be things like making sure lunches are already packed, clothes are laid out, and you haven’t left any lingering homework assignments to be done over the eggs and toast - a practice we'll have to reinforce this with our new middle schooler next year.
There are spiritual moments with your children that seem paper thin and they also don’t seem to happen that often. It’s those times when you really sense they are gaining an understanding of the nature of sin and our great need for forgiveness, and then they’re thinking about Pokemon again. Paper thin moments, but they’re there. Like the time not that long ago when we were in the book of Joshua talking through the story of Rahab. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s an incredible gospel-laced account of a woman of questionable reputation who was saved from destruction. And how was she saved? She put a red rope on her door, marking her house to be spared. And the lights came on for the kids:
“Do you guys remember any other people that put something red on their doors?”
“Yeah. Like when that angel killed people.”
“Correct. It was the Passover. And why was that called the Passover?”
“Because the angel passed over their houses.”
“And what did the Israelite army do to Rahab’s house?”
“They passed over it.”
And so on it went, eventually to remind us that the wrath of God passes over us because our lives are marked with something red – the blood of Jesus. The kids thought this was genuinely exciting, and they felt genuinely smart because they saw how it all fit together.
Every morning isn’t a home run. Sometimes it’s a sacrifice bunt that you believe God will somehow use in the story of their lives. So we choose, by faith, not to be discouraged, but instead to believe in a God who is drawing our kids’ hearts to Himself.