It’s 7:00 p.m. and we’re sitting down for a sweet time of family worship in the living room. Our kids are freshly scrubbed and pajamaed and sitting peacefully next to each other on the couch, children’s Bibles in hand. They follow along as we read from Scripture, answering our review questions and asking their own clarifying ones. We practice memorizing a verse and sing hymns together before we each take a turn to pray, and then we tuck them into bed.
Oh, wait. That’s my dream family devotion time. Reality actually looks like this scene from a recent evening at the table as we finished dinner:
After reading the story of Moses parting the Red Sea, my husband, Seth, asked if anyone could summarize the story. Our two year old, Augie, shouted, “Moses fell in the water!” Seth affirmed Augie’s efforts, and turned to six-year-old Adia to see if she knew. Poking at her plate, she muttered, “I forget, but do I have to eat the rest of this salad?” At that moment, baby Cora spewed a mouthful of mashed carrot all over me. As I dabbed at my face and shirt with a napkin, Augie announced, “I have to go poop!” We took a break while Seth helped him in the bathroom and then tried to regroup. “Does anyone want to choose a song to sing?” I suggested. In unison, Adia and Augie started belting out “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Seth vetoed that, and instead led us in “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” followed by Augie’s heartfelt prayer that his stuffed animals would not have any bad dreams.
Seth and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh. This mayhem was a pretty typical representation of family devotions at our house. We’ve chosen the end of dinner while we’re all seated around the table and our slow eaters are finishing their food to read a short section from the Bible. Seth asks a few questions, we sing a hymn, and then we pray together. Despite our efforts to keep it short and simple, it’s always full of interruptions, spills, bathroom breaks, and at times, arguments and bad attitudes. And in over a year of doing this, it has never once looked like the mental image I have when I envision my ideal family Bible study time. Sometimes this has caused me to ask myself: Why do we keep doing it? I don’t know if you’ve ever asked yourself this, but here are a few reasons we press on.
As parents, we know that God’s Word calls us to pass along our faith to our children. We’re probably all familiar with Ephesians 6:4 which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Bible doesn’t say that we must have a formal time for this, but as much as we hope to be seizing moments throughout the day, our family has found that it’s helpful to have a set time at least a few times a week when we sit down and intentionally study the Word and talk with our children about it together.
Our children learn that God’s Word is precious, true, and authoritative. They see that we value it enough to make it a priority.
They see us model how to study Scripture. As we ask basic questions about what happened in the text, what it tells us about God, and how we should respond, we give them the foundation for solid hermeneutics (how to study the Bible) as they grow older.
As we encourage participation and reverence but are also able to laugh at the absurdity that inevitably occurs, they learn that studying the Bible, praying, and praising God is a joyful experience. If we maintain an attitude of joy (not always easy and not something we do perfectly by any means), it becomes a delight, not drudgery for them.
If the idea of family devotions seems overwhelming to you, I hope that my description of our routine encourages you that it doesn’t have to be complicated or involved to bear fruit in the long run. It certainly doesn’t have to look exactly like our model; in fact, I’m sure it will look much better! And if it doesn’t, you’ll create many funny memories as a result. Faithfulness, not perfection, is the goal.