The image of a family sitting reverently, hands folded in laps, listening as father reads from the treasured family Bible seems, unfortunately, to be found only in storybooks about our nation's past. Our minds can picture these little cherubs enraptured by the reading of the Word of God as they hear the fire crackling in the wood stove with the gentle mooing of the cows outside. But we are a different generation and sounds in today's home include the microwave's humming, Nintendo beeping, and nameless (and often tuneless) sounds coming from our kids' stereos. We sigh in resignation that family devotions are a thing of the past.
But the Lord's command to us in Deuteronomy 6:7 to be teaching our children daily is just as true in this decade as it was in Laura Ingall's time! Sunday School and church-sponsored missionary groups are good training for our kids ... but none of them are to take the place of teaching God's Word in our homes. Something as important as devotions must be scheduled and held sacred.
Here are some ideas for making it a reality in today's Christian home:
1. Choose a time for regular devotions and schedule it with everyone. Put aside the stereotype that it has to be at suppertime. Some families with school-aged children find mornings before school better than evenings. After supper suits us best but since we're in Africa, we don't have conflicting evening schedules like most Americans do. Arrange a time that suits your family's needs. Don't wait for your husband to do it. Godly husbands will usually take the lead, but as the family mealtime and bedtime organizer, the wife is in a better position to at least get it started.
2. Use a readable Bible for your kids' ages. Read a short portion, comment about the truths and applications, and encourage dialogue. Help your children to learn to "feel" with the characters (fear, anticipation, wonder, etc). The Gospels are a good place to begin. Genesis also is an action-packed book. Take one book and read it through little by little before going to another book. Feel free to skip heavy portions.
3. Involve the entire family. Let school-aged children read the Scripture occasionally. Seek their insights. Children can come up with refreshing perceptions as they learn God's Word. When asked what Canaan was, our then five-year-old son jumped up eagerly and said, "It was just like America with lots of milk and honey!" Having spent four of his five years in Africa, he had developed his own ideas of the prosperity of America—and Canaan must have been just like it! Another time, the question for review was asked: "What did Peter say to the Lord when they began hauling in all those fish?" Our four-year-old daughter piped up, "Get out of here quick, because I am s00000 bad!" These are their own interpretations—unadulterated, simple, first impressions of these wonderful truths!
4. Keep it short! Long, boring readings soon brand "Family Devotions" as drudgery to be endured.
5. Let active participation be voluntary. Not all members of the family will be equally enthusiastic about devotion time. But do require them to come!
6. Have a prayer time when everyone can pray. It helps to have a plan to avoid trite prayers like "Bless Aunt Mary!" We always assign a prayer topic and everyone chooses a person to pray for under that topic: extended family, missionaries, friends, staff at school, church members, neighbors, etc. Personal requests and thanksgivings should be shared too—and checked up on: "How did your test go yesterday?"
7. Be flexible. If everyone is particularly tired, then we have just one person lead in prayer. If a family member is off at a friends for the night, we go ahead without them. If we miss a day or two, that's all right! Remember the devil is going to fight us on this and try to discourage us from continuing!
8. Be creative. If your family is musical, you may want to include singing. Or if your youngsters are uninhibited, try role-playing the Bible story. If you want a change for an evening, read a short Psalm instead of the normal reading. There are lots of Bible games at Christian bookstores—why not try one of them on Saturday for some variation?
9. Encourage all family members to give suggestions for the devotions. Recently when our 15-year-old son came home from boarding school, he advised us that we should have our prayer time on our knees. He elaborated that their new dorm-dad insists that they all pray on their knees—and so, we've been praying on our knees ever since!
Opening the Word of God as a family is one of the most precious experiences you can have together. All too soon those kids will be gone! Catch them now in the joy of listening to God and talking together with Him and that will go a long way in Keeping Your Kids Christian!