Over the past several weeks I have received multiple emails asking me for suggested resources for family devotions. But a recent email asking me simply “how do you do devotions?” made me realize that encouraging families to practice devotions should be accompanied by at least a cursory explanation of how to go about doing it. Many of you already practice personal and family devotions, and most already have a good plan of action when it comes to doing so. However, some of you may have never had family devotions demonstrated for you, or you may have only recently become a Christ-follower and simply do not know where to start. Following are my humble suggestions concerning devotions. I say “humble” because I do not want to portray myself as an expert, nor do I in any way want to imply that my suggestions are somehow more “godly” than your own, or those of others. Nevertheless, I offer these suggestions in the hopes that they may be helpful to those who are new to the whole concept of devotions or quiet times. I will assume family devotions in these suggestions, but individual devotions would fit as well with some minor tweaking.
To begin, it is important to find a time of day that works best for your family. If your children are young, the time that works well for you and your spouse, or for you individually if you are a single parent, is the time that works best for your child(ren). I suggest a regular bedtime routine as the most appropriate time for family devotions, and mornings as the best time for individual devotions. Routines are important for children, and quality devotional times can be looked forward to as a cap to a day. Obviously, work schedules, sleeping patterns, and multiple other variables play into the selection of the best time for devotions, but barring unusual circumstances, I think these make for the best quality times.
Second, select the location for your devotions. The “where” is not as important as the simple consistency of location, especially for children.
Third, determine the outline for not only your devotions, but for the time leading up to your devotions. My daughters knew that bedtime began with a bath, then an occasional snack, followed by brushing teeth and then to their bedroom for a devotion (the devotional material varied with their ages, but we focused on our oldest daughter, and then tried to explain things more fully to our youngest daughter briefly at the end of the reading or discussion). Our devotion time was followed by family prayer, which I led but occasionally invited our daughters to pray for a specific person or situation so they would get used to praying vocally and intentionally. We occasionally sang a hymn or song. We followed our prayer time with a reading time. The reading time was usually not Bible based (we did occasionally read Bible stories), rather it was “classics” based -books like The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, Pilgrim’s Progress, and yes, even The Hobbit when they were old enough to handle the storyline. I think I read the girls close to 100 books over their growing up years.
Fourth, as your children get older, include memorization to the devotions. Our girls memorized Bible passages, a few answers to catechism questions, prayers and the Nicene Creed. With steady work, very little is impossible for children to memorize.
Finally, be consistent. No one can make this happen every single day or night without interruption. But do everything in your power to be consistent. Habits can be deadly, but they can also be enriching. And habits have a tendency to become imbedded in us. Devotions and regular times in God’s word are worth imbedding into our lives, and the lives of our children.
I know many will have multiple reasons why consistent devotions are not possible in their lives. I concede that there are exceptions in some lives that make them more difficult to develop, but for most people in our culture, setting aside 15-30 minutes a day is more about desire and intentionality than it is anything else. Generally speaking, we make time for the important matters in our lives. Devotions, particularly family devotions, are far more important than sports, television programs, video games, “vegging out,” and even personal time. None of these practices are sinful in moderation, but when we allow them to squeeze out time in our lives for teaching and equipping our children, or prayer time with our spouses, or personal growth by spending time in God’s word, they can be spiritually deadening and mind numbing. Most of us can do better. Your child may become a millionaire sports hero, but if they do not know Christ, sorrow upon sorrow is compounded in the lives of godly parents.
There is no magic formula here. Some will have consistent devotions with their children for 18 years, only to watch them reject the Lord. Others will never take time to even pray with their children, and by God’s grace, they will come to know and grow in the Lord by some other means. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility and how they mix remain a mystery to us. That does not alleviate from us the responsibility to see to our own spiritual growth, and to the growth of our children. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, start with 5 minutes a day. It will be 35 minutes more that you spend in the presence of the Lord this week than you did last week. That is a good start. Please feel free to contact a pastor/elder if you have specific questions or concerns.
Grace and peace,