Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Are family devotions on the way out? Has our life become so involved that there is hardly time for family worship? Is it virtually impossible to schedule a time when the whole family is home together?
The question could even be cast in this form: has it become virtually impossible in our busy existence for the father of the family to function in his priestly calling? In the office of believers we have become partakers of Christ’s anointing (Lord’s Day 12, question 32). Thereby we are ordained from all eternity and qualified in time by the Spirit of Christ to function as God’s prophet, priest, and king. The father in the family holds that position as head of the house. Family devotions are not a matter of preference, but a duty. They are not merely commendable, but a necessity.
They are also of infinite value for maintaining the spiritual unity of the family. It is true, we are giving our children a Christian education and sending them to catechism. As valuable as that may be, so that no price tag could be attached to it, it does not relieve us as parents of our responsibility in the home. The Christian school and the catechism are not and cannot be a substitute for the home.
For most of us it is customary to hold our family devotions at meal time. This is a time-tried and commendable practice. Little do we realize the importance of these devotions for ourselves and our children. Although I am old, I can still remember the prayers that were sent up for us as children seeking aid for us in our school work, or a petition for us when we were not well. Even when we as teenagers went out for an evening we often heard our mother say, “Remember, we are praying for you.”
Also the reading of the Scriptures as part of our devotions is important. We believe that the Scriptures are God’s infallible Word, His Self-revelation to His children, the heirs of salvation. Even more, that Word of God through the work of the Spirit in our hearts is the power of God unto salvation. It is the spiritual manna for our souls. It is the Lamp before our feet, the Light upon our pathway. Therefore, when Scripture is read in our daily devotions it should be done with all due reverence and attentiveness. Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” This is especially important when children are present, taking into consideration that the child’s mind might wander, or he might not understand.
I recall an incident in a catechism class in which a little girl seemed to be listening most intently. I thought she was drinking in every word I was uttering-when suddenly she raised her hand, and out of the blue came the remark, “My brother would not help with the dishes last night.”
Let me mention another instance, when a boy failed to realize that times have changed. In telling about Jesus cleansing the temple, he said, “Jesus walked in, threw the cash register on the floor, and drove out the buyers and sellers, cattle and all.”
There are also instances when the child’s mind is more with the present than with the past. A father was reading about Levi, the son of Jacob. When he paused to ask his children, “Do you know who Levi was?” a little fellow spoke up, “He sells calves to the farmers.”
Or, in another instance, when the children were asked whether we believe in election, a young voice responded, “Sure, Dad voted for (a candidate running for president).”
I have noticed when visiting in various homes, that different methods are used in family devotions at meal time.
One of the most common methods is that a chapter of the Bible is read, followed by prayer. Some fathers read while the other family members listen. In other homes everyone has a Bible and each takes a turn to read a verse. Some parents read through the entire Bible from beginning to end. Others may have different practices. But usually an effort is put forth to hold the attention, especially of the children. Some parents will ask the children to repeat the last word. I recall one instance when the father finished reading a portion of Scripture, but asked the older members of the family whether they could repeat the last word. It must be admitted that there were some red faces.
In some homes only a small portion of Scripture is read, but the attention of the children is directed to each verse. Questions are asked. When necessary an explanation is given. This often causes the children also to raise questions. When young people are present a discussion can be aroused. In any case, this creates a spirit of fellowship in the home. In these families the children are usually well versed in the Scriptures.
On another occasion I was in a home where, to my surprise, no prayer was offered, either at the beginning or at the end of the meal. I felt very uncomfortable, since from childhood I had never experienced anything like that. After the meal the entire family was called into the living room, where at least a half hour was spent in devotions. At this time the children were questioned about the progress they were making with their catechism lessons. A portion of Scripture was read, accompanied by explanations and questions. The whole family was deeply involved in what could well be called a family worship service. That gives food for thought.
Another incident. This took place on a Sunday morning. We had been awakened plenty in time for church. The breakfast was concluded with the usual devotions, but after that we were all assembled in the living room. The children were requested to recite a Lord’s Day, which they had learned during the past week. This was the Lords Day on which the minister was to preach that day. Thereupon the father made some remarks about what would be brought out in the sermon. The children were urged to listen for that. Not a bad preparation for the service. Don’t you think so?
Then I think of an elderly woman in the Holland Home, who on a Tuesday morning was diligently reading the Heidelberg Catechism in the back of her Psalm book. Out of curiosity I asked her what she was reading. She informed me that her memory was so poor, that if she did not read the Lord’s Day for the coming Sunday every day, she would not be able to listen properly on Sunday.
The conclusion of the matter is that there are various ways in which our family devotions can be held. Some families have joint devotions also before retiring. We should choose the manner that is best suited for our family. But we must never fail to make this an essential part of our day and of our life as families. Devotions at three meals a day is ideal, but impossible for most families. Yet, if it can possibly be worked out, devotions should be held in the morning as well as in the evening. How better can we start our day than by listening to the Word of God, and bringing our needs as families before the throne of grace in worship, thanksgiving, and praise?
When morning lights the eastern skies,
O Lord, Thy mercy show;
On Thee alone our hope relies,
Let me Thy kindness know.
Thou art my God, to Thee I pray,
Teach me Thy will to heed;
And in the right and perfect way
May Thy good Spirit lead.