Family Devotions

Regular, daily, family devotions ought to be a habit among us. We ought to be in the habit of reading the Scriptures and praying. We should not think that because something is a habit it is necessarily bad. To be sure, there are bad habits. But there are also very good habits. In fact, because we are the kind of creatures that we are, because of the way in which God Himself has made us, habits are unavoidable. We have the habit of eating breakfast every morning, for example. That’s a good habit. There would surely be something wrong if, after waking up in the morning, we had to sit down and think about what we should do next. No, we automatically set the table and sit down to breakfast. We have the habit of going to church on Sunday. Now, of course, our going to church on Sunday must not be ONLY a habit. But there would surely be something wrong if we woke up on Sunday morning and had to sit down and think about what we ought to do that morning. No, we wake up on Sunday and take it for granted that we are going to church. It’s a habit with us; something we do almost automatically. 

That’s what ought to characterize our family devotions. We ought to be in the habit of having regular family devotions. To be sure, our family devotions, like our going to church on Sunday, must not be ONLY a habit. It must never be the case with us that we have family devotions simply because we are in the habit of it. We mustn’t have family devotions simply because our parents had them with us when we were growing up. We mustn’t have family devotions simply because this is the way things are done in our churches. And we surely mustn’t have family devotions merely because we consider it a part of our distinctive Dutch heritage. If these are the reasons why we make family devotions a habit, then our family devotions will be ONLY a habit. And either we will very soon lose them altogether, or they will degenerate into a pious formality. Nevertheless, in the good sense of the word, we ought to be in the habit of having family devotions. Family devotions ought to be carried on daily and regularly in our homes. We ought to be in the habit of having family devotions because it is a good and spiritually beneficial habit. We ought to be in the habit of having family devotions because we understand it to be our solemn duty and obligation before God. We ought to be in the habit of having family devotions because they afford us an excellent opportunity to worship our God through prayer and the study of the Scriptures. We ought to be in the habit of having family devotions because they afford us parents an excellent means by which we may fulfill our calling to instruct the covenant seed in the truth of God. For all these reasons we, like our fathers before us, ought to make family devotions a habit in every one of our homes. 

Perhaps you ask: But where do the Scriptures specifically enjoin family devotions upon us? Where in the Bible are we told that we must have family devotions? It is to be admitted that the Scriptures do not specifically enjoin family devotions upon God’s people. There is no specific passage of Scripture to which you can turn that will say in so many words: Thou shalt conduct family devotions. And you surely will find no passage of Scripture that commands that family devotions be carried on in the way in which we customarily conduct them. No passage of Scripture is going to say in so many words that before our meals we must pray, and after our meals we must read the Bible and pray once again. 

Nevertheless, it is the case that the Scriptures very clearly enjoin upon us the practice of family devotions. Everything that we Christians do is not to be found as a direct command in the Word of God. There are many things that pertain to our walk in the midst of the world that are deductions and implications from Scripture. The Scriptures, for example, nowhere say in so many words that we ought to have our own Christian schools. Yet, our churches have always insisted upon this, wherever the Lord makes this possible. It is simply an implication that we have drawn from the Scriptural truth concerning the covenant. There are many things in our lives that we do, not because Scripture explicitly commands us to do them, but because they are certainly implied in Scripture. Strikingly, when speaking of Holy Scripture, the Westminster Confession of faith says this: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” There are things that the child of God must deduce from the Scriptures. The practice of family devotions falls into this category. It is a practice that by good and necessary consequence we deduce from Scripture. It is a practice which the Scriptures clearly imply. 

How does Scripture imply that we ought to have family devotions? From what passages of Scripture may this practice be deduced? There are, first of all, several passages of Scripture which urge prayer upon the child of God. The Scriptures make very plain that the child of God must be instant in prayer. In Luke 1:18 we read that Jesus spake a parable unto His disciples “unto this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” In Luke 21:36 Jesus exhorted His disciples: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” InRomans 12:12 we read: “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” The apostle writes in Ephesians 6:18: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” The admonition of the apostle in I Thessalonians 5:17-18 is: “Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 

The clear teaching of Scripture is that the child of God must be always, continually in prayer. If that is the case, is it not reasonable to conclude that also our family lives are to be characterized by prayer? If we are to pray always, are we not to pray also as families? Is it not true that our prayers as a family, our family devotions, are but one part of fulfilling the calling of Scripture that we must be instant in prayer? I would maintain that from these Scripture passages, the practice of family devotions is a good and necessary consequence. 

Besides insisting on the necessity of prayer in the life of the child of God, the Scriptures also exhort the child of God to be a student of God’s Word. The word of the Lord through His servant Moses was: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:6-7). The word of the prophet Isaiah to backsliding Israel was: “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for My mouth it hath commanded, and His spirit it hath gathered them.” In John 5:39 Jesus says: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” And finally, in Acts 17:11, the apostle Paul holds before us the worthy example of the Berean Christians: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” 

The clear injunction of Scripture is that we must always be studying, always reading, always searching the Word of God. Is it not reasonable to conclude from that that also in and as families we ought to be doing that? If we are to search the Scriptures daily, are we not to be busy doing that in our own homes and with our own families? Is it not also clear that the practice of reading the Scriptures as a part of our family devotions is a good and necessary consequence to be drawn from the teaching of the Scriptures?

Besides these Scripture passages which enjoin prayer and the study of the Scriptures upon the child of God, there are also a couple of passages in Scripture which rather clearly allude specifically to the practice of family devotions. The first such passage is Genesis 4:26 “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” This text undoubtedly refers to the first gathering of believers for the public worship of Jehovah. Men began in the days of Seth to gather together publicly in order to call on the name of the Lord. That very fact implies that private, family worship of the Lord had preceded this. The fact that “then” men began to gather publicly to call upon the name of the Lord exactly implies that before this time the worship of the Lord had been in the nature of family worship. Nor does the “then” imply that now that men gathered to worship God publicly they no longer continued the practice of doing that as families. They certainly continued to do that. The “then” means that now in addition to that, besides and alongside of that, they also began to call upon the Lord’s name publicly. 

Deuteronomy 6:7 is also noteworthy in this connection. There the Lord tells His people that a man is not only to teach his children the Word of the Lord when he walks in the way, when he rises up and when he lies down. But he is also to instruct his children when he “sits in his house.” While he is sitting down in his house, surely while he is sitting down in his house to eat his meals, he is to be instructing his children. 

Strikingly we read of Jesus that, before He distributed the bread to the multitude of over four thousand which He miraculously fed, He gave thanks. Our prayers before our meals are not a custom which originated with our Dutch forefathers. It’s something our Lord Himself taught us to do by His own example. 

And, finally, there is also the word of the apostle Paul in I Timothy 4:4-5: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” And the striking thing is that the context here is exactly concerned with food and with eating. The apostle has said in verse 3: “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Family devotions at meal times are exactly an expression of this thanksgiving which the child of God ought to give to God for the creatures, for the food and drink, which He gives to us. Prayer and the reading of God’s word at meal times is not only proper, but ought to be considered by us as necessary, a good and necessary consequence of the teaching of Holy Scripture. 

(to be continued)