Family worship is part of our Reformed heritage. Some might be inclined to call it Reformed tradition. In a sense this is true. The problem with using the word tradition is that it rings with empty formality. If we speak of heritage, it conveys the idea of something precious and worthwhile. Family worship is something blessed that has been handed down to us from our forefathers.
Concerning this family worship, many parents have become frustrated, disappointed, and even guilt-laden. Being part of our heritage, it holds such fantastic possibilities; yet in the daily demands of life it actually produces so little. This is not to say that many families do not enjoy their devotions together. They certainly do. We only face honestly what some others do not.
How does one have effective family worship?
Obviously, the question is more easily raised than answered. In dealing with-this subject we must avoid two extremes. The one is an idealism that, presents such an idea of family worship that it is out of the reach of the average Christian home. This can be done very easily. One can sit back and come up with many ideas which are little more than pipe dreams and are so far removed from the practical everyday way of family living that it is either laughed at or, worse yet, despised. Such an approach will do little good. The other extreme is to abandon family worship altogether because any ideal is out of reach. Some may argue this way: society has changed; home life is different today; family worship may have worked in the quiet days of the past, but now we have to contend with moonlighting jobs, extra-curricular school projects, entertainment, church activities, and school functions, so that family worship is possible only on a few rare evenings. If we try to have it when we are so rushed, it will be reduced to an empty formality and that is worse than nothing.
Let’s try to avoid both extremes as we consider some suggestions related to family worship.
1.We are speaking of worship. This is a holy activity that places us in intimate and personal relationship with God. Two things apply here.
First, the activity of conscious worship is connected with the whole of our life. If we are to worship God, we must be spiritually minded. Yet, that spirituality is not isolated from our every day life but closely connected with it. If we are not spiritual in all we do, we will not be spiritual in our worship. If we do not live in the consciousness that God sees all we do every moment, expects us to do our best in every task, and will reward us and chastise us according to the work we do, our family worship will not amount to very much. Did not the holy apostles instruct us to pray without ceasing, I Thess. 5:17, and not to be hearers of the word only, but alsodoers, James 1:22? If we live close to God all day, our moments of public and, private worship will reflect the urgency and sincerity that is proper.
Secondly, the Word of God must be in the center of this worship. By this we refer to the actual reading of the Bible and meditating upon it. One can find many study helps, some written especially for family devotions. The idea is that these are to be read for devotions, probably after reading a verse or two from the Bible. This can be helpful and spiritually uplifting. The difficulty is that we must be careful that we do not spend more time reading what men have to say about the Bible than reading the Bible itself. Our family devotions should consist of Bible reading. Here too, we must be careful, for such reading of the Bible can become an empty formality. It must be devotional reading, listening to what God has to say, being sure that we understand it, and applying it to our daily lives. This requires familiarity with the words and concepts presented.. If questions are asked, as they should be, answers must be available. It is in this connection that we have undertaken this rubric in the Standard Bearer. The intent of these Bible study guides is not that they be read during the family devotions, but rather that they be read before a particular book of the Bible is read for devotions. This will help us understand the central message of the book, it will explain little difficulties that may arise in the reading of the chapters, and suggest questions that will help put into focus the message which the Spirit will have us know. Hence these articles will not be detailed exegesis of the chapters. That is presently being undertaken by Rev. Lubbers in his excellent studies, “From Holy Writ.” Rather, we will try to be brief and concise and deal with some of the more obscure books of the Bible.
Thirdly, accompanying this meditation upon God’s Word is prayer. This is essential for effective worship. After receiving God’s Word and discussing it together, we must turn to our God and ask for His blessing and express our thanks to Him for all He does. Paul reminds us of this in I Tim. 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.”
2.We are speaking here of family worship. It necessarily includes husband and wife, but also children, if the Lord has so blessed the marriage, at whatever age they may be. In discussing this with families, it appears that meal time is the best time for such devotions. The fact remains that, as a family grows up, the moment when the entire family is at home at the same time is generally meal time. With discipline and effort, we must hold onto this. We must not abandon the formal evening meal, and replace it with casual eating whenever anyone gets home, some eating in front of the T.V., others eating out of a bowl in the kitchen. The evening meal must be preserved at all cost. Most likely that is the one, time the family can sit down and eat and talk together. It is the one time. of the day that family conversation can be enjoyed. The members of the family can share the activities of the day together.
Along with this, it is but a natural transition to conclude the meal with devotions. It is a time to open the Bible, read. a portion, discuss it so that it remains a meaningful guide to our feet and a lamp upon our pathway. After such a quiet moment, how proper to bring the needs of the family and all others who have needs to God’s throne of grace in prayer!
Let me insert here that leadership in this devotion rests with the husband and father. It surely is in keeping with all the Bible has to say about the headship of the husband and father, about his responsibility not to provoke his children to wrath, but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This doesn’t exclude the wife and mother. In some instances it may be that she is best qualified to read and lead. A husband, however, may not neglect his duty and pass it off to his wife for no reason. Also in family worship, she is the helpmeet.
3.Obviously, family worship requires time! In the normal flow of events, we seem to lack time for spiritual reflection. This is a curse of our times. Assuming that we are speaking of an average family, father has his working hours, mother her homemaking, children their school responsibilities. This alone fills up most of the waking hours. Add to this evening meetings, school boards, consistory, societies, mothers’ clubs, social functions of one kind or another, and we feel the squeeze. All these things are legitimate concerns. Then some still add sports, both active and spectator, television viewing, hobbies, etc. No wonder that the evening meal is often hurried. Someone sits down and declares, “I have to leave at 6:30,” the implied warning being, “let’s get this over with in a hurry.”
Only one solution appears plausible: the entire family has to allow time for family worship and plan accordingly. If the parents enforce meal time quietness and devotions, the rest of the family will soon learn that it is expected of every member of the family to be present and participate. This doesn’t mean there can be no flexibility. Rather this is the goal that must be set before each member of the family, and effort put forth by all to attain it. If we really examine ourselves regarding the spending of our time, doesn’t it all come down to one simple thing: what our values really are. If we truly value family worship, we will see to it that it has a meaningful place in our family life, and many other activities can be delayed or denied for the sake of things which are good.
We mention the evening meal because it still seems that the work routine of most homes allows for this the best. Mornings may find Dad or some of the children gone from the house before the smaller children are awake. Noons may find mother alone with the smallest children. This doesn’t mean that morning and noon meals need not have devotions. It means rather that they can very well be more flexible. At these meals mother may take the lead out of necessity, or the children may take turns reading the Bible. This may include singing a psalm or favorite hymn.
4.We might conclude with a few suggestions that have come our way by means of family visiting when these things were discussed. Some families find it helpful to provide each member of the family with his own Bible, for these devotions. Some have included modern translations for comparison. The age of the child enters here, but usually it is easier to follow reading if you have a Bible to look at rather than listening.
It is helpful to have some study aids handy. This might be a large study Bible with information in the back, or a Bible dictionary that gives some detail of Jewish culture and religious life, the knowledge of which helps put meaning into much Bible reading. When questions arise, these can be consu1ted. It doesn’t help much (in fact it contributes to spiritual indifference) if we read portions of the Bible and we don’t even know what it is talking about and do not care enough to find out. This contributes to empty formality and false pietism. We must work to overcome this.
Some families enjoy getting each member of the family involved by requesting each member to think of a question to ask concerning the portion of the Bible that was read. This question is directed to the person sitting to his right who must answer it and in turn ask another question to the one sitting on his right till all had a turn. This helps everyone to pay attention to what is read and to review the facts. With older children these questions can also deal with the meaning of what was read as well as facts. These will require more thought and understanding, but will also give opportunity to apply the message to our own lives.
Most frequently the father interjects questions and asks the various members of the family what is meant by certain things as he reads. This requires all to pay attention and to think about what is being read.
Obviously, discipline is required of the children. Depending on age, this is certainly possible and proper. It makes for meaningful worship, and in this way even a young child learns to reverence God’s Word; he is, taught to sit quietly and pay attention. This will help prepare him for worship of longer duration when we take him to church.
Under the blessing of God such family worship will be effective for our spiritual well-being and to His glow.