About family devotions themselves we ought to notice a few things. In the first place, they are devotions. That implies that the source out of which family devotions arise is the love of God in our hearts. That’s what the very word devotion implies. Someone for whom you have devotion is someone whom you love. Love can be the only possible source for family devotions. Moses makes that clear in Deuteronomy 6 to the children of Israel. In the verses 6 and following he sets before them their calling to teach the Word of the Lord unto their children, to talk of it when they sit in their houses, when they walk by the way, when they lie down and rise up. How are they going to do that? What alone will insure that they carry out this calling? The answer is: the love of God. And so Moses exhorts the children of Israel in verse 5: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
If our family devotions are to succeed, there must be in our homes first of all the love of God. Where that love is revealed, family devotions will flourish. Where families love God, and reveal that love within the life of the family itself, family devotions will have no trouble being sustained. Where husbands love their wives, where parents love their children and receive them as gifts from God’s own hand, where children reverence their father and mother and show love to each other, there family devotions will necessarily thrive. But where family relations are strained, where husband and wife do not get along, where children are disobedient to their parents, where there is constant fighting between brothers and sisters, there family devotions will wither away and die. We will succeed in our family devotions, only when we ground them in the love of God and love for one another for God’s sake.
Secondly, that these are family devotions means also that they are part of our worship of God. That is also contained in the very idea of the word devotion. Devotion is not simply the deep emotion of love. It’s not simply love in our hearts. But devotion is love in action. It is consecration and worship. That implies that we do not practice family devotions first of all in order that we might get something out of them for ourselves. To be sure, we do “get something” out of family devotions. There is benefit, great benefit to the faithful practice of family devotions. There is the assurance of salvation worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the reading of the Scriptures and prayer. And surely the benefit of family devotions for our children is that they are instructed by us in the truths of God’s Word and in the practice of prayer. They learn the contents of the Scriptures, and also how to apply the Scriptures to their everyday life. They learn from us how to pray, what to pray for, and the reasons for prayer. But above all else, family devotions do not have as their primary, and certainly not their sole, purpose that we get something out of them for ourselves. Their purpose is devotional. They are intended to be an expression of our love to God. They are worship, bending the knee before God in humble adoration and thanksgiving. They are worship through especially the two means of prayer and the reading of the Word. Prayer is the chief part of thankfulness. The reading and believing of God’s Word is worship of God in which God takes no greater delight.
But we must not either forget that these are familydevotions. The point that needs to be emphasized is that they are devotions carried on by the family as a whole. The family as family has needs to bring to God’s throne of grace. The family has reason to give thanks unto God for all His blessings. That’s what makes meal time, from a practical point of view, the best time to have these family devotions. As the children grow older and become busier, the time when the entire family is at home in generally mealtime. That these are family devotions means that the whole family ought to participate in these devotions. Nevertheless, the leadership in these devotions ought to be assumed by the father and husband. He is the God-appointed head of the house. He is the one whom Moses is addressing in Deuteronomy 6 in particular. The word of the Lord in Ephesians 6:4 is: “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” That doesn’t mean, of course, that the mother and wife has no place in conducting family devotions. In some instances it may be that she is best qualified to read and lead the family devotions. But a husband must not neglect or quickly relinquish his duty to his wife for any reason. Also in family worship he is the head and she is the help-meet.
Perhaps some practical suggestions for conducting family devotions might be in order. These are intended to be just that, suggestions. We ought not to lay down laws and precepts governing this practice by us. We mustn’t start saying that this or that way is the best way to conduct family devotions, as if there is really only one proper way. Family situations differ. In one family one way is going to work out better than another. It does seem, however, that making the evening meal the special time of the day for family devotions works out about the best for most families.
But though we ought to avoid laying down laws, there are certainly some practical suggestions which we can make in regard to family devotions. The first is that father and mother insist on taking and setting aside the time for these family devotions every day. Obviously, all other suggestions will be of no value, if this is not done. Parents should discipline themselves to do this, and they should insist on it for the rest of the family. Children must not be allowed quickly to gobble their food down and be excused from the table because they have this meeting or that activity to which they must go. Parents must insist that mealtime and family devotions take precedent over everything else. Secondly, it’s a good idea for parents to provide the members of the family with Bibles. That the younger children are able to follow along as father reads, or are even allowed to do some of the reading themselves, goes a long way in making them involved and interested in the family devotions. Besides, following along in the Bible means that two senses are at work in our devotions: we not only hear God’s Word being read, but we see it in the Bible before us. This will aid in remembering the passage which is read. Thirdly, after the reading of Scripture it would be profitable if there were some discussion of the passage. This will also promote remembering the Word that was read. Parents can start by having the smaller children recite the last few words that are read. Perhaps a few questions could be asked the older children. In this connection, it is helpful to have some study aids handy, especially a concordance and Bible dictionary. If we are going to profit from our Scripture reading, we must know and understand what we read. In the fourth place, parents ought to stick to the King James’ Version of the Bible. They ought to do this because, to my mind, this is by far the best and most faithful translation available to us today. But they ought to do this also because the use of different and various translations for our family devotions is going to promote confusion among our children. The use of other versions is good for private study, but not for reading of the Scriptures as devotions in the family. As a father, I want my children to become familiar with the Scriptures, and this will not happen if I am continually reading to them out of different versions. In the fifth place, parents ought to use the opportunity of family devotions to teach their children how to pray. Prayer is something that is learned. Children are not born with an innate knowledge of and ability to pray. Children must be taught to pray. This is best done during family devotions by the father praying audibly. More and more it is becoming the custom in our homes that the fathers pray silently along with all the rest of the members of the family. This is not good. I fear it indicates that fathers themselves do not know how to pray as they ought. Fathers ought to pray aloud at family devotions. They ought to do that so that their children may learn by their father’s example how and for what to pray. But the children themselves ought also to pray. They ought to be taught a short prayer which they pray before and after the meal. They ought to be taught to ask for the Lord’s blessing and to give Him thanks. May we cherish the practice of family devotions.
May our homes be homes where God’s Word is read and studied, and prayer is offered to God. May we not succumb to the temptation to slight family devotions, or even lay them aside altogether. In this way our family devotions shall be glorifying to the name of our God and serve our own and our children’s spiritual edification.