Rev. Eriks is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
n our homes, the highlight of the day is the evening meal. The family that was separated during the day reunites for a time of fellowship around the supper table. The great blessing of these daily meals is not first the food prepared by mother, but the fellowship of the family, as everyone takes a turn rehearsing what happened throughout the day. However, the fellowship at the family mealtime is not simply with each other. Customarily, it is also a time of fellowship with God in family worship. One of the great blessings in our covenant homes is the time our families gather for daily family worship. Before the meal, a prayer is offered to God, thanking Him for the food and for His care for the family throughout the day. After the evening meal, often with one of the young children on his lap, father reads a passage of Scripture, leads the family in a discussion of the truth found in that passage, and finishes by calling the children to fold their hands and bow their heads in prayer. The home in which this worship is the highlight experiences rich blessings from God.
A necessary element of this family worship is habitual, sincere family prayer. How is your family prayer life? Do you find that your prayers after the evening meal become repetitions that mean nothing? Is prayer rushed so that you can attend other activities? Do you fathers give much thought to what you pray, or is your prayer offered with a lick and a promise? It is important for us to be recommitted in our homes to faithful family prayer because of the many threats to this aspect of our family worship.
When believers and their children pray together, they fellowship with Jehovah by speaking to Him. In this family prayer, the head of the home usually leads the family to the throne of grace to praise and thank their heavenly Father for His many blessings, to confess the sins of the home, and to request what they need for body and soul. What distinguishes family prayer from personal prayer and congregational prayer is that those who are part of a family, living in the same home, come to the throne of grace. The one who leads in prayer brings the entire family before God. This is what makes family prayer especially difficult for the one who leads. He must put words in the mouths of his family so that what he prays is their prayer.
Family prayer is vital for the spiritual health of the covenant family. What breathing is to our earthly lives, prayer is to our spiritual lives. This is not only true for us individually, but this is true for us in our family life. Prayer is the backbone of a spiritually healthy family. A family that does not pray will be spiritually weak. A family that regularly seeks the throne of grace in the right way will be spiritually strong.
God’s Word demands such family prayer. God’s Word does not simply provide a good suggestion. The call to family prayer does not simply come to your home highly recommended by me and other officebearers. Clearly God urges family prayer upon His children. We do not find specific passages that demand this family prayer. Nevertheless, we find this calling by putting together different passages concerning prayer and family worship. Jesus says in Luke 21:36, “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.” Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” In I Thessalonians 5:17, God commands us, “Pray without ceasing.” Jesus Himself demands prayer. This demand is carried out partly in family prayer.
Family prayer has been the long-standing practice established by God Himself. It began soon after the fall when God’s people began to worship Him publicly, which we read in Genesis 4:26: “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” This is in the context of Jehovah providing the covenant seed of Seth instead of Abel. And to Seth Jehovah gave the son Enos. Adam and Eve and their children and their children’s children prayed to and worshiped Jehovah, as a family. Another example of family worship and prayer is found in Joshua 24:15, when Joshua vows, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We can be sure Joshua’s confession included family prayer. In the New Testament, we read concerning Cornelius, a Roman captain, that he was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). From these many examples it is clear that God demands family prayer.
God calls the head of the home, husband and father, to lead the family in prayer. This does not mean fathers are the only ones who may lead the family in prayer. When father cannot be present, the mother leads the children in prayer. In fact, it is good for mothers to lead the children in prayer at breakfast or lunch when father is not present. At other times, father may have one of the children lead in prayer. In our home, one of the children often leads in prayer before the meal so that they learn how to pray. The head of the home is called to oversee family prayer.
This family prayer, as a part of family worship, must be habitual. Habitual prayer is not just a good idea, but this is the good instruction of God Himself. In Daniel 6:10, Scripture records Daniel praying to Jehovah with his window open to Jerusalem, on his knees, three times a day. Daniel had fixed times of prayer in his life—probably morning, noon, and night. David speaks of his own habitual prayer life in Psalm 55:16, 17: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” Because individually we must have a fixed pattern for prayer, so also this is true for our family prayers. Scripture does not demand that it be at these set times or three times a day. But the principle found in these passages is that prayer must be habitual. Family prayer must be a daily habit in our home. Often when we think of habits, we ponder our bad habits. But family prayer is a good and necessary habit.
Let us beware of the many attempts of Satan to disrupt family prayer. Probably the most common excuse for not conducting regular family worship and praying is that we are too busy. We read a passage of Scripture with our families. We explain that passage. But then we take a look at the clock and we have to leave in a few minutes. The game will be on soon. If any element gets the short end of the stick, it is prayer. Not enough time was left for prayer, so we rush. Satan loves it when this happens.
Satan also uses sin to disrupt family prayer. Instead of a dinner of herbs where love is, our mealtime can turn into a time of quarreling and yelling. Often this is because Dad or Mom had a bad day and they are crabby. Their bad mood infects the children also, so that the time of fellowship is ruined. Satan baits us to disrupt our prayer life. How can we pray to God rightly when we have just been yelling and fighting?
Family prayer must be characterized by urgency and sincerity. Our family prayers must be wholehearted. Fathers, does this characterize your prayers? Do your prayers consist of the same words every night? Do you just try to squeeze prayer in at the end of supper before you sit down in front of the television or read the newspaper? Or do you sweat and labor in prayer? Speaking to God in prayer is hard work. Jesus warns against vain repetitions in Matthew 6:7: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Jehovah God is not pleased with vain repetitions. This is why we should not be content simply to pray the Lord’s Prayer every night as the main family prayer. It is the perfect prayer. But there is the danger that those words mean nothing after awhile. In our family prayers, we must choose our words carefully because we lead our family in speaking to the Holy God. God is not pleased with an abundance of words.
Our prayers with our families will be sincere when we know our need to pray. We need to pray to give thanks to God. Pray in the consciousness of the amazing covenant grace of God. God is so good in the line of generations. He provides covenant children and covenant parents. He has delivered us and our children from our sins in Jesus Christ. God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. In prayer, we must thank and praise God because He is our Savior, Redeemer, and Rock.
Our prayers will be sincere and living when we pray knowing our need for His grace and Holy Spirit (Lord’s Day 45). Family prayer is the time to pray for the spiritual needs of the family. These prayers must not be used to rebuke naughty children. But it is a time to pray for the grace to control our tongues. It is the perfect opportunity to pray for family love. Family prayer must be conducted because God demands it, but also because we need it!
Finally, I humbly present a few suggestions for family prayer. These items are intended to be suggestions and not laws. I am not saying this is the best way to conduct family prayer. But here are ideas for fathers (and mothers) in this difficult task of leading the family before the throne of grace.
First, the great struggle I find in leading family prayer is staying fresh, so that my prayers do not become vain repetitions. This can especially become difficult for men who are home for more than one meal a day, which requires more family prayers. How do we stay fresh? We must work at praying. The first time we think about the family prayer at the end of a meal should not be when we close our Bibles just before prayer. At the very least, throughout the meal we should consider what we will include in our prayer. We should consider the faithfulness of God through another day and thank God for the blessings bestowed. There is no replacement for preparation!
To stay fresh, the head of the home can use the Scripture passage that was just read. This brings home the truth of what was just read practically for the family when it is included in the prayer. In general, when one prays, it is a good idea to use the language of Scripture. The more we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, the easier we will find praying to God.
Secondly, brevity is important especially with younger children in the home. Hard words, long sentences, and long prayers will be difficult for the children to follow and understand, which hinders that prayer from becoming their own prayer. With younger children, we should try to bring the prayer to their level so that to a certain degree they can understand. This does not mean we pray like a little child. Brevity and simplicity must have limits. However, this is an important principle of prayer.
Finally, family prayer is a time of teaching according to the demand of Deuteronomy 6:6, 7. God calls parents to teach their children how to pray. The prayers of father at the time of family worship are a teaching tool, whether we are conscious of it or not. If our prayers are vain repetitions that are rushed, our children will learn to pray the same way. However, when we pray humbly, from the heart, praising God and petitioning God for the things we truly need, such prayers teach our children how to pray rightly. In all of our prayers we must be conscious that we are teaching. Let us be faithful in teaching our children the right way to pray. Part of this instruction is having our children pray. This begins with memorized prayers. But they should also be taught to pray their own prayers and lead the family in prayer.
May the practice of daily, sincere family prayers bear the fruit of strengthening our covenant homes.