One of the most important yet most difficult spiritual disciplines we have put into practice in our family is consistent time for family worship and devotions.
This practice is one of the most important because it is our calling and privilege as parents to pass along the faith to our children. Martin Luther understood this well and labored to provide the church with a wonderful summary of the Christian faith in his Small Catechism. Though his introduction is aimed primarily at pastors and teachers, each section of the catechism is prefaced with the instruction, "As the head of the family should teach...in a simple way to his household." For Luther, the primary responsibility (and joy!) of discipling children fell not to their pastor or Sunday School teachers but to their parents. Woe to us for trying to abrogate our duties. Perhaps the dismal state of Christianity in our land is due, in no small part, to our failure to adequately teach, instruct, and disciple our own children.
In addition to being one of the most important spiritual disciplines, this practice is also one of the most difficult--at least for us--because of the incessantly busy daily routines of the members of our household. There is hardly a day when multiple members of our family don't have things on their calendars. Even inherently good things like sports, church activities, 4-H, or others can expand to fill every available moment of every day if we allow it. Though, as Christians, we are quick to say that our faith is the most important thing in our lives, our calendars tell the sobering truth that our priorities tend to lie anywhere but with our faith.
So what can we do? How can we make family worship a consistent part of our households? Let me offer a few brief suggestions--things that worked in our home.
While there are many wonderful, short liturgies for structuring times of family worship (the Lutheran Service Book, Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and United Methodist Hymnal all contain solid yet brief offerings), I encourage you to start small. For our family, that meant just a few things:
- Scripture reading
- discussion of what the passage(s) mean and how to apply them
- time for children to ask questions
- sharing prayer requests
- prayer time
I know many people love the idea of reading plans that get through the entire bible in the course of a year, but I've never been a fan of them for my personal devotions and definitely not for family devotions. The volume of reading is simply too much to get through thoughtfully. I encourage you to choose a plan that cover no more than one chapter per day, at least in the beginning.
For us, reading one chapter a night, discussing it, and having prayer takes about 20 minutes. That is enough time to dig in (with children's attention spans in mind) while not being so inconvenient that it's easy to skip. Start small.
The hardest part for our family was establishing family worship as a consistent habit. We'd do really well during Advent or Lent, for example, then start missing a night here and there, and before we knew it, we had completely abandoned everything except lamenting the fact that we weren't having our devotional time.
Several of our false starts failed because we were trying to do too much after doing nothing at all. Several of them failed because we said family devotional time was a priority, but we weren't really serious about it. It wasn't until my wife and I resolved to indeed make this a habit we would stick with that it truly became part of our daily routine.
Creating habits is hard. It takes commitment. It takes time. It takes struggle.
3.Be prepared to struggle
As if new habits weren't hard enough to develop, establishing new spiritual disciplines is especially difficult because of the struggle against our flesh, the world, and the devil--all of which wage war against our pursuits of holiness and closeness to God. There is no way to sugar coat it. Be ready for a battle. Kids will loose their minds when it's time to gather for family worship. The phone will ring. The washing machine will overflow. The timing will always be bad and there will always be something fighting against you until you resolve to guard the time as precious and are able to make it a habit.
Don't be discouraged! Don't give up! The benefits are well worth the struggle. It soon will become a joy.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism upon which I was raised teaches that the chief end of man is to "glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." One of the chief ways we have come to enjoy God is through our time of family worship. Granted, not every night is moving--some days we press through not because we feel like it but because we have committed to it. There are other days, many of them, when we are blessed to see our children grasp the grace and mercy of God afresh, understanding his great love for us a little bit better. It is incredible to watch our family grow closer and closer to one another and to Christ. No, it doesn't happen every day--life isn't a TV show--but it happens: slowly, incrementally, inconsistently, and wonderfully. Enjoy every moment of it.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash