In Praise of Less Than Perfect Family Devotions

By Dwight and Sandy Edwards

SOMETIMES WE WONDER if it is really worth it” The looks on the boys’ faces clearly indicate that their anticipation of this morning’s family time around the Scriptures and prayer ranks right up there with eating vegetables and brushing teeth. Fortunately not every day is like this one, and many times they interact eagerly during our family devotions. Yet on those occasions (which occur more often than we would like) when our time together seems slow and mechanical, we sometimes wonder if it is really that important for us to gather together as a family before the Lord. We are finding the longer we continue in family devotions the more convinced we become of their great value, in spite of the obstacles we as parents inevitably encounter. It’s becoming clear that what our children are learning is sinking in – God’s Word is getting through to them.

We’d like simply to offer a number of suggestions we have used and observations we have made in our family. Every family is different. What works well for one household may not for another. Let us encourage you to seek before the Lord what He would have you do in your times together and to find what works best for your family. We hope at least some of the suggestions will help.

First and foremost, family devotions must flow out of personal devotions. Spiritual reality within the home must be preceded by spiritual reality within our own hearts. If this is not true the family time will seem contrived and lack any impact on our children. Our children will detect attempts to export a spirituality to them which does not first belong to us, and we will only fool ourselves. This is not to imply that we must have it “all together” in our walk with God before family devotions can be effective. Our spiritual lives will never he all they could be or all we would like them to be this side ofglory. The most powerful quality our children can see is not that we are perfect (they know better!), but that we are progressing. “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15, NKJV). Undoubtedly one of the most powerful influences in Timothy’s life was the genuineness of faith first exemplified and then exported to him (2 Tim. 1:5).

Second, let us suggest you find a time well suited for the whole family. We have found the time that works best for us-in the mornings just before I (Dwight) take the kids to school and go to work. We have found it so helpful to spend about 10 minutes discussing a passage and praying before moving on to other responsibilities of the day.

It is best to keep the time short and focused. The length of the children’s attention span will vary with their ages, and adjustments should be made accordingly. One of the most important aspects of family devotions is determining what’s appropriate for your children’s’ ages. We find right now around 10 minutes is just about right for our children who are ages 11, 10, and 7. When children are very small a good approach is to read a short story with them and then talk with Jesus. As they get a little older it is often helpful (and fun) to have them act out the Bible story. We can still remember our boys walking around the walls of Jericho in our living room until they came “tumbling down. ” At our children’s ages now we choose one proverb and discuss it among ourselves. Proverbs has been a great study for us since we are trying to instill as much wisdom as possible in them in these preteen years. The more the children become personally involved in the discussion, the more interest and excitement they experience. One way to involve them is to get them to visualize personally what the passage is saying. For instance, Proverbs 26:17 says, He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (NKJV). We asked the children to tell us what they think our dog would do if they went out and grabbed her by her ears. It was easy then to move into the application of the passage. As they get older another effective teaching tool is to capitalize on recent events at school or the world and use them as a springboard for the whole family to discuss (such as Magic Johnson and his infection with AIDS). It is absolutely critical in these discussions to allow the children to express their own thoughts and feelings without the fear that they will be lectured or preached at. If they believe their own thoughts will not be respected within the family and will only lead to another sermon they will soon shut down and no longer share what is inside them.

As they get even older they may enjoy having you play devil’s advocate with them-a great way to teach doctrine. You might ask for instance, “If God is really good how could He let innocent babies starve to death!” Don’t be surprised though if you find them turning the tables on you! Everything you can do to stimulate personal participation and visualization will help immensely.

Needless to say, one of the most important parts of the family devotion consists of time spent in prayer. Before we begin praying we ask the children two things: “What challenges are facing you today that we can pray with you about!” and “For whom do you want to pray today!” We want them to learn to pray for others as well as themselves and to pray specifically for their own needs as well as our family needs. For instance, we recently have begun keeping a prayer notebook to record our prayers and God’s answers to those prayers.

What we pray for as families will vary dramatically from home to home, and this is as it should be. But we really believe one of the most valuable gifts we can give our children is the opportunity to see God answer in response to dependent, specific praying.

As we mentioned at the outset these are all suggested guidelines which we have found of help in our family. You will probably have others to add which are especially meaningful to your family. We certainly do not want to portray our family devotions as being more than they are. We have our good days, our mediocre days, and our crummy days. Sometimes we feel really good about how our time has gone, and sometimes we feel like a complete failure. Yet we have absolutely no question that it is time exceedingly well spent, It brings our family together each day to pray and talk, and it strengthens our unity as a family under the authority of God’s Word.

(The above information was published by DALLAS SEMINARY, KINDRED SPIRIT, September 1993)

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