As I’m writing this article, I’m looking out my window at all of the beautiful colors of fall that are filling my yard. Burgundy, rust, and golden leaves are decorating my trees, my lawn, and just about everything else outdoors as a few have started to fall. Thankfully, for now, most of the leaves haven’t fallen yet, but remain intact on their branches.
As I look out the window, my eyes are drawn toward one of my favorite bushes---the burning bush we purchased for my Mom’s birthday years ago. Today it stands over 6 foot tall with it’s branches spanning at least 8 feet wide, probably more. It’s healthy and full of bright red leaves that absolutely sparkle in the sunshine.
This bush has grown so much since the day we originally brought it home from the Lowe’s. Like most of the plants we purchased, it started off small. We always bought small plants because they were cheaper and easier to plant. Plus, we knew that if we took the time to give them regular feedings, our plants would grow to be big, strong, and healthy. After years of properly applying plant food, watering, mulching, and tending to our gardens, we are now reaping the results---beautiful, strong plants that can survive the winter on their own.
So why are we talking about plants in an article about raising church kids?
Well, because the same laws of nature that made my plants strong and healthy can be applied to your child’s spiritual life. In fact, this is one of the biggest ingredients in successfully raising children whose faith grows and thrives and becomes strong and beautiful:
You can’t just “plant” their faith in spiritual ground by saying the sinner’s prayer with them or taking them to church every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday night. If you want your child’s faith to grow, mature, and flourish you’re going to have to FEED it.
Just like my plants would never have thrived in the rocky, iron-filled soil that is my front yard if I hadn’t properly maintained them, so a child’s faith will not thrive in the rocky soil of their hearts if it isn’t properly maintained, fed, and watered. It you want your child to establish deep roots spiritually; you’re going to have to do some things to stimulate the growth.
How do you do that? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about this month: How to help your child’s faith grow, flourish, thrive, and even stand against the elements of the world.
The key: You’re going to have to FEED your child’s faith.
Before we go any further, let me make this clear---it is your responsibility as a parent to feed your child’s faith. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Clearly, God puts the responsibility for feeding a child’s faith on the shoulders of the parents. It is not the church’s responsibility and you cannot expect the child to do it themselves without proper support and instruction from the parent. If you are truly committed to raising children who follow God wholeheartedly throughout their lives, then you, as a parent, need to accept your God-given responsibility to feed them spiritually.
Other than taking them to church, how do you spiritually feed your child?
Well, the best place to start is by establishing the habit of regular family devotions.
I know, I know---You’re family is busy. Everyone’s got their own activities and their own schedules. You’re family is blessed if they get to have a meal together, much less have time for family devotions. What’s the big deal about family devotions anyway?
Well, the big deal is that choosing to have a devotional time as a family establishes that God is the first priority in your family’s life. Too often as Christians, we put God at the end of the list of priorities and squeeze Him in if we have time. However, when you place a time of family devotions as a scheduled, non-negotiable event and plan the rest of your life around it, you’re declaring that God really does get top-billing in your family. You’re lives revolve around Him. When your children see you actually scheduling your days or evenings with God as the first priority, it will make a bigger impact on them than hundreds of millions of words saying, “God comes first in my life.” Remember: children model what they see; not what they hear.
Another reason that family devotions are so essential is because it provides an opportunity for you to model prayer in front of your children. Each day as they see you taking the needs of the family and others before God, they will learn where they should turn when they have a need. As they see you sharing your heart with God, they will learn to do the same. Rather than feeling alone when life becomes difficult, family devotions provides a place where your child can come and share their hearts in the form of prayer requests. Then as a family, you can support each other in prayer expecting God to meet each need.
Finally, family devotions will bring the family closer together. Think out it: How can meeting together at a daily set time, learning how to apply the Bible to your life, and sharing prayer requests not bring you closer? Logically, we know that talking brings people closer together. Sharing breaks down walls in relationships. Turning off all of the electronic devises and focusing on each other for a few minutes tightens family bonds. All of these things can be found in the practice of family devotions. With all of the potential benefits, isn’t it at least worth a try?
Even after listing all of the benefits, I know that there are still people out there saying, “Sounds great, but let’s get real. Does anybody actually do this?”
Well, I can tell you from experience that my family actually did this when we were growing up---all the way through our high school years. Every night, right before bed, our family would turn off the television, spend some time in a Bible study, and pray together. My Mom established it as a priority in her life and she put forth all of the effort necessary to make it happen.
Now, I’ve got to be honest. Were my sister and I always thrilled to turn off the t.v. or put away the game we were playing to have family devotions?
Did she have to endure whining from time to time?
Oh, yeah. We could whine with the best of them.
Did any of this deter her from her purpose?
Obviously, if you ask that question you’ve never met my Mom because NOTHING could deter her from doing what she knew was right. She wholeheartedly believed that it was her job to teach Adessa and I about the Bible and lead us in family prayer. She didn’t just quote “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”, she lived it. (Joshua 24:15)
You see, despite the whining and complaining (not just from Adessa and I, but frequently from my Dad, too) my Mom understood that spiritually feeding your children is a lot like getting them to eat their broccoli. They might not always want to do it. Often times, they’d like to skip the broccoli altogether and go right to dessert, but that isn’t healthy. Good parents don’t let their children choose the menu and feast on candy all the time; they make the decisions about when their child will eat and what their child will eat. They do it so that they will grow up to be healthy, strong adults.
The same principles hold true for spiritually feeding your children. Just as you schedule the family meals, so you need to schedule family devotions. Like you plan the menu and prepare the food your family eats, so it is a parent’s responsibility to organize the time of family devotions. As you set the example by eating your vegetables, so it’s important for you to set the example by having a good attitude about family devotions. Unfortunately, just as there will be days when you’ll say, “You’re not having dessert until you eat your broccoli,” there will be times when you’ll say, “You’re not watching t.v. or playing video games unless you participate in family devotions.”
I get that it’s hard, but it’s all part of being a parent.
So, now that we’ve established why we need to have family devotions, let’s wrap this up with some practical ideas for HOW to incorporate family devotions into your family life.
1. Find a Time that Works for You and Stick to It.
When I was growing up, we had devotions at night. Other families have prayer and Bible reading in the morning. Personally, I don’t think it’s so important WHEN you do it, what’s important is THAT YOU DO IT.
Here’s a tip: Pick a time that isn’t a huge burden. For example, if your family HATES getting up in the morning and you’re usually running out the door with a pop tart in one hand while you’re combing someone’s hair with the other, you might want to have devotions at night. If you or your husband works nights, you might want to schedule devotions in the morning. Maybe the best time for you is right after the evening meal or when everyone gets home from school before someone leaves for work. The key is looking at your school/work schedule and determining what time works best for you, then making it a part of your daily routine.
Notice: I said “School/Work schedule.” Don’t try to squeeze family devotions in around sports, hobbies or television schedules. If you do that, you’ll never find the time. Stick to scheduling a time around school and work and then revolve everything else around family devotions. Although it may be hard to get into the routine at first, stick with it. Eventually, it will become second nature---basically, a routine part of your day.
2. Keep it short and sweet.
Remember, you’re not planning a church service. All kids have limited attention spans, so take that into consideration. Realistically, I think that 5 minutes for Bible Study is more than enough for any family with children under the age of 10. Over ten years of age, and you’ll have more opportunity for discussion, so you could up the time to 10-15 minutes.
Still, remember, this is “family devotions”, not an in-depth Bible study or your opportunity to sermonize for an hour. Also remember, you don’t have to share everything you want them to know in one sitting. They’ll be back tomorrow, so keep it short and focus on one point per day.
When it comes time to pray, take requests, and then pray. Again, this isn’t an old-time revival meeting---5-10 minutes will more than suffice for family devotions. Especially if you have little ones, don’t drag it out. Keep it short and sweet and to the point.
3. Use Age Appropriate Language and Materials.
Just like you wouldn’t expect your baby to chew on steak or your toddler to enjoy quiche, don’t expect your pre-schooler to sit and listen to you read a theological commentary or the King James Version of the Bible. Instead, think about your children’s age and interests.
I remember when we were very little; my Mom would read us Bible stories from the Children’s Bible for family devotions. As we got older, she bought a “Noah’s Ark Bible Study” from the Christian Bookstore. It had stickers and everything! When we were teens, she found devotionals for teens. The point is that she tailored our family devotions to our age level so we would get the most out of it.
The same principle can be applied to family prayers. Although it might sound childish to you to ask Jesus to heal the boo-boos, it means a lot to your toddler. One of the most precious ways I’ve seen young children respond and become excited about prayer time came from a pre-school children’s worker who took time each week to pray individually for each child and their requests. The kids loved the attention and look forward to it each week. Perhaps this is something you could incorporate into your family devotions.
Either way, avoid the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” and all the other spiritual jargon. When you pray, talk to God as your Heavenly Father in words that your children can understand. Then, encourage them to do the same.
4. Get Your Children Involved.
There’s no need for you to do all the talking, teaching, or praying in family devotions. After all, it is FAMILY devotions. Instead, let your children have a turn taking prayer requests and leading the prayer. Maybe even let them teach the lesson or read the Bible story once in awhile. Children learn best when they are actively involved, so don’t exclude them. You might even be surprised to learn that they have a thing or two to teach you about God and spiritual matters.
5. Keep it Fun.
My Mom was really good at keeping family devotions fun---mostly because she was an extremely creative woman who loved thinking up wild and zany ideas for how to teach the Bible. I still remember the time we had a scavenger hunt throughout the house to find the “coin” that was hidden to illustrate the parable of the lost coin. Once we had to literally get a paper camel through the eye of a needle. (Which by the way is impossible) Sometimes our family devotions were filled with games, skits, music or a very memorable illustration. The funny thing is that I still remember them over 20 years later. Who says the Bible has to be boring? Why not make it a fun time that the whole family enjoys and remembers?
6. Take Advantage of Available Resources.
The Christian bookstore is full of books, videos, resources, and ideas to help keep your time of family devotions from getting stale. Can’t afford to buy these resources? Maybe you could borrow them from a friend or even download some free resources from the internet. We live in a resource rich society, so take full advantage of each resource available to help your keep your family devotional time fun, fresh, and something you look forward to. Think of the time or money you’re putting into these resources as an investment in the spiritual lives of your children. Remember the seeds you plant now, will be the harvest you reap later.
7. Do It Anyway.
Before we wrap up this article on family devotions, I feel like I need to address an issue that is very relevant in the lives of many of our readers. I’m realistic enough to know that whenever we discuss a topic like this there are always some who come away saying, “I’d really like to have family devotions, but my spouse just isn’t into it. How can we truly have ‘family devotions’ without them?”
Let me begin answering this question by saying that I understand your pain and your heartache. You are not alone. There are Christian parents all over the world who are in this same situation, and it’s heartbreaking. However, the truth is that having a spouse who doesn’t see the need to spiritually nurture your kids, doesn’t give you an excuse to neglect your children’s need for spiritual food. After all, if your spouse was fasting, would you starve the children?
No---you’d feed them anyway.
That’s exactly what you need to do with your children’s spiritual lives. If you have a spouse that doesn’t want to participate in family devotions, you need to take the responsibility and lead your children in a time of Bible Study and prayer. You should invite your spouse to join you and make it clear that they are always welcome, but you cannot force them to participate. However, their lack of participation does not give you an excuse to abdicate your responsibility to spiritually nurture your children.
Being completely honest, this was the case at our house when Adessa and I were growing up. From the day she became a Christian, my Mom was a spiritual dynamo. She fell deeply in love with God and wanted everything He had to offer in her spiritual life. My Dad, on the other hand, liked church. He was okay with God being a part of his life, but just a part. When it came to things like family devotions---he didn’t really see the necessity. He never took the initiative to schedule or lead our family devotions. Although he would sit and endure what my Mom planned, my brother and I didn’t learn until we were adults that behind the scenes he mistreated Mom and persecuted her for having family devotions.
But she did it anyway. Despite the resistance and cruelty, my Mom knew the importance of feeding my brother and I spiritually. Because of her commitment, we were given a solid foundation of Biblical truth and taught how to apply it to our everyday lives. Spiritual matters weren’t something we talked about on Sundays and Wednesday nights. Instead, it was on on-going daily discussion and our spiritual lives were the central part of our lives. It was during our time of family devotions that were taught to take each and every need to God and rely on Him to provide. Even all these years later, I can still remember some of the lessons she taught during those 15 minutes at the end of the day.
The truth is that I don’t know what barriers have been preventing you, as a parent, from incorporating the practice of family devotions into your life. Perhaps it isn’t an unspiritual spouse, but a busy schedule, a feeling of inadequacy of teaching the Bible, or maybe you’ve never even heard about the concept of family devotions before. No matter what the challenge, I pray that this article will inspire you to start having family devotions on a daily basis. If you have already implemented this practice, I hope we’ve inspired you to keep up the good work because it is so important.
In fact, it may be one of the greatest tools available to you in your effort to raise church kids. Why?
Because family devotions move the base of spiritual training out of the church and into everyday family life. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for church kids is when the church persona doesn’t match their real life at home. If Mom and Dad are saying, “I surrender all to God on Sunday” and then forget about Him Monday through Saturday, kids get confused and eventually disgusted by the hypocrisy.
However, when a family chooses to meet together every day to focus on Scripture and pray, kids see that God is a priority in every area of their parent’s lives. As the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to convict us of sin and teach us to walk in God’s ways, both children and parents will find themselves walking a more consistent spiritual life each and every day of the week.
As Deuteronomy says, it becomes a part of them as they “sit at home, walk along the road, lie down and get up.” Quite frankly, it’s so much harder to walk away from something that’s a part of you than it is to turn your back on something that has just a little piece of you.
That’s why I believe that family devotions are a key ingredient to feeding your child spiritually. Next month, we’re going to talk about the other side of feeding your child spiritually: Teaching your children to have their own private devotional life. In the meantime, I encourage you to give family devotions a try today. Start feeding your children’s spiritual lives and watch them grow, flourish, and thrive!