When my husband and I decided to embark on family devotion with our young children some years ago, I had romantic notions of how it would go. We would sit in a circle, share about our day, take turns to read from the Bible, and sing a couple of worship songs.
In reality, it looked like a poorly managed circus act, with kids hanging off of us as we shouted instructions for them to “Sit down!” and “Don’t tear the Bible!”. We barely made it through a song, let alone two. In the early years of this daily noisy and rowdy routine, with no apparent reprieve in sight, we wondered if it was worth the hassle. However, after years of persevering, we are beginning to see the fruits of our efforts.
In a local survey of churches, it was found that the majority of youth believe that their parents have an impact on their spiritual development. However, less than 20% have discussions about their faith with their mothers and fathers, and even fewer read the Bible or pray and worship together. In addition to including your children in the Christian community, starting an early family tradition of doing devotion together is key to building a solid foundation of faith in our kids.
Here are some ideas to get started on family devotion, even when your children are young:
Keep it short
Even the best-behaved child is likely to have a short attention span and be cranky at bedtime. In the early years, family devotion is a way to introduce your child to the sweet pleasure of communicating with God. The younger the child, the fewer elements to include. For a toddler, you might sing a favourite song learnt in Sunday School, followed by a short prayer. As your child gets older, you can gradually add on Bible-reading, memory verses and Bible study. Our young children were more willing to participate in shorter prayer and worship sessions, as these matched their attention and energy levels at that age.
I was prone to turn devotion time into a session of telling the kids what they did wrong that day – squabbles, disobedience, and carelessness with their homework, all under the guise of asking them, “Kids, what do you think Jesus would have you do?”
This became understandably off-putting for the children. I began to address these issues as they happen in the day instead, and stay on-topic when it comes to devotion time. In these instances, I’ve realised that showing grace and self-restraint is what Jesus would have me do.
Keep it simple and relevant
We learnt early on to pare back the content of our family devotion, and simply let it be a time to meet with God as a family. This decision lowered our stress levels significantly, and it was a much more pleasant time for everyone.
Family devotion can be a wonderful time of helping our children connect their life experiences with the living God we love and serve. When one of our boys faced struggles in school, we sang ‘With Christ in the Vessel’ to remind him (and ourselves) that God is with us wherever we go. When another child was fearful over an issue, we prayed and declared Psalm 23.
God is truly faithful in responding to the prayers of our children. We have observed our children overcome obstacles and gleefully give thanks to God when they do! Encourage your children to lift up their requests to God – there is nothing too big or small that He cannot do.
Keep it real
Not every child may embrace the idea of family devotion. One of our sons resisted participating, because he didn’t want to do the same thing as his brother. If you face a similar situation, take a step back to prayerfully assess the reasons for your child’s response. Do they simply want to be different from their siblings, or is there some underlying reason for the behaviour? Once you identify the issue, remind your kid why having family devotion together is important, and let them know that they need to stay in the room with you during the stipulated time. After devotion is over, take time to address the underlying issues of your child’s behaviour. In our case, it took more than a year of quietly sitting together, before our boy would even pray upon request. We are glad we persisted – he has become our prayer warrior and now lifts up all our family’s struggles to the Lord immediately.
Including your young children in your devotion time certainly takes effort and a whole lot of patience – but it is sure to draw you closer together and to God. Stay the course; in time, you will see the results.
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