For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
-1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
I had a vision for what I wanted my family to look like long before I had any children. I envisioned a family in which mom, dad, and however many kids the Lord would give us would engage in frequent and intentional family worship. I’d read books on the subject and had a lot of “convictions” about what family worship should look like long before I ever had the family to make that dream a reality.
Then we had Knox, and reality crashed into my convictions. I figured you could never start a family worship time too early, so we started young. There were many hurtles with an infant and much inconsistency, guilt, and failure. Eventually we lost sight of this vision during a really busy season of life. Then we had our second child, Hazel, and moved to a new state and a new ministry. There we worked in a new routine of family worship with Knox approaching his second birthday and Hazel as a new-born. Here’s what we learned:
Prior to having kids I had acquired a lot of what I thought was practical wisdom on leading family worship. I called this wisdom “conviction.” However, conviction divorced from implementation is simply opinion. Everybody has opinions, but opinions don’t make children who love God. It’s easy to have opinions about the best way to disciple children when you aren’t actually doing the hard work of discipling children. Reality changes all of this.
After over a year of on-again-off-again family worship and the accompanying guilt and shame that discouraged us from forging on, my convictions changed. Every family is different and we are increasingly busy. Instead of looking at family worship as a rule that had to be followed, we decided to look at it as a tool to relate to God. This simple alteration of our approach to family worship had profound results. If we miss a day—or even a week—rather than beat ourselves up and allow shame to keep us from trying again the next day, we grab ahold of God’s grace and move on. We’ve accepted that there will be obstacles that hinder our desire to set aside time to worship God together as a family.
Additionally, we found that not all content is created equal. As our toddler became increasingly more mobile he also became increasingly more fidgety. Our new-born is defenseless if we read extended passages from adult translations, but we have to keep things bright and colorful for our two year-old. We’ve started a collection of different children’s Bibles with colorful pictures, fun songs, and age-appropriate content. We want him to learn the truths of God in a way that is exciting to him so we allow him to pick the Bible of his choice each night.
Our time of worship usually consists of singing a hymn or two from a hymnal, praying together, and reading from one of these children’s Bibles for as long as he will allow. Sometimes he wants to read through the entirety of one of the shorter ones, other times our new-born starts crying after only three pages. Reasonable expectations and flexibility are our guiding principles for success. Just as a baby can only eat so much pureed apple before it is full, they can only take so much Bible before they’ve had enough.
We’ve been amazed at how much of God’s truth our two year old has absorbed. They are little sponges at this age and we’re thankful to God that by his grace Knox’s little brain is being filled with the truth of God. He can recite the lines of many of the simpler Bible stories just by looking at the pictures. Some of the children’s Bibles are “well-loved” (I mean worn out). Not only does he know the words to some of the short children’s Bible songs, but two classic hymns as well.
Our method for singing hymns is to repeat one hymn for a month-long duration to help him memorize the words. However, we could not have predicted that after teaching him all of “Come Thou Fount” he would be so partial to the song he would not allow us to sing any other hymns. Here again, we cling to the motto of being flexible and setting reasonable expectations. Eventually he’ll allow us to work in another hymn…maybe.
The greatest tip I can give to anyone wishing to implement family worship or devotions into their schedule is to stop reading about it and to start doing it. Work through the good, the inconsistent, and the awkward and grab hold of God’s grace to sustain the desire in your heart. Pray often to God that he would honor this work of yours and that it would bear much fruit in the lives of your children and all they would minister to in the future.