When you visit in the homes of your congregation this coming year I predict that one of the more pervasive problems that you and fellow elders will note is the lack of family devotions. You will hear families who say they don't have the time, schedules too chaotic with working parents passing each other like two ships in the night, or fathers who feel inadequate so they don't feel comfortable doing it ... excuses excuses, excuses. My own personal favorites were that my wife didn't keep a Bible handy or that I had to go to a session or trustees meeting. Yes, that's right, too busy with church work to lead my own little ones to Christ. Those excuses can be embarrassing, can't they?
My fellow elders, we do need to address the excuses in our own lives if we are to deal with those in the lives of the congregation. We need to lead by example. Pastor Bill Warren's example was the most helpful to me as a young father and new elder. He would have short devotions with his family after each meal. Over the last dozen years we have been able to develop consistency in doing the same thing in our home. When we eat together as a family, we finish with Bible reading and prayer. Now my Bible sits within hand's reach. My wife and children expect me to read and pray even if I need to be brief because of other commitments. Needless to say, our enjoyment of our God and even his glory have been advanced by these humble efforts.
As Orthodox Presbyterians, we will be visiting in homes where the parents promised, at the time of their child's baptism, to instruct their children in the Reformed faith, pray with and for them, endeavor by all the means appointed by God to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Directory for Worship IV.B.4). On the basis of these promises elders may urge the flock to make use of family devotions as part of the fulfillment of those promises. Two of the three ordinary means of grace are at hand in family devotions, and I do not believe that it is appropriate to shift all the responsibility for the nurture of our children to the weekly church meetings or to the Christian school. Christian households must necessarily reflect the glory of Christ that is in the greater household, the church. And since the church is marked by her devotion to Christ in prayer and attention to his Word, the Christian family should be also.
In our home visits we must encourage fathers to exercise headship in this area of family life and mothers to assist their husbands in this covenantal responsibility. There is a partnership, the balance of which must be maintained. Unfortunately, it is often upset by the husband who shirks his duty to lead mother and children, or conversely the gifted mother who usurps the father's role. As the visiting elders discuss with the family what they are doing for family devotions it would be good to be prepared with ideas that can be of help in various situations.
"Nourish the body, nourish the soul" is my simple way of stating a concept that young children can readily understand. For thousands of years it has been the practice of devout Christian homes to join the fellowship of breaking bread together with the fellowship of Bible reading, singing, and prayer. While this custom appears to have fallen victim to dual income families, to our American love affair with sports for all ages, and to endless electronic entertainments with little recreational value, it is one worth preserving if at all possible. In our household mother does the morning devotions at the breakfast table before the children go off to school and father does the evening devotions at the dinner table. The other time for family devotions with young children is before the youngest goes off to bed. That is a great time for gathering in the family circle for Bible reading and family prayer.
Materials for devotions can be an important aid in helping make the family worship meaningful to all members. The Christian family must have devotions that are Christ-centered. It is after all the word of Christ that is to dwell in us richly; he is our life, we have died with him and our lives are now hidden in him. We can no longer read our Old Testaments as if it were still 400 BC! The family that is in Christ is part of the new creation; the old has gone, the new has come with all the heavenly glory of the Son of God himself. But doing this is not always as easy as one would think since we seem to have almost a natural tendency toward a moralistic approach to the exercise of our religion. This is true of much of the devotional aid materials that are available as well. Another problem is that so many books use pictures of Jesus to depict the biblical scenes of his life. I think this is more than unfortunate; it is a violation of the second commandment as question 109 of the Larger Catechism clearly states.
The Child's Study Bible by Catherine Vos. This is excellent with a theocentric/chistocentric approach to the stories that probably reflects the fact that her husband, Geerhardus Vos, did a good job with his own family devotions as well as assisted in editing the book. A razor can easily remove the pictures of our Lord without damaging the text. Good for ages three to ten years.
Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland. Bible teachings (more than just stories) covering who God is, the work of the Son and the Spirit, the response of faith and obedience, prayer, and the ministry of the church. Each section includes songs and suggested prayers. The text does contain pictures of Jesus, which we simply did not show to our children. Good for ages three to ten years.
Promise and Deliverance by S. G. De Graff. This four-volume set covers the narratives of the Bible from Genesis to Acts. Designed to help Sunday school teachers, De Graff's basic approach is to see that the narratives are given a redemptive-historical flavor that focuses on the Lord of the covenant and his gracious saving of his people in Christ. This is very helpful material to use alongside reading through the Bible. Good for ages five to adult.
The author is a ruling elder in the Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California. He is a member of the General Assembly's standing Committee on Christian Education and serves on the Ministerial Training Subcommittee. Reprinted from Ordained Servant 8.1, January 1999.