Like many things that are good for you (*cough* kale *cough*) family devotions are not an easy habit to form. There are roadblocks and hurdles. The devil, the world, and our own natural desire to resist more work team up to inhibit spiritual growth.
Here are three reasons we do family devotions:
- God tells us to raise our children to know him. It’s literally our job. Once more for the people in the back: It’s. Our. Job.
- It shows our kids how important God is. He’s not just important on Sunday or when we’re in trouble. He’s so important that we set aside time every day to be in his word.
- Any time spent together as a family makes us stronger as a unit.
So. Practical Tips first, Landmines for the Roadblocks later.
- Make time. Don’t “find” time. Time hides. Make a decision about what will work for your family and MAKE that time God’s time. Right now for our family, God’s time is just before bed. 7:30 pm on school nights, we’re gathered around our table and God’s word together. Some families do their devotions at breakfast because it’s the only time they’re all together. Any time of day works, but we have to MAKE it happen.
- Establish boundaries for success. We need rules or else God will have to compete for our attention with the tablet or the Legos or the news. No distractions means the table (or the floor or couch or wherever) is clear of everything not needed for devotion.
- Practice church behavior. This is a great opportunity to remind everyone of how we show respect to God. Expectations should be realistic to your children’s abilities. For our family, our seven year old is expected to be seated and listening, following along with any hymns or text he can see. Our four year old is expected to be seated and listening. He can wiggle a little and answer questions but shouldn’t be distracting. Our two year old needs to be in the room and again, not distracting. He is allowed to have small, quiet toys in church and to move around a bit in our pew as long as he is not trying to disrupt others, so that is our expectation for devotion as well.
- Use visual aids and give them jobs. We use an Advent series called the Jesse Tree. It has ornaments that go on a felt banner each day and an Advent wreath with candles. Our kids take turns blowing out the match and the candles, hanging the ornaments, and even reading the devotions if they’re able. After Christmas, we continued to use candles. It helps the time feel set apart and the symbolism of God being with us is still very appropriate. We’re currently developing a Lent version of the Jesse Tree; hopefully it will have ornaments too eventually.
- Find quality materials. It can be hard to find good resources for very little children. Many devotions are too long or all fluff. It’s ok to let toddlers wander around a bit; it’s amazing what they pick up when it seems like they’re not engaged.
Here are some great resources, starting with toddlers and going up from there. The pictures have links to Amazon and other book distributors.
*NOTE: Some of these devotions are “topical” devotions. This means they talk about a principle, like honesty or teasing, instead of simply retelling a Bible story. These are especially appropriate for older children who are starting to face more complicated situations.*
It doesn’t get much simpler than The Beginner’s Bible. These super-short stories are perfect for toddlers.
I have not vetted this resource but trusted pastor’s wife friends say it does a great job of bringing every story back to Jesus. They do caution about a few of the supplementary notes. The author is not of our church body so her understanding of the Lord’s Supper, for example, is not biblical.
This free resource includes prayers and liturgy, plus some Bible-reading plans and printables. A valuable resource for the whole family! Thank you, St. Mark!
Another we have not personally used, but comes highly recommended. It retells Bible stories simply and includes application questions. Amazon says ages 2-5. There are at least five volumes.
Ages 2-8. This collection of devotions features Bible stories as well as special devotions for specific family events.
THESE are the Lent devotions my husband and I are currently writing with a few friends. They’re geared at ages 4-10. We hope to have visual aids and printables by next year but at the moment it’s a collection of Google Docs. They’re free (and will remain so) and include hymn lyrics and links to Youtube videos for hymn tunes to complement the devotions. Each devotion focuses on an event in the earthly life of Christ and the salvation he won for us.
This is a straight ESV translation collection of Bible stories. The supplemental materials are solid and the artwork is gorgeous. It’s a big, heavy book, though, and the binding is not great. Late preschool through elementary.
Little Visits has been around for a long time. Geared at early-elementary kids. My husband feels they do more application than actual teaching of the Bible.
Bible stories retold for ages 6-10. Includes questions and applications. Published by Concordia Publishing House, which we generally like but please always use discretion on doctrine.
These topical devotions were written for 8-12 year-olds. We haven’t used it (our kids are younger) but it’s on my “Eventually” list!
Quarterly devotions for ages 8-12 by Concordia Publishing House. Each quarter costs less than $5 and includes daily devotions plus activity, prayer, and journaling ideas.
Not one I have read (man, what have I read?!) but high accolades from friends. Topical, slightly longer. Probably ages 8-16.
Landmines for Roadblocks
- It’s gonna be awkward. Everything worth working for is weird at first. You didn’t let some odd pauses or a bad date here and there keep you from pursuing a relationship with your spouse. Falling down a few times didn’t keep you from learning to ride a bike or a stressful first time behind the wheel didn’t keep you from learning to drive. It will not feel “natural” at first. There’s a good reason for that: Satan doesn’t want it to be easy.
- Responsibility is clear… except for when it’s not. God is not indifferent on this: men are responsible for the spiritual education of their families.
- It’s Dad’s job, when Dad is a believer. If it’s Mom who wants to start family devotions, some dads might tell Mom it’s on her to get it done. It’s not. Find the resources, make the time, offer to help him practice, but make it clear to him that this is his responsibility.
- If Mom is a believer and Dad is not, then it is Mom’s job to get things rolling. Dad should be encouraged to come to devotions too, but if he can’t or won’t, he needs to respect what his wife is doing for their family. Some day, if he comes to faith, devotions will become his responsibility.
- If Dad is not in the picture (or not living with Mom) then it’s Mom’s job when the kids are at her house, and vice versa. If both parents are believers, both should be leading devotions when they have the kids.
- We can’t do this perfectly. Every family has days when devotions don’t happen. People are sick, we’re not at home, we forgot. (We’ve had devotions around a sickbed, found a short verse to talk about or entire devotion online, and had to mark calendars or set reminders on our phones.) But God’s word works. It always accomplishes what God sets it out to do. It does not return to him empty. If you only do it once a week, that’s once a week more than you were doing before. If you fall off the wagon for a month… or two… or 36, know that God rejoices to see you return.
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” -Jesus. We don’t hinder just by actively getting in the way; we also hinder by not pushing for good habits to form. There’s no kale in my house. I tried it once and it literally knit my braces together. It took twenty minutes and kitchen shears to get my jaw unstuck. But there’s a whole lotta Jesus here.
Leave a Reply