I was a teenager the first time my dad tried to have family devotions. Our family had recently begun attending church together, and now we sat staring at each other in the living room, ill at ease, not quite ready to talk about something we barely understood.
Dad opened his crisp new Bible and started to read. Chairs creaked in the too-loud silence of our formal living room while three teenagers who’d spent the last few years arguing incessantly tried not to look at each other. Dad handed the Bible to me, and I stumbled over the strangely stiff words. My brother snickered, and soon the room erupted in giggles. We ended up laughing so hard we couldn’t continue.
Poor Dad. That was our first — and last — attempt at family devotions.
My dad isn’t the only parent who’s found the task daunting. A recent Barna report noted that fewer than one out of 10 families who consider themselves to be born-again Christians read the Bible together during a typical week. Like most parents, my dad had no guidelines to follow — no idea how to make family devotions work for our family.
Fast-forward 10 years. By this time I was married to a pastor, with small children of my own. More than anything, we wanted our children to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds and strength (Luke 10:27). And we wanted to connect with our kids in an authentic way on spiritual matters.
We were intrigued by the idea of family devotions, but remembering my own family’s awkward attempt during my teenage years, I was worried. How could we normalize reading the Bible together as a family?
Since we had no clear picture of how family devotions should be, we just jumped in and did what worked for us. And to our surprise it worked! Years later, when our family included a busy teenager, a squirmy toddler and other children, we adapted the practice to keep them both involved and engaged. Here are a few things we learned along the way that made all the difference.
Abandon the fairy-tale vision of sweet, attentive children hanging on your every word. Instead, expect a lot of wiggles and interruptions. When our kids jumped in with questions and observations (sometimes serious and more often seriously hilarious), we knew we were connecting them to the One who delights in speaking to His children of all ages.
Most evenings, Phil would lie on top of the bed, with kids curled around him as he read Bible stories. When the youngest wanted to make it a wiggly wrestle time, keeping him occupied with paper and colorful pens for drawing enabled him to quiet down and listen.
We decided that movement was fine, but noisy chatter needed to be contained so we didn’t lose our focus on entering into the presence of Jesus together.
Keep it short
The idea is not to create a curriculum to plow through in order to make sure your kids know everything. Quite the opposite! You’re giving your kids a taste of the delicious richness to be found in God’s Word. Rarely did family Bible time, as we called it, last longer than 20 minutes when the children were young. We purposely wanted to leave them begging for more and to ignite a thirst for Jesus in their hearts.
We discovered that it wasn’t so much what we taught them as how they felt while we were exploring God’s Word that was important and would carry into their own lives. “Inspiration over information” became our goal.
Stick to a simple, consistent format
In our home, we followed the same structure for family Bible time each night: worship, Bible reading and prayer.
Worship came easily because my husband spent most of his career as a worship leader. He’d get out the guitar, while I handed out the tambourine, jingly bells, drumsticks and whatever else we had on hand. Our toddlers would dance while the rest of us entered into the joy of worship — together.
After worship, we spent time reading the Bible, using an age-appropriate version. Our children loved kids’ Bibles that were action-packed and that had great illustrations. These engaging Bibles painted a compelling picture of who God is and how He loves, helping our children discover that He is their real and present Redeemer.
We ended with prayer time. Nothing shelved those nasty sibling rivalries or family tensions like listening to each other share fears and troubles. We experienced so many breathtakingly beautiful moments of compassion between our children as they picked up each other’s burdens in prayer. Sticking to a consistent format helped us to establish the habit of being in God’s Word together daily.
Adapt as your family grows.
As our oldest two entered their teens, family Bible time became more relational. We still used the same format, but the emphasis changed. We worshiped longer and encouraged our kids to share something from the Word that was speaking to them. When our children were younger, we taught them; now they were teaching us as they applied spiritual truths to their lives.
They learned from each other. Often, our youngest son would crawl into his big brother’s lap, watching his every expression as he worshiped and prayed. His older brother was becoming a mentor to him, paving the way as he developed his own walk with God.
When my parents came for a visit we invited them to join our practice of family devotions. We laughed together over the memory of three teenagers sabotaging Dad’s first and final attempt — and we were a little sad, too. We’d missed out on something pretty special.
Our family shared a unique intimacy that could only be experienced by sitting at the feet of Jesus together. We became our own little community, an introduction into the greater community of the church. And now our grown children are relishing the same kind of closeness as they continue the practice of family devotions with their own kids.
All these years later, my husband and I marvel at the kindred spirits of our grown kids — how they pray over each other in difficult times, giving encouragement and wisdom from the Word. I recently read a text from our youngest to his older sister. He pointed out things he admired about her and ways she’s influenced his walk with God.
We see now how God drew our kids to himself and to each other through our family Bible time. And we marvel as we watch our grown children take their place in a much bigger family than ours — a family of passionate followers of Jesus.
Diane Comer, and her husband, Phil, are sought-after speakers and authors.