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Family Devotions: The Biblical Basis, Challenges and a Few Encouragements

December 10, 2018 | by: Tony Sanelli | 0 comments

The Biblical Basis

I’ll begin by sharing right at the outset that all of us struggle with this topic of family devotions. It is a work in progress for the vast majority of families in our congregation. Just as each of us struggle in our personal walk with the Lord—we also struggle as a family.

Do not let any sense of guilt or shame for past mistakes with this, nor present feelings of inadequacy keep you from seeking the Lord’s wisdom and instruction on how to shepherd your family in this way. We can all grow and deepen in our understanding and application of the Lord’s command to lead our families well. And we will do this together with the Lord’s help and grace. So, that being shared, I’m going to devote the beginnings of this article to the biblical reasons for family devotions and then move on to more practical matters.

Tony-NewThe titles “family devotions” or “family worship” frighten some. Fathers can especially ask, “Am I responsible to create a mini-church in my home?” “Do I have to know everything my church leaders know?” “What if I don’t know how to talk about this?” But family devotion or worship is really just a way of describing a formal time of discipleship in the context of the family. The biblical ground for this is found in the following texts.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

There is a reason Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 address parents and fathers in particular. From the beginning, God has designed the family as the cornerstone of society. In the ancient biblical world, right on up to the industrial revolution, home was the context in which the family worked and lived. This command to parents to instruct their children was not limited to just clergy or the formal ministry leaders of each era, but to every set of parents in every family through the normal, day-in and day-out conversations and responsibilities of their home. To say “you shall talk to them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way” made perfect sense as they spent the vast majority of their time together.

Most activities, including their employment, centered around the home and often encompassed children, parents, grandparents, and extended relatives. This understanding can relieve the burden that parents, and especially fathers, can feel that somehow they alone must institute an entire formal church service within their home every morning or evening, and conduct this with the knowledge of a seminary professor!

It is important to remember that the time and opportunities for engaging your children on spiritual reflection and on the Word is not just limited to your formal discipleship time at the dinner table, but includes any and all activities and time spent together through the years God has granted you with them. It can be done through personal one-on-one conversations with them, or include other members of your family (grandparents, older saved children, etc.). It is true that times have changed, and family activities/schedules today look different than in times past, but the command and its context to be applied within the family and “family life” remains the same.

Therefore, from these texts (and others) we draw a few biblical conclusions:

Parental discipleship is God’s plan for passing on the knowledge of the truth. Again, this is to primarily take place in the context of the home. God designed the home as the context for inter-generational teaching and rehearsing of the Word of God and especially the promises of God regarding a Savior.

Parents are the primary faith trainers. There are also rich practical reasons for this. One recent study which I read concluded that active young people receive approximately only about 40 hours of training per year from their church. Parents, however, can easily spend 3,000 hours a year speaking into their children’s lives.

The first step is to simply accept your God-given privilege of shaping a human being’s understanding of God. What these passages are doing is calling parents, particularly fathers, to engage personally and intentionally in the spiritual formation of their children.

The parental faith training of your children will be done both in formal discipleship time in which you intentionally bring to them God’s Word and who He is, a time that you as parents set aside for the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” as you reflect on God and what He has done for us through Christ, and also through informal, day-to-day conversations and observations of life together as you “walk and talk” as a family.

Here I think a quote from Paul Tripp is especially useful and encouraging. In his recent book Parenting, Tripp shares as one of his sub-headings, “You Need to See Parenting as One Unending Conversation.” He writes, “As a are freed from the pressure of needing to get from your child what you are never going to get in a single conversation (and I add, or family devotional time). You know that this conversation is only one moment in an ongoing conversation that began when the child was born and will probably not even end when your child leaves your home. You are liberated from having to load your hopes for your child in one conversation, because you know that you live with this child and you will get many more opportunities” (Tripp, Paul David. Parenting p92).

This is a privilege and responsibility that as parents we need not fear or shirk from, but can grow and thrive in, knowing that God is the one who has placed our children in our homes, and will supply all that we need to train them up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord–the will and desire from both parents and children to instruct and to listen, the opportunities, conversations, the devotional topics, the questions, and the time. In all of this He will lead us and help us.

Now, moving on to some of the more practical matters regarding family devotional time, there are some challenges that we are facing today that would be good to acknowledge, as well as some encouragements to help us with them. Some of the challenges are as follows:


After the industrial revolution the family became compartmentalized—fathers left for work and mothers stayed home. Later on, and this is the case with some of you, both spouses went to work. We also have the dynamic of single parent homes. As a result, many families feel a “time crunch” compared to families of the ancient world. We often feel that there is “never enough time” to stop and spend 20 to 30 minutes (or even much less for very young children) with our children for devotional time. This is a subject that each family could benefit from considering more deeply as individual families, and with others at some point. But it is enough to acknowledge this as a very real challenge for most modern Christian families today.

  • Most parents feel incompetent to “train” their children in spiritual matters. They fear they are going to “mess it up.”
  • Many parents would rather the church “specialists” handle this.
  • Many parents are simply not sure what to do or how to proceed.
  • Many don’t have a plan that changes as the children grow older.
  • Many set goals and expectations that are simply too high (daily devotions or morning and evening) and then when they fail, they grow discouraged and stop altogether.

On each of these challenges we could spend much time contemplating and understanding the hows and whys these are the case for many Christian families today. But for this brief article we will move on and share some of the encouragements you can “gather into your quiver” for when you are struggling with these realities, and know that this is also an “ongoing conversation” we as a church desire to continue to have with each other as we live for the gospel and together as Christ’s beloved family. We look forward to talking more deeply about this as a church body. Some encouragements are as follows:


  • Consistency matters more than the skill. This is especially true for parents of very young children. Let that be a freeing word! The fact that you do this often will have more impact than most of what you actually say.
  • It’s OK to be an amateur. Young children idolize you. They love it when you pay attention to them. You do it out of parental love for them and that is a much higher motive than professional ministry.
  • Relationship matters more than excellence or skill.

Learn to see your children in light of God’s plan of redemption.

  • Every child is a gift of God.
  • Every child is a fallen sinner (Jonathon Edwards fondly acknowledged his children’s fallen nature by honestly referring to them as “little snakes”)
  • Every child needs the Savior.
  • Every child will live eternally.
  • Every child has the potential to become your brother or sister in God’s eternal family.

This last point should affect the goal of your parenting. Seen in this light, the goal of parenting is not merely raising children with good morals who are happy and financially successful. The goal of parenting is not keeping them busy with sports, music and other activities so you can fulfill your own personal desires. The goal is also greater than simply surviving until they move out at 18 years of age.

The primary goal is helping your children understand who God is, who they are, and what God has done for them in Christ. To do this we strive to have a home centered on the gospel. This takes time and repetition. The church family is here to help you and support you in this. Here are some habits and suggestions for you that could help you in your journey of parenting:

Habits and Suggestions

Seek to develop simple habits in which family devotions fit in.

  • Read scripture together. Let this be the centerpiece.
  • Read it simply so as to allow them to hear it clearly.
  • Read short sections.
  • Read simple sections.
  • Read it in unity. Have a child read it.
  • Ask the questions asked of the sermon: What does this say about God? About us? About Jesus? Is there a promise? Is there a commandment?
  • Be transparent here. Confess your own struggles. They need to see your need for grace and appropriation of it.
  • Pray together. Maintain a family journal or use the church prayer guide. Pray for missionaries. The children are learning that God is real to you and you depend on him too. It’s not just about Sunday. Mix up how you pray. Use the ACTS approach: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
  • Discuss Sunday together: use the same format as Bible reading.
  • Share your testimony. Do your children know how you came to faith?
  • Ask questions about their day. You are relating life to God. We did this at the dinner table. What was your day like? What was hard? Did you see God at work today?

How can we serve one another?

  • Utilize other options for discipleship (Pilgrim’s Progress or a catechism such as “The New City Catechism”).
  • Keep a topical guide to the bible near the dinner table. We often turned to these when topics would suddenly came up. Examples include the “Scripture Guide to Biblical Counseling” and “Nave’s Topical bible.”
  • Discuss a topic in the culture via a Christian worldview. We used World Magazine as a resource for this. This is appropriate during the teen years.
  • Sing together if you can. Or use pre-recorded music as a help.
  • Remember the INFORMAL aspect of discipleship. Devotions are scheduled, formal faith talks. Faith walks are impromptu walks together in which you call attention to the spiritual implications of a particular event, experience or aspect of nature.

Overall, I encourage you to remember that consistency in love is more important than skill, and that the gospel is more important than morals. The saving power of God’s grace comes through the gospel, and in this He will supply you with the words and opportunities to do so with your children. Seek His help in prayer and through His Word, and ask Him to instruct and guide you in teaching and instructing your children, in how to best love them and speak with them, and in planting seeds of faith in their hearts unto salvation through Jesus.

Remember, God controls this. You are a channel of his saving grace. He is the Savior. We are here for you and love you. We’ll speak again soon.

~ Pastor Tony

(This article is a summary of a talk given to parents of Classical Homeschool Day. Some of the material is drawn from books and lectures by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones).

Tony Sanelli is a Pastor Teacher at Grace Bible Church.