In our busy, multi-tasking, fast-paced lives, family devotions might seem a bridge too far for many of us. If most of us are honest, we'll consider it enough of a miracle getting our family along to church regularly, let alone running our own church-kinda-thing in our own home.
But whether or not we do or don't currently do family devotions, it's right for us to aspire to bring the family together from time-to-time to read the Bible and pray.
One of our biggest obstacles in having family devotions is dealing with expectations. If you are like many families, you might aspire to running devotions, but feel that it just seems too hard to get to the point where everyone happily sits around the dinner table, politely engaging with the word of God and each other, and praying earnestly and sincerely about the issues that face us.
If you are in this situation, then my advice to you is to take a baby step in the right direction.
One step at a time
So, for starters, if you very rarely have meals together as a family, why not try to do that more often, and encourage everyone not to start eating until one person has given thanks to God for the meal.
If you're not eating together with someone saying 'grace' then getting that happening is a relatively simple step, and a great move in the right direction.
Next, if someone is already giving thanks to God for the food, then perhaps extend that prayer just a little bit.
I'm not talking about the kind of mini-sermonette that leaves our food cold, but rather adding one more sentence that changes from night to night, that might move saying 'grace' away from just a meal-time mantra.
So, perhaps say "Dear God, thank you for our food, Amen." (or whatever you might have as your family-meal liturgy) and then add on another sentence like "And tonight we pray for our next door neighbours and ask that you might help us to have an opportunity to talk to them about Jesus and maybe invite them to church. Amen".
Adding that next sentence, and mixing it up each night, will make a genuine difference.
And then, after you've got that extra sentence prayed, it might end up shaping some of the conversation of the dinner table. So, maybe after the "Amen", one of your children might say "I wonder if I could ask one of the kids from next door to come along to our kids club when I see them next?", and before you know it, you're talking about evangelism.
And then, maybe, after dinner's finished, one of you could bring out a Bible and read a verse or a paragraph. Don't over-extend yourself… just a baby step would be fine.
Next, before you know it, everyone might bring along their Bible to the table, too, and everyone's reading along with you.
Then, perhaps, what you've read might lead into a little discussion about stuff that was in the Bible passage.It doesn't need to be a theological lecture or a sermon … just a little chat about how this or that was interesting, and how it helps us know this or that about God and ourselves, and how we might do this or that in response.
And then, before you know it, you might be able to invite family members to pray a sentence or two about the stuff they've read.
And then, not only are you praying in response to the Bible reading, your family might start even praying for other things, like missionaries from church, or the sick and grieving, or for evangelism, or even for the Christian maturity of your family.
Don't worry if you fall over
Now, as you read this, you might be thinking that the picture of your family sitting around the dinner table, discussing a Bible reading and praying for missionaries might just be in the world of fantasy.
But, those steps I've outlined might take weeks, or even longer to put into place. And you might find you take a step or two forward, and then fall over and end up back at square one.
Don't stress… just have another go, and pray that God would help you.
The McNeill family devotions sometimes look like a confident and graceful walk through a park… but often look like a toddler falling over and bumping into the furniture!
We have moments where we're reading the Scriptures with eagerness and praying with sincerity and passion… but often we get so busy that we forget to do much more than just say grace and then scatter right after the meal.
It's easy for me to focus on my failure to run what I sometime think needs to be a nightly church service with my family, and this can often lead me to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Whether I've fallen over like a wobbly toddler, or am running round the room like a confident pre-schooler, I need to keep remembering that God forgives me when I fail as a father, and he helps me to take the next baby step as I lead my family.
What's the next baby step you intend to take?
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