Doesn't this photo look idealic? Somehow magically everyone seems to be engaged peacefully in the page that Dad has open. But if you are like my family, Bible time is rarely a time of perfect quiet, or cooperation or engagement.
All of us come together with differing personalities, moods, questions and have to be brought into the life of God through interest, friendship, love, beauty and creativity. So family devotions take time to develop in such a way that all who are participating can find interest in this space together.
Family devotions are the rhythms that speak to our children's hearts and minds to help them remember to make a habit of going to God every day, to enjoy being His children to walk every day of life with Him. So we learn to understand that Bible times not only teach the text of the Bible but also the importance of spending time with God on a regular basis. This instructional tool, however, like all the others, needs to be introduced gradually and in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the children involved.
I remember a time many years ago when Clay and I decided to start having daily family devotions. We first attempted to do this at mealtimes and quickly learned that teaching toddlers can be very frustrating if we expect them to behave like adults. Just when we would begin, one child would spill his milk or another would interrupt or another would have a reason to cry. I remember thinking, Why do I even try? They aren't getting anything out of this!
Over a period of time, though, I began to find other ways of establishing devotional times that really got through to our children. They loved it when I sang them songs in the rocking chair before we put them to bed at night and shared with them a dramatic story beginning with their names: "Sarah, imagine what you would do if a giant came to attack our country and you were the only one who could rescue us! Well, that happened to a little boy named David many years ago!" If I cuddled up my children on our couch and had grapes or cheese and crackers to eat, they would pay rapt attention while I read Bible stories and showed them picture books. Often I would give them markers and paper and let them draw while I read. Sometimes we would act out a story.
Little by little we accustomed our children to sitting still and listening and even participating in family devotions. This became a familiar time to them because we did it day after day; it was simply a part of their lives, a habit that we all observed together. And habits take time to develop into routines.
One important thing that Clay and I learned as we struggled to instruct our children in spiritual matters was that our attitude makes a huge difference. If we want our children to enjoy participating in devotions and to learn God's Word joyfully, then they must sense that these are important to us personally. They must feel that we love our Lord and are excited to share him with them. Even as we give instruction, we must also model what we are teaching. When it comes to reaching hearts for Christ, we cannot just tell our children what to do. We have to lead the way by the way we love them, speak to them, cherish creation and beauty all around us, how we respect others, how we obey the truths of God's word in front of them. Really passing on a deep love for God is more about how we live all the moments of our lives celebrating His reality than what kind of book we use or when we do it. It is a whole life devotion on our part that makes the focused times of our Bible study seem real.
Does your family have a devotional time together? What ways have you found to make it special, or work better for your family?