7 Tips For Successful Family Devotions, Part 1
Yesterday I promised to offer some advice on how to have a time of devotional Bible reading with your family. Here are the first three of seven tips I hope you find helpful. I'll cover the final four tips in tomorrow's blog post.
1. Pick a regular time and make it a habit. Establishing a consistent time for family devotions is crucial. Without a regular time the whole family knows is reserved for devotions, it simply becomes too easy to let other demands crowd them out. Pick a time which is least likely to be interrupted by other activities and stick with it until it becomes a regular habit.
My family has tried doing devotions at different times of the day, but for us, doing them right after breakfast has worked best. We tend to move from the breakfast table to the family room, but some of you may find it works best to stay at the table and have devotions during or after a meal. If I have a lot of work on my plate, it can be very tempting to skip our morning devotion time or to say we'll do it in the evening, but the reality is that if we postpone it, we're likely not to do it at all.
I know another family whose schedule requires them to have devotions in the evening, and even that's not ideal because a couple nights a week are dedicated to sports or church activities. Rather than trying to have devotions at a different time on those activity nights, they've simply decided to have devotions at a set time every other night. Establishing the habit of a regular time for devotions on their off nights has worked far better for them than trying to squeeze a devotion in every night.
Once you have an established time and it has worked its way into your regular schedule, having family devotions becomes much easier. When all my kids move to the couches after breakfast expecting to have devotions, it becomes very difficult for me to come up with a valid reason not to do it.
2. Follow a reading plan. As I pointed out in yesterday's post, most devotionals I've seen don't actually encourage you to read the Bible in any depth, so we don't bother using them. Instead, we simply read the Bible together. Of course, the challenge of "simply reading the Bible" is that it can be hard to know where to start and what to read, so I recommend following a reading plan of some kind. Alternatively, you can simply pick a book of the Bible and read through it.
One reading plan we used was the Chronological Reading Plan included with most Accordance packages. This is a plan designed to help you read through the entire Bible in a year, so each day's reading amounts to three or four entire chapters. For some narrative portions of the Bible, that much reading wasn't overly burdensome, but we quickly realized that in most cases, it was far too much to read together in one sitting. Our solution was simply to break each day's readings up. Instead of reading three chapters in one day, we would read one chapter a day and take three days to do it. It ended up taking us more than four years to work through that one-year reading plan, but it freed us up from having to decide what to read each day, and the chronological sequence helped us tie the prophetical books and epistles to the corresponding historical narratives.
Since we finished that reading plan, we have chosen to read through individual books of the Bible. We have worked our way through Proverbs, and are now reading through the book of Psalms.
We have tended to read about a chapter each day, but we vary that depending on the length of the chapter. If we're reading a particularly long chapter, we might limit ourselves to a section or a few paragraphs. The key is to choose manageable readings and to read through them sequentially. A more random approach requires too much thought about what to read each day, and it therefore becomes much harder to maintain.
By the way, you don't need to be a slave to your reading plan either. While we've generally been working our way through Psalms, if I feel we need to read something else on a given day, I'll put the Psalms on hold. Not long ago, I turned to a passage in Ephesians that speaks to a character issue we were dealing with in our family. More recently, we read passages related to Palm Sunday and Easter.
3. Have everyone read. When we turn to the passage we'll be reading on a given day, we look at the number of verses it contains and divide that by the number of readers we have. (Jo Jo, our three-year-old, is currently exempt from having to read.) When we've determined how many verses each of us will read, I will open us in prayer, then read the designated number of verses. Our kids will then each take a turn reading, and my wife will finish up. Having everyone read gets everyone involved and enables the kids to practice all those Bible words modern readers so often stumble over. Just today, one of our kids (I won't say which one) learned that "scepter" is pronounced "sep-ter" rather than "skep-ter." Those kinds of mistakes usually result in a little gentle teasing, but far better to make them in front of your own family than a Sunday school class or the entire congregation. Our children now read aloud better than many adults who were never forced to cultivate the practice.
By the way, we don't expect our children to read like Orson Wells or Andrew Scourby, but we do encourage them to read with a reasonable amount of expression and intonation. When one of our teenage boys went through a phase of reading like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, we would make him re-read his section until he had done it with sufficient feeling. The problem was happily short-lived.
One key to successful family devotions is not trying to do too much in one sitting, so I'm going to adopt that same practice when it comes to this blog post. Look for part 2, covering the final four tips, in tomorrow's post.