Our family devotional times have been invaluable in helping us grow spiritually and relationally as a family.
Personal spiritual growth is important. As you become married with kids, the importance of leading your family spiritually becomes even more important. The primary means of spiritual growth for our family has been having a family devotional life. Heidi and I started family “devos” back in the early days while it was just us. We had to find our rhythm and make it a part of our lifestyle.
While family devotions will look different based on the structure and season your family is in, our family devotions have been a means through which we have taught our kids the Bible and the different spiritual truths that are meaningful to us as a family. When they were young we would focus on its stories and, as they grew older, we would focus on spiritual disciplines, understanding doctrines, etc. Where we first concentrated on the great characters and events of the biblical narrative, we later adjusted our focus to Proverbs and the epistles and living out the Christian life. Family devotions have to be more than the mere acquiring of knowledge. It’s shaping the spiritual, emotional and relational trajectory of your family.
When my kids were little, I bought a Bible with great pictures in it and simply told the story as I knew it. At times I even added some extra flavor to keep my boy even more interested at bedtime (for example, Daniel not only was thrown into a den of lions but there were raptors and T-Rexes in there at times too—but the angel still closed the mouths of all of those filthy beasts and spared Daniel’s life. As they got older, we found this wonderful (but cheesy) family devotions book that had stories with Scriptures about choosing God in hard times. The stories varied every day (365 of them) with “Billy and Susie” (which we changed to “Anja and Magnus” for our kids). We memorized the verse of the day, and even acted out the Scriptures with our hands. Now that they are older, we read practical books like James, Philippians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Proverbs, etc.
Heidi and I came up with a tool for our family when Anja and I ran out of gas a block away from a gas station—that hadn’t happened since I was in college. I had forgotten to check the gauges on my car dashboard. It was a life lesson that we have to “check our family gauges” so that we don’t “stop moving forward” as a family. So as part of our family devos we talk through each gauge every few months, asking questions and measuring on a scale of 1–10 how we are doing. It’s helped us to have honest conversations about how we are doing as parents, what God is doing and how we are growing as followers of Jesus. See the gauges I designed for our family below:
Simply put, we’ve found family devotions is a crucial means of declaring our family’s priorities. By turning to the Bible and prayer, we’ve tried to model the centrality of these practices in the Christian life. By gathering the family for shared devotions, usually after dinner, we display the priority and necessity of hearing from God and speaking to God. And I think we also declare something about our priorities when we do devotions together as a family.
These daily times together have also proven an important means of building closeness within our family. There are all kinds of things we can do to build relationships between the four of us. We have long since seen that shared experiences ultimately mean far more than accumulating possessions (we’ve lived in D.C., Phoenix, Mobile and Minnesota as a family).
We decided awhile back, that home isn’t a “place,” but it’s whenever and wherever we are together. So our collection of experiences on our journey have shaped our kids beyond what any object or thing ever could. While we continue to exchange gifts and celebrate birthdays and holidays big-time, the gifts are almost always soon forgotten. But the memories of vacations, special occasions and other special times are burned into their memories. which they will have long after their toys are for sale in my wife’s yearly garage sale (the most un-wonderful time of the year).
We choose to value experiences and not things. And our devotions call us to a family experience each day. While few of them are remarkable on their own, it is their gradual accumulation that adds up to something special. Eventually family devotions is viewed as more than a brief time each day, but something closer to a single, enduring experience we share together.
An additional benefit is building a habit that adds structure and stability to our family’s shared life. As we have emphasized family devotions, we have found it becomes a kind of organizing structure to the life we share together. My hope is that these frequent devo moments will continue to call us all to be in the same space at the same time for the same purpose—to be together in there presence of God for at least awhile. It is the kind of habit, perhaps like eating together and attending church together, that anchors a family. Nowhere else do I get to affirm, hug and love from a place of spiritual depth than when we get to be together as a family while praying and reading the Bible together.
Finally, there is this: Through family devotions we model personal devotions. By relating to Jesus as a family, we teach our kids how to relate to Jesus as individuals. All the kids need to do to build a habit of private devotion is to begin to imitate and individualize our habit of family devotions. We have modeled how to pray and what to pray for; we have tried to model how to understand the Bible and how to properly apply it.
There have been many times over the years when I’ve felt like our habit of family devotions has been hit or miss, awkward or boring, etc. Though I’ve never been tempted to give up, I’ve decided sometimes it’s important to change it up. But looking back on nearly 21 years of doing family life together, I see there are many wonderful benefits to be had through faithful simplicity. I’m increasingly convinced that some of the best and most important lessons go beyond characters, stories and doctrines. Our shared moments of being together to experience God as family are a gift that they will have for the rest of their lives.
This article originally appeared on AlanPastian.com.