1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old–
3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children,
6 so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their forefathers– a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.-
– Psalm 78
This is a very difficult time for families; children are home from school, they can’t go out to see their friends, and parents are worried. But in God’s mercy good could come out of this. It could be a time when we re-discover a beautiful practice that previous generations took as normal, but which we have nearly forgotten: family worship.
Psalm 78 remind us that Christian parents have the duty and the joy the story of the Bible, the story of the great things God has done, especially the death and resurrection of Christ. So that the children would grow up to trust and obey God, and in turn pass on the faith to their children and grandchildren. In this way we become links in a golden chain, stretching back to Abraham and beyond, and stretching forward into the distant future. We might now think of this as the job of church and Sunday School; but for nearly 1900 years there were no Sunday schools; the faith was passed down from parents to children.
A key part of this is family worship. Jonathan Edwards, the great American pastor-preacher said that every family should be a “little church”, and a church should worship. So what is family worship? Very simply, it is a family gathering together at home to worship God together. A family might be a husband and wife who have no children, or whose children have grown up and left home. It might be mum and dad and children together. It might be a single mum or single dad with their children. Of course, some people don’t live as party of family; then families might consider inviting single people once a week to worship with them. If there is a dad in a family, he should take lead in this; if not, then the mum should lead.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Ideally, worship every day; but if that isn’t realistic at first, then once a week, maybe on a Sunday evening is better than never at all. Ten minutes is plenty of time, especially if you have small, wriggly children, but of course it is good to spend more time if you can. It is good to have a regular place where there are few distractions, and a regular time, maybe after a meal when all the family are together anyway, and all you have to do is bring a Bible to the table. Keep everything simple. There are three parts to this: bible reading, prayer, and singing. When everyone is ready, close your eyes and be quiet for a few moments. Then read a short passage from the Bible. It is good to use a Bible reading plan, or Bible reading notes such as Explore or Discover, both available from the Good Book Company. Spend a couple of minutes thinking about the passage. For each passage, think about these questions: What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about ourselves? What does this tell us about the world? How does this passage point us to Jesus.
Then pray together with open Bibles. One way to do this is for each person to pray for the person on their left. Another way is to go round the circle three times, each time praying in a different “direction”. The first direction of prayer is looking up, to God: everyone pray a brief prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The second direction is looking inwards, at ourselves; everyone confess their sin, or their need to God. The direction is looking outwards, at the world; everyone prays for friends, family, the church, and the lost. Finish by praying the Lord’s Prayer slowly together.
Then sing, and begin with singing as well. Allow children to choose their favourite songs, but also introduce them to some of the older hymns and Psalms that will sustain their faith in hard times in the years to come. Get hold of a good hymn book like Praise! or Sing Psalms.
Family worship isn’t easy. We have struggled with it over the years: with apathy, restless children, tiredness, and a family dog who howls when we sing! But persevere; even if we don’t see many immediate results, God promises that the long-term results may be immense. It is a powerful way of binding a family together, and of passing on the faith. The best advice that I was ever given on this was “just do it”. Use this time we have at home wisely and establish a habit that could last for years. It will sometimes be a struggle; but it is a great joy to see families growing together in Christ.
A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, by Jason Helopoulos. I highly recommend this little book (and his other book, Let the Children Worship, about children in church). This is the best place to start if you are new to this.
The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions by Terry L. Johnson. Gives you outlines, bible reading plans, prayers, hymns: everything you need in one book.
The Family Worship Bible Guide by Joel Beeke. Short thought on every passage of the Bible, designed to be read aloud in families.
Some things to watch:
Two short “how to” videos:
A rather delightful example of a family worshipping together: