January 02, 2017

Family Worship: a Review and a Resolution

The other night I read Don Whitney's book, Family Worship. In this brief, but excellent, little work, Whitney lays out a case for, and a simple method of, leading your family before the throne of grace on a daily basis. The importance of this task, and my own failings in it, are things I have written on here (and recommended resources here) before. Some thoughts from and about the book, and the broader topic, are what follows:

Family Worship is Biblical, Historic, and Practical

In chapters one and two of his book, Whitney lays out the examples we see both from Scripture and from the history of the Christian church when it comes to family worship. He is, by virtue of necessity in a book this size, very selective, but the selections are still instructive. While there is no explicit command in the Bible to have a time set aside in each home to read the Word of God, to pray, or to sing; it seems well within reason that having such a time is one of the best ways to fulfill biblical injunctions such as those found in Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78 or Ephesians 6.

And whether or not the reason of it seems readily apparent to us, the witness of godly parents throughout the history of the church ought to indicate to us that instructing our families in the Word, turning to the Father in prayer, and lifting our voices in song are activities not to be reserved for the gathering of God's people on a Sunday morning. Whitney addresses this in chapter five. Do we want our children to know the Bible? Then we ought to read it to them. Do we want our families to be characterized by prayer? Then we ought to pray together. Do we want the truth of historic hymns to be woven into the fabric or familial soul? Then we ought to sing them together. This isn't rocket science, guys.

My Experience

But the fact that it isn't rocket science doesn't make it less overwhelming to start. We don't know what to do. We're afraid we'll look bad for not having started earlier. Maybe your family situation is unique. Whitney addresses these concerns in chapters three and four; the how, and the what if...?, questions that we naturally will come up with. The what ifs I won't go over here, but I do want to consider the how, because I think that was part of my hang up before we established a rhythm of family worship. I just felt like I didn't know what to do.

Whitney's advice is simple: Read, Pray, and Sing. That's it. You don't need to really do any preparation. Until the last month or so, that's exactly what it's been for us. We read one chapter of the Bible, discuss what we saw/heard there, we go around and take one request from each person present, and then each pray, and we close by singing a song. Very, very simple. But so profound. I didn't keep close track, but we read through at least Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Luke, Isaiah, and a few other books that I can't remember. I have absolutely loved going through the Bible with my family, and you notice things when you're looking to explain what's there to a 2 or 3 year old that you might miss otherwise.

That said, getting through even a chapter with little kids, especially if you haven't done a lot of other work with them on sitting still for extended periods, can be frustrating. So what we did for Advent was use the Desiring God Solid Joys app, and simply read the devotional for each day along with the accompanying Scripture. Since Christmas we have begun to use Long Story Short, which is a set of 10 minute devotions which include Scripture reading, a little bit of explanation of what is present in the text, and some helpful discussion questions. It is very well put together, and includes instructions on how to modify your use of the book for different age brackets. I highly recommend it.

Having said that, I really enjoy just going straight to the Word, and I think when we finish this book (which will take a long time, it's set up for something like 78 weeks of 5+ night a week devotions), I think we will likely go back to the way we were doing things before. But in the meantime, this is a really handy tool, and one that might help you get going if you don't know where to begin.

Our prayer time and our singing have remained pretty much the same, although suggestions in the Whitney books that I plan to incorporate include being intention to pray about something from the text you read, as well as perhaps attempting to learn a song a week. Right now we just let the kids pick from the songs they know, and we rotate turns as to who gets to pick. But how cool would it be to spend one week learning the words to A Mighty Fortress is Our God, There is a Fountain, or How Firm a Foundation? Talk about sinking theology into your soul! It's been said that the theology a people sing is what they will believe, and I think that is largely true. Music is so formative for the human heart.

Another question that might come up would be, when? When life is so insanely busy, who has time to be doing this stuff every day?

My first reply would be that it doesn't need to take a long time. In Whitney's book he encourages dads to shoot for the 10 minutes mark. I would say most of ours fall in the 10-15 range. Beyond that, the question becomes, when will you make time? For us the time is after dinner. Any night we are home as a family (typically 5 nights a week), we eat dinner together at the table and have devotions or worship (whatever your preferred terminology) immediately following. No one leaves the table after dinner until we have finished spending our most important time together. Tying it to the dinner table does throw a wrench into things when we're gone a lot during the week, or have enough company that we aren't all sitting at the table, and I haven't figured out a good way around that.

The point is you simply make the decision to do it, and make a time work for you.

A Resolution for Your New Year?

Will you, especially you men, join me in pursuing greater faithfulness to our families this year? Let us lead them daily before the throne of grace, there is no higher calling.

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com