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How To Do Family Devotions
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Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello friends, and welcome to the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so you can equip the kids that God has placed in your care, to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and we're going to dive right into our question for today.
This question comes from a webinar that I led called Raising Kids Who Don't Walk Away From Jesus, and I just talked through many of the beneficial things that my parents did in my life and the life of my siblings, who are now all faithfully following Jesus by God's grace. And this question comes in and it says, "Did you and your family have a devotional time? How was that experience if you had any?"
So good question because we know the term family devotions are very popular. It's something that might be talked about a good deal, but actually understanding how to do it, is it valuable? Is it beneficial? Should we be doing it? Is another story.
So the answer to that question is yes, my family did have family devotions every morning. It was actually with my mom, both my mom and my dad are believers. However, my dad had a very demanding job and he would actually leave for work probably around like 6:00 or 6:15 every morning before we were even up. So it was my mom who would lead the family devotions and what she would do is she would wake all of us up, and the first thing that we would do is we would meet together for devotions.
Now, I must let you know that when I was a teenager and kind of lazy, my mom was gracious and let me still stay in bed and listen to her do this. I don't know that that's what I would recommend, but my mom was very gracious in that. But my mom would have us all come together and we would always be memorizing a verse together. Every month we had a different verse that we'd be memorizing together and my mom would read it out loud to us, and then each of us would practice saying it a couple of times, and then my mom would read a passage of scripture and then a devotional from a devotional book.
So we did that every morning together. And then in the evenings, we would also spend a little bit more time in scripture. In that webinar, I mentioned that my mom had what she would call our special time. And every night for 15 minutes, she would spend time one on one with each of us kids before she checked us into bed. And so during our special time, we would usually be reading a book together, but she would also read scripture with us and she would pray with us before we went to bed. So there was that daily interaction with scripture.
So now, the next part of the question was how was the experience with that? So I'll let you know. How was the experience? It's kind of a subjective question, so I'll let you know what I think objectively were the really good things about that. And then objectively, what I think would've been more beneficial just from what we know about scripture, if things had been done a little bit differently. So please don't hear me criticizing my mom. My mom would agree with all of these things that I'm about to say and my mom is a wonderful person and I'm so grateful for all that she did to intentionally disciple us while we were growing up.
So I would say the really beneficial things for that family devotional time was the scripture memory. Most of the verses that my mom had us memorized, I still have memorized, though I couldn't go through a list and tell you every single verse that she had us memorize through the years. Anytime I hear a verse that we memorized, or anytime I'm reading through the Bible and I encounter a verse that she memorized, I am taken right back to my childhood home mentally, and I can see right where I was seeded or in teenage years lying when I was memorizing that verse. So I think just the fact that she had us intentionally memorize scripture, that was key to our discipleship and for really making sure that the word of God was just very prominent in our lives.
Another thing that I thought was just objectively beneficial for our lives was her intentionality with that. And I think the fact that she made sure that these devotions happened first thing in the morning really guaranteed that we never skipped them because you know that life is busy. There's just so many things that come up, and especially if you are working with multiple children, your life is just very, very busy and it's so easy to let good things in life squeeze out the best things in life. So the fact that my mom was intentional and she made sure that it happened first thing in the morning so that it didn't get skipped over, that was key. That was key.
Another thing just in the intentionality, in attaching scripture and prayer to everyday routines. I know some families do family devotions at dinner, and if you're thinking... If you're a parent, you're thinking, "We never have dinner together," I would really encourage you to take a step back and seriously evaluate what you need to do to begin having dinner together, at least, at least, and I'm saying bare minimum, three nights a week because the research shows that families that eat dinner together consistently, those are the families where there's positive parent-child relationships and where kids actually feel comfortable going to parents and talking with them.
Also, please do not let any screens or cellular devices be allowed during dinner. You can have family devotions during that time. You can also just debrief your day during that time. Back in the day, back in the 90s when I was being raised, it was the telephone that was the distraction at dinner. And I remember it was still when we had corded phones, and I remember sometimes the phone would ring and my mom would just say, "Elizabeth, go and put the phone in the kitchen drawer." So I'd take it off the hook and pull the cord and I'd put it in the kitchen drawer and just close it so that no one could call us during that time.
So if you're doing family devotions, or even if you're not doing family devotions during dinner, just please, please, please, please do not let anybody have their cell phones or any tablet or anything during dinner. That's a time for you to connect as a family, and it can also be a time for you to connect as a family with God's word and with God during that time. So I would say the scripture memory and the intentionality with which my mom led devotions are key, that was the key factor there.
Now, about a few things that I think could have been changed to make it even more beneficial, I would highly recommend that if you're doing family devotions, that you not use a devotional. Now, that might sound counterintuitive. You're like, "Wait, I'm going to do family devotions, but I'm not going to use a devotional." Here's why. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with devotional books. Well, let me rephrase that. There's nothing inherently wrong with devotional books that correctly interpret scripture.
There are many devotional books out there that do not correctly interpret scripture. They just pull a verse out here or there, or there are some devotional books where the author claims to paraphrase the words of Jesus as if the author has some special message from Jesus, where we don't need a special message from Jesus. We have God's word, and God's word is sufficient for all things, for life and godliness.
So we don't need someone else to interpret that for us, but any devotional where the writer is soundly interpreting scripture is not inherently wrong, but what I would say is the negative thing about devotionals is most devotionals contain a very short amount of scripture. Maybe it's like one to three, maybe even five verses. So maybe maximum there's five verses, and then it contains several paragraphs of the author's thoughts on that passage of scripture.
Now, reading others' thoughts on scripture, it can be beneficial. I know I've read a few times Devotional by Elizabeth Elliot, and she was a very smart woman. She was also a woman that had a lot of life experience. So some of her thoughts on scripture, I found very beneficial. However, if we're consistently reading devotionals with our children, what we're doing is we're not actually cultivating an appetite for God's word, nor are we equipping them with skills to know how to read, interpret, and apply scripture. We're creating dependence on the author, that in order to understand a passage of scripture, we somehow need an author to explain it to us.
Now, hearing others' thoughts who really know how to interpret scripture can be a beneficial thing, but we don't need someone else to interpret scripture for us because we've been given the Holy Spirit and we've been given a mind and we've been given the text. And so we can read the scripture and if we understand sound principles of hermeneutics, sound principles of studying the Bible, most passages we can understand and then figure out how to apply to our life.
The other reason that I don't recommend devotionals, another reason is because devotionals fail to help our kids understand the big story of scripture. And so we want our kids to understand God's meta narrative from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. We want them to know the whole story and devotionals just kind of offer a little snippet here and there and here and there. It'd be kind of thinking if you had a favorite movie. Let's say one of the Star Wars movies, the original Star Wars movie is at number four. Let's say that was your favorite movie and you wanted your child to really understand Star Wars and the narrative of Star Wars.
Well, what would happen if you just continually showed him or her little clips here and there? Okay, if you just showed little random clips, your children, they might understand a few of the characters. Okay, they might understand that's Luke Skywalker, that's Princess Leia, that's Han Solo, okay? They might understand things like that, but they're not going to understand the narrative of Star Wars, and they're going to be confused about that. They're just going to know little things here and there. And that's the same thing. If we keep just doing devotionals, our kids are going to get little snippets of the biblical story, but they're not going to understand how it all weaves together to tell one grand story.
And then the final reason that I just think like don't just use devotional books is devotional books tend to be focused more on application than proper interpretation. Now, don't get me wrong, we need to understand how to apply God's word. Okay? Once we read God's word and we understand what it says, we need to do what it says. However, that's the final step. We need to first make sure that we understand it correctly and the epistles are a great example of this, that in almost all of the epistles, the letters and the New Testament, it doesn't go straight into, "Do this, do this, do this, don't do this, don't do this, don't do this." It first goes into who is Jesus? What has he done for us? Okay, what is the reality that we're now living in because of who Jesus is and what he's done? Okay, so right understanding of belief, right belief.
And then after that, the second half of most epistles is that, okay, then how do we apply this? How do we live in light of what Jesus has done for us? Where most devotionals kind of skip over that and then just jump right into how does this apply to us? So I would just encourage you, there's nothing inherently wrong with biblically based devotionals. However, if we're just using that as our kids' main diet of scripture, then what we're doing is we're just creating some really unhealthy habits, that they're being dependent on somebody else to interpret scripture for them. They're failing to understand the big story and they're diving right into application instead of first focusing on sound interpretation.
So you may be thinking, "Okay, Elizabeth, you just told us all these things not to do. So what do we do?" Great question. So what I recommend is actually as a family, teach your kids how to read, interpret, and apply scripture. Give them the skills that they need to understand how to read a book of the Bible. Help them understand the entire biblical narrative. Help them understand how do they look at a passage and say, "Okay, is this passage descriptive? Like it's describing something in God's narrative, or is it prescriptive? It's giving some commands. And then if it's prescriptive, is it prescriptive for me, or was it just prescriptive for the person or people this was originally given to?"
Teach them how to read a verse in context so they're not just taking an isolated verse and thinking that it means something that it doesn't mean because it's taken out of context. So teach these skills to your kids. Then set aside time each day. It can just be five, 10 minutes. Set aside time to read scripture together and to apply those Bible study skills. Discuss the interpretation. After that, discuss how that applies to your life, to their life. So teach these skills, then put them into practice.
And then not only is Bible reading important, but prayer is important as well, that prayer isn't just a wishlist that we give to God. That prayer is actually talking to God. It's pouring out our hearts before God. Use the Psalms as examples. The Psalms was the prayer book of the Old Testament church. Okay? Then you're thinking, "Elizabeth, the church didn't exist back then." You're right. Okay. But the nation of Israel, that was their book of prayers. It was expressing their emotions before God and then reminding themselves of the truth of who God is.
So model this for your kids, having a vibrant prayer life. Pause and pray throughout the day. Whenever any situation comes up, lay it before God. So teach your kids how to read, interpret, and apply scripture. Set aside time to do that as a family, and then make sure that you are praying together throughout your day. Highly recommend that. If you'd like more information on how to do this, we have a couple different webinars on how to teach our kids to read, interpret, and apply scripture, and we have a whole curriculum that does that. So check out the Foundation Worldview website if you'd like more information just on how to do this well in your family.
Well, thank you so much for joining me today for this episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast. As you move on from here, may God continue to bless you as you faithfully disciple the children that he has placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
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