…[W]e have two devotional times each day, one first thing in the morning and one before bed time in the evening. The length of each of these daily times varies but is approximately a half an hour. We either begin or end each family devotional time with prayer, and the remainder of the time is given to reading and discussing the Bible. It’s a way for us to start and end our day focused on the Lord and to keep God’s Word fresh in our minds and hearts.
The element of prayer
How you choose to “organize” your family’s prayer time is a matter of your personal preference. Some like to have Dad lead the prayer time, with other family members praying as they feel led. In other cases, all family members may be asked to pray in turn or each silently as a group.
As we discuss the core values in more depth later on, you will find in the section on “Faith” many Scriptures that offer guidance on effective prayer. You can encourage your family with these verses during your devotional times, or you may choose some other time of day to offer positive instruction for your children in this matter of prayer. [Note: you can find many applicable verses using your Bible and a concordance.]
There are many ways to go about having family devotional times. I believe that it’s best to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, so I personally do not use commercially-written devotional guides. I simply read the Bible to the children. If I’m concentrating on a values-related topic, I will just read from a binder of verses (derived from the manual you are now reading).
My approach is simple. I want our children to grow in God’s Word and become accustomed to hearing and understanding the Word of God at an adult level, so I always read from an adult Bible during our devotional time. The children do also have their personal Bible reading times later during the day. At those times the younger children will read beginner’s Bibles, Bible picture books, and the like, but as a family we read aloud from a consistent translation. Some people prefer KJV, while others like the readability of NIV, NKJV, or NASB. You should choose whatever is most comfortable for you.
I am a firm believer in reading for “depth, not distance.” In other words, I don’t feel it’s necessary to cover a whole chapter in one sitting. I may begin with that intention but the Holy Spirit often leads us into discussion on a particular verse or prompts us to look up other verses that help us understand a particular point in greater detail. At other times, however, I may read more than a chapter. It usually depends on our time constraints and how well I feel the children are attending to the reading.
Love for the Word, not a legalistic approach
Even if you choose the “just read the Bible” approach, you probably are aware that there are many methods for this, as well: reading straight through the Bible, going from one book to another, or doing a topical study and digging through the many relevant Scriptures. And of course, there’s what one friend of ours called the “pray and point” method of simply asking God for an applicable Word and reading whatever passage you open up to. I’ve done all of the above at one time or another, depending on time constraints, interest level, family happenings, and the like.
For us, what has been most important is that we not allow ourselves to be bound to a legalistic view of what “family devotions” should be. We let the Holy Spirit lead us and we always focus on the Bible alone. These are our only guidelines. We want to encourage in our children a love and respect for God’s Word, and we want them to know that they can and should turn to it for encouragement, guidance, and conviction—at all times! By being flexible in our family devotional time, I believe that our children will learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and trust in God for daily guidance through personal reading and application of the Word.
Edification, not entertainment
The family devotional time should be an adult-led time. This helps children develop a reverence for God’s Word and understand its importance in their lives. While it should not go on so long as to be boring for the children (they do have short attention spans!), this is a good time to encourage them to be self-controlled and put their best effort into hearing and understanding the Word. Brief discussions, occasional questions directed at the children, and the like, will make the time interactive and interesting for the whole family.
Of course, I do try to read with inflection, occasionally take turns in the reading, or even act out different verses or stories (storms are lots of fun, and there are many opportunities for drama with the parables of Jesus and the well-known Old Testament stories of Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac, Joshua and the battle of Jericho…the possibilities are endless!) Again, however, I do believe that the focus should be on the Word itself, and not on the entertainment value it can impart. There are plenty of other opportunities to integrate this element if you so desire, but nothing compares with teaching our children to hear, obey, and revere God’s Word as the foundation for our lives. The family devotional time is a great starting point to engender a lifelong appreciation for Scripture.
Scripture memory methods for the family
Scripture memory is a valuable exercise for the whole family. The Bible tells us, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Joshua 1:8). And in Psalm 1:1-3, we read,
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
Quite simply, knowing the Word of God—keeping it in our minds and hearts—helps us to live a life that honors God, and He blesses us for it!
Memorizing Scripture as a family shows our children that God’s Word is for all, not just for them. It keeps us all focused on the things of God and on developing Christlike character. We all need to have those words as ready swords when we are tempted to respond sinfully in everyday situations (read about the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18).
One of the most often-cited methods of memorizing Scripture is simply to print out a verse or portion of Scripture on a note card and hang it in a prominent location. You can then read or recite the verse any time you see it. Eventually, it gets logged into your memory. However, this would not be effective for pre-readers, nor would it be helpful as a whole-family exercise.
Following are some methods that can be used for family Scripture memory. If you’re familiar with the different learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, and visual), you’ll see each of these reflected in the suggested activities below. Choose those which will be most effective for your family, or use a combination of them. This can be integrated into your family devotional times or done at any other time. We recommend starting with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for that is where Jesus started.
- Word pictures
One way to make Scripture memory easier (particularly for pre-readers and also for visual learners) is to illustrate the verse(s) that you want to memorize. Of course, some are easier than others. You can illustrate literally (word-for-word) or try to capture the concept or teaching behind the passage. See an example after the Core Value Quick Reference sheets at the end of this manual. Several other examples are available as free downloads when you sign up for our e-newsletter at www.valuesdrivenfamily.com.
There are many ways to make this work, depending on your time, family size, and objectives. Here are some suggestions:
1. Using a computer program like MS Word, select clip art images that illustrate the passage and add the words that go along with each picture in text boxes underneath. You can hang these as posters and review them as a family. My wife often has the children help her with this project as a part of the homeschooling time; the younger children select their favorite clip art and the older will type in the verse(s) as text. Of course, these can be hand-illustrated as well. You can do line drawings and stick figures—you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to convey God’s Word in pictures!
2. The Scripture verse(s) of your choice can also be illustrated on a whiteboard, banner paper, or butcher paper. You can make a game out of it by having different family members take turns drawing a portion of the Scripture, with others guessing what the verse is.
(…continued in Values-Driven Discipleship)