Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Search thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews that celebrate God's truth.

Get Articles Delivered!

Articles, news, and reviews that celebrate God's truth. delivered direct to your Inbox!


What’s the purpose of family devotions?

A friend who was adopting two toddlers asked two of my adult children how we did our family devotions and what they appreciated about them. To my horror, my children described how “most of the time” they just complied as expected – singing, being quiet, and looking as if they were listening intently. They added that they had pretty much sat through church services the same way. There I sat, thinking that we had done a “good job” overall, and discovering that the kids were often just tuning it all out and biding their time until they were freed.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Many parents, including us, remember the fruitful times of good singing, contemplation, long discussions, and prayer. But we can also remember flying through the format – bing, bang, bong – done, only because we were supposed to. If the dinner conversation unfortunately ended up including arguments, or sibling rivalry, one of the sinful selves may even have shouted: “Settle down – we have to read the BIBLE!” 


Was it still worthwhile to “read and pray”? Yes. But it could have been done better. Even though our kids have all grown and established their own homes, this conversation gave me reason to think about how we might have improved those times, and might do so even now.

When we’re setting aside any regular, large amount of time for something, we should consider the why. What’s the purpose of setting aside time for Bible reading time, or devotions? Why do we do them? The answer is found repeatedly through the Bible. It coincides with the very purpose for which we were created: to glorify God.

As David wrote in Ps. 63:

… earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you.
My flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

As great as God is, we can and do regularly overlook Him. So, in Colossians 3:1-3, the Apostle Paul certainly encourages us to really think on what God has all done for us:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Do we have food to eat? A roof over our heads? Breath? Acts 17:25 tells us that “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” The purpose of reading God’s Word and praying at a meal or any other time ought to be to take some time to reflect on the fact that He continues to do so!


If our family devotions aren’t going the way we’d like them to, it can be very challenging to change our current patterns. But we are told in Hebrews 10:24 to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” so let’s take a look at four questions a family can think through and talk about:

1 – How do we really teach love for God in our Bible reading sessions and prayer?

We ourselves must first love God and express that love and honor to God verbally, and by our actions throughout the day. If we’re not patient and we shout angrily over small matters (perhaps even at the meal!), we won’t teach our children to use self-control. And if we won’t ask forgiveness, we won’t teach them to do so. Family devotions should demonstrate that love of God. We must genuinely glorify Him when we pray, not just rattle off words.

2 – If we rush through “just to do it” – is it still worthwhile?

How useful is it to shout, “Settle down – we have to read the BIBLE!”? On the other hand, if we wait until life is perfect, we’ll never read or pray, because we sinners do get out of sorts. But how much better it could be, if we teach our children by example to quiet themselves and then read a short amount of Scripture and pray for forgiveness and strength. That’s exactly what is needed to get everyone back on track.

Consider letting young children leave the table when they are finished and then re-convening in the living room for devotions. This can provide a helpful transition, instead of taxing their patience and making everyone want to rush through and just get it over with.

An alternate idea might be to use pre-bedtime moments as a time when they will be happier to give attention to Bible stories and learning to pray. In this case, it might be the parents who must stay patient if they are eager to have their parental duties over for the night.

3 – Should we incorporate the children into reading the text and leading in prayer?

A rote prayer may or may not be a way to teach reverence for God. There are two kinds, actually. Kids might learn a short poem-prayer which they might pray sincerely or might say it robotically or in a goofy manner so as to make their siblings laugh. They will not initially understand the reverence that our Lord deserves. But we want them to learn that this is an important activity that is not just for parents. So to learn by doing, let them take a turn as soon as they can speak, read and sing. But let them know that they must also consider to Whom they are speaking or singing.

4 – How might we vary our prayers? 

Adults also often fall into such a pattern that we pray our own rote prayer as well. We must take care not to become robotic. How many times have you heard a head of household repeat the same words in the same cadence and wondered if much thought went into that prayer?

Having a prayer list of family, friends, and church members to go through 1 or 2 at a time on a monthly basis can help to keep prayers “fresh.” The children can add requests and items of thanksgiving as well.

Using the prayers in the Book of Praise or in the Book of Common Prayer can aid us in saying words that we mean but just haven’t initially thought of. It can be helpful to use a prayer that Calvin or Luther or another Christian has written because it moves us out of our usual comfort zone. Some people think that written prayers aren’t as meaningful because we ourselves didn’t create them. But if our own prayers become rote and robotic – looking to someone else’s carefully thought-out prayers can add fresh perspective and remind us of previously unmentioned requests and items for thanksgiving.

Praying part or all of a Psalm or using a New Testament passage is also a stellar idea.


Deuteronomy 6:6-9 teaches us to tell our children about the Lord at all times. 

… these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Throughout the day, we should read God’s Word and pray on our own, that we might have the wisdom and patience and love to lead our family members to do the same. We are the chief example that our children will follow. May our souls thirst for God as in a dry and weary land where there is no water!

A version of this article first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue.

Enjoyed this article?

Get the best of RP delivered to your inbox every Saturday for free.


Teaching small fries to take notes, sing psalms, and speak to God

When your child is old enough to write... When your child learns to write he is ready to begin taking sermon notes. Say, what? Let's say that little George is 4 or 5 or 6 years old and he knows how to write his name and how to write all of his letters. Now he can get started! All you need is a regular notebook (or half size) and a pen or pencil. Before you go to church you should talk with him about the worship service, and how important it is to be quiet and still and to listen to God's Word being preached. Hopefully he has already been sitting in church for awhile and has become accustomed to obeying in this manner. Explain to him that he is old enough now to begin taking sermon notes! As you listen to the sermon, write in the notebook a simple sentence that you have just heard the minister say. Remember to write it in the type of lettering that little George will be able to read, in the size that he is used to. Then hand it to George and tell him to copy it. If he is a beginner, he will take awhile to do so. When he hands it back to you, smile, and listen to the sermon for a moment, and write another sentence. He needs to remember not to have a conversation about it. Let George complete this second one as well. Depending on the age and patience of your child, you can decide whether to have him write 5 sentences, or 10, or more. As he improves, he will be quicker and will accomplish more. He may keep it up throughout, or he may tire. I usually found it beneficial to "push" my child to do just one more after he said he was getting tired of it. This helped him to develop endurance. After the service, take the notebook home. If you will take a few moments to read it over when he is present, and to show it to your spouse, he will see that this is important to you and it will help him to strive to do it well. If he is able, you might even have him read it as a part of your family Bible reading time. This activity teaches him to take notes, because as he gets older you will ask him to listen and write down parts of sentences that he hears. It doesn't matter if he gets all of the words - just that he is listening and getting some of them. Eventually he will progress to where he can find the main points and summarize them, but that's a long way off. This activity also gives him something very worthwhile to do during worship. It is directly involved with the worship, as opposed to just being a toy, a page to color, or a series of "o's" to fill in, in his bulletin. It says to him that he is worshipping too, not just being forced to sit quietly for his parents' sake. It says to him that he is capable of taking sermon notes, just like the "big people" do. It also helps if he sees those older than him participating in this way. As his notebook progresses you could use it during the week to help him remember what he learned on Sunday. If you are enthusiastic, he will be also. When your child is old enough to sing... When your child is old enough to sing a song he is old enough to learn psalms and hymns. Little George is capable of picking up any song that he hears. So if you regularly sing words of praise to the Lord in your home and in your car, he will soon know all of the words as well. Good quality music that truly honors the Lord is just as fitting for children as it is for adults. They do not need off-key vegetables to get their attention. You might teach your children the psalms and hymns by methodically going through your church songbook and learning to sing all of the first stanzas. What a wonderful preparation to be ready for whichever ones the minister thinks fit best with his sermons for that day! Another way that you can assist your child in worship is by finding out ahead of time, if possible, which hymns or psalms will be sung next Sunday. Then you can sing that one at home a few times so that it becomes familiar to him. If it's one that was unfamiliar to you this could benefit everyone and improve the musical part of the worship of our Lord. If enough people are interested in knowing ahead of time perhaps you could ask the minister if he could email the titles or page numbers to the congregation by Thursday or Friday of each week. All of this serves to teach our children that what happens on Sunday is important and that it is not a Sunday-only activity. Preparing for worship and reflecting on it afterwards bring it to the forefront and promote our spiritual growth. Again, a little enthusiasm goes a long way. When your child is old enough to read... When your child is old enough to read he can begin reading the Bible. What an excitement it is for little George to help read one of the Bible verses at a family Bible reading time. Maybe he can only identify half or two-thirds of the words, but he is sure trying. Soon he will want to be able to read the other words too, and that will encourage him to learn the rest of his phonics. What a goal! Historically, most schools were started so that people would be able to read God's Word. George will appreciate that he too is included in the Bible study. He also won't need to fuss for attention if he is already included in taking a turn. When your child is old enough to speak... When your child is old enough to speak he can pray. He might repeat after Mom or Dad, or he might add his own simple words of thanks and request. But he should not even be able to remember a time when he did not pray several times every day. Worship is the central, most important thing that we do in our entire week. It is the time that we humbly come to confess our sins, give our thanks, sing of His glory, ask for help, and learn of His grace. When we teach our children right from the start how to worship, we accomplish the most important task that we must do. Sharon L. Bratcher has a book with 45 of her RP articles in it, and a 2-year lesson plan entitled “Bible Overview for Young Children” ages 2-6 and 6-9. For information on these, contact [email protected]. This article first appeared in the Dec. 2006 issue, under the title "Sermon notes, and songs, for small fries."...