by Candice Watters
Have you ever felt like your efforts to do family devotions — to read the Bible with your kids, to pray, to sing songs — are doomed from the start? Spilled milk, waning attention, wiggles and more seem to conspire against meaningful discipleship. Is there something the authors of books about discipling your children know but aren’t telling the rest of us?
We decided to find out. We asked Jodi Ware what family devotions looked like in their home during the training years of their own two daughters. Her husband, Bruce Ware, is the author of the excellent discipleship book Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.
Who influenced your approach to discipling your children? Who were your role models?
Both Bruce and I were remarkably blessed by growing up in the families we did. All four of our parents loved the Lord, and taught and modeled the Gospel to their children. We grew up with regular “family devotions” after dinner. These included reading the Bible, perhaps also reading from a devotional book, singing a hymn together, and then praying, including regular prayer for missionaries we knew and loved. We sought to emulate much of what we grew up with when our daughters were born.
In trying to set a routine for family devotions, what challenges did you have to overcome in your own home, for example: schedule conflicts, distractions, young children, etc.?
All of the challenges you list sound woefully familiar. Our main desire was to show them the joy that comes from learning about God from His revealed Word. Our unofficial motto was: keep it simple. Bruce usually read a short passage from Scripture, and then asked questions. Both of our daughters are good thinkers, which contributed to (and was perhaps enhanced by) the discussions that took place. We often sang, and then prayed through various requests, for our family, extended family, friends, church, and missionaries.
What things can parents do with young children, one and two, whom they may think aren’t ready for family discipleship that will lay the groundwork for more intense/focused learning later?
Children often pick up far more than we often expect. There is great value to training a young child to sit quietly while Mommy reads her Bible. They are able to do this, perhaps looking through a book of their own. They need to see parents making time with the Lord a priority, a regular part of the day.
What advice do you give parents of school age children who want to start doing family devotions?
We would encourage them to keep things simple. It is far better to have 8-10 minutes regularly than to ambitiously begin with 30 minutes and wear everyone out. As children learn to read, it is beneficial to have them actively involved in serving the family by reading from the Word, reading from the prayer request list, etc. One thing we did that worked well: we had a notebook in which we listed prayer requests in blue, and answers in red. It was thrilling to rifle through the pages and see all of the red ink. It made a visible statement that God answers prayer. Also, keeping the family schedule simple is helpful. It stands to reason that we honor the authority and primacy of the Word by being sure there is time for THAT, and not filling the time with things of lesser value. You may find that time at the breakfast table is most conducive, particularly if you follow a homeschooling routine.
How did your formal discipleship time shape your faith conversations with your daughters?
We sought to seize opportunities throughout the day, throughout the years, to talk about the Lord. We endeavored to model prayer as the first response when faced with any problem or concern. Questions are a very helpful tool for spiritual conversation. You can ask your child about what some passage is saying (helping them learn to think themselves about passages of Scripture along with being told what they mean), or how this passage applies to some area of their lives. Engaging them through questions teaches them to think and apply, and gives the parent an opportunity to explain more than they might have been able to without this interaction.
It turns out those wise enough to write books like Big Truths do not have children who are more willing to be taught. All children are born with the same desperate need for rescue. It is up to parents to show them their need through study of God’s Word. May we do what’s necessary as parents, urged on by those who have gone ahead of us, to persevere in this primary and infinitely important work!
Jodi Ware (pictured above with her daughter Rachel), is a native Oregonian is married to Bruce Ware, a professor of theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Bruce and Jodi have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.
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