By Jessica Thompson
You finally get everyone to sit down together for a time of family devotions after a long day of car-pooling, making meals, doing laundry, and cleaning up 1,000 messes. You have high hopes for this time to be sweet and possibly even life-changing for your children, but before you even finish the verse Timmy has passed gas and Lilly is rolling laughing on the floor. Your husband is trying his hardest to keep a straight face, but finally has to give into his inner middle schooler. You angrily stomp away from the table vowing to never try and be spiritual with that lot again. So what went wrong? How can we go into family worship without unrealistic expectations yet hopeful? Here are a few hopefully helpful ideas to get your heart where it needs to be before you try again.
First, family devotions are not a cure-all for your kids’ disobedience. Your children are real human beings with real hearts, and they need the work of the Holy Spirit to change them. You won’t be able to do devotions and then expect your children to be different people the next day. That’s not how you work, and it is not how your kids respond. How often have you heard a wonderful, convicting sermon and then gone and returned to your sin on Monday? Change is a slow process for children, just like it is for you.
There are times when you try to ask your children questions as part of your worship. I know from experience that asking kids spiritually minded questions can end up in anger and frustration. There are times, maybe even the majority of times, when they are unresponsive or not listening or just don’t care. During those times, your work is not to convince them of the importance of what you are doing but rather to lean into the Holy Spirit. You won’t be able to come up with the right words to make a hard heart soft. That is God’s work, so ask him to do it. You don’t want to take the devotional or Bible you are using and beat your kids over the head with it. If you are depending on it to save your kids, you will end up being angry or full of despair when they don’t respond the way you want. So if you are feeling angry or despairing because your children aren’t where you want them to be, repent and remember that God is the author of all salvation.
One last thing: don’t give up on your kids. You don’t know how God may use the time you make with them. Your kids may be unresponsive initially, but God may choose to use it later. We aren’t aware of what God chooses to use. He may use the time you have set aside or he may use an inconveniently timed conversation in Walmart, but you can be sure He will have His way with your children.
You can relax a bit knowing that the Creator of the Universe can speak to your children even in the middle of inappropriate bodily functions and childish laughter. Don’t forget Jesus loved having kids around and actually told his disciples that “child-like” faith was a good thing. You can take all of your grand designs for your family worship and lay them at the feet of Jesus and ask him to have his way, whatever that may mean.
(Editor’s Note: This piece has been adapted from Jessica’s newest book, Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family.
Jessica Thompson is the co-author along with her mother, Elyse Fitzpatrick, of the book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus(Crossway, May 2011). She blogs occasionally for Crossway and Liberate and has done a series of blogs on parenting on her websitewww.givethemgrace.com.
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