The Testimony of a Failure
I've been a Christian for 25 years. My wife, Mahria, has been a Christian as long as me, less one month. Our eldest daughter was 18-months-old when her parents came to faith in Jesus Christ. All three of our daughters, now adults, have been raised in a Christian home their entire lives. My daughters came to faith in Jesus Christ at different times during their childhood. All three show fruit in keeping with repentance. All three show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. All three, like their parents, experience peaks and valleys in their individual walks with Christ. All three, like their parents, are living examples of the biblical reality that sanctification is a process. Sanctification is a process that does not resemble a rocket leaving the platform, traveling faster than a bullet in a straight line, into the heavens. Sanctification, is more of a staccato movement of music, punctuated with periods consisting of three steps forward and two steps back; four steps forward and one step back; five steps forward and two steps back. While there are moments when the not-yet-fully sanctified Christian takes steps in the wrong direction, their overall spiritual progression is one of growth as, step-by-step, they are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Mahria grew up in a small, tight-knit First United Methodist Church. I was raised for the first ten years of my life in the Roman Catholic religion. Mahria and I both grew up in somewhat religious homes, but neither of us ever had Christian parenting modeled for us. Our families were religious, but not saved. We didn't grow up with family worship and/or Bible study and devotions as part of our lives. When we came to faith in Christ, we were young, struggling parents who didn't have a clue what it meant to be Christian parents--what it meant to raise our children in a Christian home. We tried, we struggled, we failed, and we tried again.
And life happened. My work as a deputy sheriff meant strange shifts, long hours, overtime, court appearances, and everything else that came with life behind the badge. By the time I retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, two of our three daughters were adults and the youngest was into her teenage years. Over the years, we had sporadic seasons that included family devotions. That is to say, it was only once in a while I led my family in the corporate reading, study, and devotion in the Word of God.
Of course, simply living with me meant my wife and kids received a regular dose of the Word of God in our daily conversations, around the dinner table, during car rides to and from school or work, and whenever they joined me on the streets to evangelize the lost. All three of my daughters have survived and are thriving on secular university campuses. Their faith is rooted in Christ and grounded in His Word. They know a godless worldview when they hear one. Nothing they've heard on university campuses has ever given them cause to doubt their faith. What they've heard coming from professors and students who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness has only left them shaking their heads with pity for those who live in self-deluded realms of absurdity.
While I'm proud of how my girls have turned and are turning out, it doesn't always relieve me of the guilt I feel once in a while for not being a more consistent leader of my family, in the area of family worship.
A couple months ago--that's right; just a couple months ago--we had one of those family meetings. I called the meeting because I needed to address some issues in the home. As I explained to my family some of the changes we were going to make to ensure we would do whatever we could to glorify Christ as a family unit, I told them we would once again begin nightly family devotions. The look on Mahria's and the girls' faces hurt a bit, but I expected it. The looks on their faces said, "Umm. We've tried this before."
I spent some time apologizing, again, for all of the failed previous attempts. And then I shared with them what I wanted to do and how we were going to go about it. I have a wonderful family who loves me and who loves the Lord. They were all on board.
But for a night here and there, my family is experiencing a time of consistent, Christ-centered prayer, reading, and devotion--the likes of which we have never before experienced. And with each evening we gather together to worship the Lord, I give thanks to Him for showing me that it's never too late.
It's never to late to start regular times of family worship. Your kids, so long as they are under your roof, are never too old for family worship (my daughters are 26, 24, and 19). It's never too late to repent of long-standing, bad family-time habits. It's never too late to begin new family traditions that bring honor, glory, and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's never too late.
Recently, and I'm sure not by coincidence, I've been asked several times to write about my times of worship with my family. Now that we've developed some consistency, I thought it was time that I share not only our struggles in the area of family worship, but a word of encouragement to those who, like us, might be facing challenges to establish their own times of family worship. So, with the above testimony in mind, I think you will believe me when I say that what I'm about to share is not the opinion of an expert. No, I'm not an expert. Rather, what I'm about to share is what is working for a dad who has blown it too many times to count.
Keep It Simple
My first piece of advice is to keep it simple. By that I mean don't bother surfing the Internet looking for "how to" books on family worship. Don't look for a program that is promoted as the next best thing to sliced bread when it comes to family worship. Keep it simple. All you need to start is your Bible.
Now, before I continue, it's important I make something clear. Dad, you should want your children to learn a great deal during your times of family worship. However, when it comes to getting started and establishing consistency in this area keep it simple.
Keeping it simple means selecting a time of day when there is the likelihood that everyone in the family will be home. This will become more of an issue as your children get older and more active in church, school, etc. Establishing consistency includes establishing a pattern of behavior. For the Miano Family, the best time of day for us is immediately following dinner. At this time of day, everyone is still awake with at least a few hours to go until day's end. Doing family worship after dinner and before family members head of to do homework, housework, ministry work, or assume a position in front of the laptop is what works best for our family.
Keeping it simple means keeping the length of the family devotions reasonable. This does not mean you should watch the clock. Don't ever do that, unless there is some place you have to be after your time of worship. Our family worship time typically runs 30-45 minutes, sometimes less and sometimes more.
A Miano Family Devotion
The responsibility for leading family worship is mine and mine alone. I do not share the responsibility with Mahria or the girls. As the husband, father, and spiritual leader of my home, God has entrusted me with the spiritual care of my family.
Now, I understand that every Christian reading this does not live in a home where both parents are Christians or both parents are even present. To the single mom: you are the one to lead your children in family worship. To the wife of the unsaved man: you are the one to lead your children in family worship. And God will bless your devotion to Him and your love for your family as you do it.
The Valley of Vision and Prayer
The Valley of Vision is a wonderful collection of Puritan prayers. Each and every prayer is so rich in doctrine and theology. I being our time of worship by reading one of the prayers, and then I lead my family in a time of corporate prayer.
Next to the Bible, a good hymnal is probably the best book. Mahria grew up on hymns. I did not. We now incorporate hymn singing as part of our family worship.
Today, we used the hymnal, Great Hymns of the Faith. I've ordered five copies of Celebration Hymnal: Songs and Hymns for Worship. Find a hymnal in keeping with your particular faith tradition (i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) or one that contains songs you know. If your church does not sing hymns, then find song books that contain the contemporary Christian songs you sing in church. You can also make your own song book containing the lyrics of your favorite songs. Whatever works best for you, do that.
Now, remember. The Bible says, "Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise" (Psalm 95:2, emphasis mine). If you have someone in the family who plays the guitar or piano, wonderful. Or, if you want to plug in your favorite worship CD, that's great, too. But don't worry about how your worship sounds. You are singing praises to an audience of One. You are not performing for anyone. If no one in the home is musically gifted, then just lift your voices and make a joyful noise. Sing a couple of songs. Sing for an hour. You decide. Remember. Keep it simple.
As I mentioned above, the Bible is all you really need. Each night we read one-to-three chapters of Scripture.
We finished the Gospel of John a couple nights ago and have moved on to 1 Samuel (Mahria's favorite book of the Bible). Today, we read 1 Samuel 3-4. Once I finish reading, I answer any questions my ladies might have. I let them share their observations about the text, if there was anything in the text that stood out to them. I finish our time in the Word by sharing my own observations of the text and how we can apply the text to our lives.
Remember. Keep it simple. Don't feel compelled to prepare a three-point sermon each morning or evening. If you have the time, inclination, and ability to prepare studies for your times of family worship, by all means do it! But don't beat yourself up if you don't have the time, or your just not there yet. The important thing is that you are spending time in the Word of God with your family! As you grow in your understanding of God's Word, so will your family. They will grow as you grow and share the marvelous truths God is teaching you, in His Word.
My favorite devotional, and the one I read to my family, is Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. Spurgeon's brilliance as a theologian, pastor, teacher, and writer are illustrated in every devotion. Spurgeon was known to have a vocabulary thousands of words beyond that of the average person, which can make him a bit of a challenge to understand for younger, less-trained ears. Years ago I found an edition of this classic work that had been edited by Alistair Begg. In this special edition, Begg has modernized some of the language without negatively impacting the content of Spurgeon's words or the literary tapestry he paints in each devotion.
So each night as part of our time of family worship I read Spurgeon's evening devotion. Sometimes I will provide brief commentary about the devotion. Other times I simply close the book and say, "Wow. That was good."
And there you have it--an example of a Miano Family time of worship.
We like to keep it simple.
Tips for Consistency
Consistency seems to be the biggest challenge for genuine Christians when it comes to family worship. Life happens. Something always comes up. This will likely never change. But in order to establish consistency you must make family worship a priority. You must be willing to forgo entertainment and the ever-present after-dinner desire to "power down." You must treat family worship as something each day you cannot do without.
There will be times when your day is a veritable perfect storm. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Your best laid plans will be laid aside by the twists and turns of life. There will be days when you just won't be able to do your family worship. Don't get discouraged. And don't quit. Do everything you can to get back at it the following day.
As many of my readers know, I travel a lot. By the end of this year, I will have been on the road and away from home some 80 days. 2014 is already shaping up to be an even busier year with several international trips.
It was not Al Gore, but God who gave us the Internet. He allowed mankind to develop the technology that has given us platforms like Skype. One option for family worship during my extended times away from home is to enjoy family worship via Skype. Family worship can even be accomplished on the phone, if push comes to shove. And when those options aren't available (I travel to places with 8-10 hour time differences), then I entrust Mahria with the responsibility of leading family worship with our daughters. This way, when I return home, the "hey, we get to do family worship tonight" mindset will likely be alive and well.
I hope this article is an encouragement and helpful to my Christian brethren who, like me, have struggled to establish consistency in family worship or who have young families and want to begin family worship for the first time. I hope my failures will serve as motivation to not make the mistakes I have made. And I hope my story serves as a real-life testimony to the truth that it's never too late. It's never too late to begin times of family worship in your home.
May the Lord bless you and your family as you worship Him together.