Members of our congregation often ask me about how to have family times of prayer, Bible study, and worship in the home. What they are inquiring about comes under the heading of “family altar,” which is a “spiritual” way of referring to family devotions—Bible study, prayer and worship in the home.
As a pastor I would like to tell you that this is a daily practice and routine in our home . . . but I cannot. Oh, we were quite regular when we had our first child all alone for 20 months. When our second child joined the mix, we still did quite well at having regular devotions. Four years later, our third child arrived, followed in 17 months by our fourth.
Today Brock is 17, Jenna is 15, Katie is 11 and Tank is 10. Their activities, both before and after school, in town and out of town, have made our family altar time somewhat inconsistent. It is still easy to corral the younger ones and spend time together in the word, in prayer, and talking about the things of God. But with the older two, Kim and I have needed to do the best we can and simply trust in God to use our frequently feeble efforts.
There is no replacement
Some might say that our kids’ faith probably gets more than enough feeding simply because we are church planters, and all four are plugged into service at The Cross. Brock is actually leading worship in our two Sunday morning services. And to be sure, all four of them get massive doses of all things divine throughout the week. But I need to tell you that nothing can take the place of the “family altar” for altering your family! God made that point crystal clear:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NIV).
What was good for Israel back then is just as good for us today. God’s unchanging word is the guide for every Christian family living in a changing world. We must make every effort to come together at the family altar before we start counting on God to supply the increase.
Methods may vary
Kim and I have varied our methods over the years and have always worked to make devotions a part of our daily living. Children’s books of Bible stories and the “Veggie Tales” videos have been an important part of the Boland family altar over the years. The kids eventually knew the stories and videos by heart; without realizing it, they began learning the Bible lessons taught as we talked about them.
Create a positive environment
We made a point of never creating an environment where the kids felt forced to endure. Often we simply made it part of the activities of the day like driving in the car. I would make up Bible games and call our vehicle the “Bible Bus,” asking the kids questions as we went to school in the morning. Often we would play worship songs in the car and sing along, which would often lead us into conversations about God. We even tried singing from the Trinity Hymnal at home, but I must confess that we never gained much traction with that plan.
We even brought our family altar to our sport activities. One year, due to field availability, we were forced to hold our Little League Baseball practice for Brock and his team on Sunday afternoons. We prayed long and hard about being involved in this league, but after prayerful consideration and good, godly counsel, we set up the practice time so that the entire family could gather for a picnic and time on the park playground. The entire family was together on Sunday afternoon, and it was great fun for us all.
So, if your family altar is going to alter your family, you will need to be creative and flexible to make it work. If this is a new or renewed activity for your family, have all the children provide as much input as possible. Ask some of your Christian friends how they are doing it—what’s been working and what hasn’t. And then do whatever you can to establish your family altar, trusting God to alter your family for the good of all of you and for His glory.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.