It’s the new year, and with that comes the making of new year resolutions. For some families, this might be starting—and following—a family devotion routine.

Many parents probably wistfully imagine the day we can see our children sitting on the sofa, eagerly waiting to read the Bible passage of the day, paying rapt attention as the family reads God’s Word together, and willingly taking turns to pray.

After all, this is how family devotions should be, shouldn’t they?

In reality, many of us are more likely to find family devotions looking like a warzone: parents trying to keep their kids’ attention, stopping them from fighting with each other, cleaning up that food mess or drink spill . . . all the while keeping an eye on the clock.

If this is how your home looks like, be assured: you’re not alone! It’s a common scene in the homes of many families, including church leaders and pastors.

Tommy Wong, pastor at Faith Sanctuary church and father of three children, recounts how his eldest son—an active child—didn’t respond well to a “sit-down reading routine”. At times, what was meant to be devotion time became “discipline” time instead—with he and his wife Sandie often responding in frustration or anger.

“Honestly, my wife and I would find it difficult to go on with the quiet time in these moments,” he shares. “Yet, we would still attempt to seize teachable moments to share the reasons why we were upset, to say ‘sorry’, and to seek forgiveness if needed. We would cling on to Ephesians 4:26: ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.’”

That was not the only challenge. Pastor Tommy, whose oldest and youngest kids are six years apart, adds: “With my three children at different ages, the challenge for us was more of trying to explore different ways of engaging them with God’s Word.”

McCoy Chow, pastor at Emmaus Evangelical Free Church and also a father of three, faced similar challenges when attempting to establish a regular family devotion routine. This included having to explain words and their meanings to their five-year-old son—while disciplining their three-year-old.

“Our younger daughter didn’t quite understand what was happening, and had to be kept occupied,” he recalls. “Quite often, she was the cause of disruption when she refused to sit still and listen. Sometimes, we had a blessed family time. Other times, we just had to stop halfway because she just wouldn’t cooperate.”

Family devotions, the two pastors acknowledge, were often challenging not necessarily because their children were being naughty, but because of differences in personality and younger children usually have shorter attention span.

Having learnt to establish and maintain a regular family devotion routine over the years, they offer these tips:

 

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1. Start as early as possible

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 on 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 6:5–7

Both fathers cite Deuteronomy 6:5–7 as the grounding motivation and principle for their family devotion time: to talk about God’s commandments to their children. Regular devotions, adds Pastor Tommy, are a good way to cultivate the habit of reading God’s Word. “Such a discipline cradles disciple-making, and discipleship must begin at home,” he says.

Both he and Pastor McCoy began the habit when their children were in preschool and could read. Pastor McCoy recounts one incident when their son asked: “Why did Jesus have to die to save sinners?”

Regular devotions are a good way to cultivate the habit of reading God’s Word.

It was such a simple yet profound question, he reflects. “I knew the answer, but how could I explain it in simple terms that a six-year-old kid could understand? That was the challenge. But that was also when we knew that our son was beginning to understand the gospel.”

While both pastors encourage parents to start a devotion routine early on in their children’s lives, they stress that it’s never too late to start.

For example, parents can make use of opportunities when the family is already gathered, such as over meals, and initiate open conversations so that their children can feel comfortable sharing with them. They can also pray for God to give them wisdom on how to relate these topics to Scripture, and to pray for and encourage their kids with God’s Word.

Pastor Tommy’s children observe how their parents live out the Word, as they do family devotion over the years

2. Make devotions short but regular

 Short but regular family devotions are preferable to longer but irregular ones, say both pastors.

For Pastor McCoy and his family, devotions were held between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. every day after dinner. (It’s a routine they still continue today on Fridays and Saturdays, when their eldest son, now 22, returns from his university dorm for the weekends.) They would spend about half an hour reading a Bible passage, with half that time explaining words and their meanings to their young kids.

During busier periods, the devotions would be kept shorter, to about 15 to 20 minutes, and they would just pray and read the Bible together. “It was during family devotion that we taught our children how to talk to God,” says Pastor McCoy. “It was a wonderful experience to hear our children pray for the first time.”

He adds: “They kept surprising us with the kind of petitions they prayed for. Sometimes, my wife Michele and I couldn’t contain our laughter hearing them pray.” Their kids’ prayers included asking God for good weather so that they could play at the park, no nightmares and good sleep, and even for the family to “go to Sushi Tei more often”.

To stick to a schedule, Pastor McCoy recommends finding a time slot in which every family member is free most of the time. If children are young, parents can decide for them, and commit to that timing.

Pastor Tommy found that keeping to a fixed timing every day became more challenging once their children entered secondary school. Mornings were packed as the kids had different school-times and transport arrangements, and they also had more schoolwork.

He and his wife also had to contend with their own exhaustion. Back then, he was still doing social work, which meant returning home physically and emotionally drained on many days. Sandie, a homemaker, was also burnt out from caring for their children and managing the household.

Some nights, the couple were so exhausted that they would just have “silent devotion” with their kids in the same bedroom, listening to various hymns such as “Jesus Loves Me”.

These days, the Wongs do their devotion in the evenings.

To stick to a schedule, Pastor McCoy recommends finding a time slot in which every family member is free most of the time. If children are young, parents can decide for them, and commit to that timing.

Starting with a realistic duration, such as 10 to 15 minutes, may also be helpful, he suggests. The devotions can be shortened or lengthened according to different seasons of life.

3. Do what works for your family

Both pastors agree that there is no hard and fast rule about what kind of material or resources to use, as long as it relates to God’s Word.

As his eldest son had a short attention span, Pastor Tommy experimented with a variety of Bible resources for kids, from audio Bible stories and picture Bibles to children worship songs. Once, they came up with a fun way to encourage their children to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) for the day’s happenings.

“We introduced the use of little pebbles as ‘memorial stones’ of thanksgiving to God,” he says. “They got to pick a small pebble and drop it in a glass bottle. They were excited about this activity, and found themselves having more than one reason to give thanks!”

To this day, his children can still recollect reading these picture Bibles and books. “A graphic narration of Bible stories can stay in the minds of our children,” he notes.

Parents can consider covering small, manageable topics over a few days or weeks, like devotional stories based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or His parables, suggests Pastor Tommy. “This builds up parents’ confidence, instead of trying to cover the whole book or Bible,” he says.

There is no hard and fast rule about what kind of material or resources to use, as long as it relates to God’s Word.

They can also complement devotions with what their children are learning in Sunday school.

“There was no fixed and regular way of doing devotion with them,” he recalls. “We’ve come to realise that there are ‘different strokes for different folks’, considering their different temperaments and stages of growth.”

As for Pastor McCoy, the book of Proverbs has played a central role in the family’s devotions over the years. “Since Proverbs has 31 chapters, we started reading chapters according to each day of the month,” he says.

Even as they moved on to other books in the Bible, they continued to read Proverbs. As the kids grew older, they began to memorise verses and longer passages. “Michele and I were quite surprised at how much Scripture our children could memorise,” he says.

He and his wife also challenged their three children to read through the entire Bible once they could read independently. Their eldest completed it at the age of six, while their nine-year-old is now halfway through.

When Pastor Tommy’s kids were younger, devotion time would sometimes turn into a discipline time

4. Don’t give up

Looking back on their struggles to teach their young children God’s Word, Pastor McCoy realises that the Lord had used them to train him and his wife to be patient. “By God’s grace, we never gave up because we were convinced that our family devotion would mould our children’s spiritual lives,” he says. “Thank God that we can reap the spiritual dividends today.”

He encourages parents to be prepared to answer questions, and to be role models in reading the Bible and praying. And, he adds, don’t give up on family devotions.

Agreeing, Pastor Tommy is thankful for the Lord’s grace in enabling him and his wife to journey with their children in knowing the Lord and His Word.

While sometimes our efforts may seem to fail in our eyes, God’s truth remains unhindered, and He can still speak His Word into our children’s hearts.

“Our youngest child shared with us that, to him, family devotion is more than just having a routine. It’s seeing the congruence of reading the Bible, and ‘reading’ how we, as parents, live out the Word, which matters the most,” he says. “It dawned on us that our children are observing our lives—seeing how their papa and mama both walk the talk and talk the walk.”

Once, his wife asked their children: “Is Papa the same person in front of the pulpit and away from the pulpit?” His daughter candidly replied: “Except for Papa’s pot belly that we get to see at home, everything else is consistent.”

Reflecting on their journey, Pastor Tommy says: “While sometimes our efforts may seem to fail in our eyes, God’s truth remains unhindered, and He can still speak His Word into our children’s hearts. For every effort you have tried and tested, God’s truth is deposited into their hearts, and it will stand the test of time in our child’s life, and reap a bountiful harvest in due time.”

 

Wendy is a writer, wife, and mother who seeks to be a disciple of Christ. She hopes that God will use what He’s given her to glorify Him through her living and writing. Her perfect day includes peanut butter, spending time with the Lord, and enjoying a good cuddle with her family.
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