Just Read, Pray, and Sing
Read the Bible
Chapter by chapter, read through books of the Bible together. The younger the children, the more you will want to use narrative passages and read shorter sections. As the children get older, set a goal to read through the entire the New Testament, and later through the entire Bible.
Read enthusiastically and interpretively. In other words, don’t be one of those people who reads the Bible as apathetically as if reading a phone directory out loud. It is the Word of God—read it to the best of your ability.
Also, explain any words the children may not understand. Clarify the meaning of key verses. To improve their understanding, perhaps ask the children to choose a verse or phrase to explain to you, and then have them pick one for you to explain to them.
Whether prayer is offered by the father only, or by someone he designates, or by each member of the family in turn, be sure to pray together. Some people keep a prayer list. Some simply ask for prayer requests from the family. Whatever your approach, pray about at least one thing suggested to you and your family by the Scripture passage you have read.
Some families, regardless of where they were reading in the Bible, always go to the book of Psalms when it’s time to pray and turn the words of a few verses there into a prayer. If praying through Psalm 23, for instance, after reading the first verse you might thank the Lord for being your Shepherd, ask him to shepherd your family through certain events or decisions, and so forth. As you have time, continue through the passage line by line, speaking to God about what comes to mind while reading the text.
By using this approach you will not only pray for your family (and in fresh and unique ways each time), but you’ll also teach them by example how to pray.
If possible, get songbooks for everyone. Your church may have some unused or older ones closeted away that you could acquire, perhaps at no cost. Your pastor or a worship leader at your church may be able to recommend other songbooks too.
The lyrics of many older, public domain (that is, not copyrighted) songs are also available free on the Internet.
Some people sing a different song each time; some sing the same song for a week so they can learn it. As to music, some families sing along with recordings, while others use family musicians. My perception is that most families—even when it’s only a husband and wife—simply sing without accompaniment.
Why Read, Pray, and Sing?
Why not just read and pray and omit singing? Or why not read, pray, sing, and also take the Lord’s Supper together?
For starters, the earliest record of Christian family worship describes a pattern of reading Scripture, praying together, and singing praise to God.
Second, when you examine a list of the activities the Bible says to do in worship, only three things on that already short list are equally as appropriate in family worship or in private worship as in congregational worship. Those activities are reading the Bible, praying, and singing.
Often scriptural elements of public worship simply cannot be accommodated to private or family worship. Preaching, for example, requires both a preacher and hearers, so it wasn’t intended for private worship. And preaching—especially when properly distinguished from teaching—is impractical in most family worship situations, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of Christians would not profess any sense of a divine call to preach that most churches require of its preachers. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper, commanded by Jesus for us to “do . . . in remembrance of [him]” (Luke 22:19) was given to the church body, not to individual Christians or families. So the New Testament pattern for the bread and the cup has never been one of Christians serving communion to themselves in private, nor of families keeping the ordinance in the exclusivity of their home. Rather, the Lord’s Supper was given to celebrate together with the church family and as an expression of communion with the body of Christ.
So, what should we do in family worship? It’s simple: read the Bible, pray together, and sing to the Lord. I’ve discovered in teaching this idea that sometimes people presume that they need to prepare some sort of lesson or devotional for family worship. Not so. Occasionally you may encounter an article, blog post, sermon illustration, or the like that you want to share with the family as a means of conveying biblical teaching. Great! Or from time to time you might relate an insight from your personal devotional experience that was unusually powerful. Wonderful! But apart from these exceptions, no preparation for family worship is needed other than someone choosing a song and deciding your method for prayer. Beyond that, just open the Bible to the place where you stopped last time and read, pray, and sing.
Spurgeon concurs that these three things should be the elements of family worship: “I agree with Matthew Henry when he says, ‘They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.’ There is a completeness in that kind of family worship which is much to be desired.”
Donald S. Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has written several books related to Christian spirituality, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Don blogs regularly BiblicalSpirituality.org.
Publication date: February 4, 2016