Family Worship and Its Benefits
December 2, 2013
Family worship. I know your reaction when you read those two words. I used to have the same response! Whenever that term or one like it was mentioned, I would inwardly cringe. Similar to the reaction many of us have when the word evangelism is uttered. Guilt begins to creep in, our shoulders begin to ache, and our spirits sink. We know that we don't practice family worship as often as we should. On some days we are not sure why. On other days we have a bag of ready excuses.
But let me suggest that this shouldn't be our reaction. Family worship is not meant to be some kind of guilt inducing torture established by divine decree. Rather, it is a means of grace. It is a gift from God to His children. It's not a weight. It's not a burden. It's not a box that we have to check, nor is it a merit badge we have to earn. It's a gift. A gift that is accompanied by many blessings
What is family worship? It isn't complex. It doesn't require a doctorate, ordination, or even an extended period of time. It is simply a gathering of those living under the same roof for a time of worship. This may be a single mother and her two children, two sisters living together, or mom, dad, and their eight children. Regardless of what the makeup of the home is, it is all the individuals of that home gathering together to read the Scriptures, pray, and sing to the living God. It doesn't have to be long, rigorous, or particularly profound. It can be as simple as ten minutes of reading the Scripture, praying a short prayer, and singing a good hymn. And yet these ten minutes of sowing seeds and offering worship have eternal benefits.
Last night was one of those nights that it didn't quite feel like we were doing something that had eternal benefits. Frankly, it was one of those nights of family worship that I would like to forget. We wandered off topic yet again. My son had somehow managed to begin talking about My Little Ponies during our family worship time. I am not sure how this connected with the Bible passage we were reading, but in his five year-old little mind it made perfect sense. Of course, his mentioning My Little Ponies stirred my daughter's affections and she quickly began to add to the conversation. There was no getting them back. My erudite commentary upon the passage and the winsome probing questions I had formulated were obviously not as good as I thought and in no way were they more appealing than Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash.
As funny as this now seems in retrospect, in the moment, my heart sunk under a good dose of discouragement. It had been a night in which this comedy of errors felt like anything but family worship. However, not all nights are like this. There are nights that our singing is robust, the conversation centered upon the Bible is inspiring, and the prayers of my wife and children rival those of the psalmist (or at least I like to think so--though I am admittedly biased!). Over time these moments accrue and, like an athlete who trains his body day after day, the benefits begin to add up. I have come to love family worship. I didn't always feel this way, but now it is one of the most treasured and safeguarded activities in my life. Why? Because I have seen the benefits. When I survey the history of the church, it is hard not to notice the fruit family worship has produced. When I survey my current context, it is hard not to see the benefits that have accrued in the families around me who practice family worship. And when I take stock of my own family, I rejoice at the benefits we have witnessed. It isn't always easy. Sometimes it isn't even enjoyable, but it is always worth it.
For this reason, family worship has become a staple in our home and I have become an evangelist for this necessary spiritual discipline. There are nights and even multiple days that pass without the Helopoulos family gathering in worship, but we try to make this the exception rather than the rule. Maybe your family has missed a few weeks of family worship or you started a long time ago and have ceased. Some reading this article may have never gathered with their family to worship. Well, there is no time like the present! The benefits are significant and eternal. Let me suggest just a few to encourage you to engage this means of grace gifted to us from a gracious Heavenly Father.
As we think about family worship, we should note up front that there is no verse of the Bible commanding Christian families to gather together each evening to worship. However, there are plenty of commands making it clear that Christian parents are to teach their children the faith, read the Word, and pray. In essence, they are to worship. Of course, we are to do this spontaneously as we drive down the road or tuck them in at night. These moments should be treasured and seized upon. However, seizing these moments does not negate the need for organized family worship in the home. Rather, family worship is an essential compliment to these moments, because it provides the type of consistency and planning that parents and heads of homes need to fulfill these biblical commands. If we resign teaching our children the faith, reading the Word, and praying with them to the spontaneous moment, more often than not, we will look back and realize that little actual time was spent upon these things. It is not intentional negligence, but it happens nonetheless. Life is full. And it can be full of good things. But even the good things can crowd out what is necessary. Before we know it, Dr. Seuss and The Chronicles of Narnia are heard, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are unknown. The topics of conversation are the day's events and future endeavors, but seldom are the Scriptures discussed. Prayer is a family ritual before meals and bedtime, but absent elsewhere. The air is filled with nursery rhyme melodies, but the great hymns and songs of the faith are muted in our homes. Before we know it, the years have passed, our children are leaving the home, and we are left with the realization that we were not quite as consistent as we had hoped to be in passing the faith on to our children. The intentionality and deliberateness of family worship can be one of the greatest means of fulfilling these biblical commands in the home.
When we think of the biblical command to teach our children the faith, Psalm 78 has to be one the first passages that jumps to mind. It is a psalm filled with passion, truth, and motivation for sharing the truth of God with the following generation. Asaph begins the psalm pleading for this very thing. This faith that they had received and heard from their parents, and their parents had received from their parents before them must be passed on. That same "good deposit" which Timothy received generations later in the New Testament from his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice. It is a treasure that has been handed down from generation to generation. The greatest treasure we can give is the knowledge of who God is and what He has done. Asaph says, "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done." And it isn't to stop there. Asaph continues, "He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children." The psalmist envisions a cascading waterfall of truth, where the generation before tells the generation that comes after it the glorious truths of God. And that generation relays the truth of God and His working to the following generation and so on until the end of time. This is our charge. This is the call that has been placed upon our Christian homes.
As a Christian father and husband, I am to continually put God and the testimony of His mighty works before my wife and children. And there is no better way to do this than regular, consistent, and intentional family worship. No matter how spontaneous I may be, sharing the truth of God and His mighty works "off the cuff" could never equal what we do in regular daily family worship. It is the best means for effectual evangelism and discipleship in the home. By practicing daily worship in the home, my family is continually put in the way of God's grace. The great accounts and truths of the Scriptures are set before us every night. We are daily seeking the Lord's throne of grace in united prayer. And we are offering thanksgiving and praise to God as we join our voices in song. Each of these elements of family worship convey to the minds and hearts of those gathered the truth of God and His mighty works in a full, regular, and consistent way that no other practice in the home can rival.
Christian families practicing family worship will also find that it centers their home upon Christ. Our home is always centered upon something, but often it isn't Christ. It's not that we intentionally center it upon something else, we just unknowingly do so. Other things begin to dominate our common life together. It could be things outside the home as we venture out to attend soccer games and ballet lessons. Equally, it can be things within the home like television, video games, or even laundry. These can all be good things and they can serve a good and right purpose. However, they must all remain in their appropriate place: secondary and tertiary status. As a Christian father, husband, mother, or wife, our desire is that our homes are dominated by Christ above all else. Our hope is that our family and its activities will center upon Him. He is our Lord, Savior, and Friend. We have been secured in His grip by grace. And that grace welling up within us leads us to want to worship Him and see our loved ones worship Him as well.
Daily family worship facilitates this very thing. Every night, as we gather together--at my house it is on the couch following dinner--we hear the Bible read. We discuss and talk about God and what He has done. We pray for one another, our neighbors, extended family, friends, and church. We offer thanksgiving to God for His wonderful mercy and all the good gifts that come from above. We confess our sins and are reminded of His grace. We sing--yes, sing! Depending on the night, we may sing praise, adoration, thanksgiving, or confession. We were created as worshippers and recreated in Christ Jesus as worshippers; and as we gather together daily for worship we and our families will be reminded of it. With this daily activity, Christ will increasingly become the center of our homes. It is astounding how this daily moment begins to seep into the rest of the day: conversations emerge about last night's Bible reading, hymns are sung as the dishes are washed, knowledge of one another is informed by the prayers prayed, and forgiveness has been given to one another through confession. Family worship, with its centering our home upon Christ begins to shape our activities, conversations, and character.
One of the more specific ways that I have seen family worship aid a Christian home in being Christ centered is the confession, repentance, and forgiveness that it often generates. A family that is gathering together each night for worship will find it hard to do so if two or more family members are in conflict or have said hard words to each other earlier in the day. It is rightly awkward to worship in such a toxic atmosphere. Many families have noted the blessing that family worship has been in this way. It brings unrepentant and unforgiven sin to the forefront. The husband may be led to confess the harsh tone he used in speaking to his wife, the children may repent of their squabbling, and the mother may utter the words of forgiveness to her daughter before everyone is ready to sit down and worship together. As our families gather together in family worship, one of the benefits flowing from our home centering more upon Christ is that our families are bound together in a very uncommon and grace-saturated way.
Family worship is also beneficial in that it informs our corporate and private worship. As Christians, we attend corporate worship on Sunday. There we hear the Word, pray, and sing. Also, as Christians, we seek the Lord in our closet. Even as we attend to the Word, prayer, and song in corporate worship, we do the same in private worship. Family worship is no different. It is also the same means. However, these are three different spheres of worship in the Christian life. But they are not three spheres that operate independently from one another. As shown by their use of the same means, they are not unconnected. Our corporate worship is always impacted by our private and family worship. Our private worship is equally impacted by our corporate and family worship. It is also true that our family worship is impacted by our corporate and secret worship. They all inform one another. When one of these spheres of worship is absent from our lives, the others suffer. We cannot neglect one without also doing harm to our engagement in the others. Of equal importance is the reality that as we worship in Spirit and truth in one sphere it benefits our worship in the other spheres. As we grow in knowledge of the Word in private worship, this will inform our corporate and family worship. As we nurture delight for the Lord in corporate worship, this will inform our family and private worship. My heart, soul, and mind need engagement with the Lord in all three spheres of worship. And as all three spheres of worship are attended to with regularity and consistency, by God's grace, we grow and mature in Christ.
The benefits of family worship are truly immeasurable, because they are eternal. Ten or twenty minutes a day can bear everlasting dividends. That is an investment worth making. Men will mortgage their lives at the prospect of receiving earthly dividends for a few years. We have in family worship, a prospect that far exceeds that. And it is more than a prospect. God works by His Word and prayer. It is a promise. Why would we not want to engage in these means of grace daily in our homes?
There may be nothing more significant that a Christian home can do then practice daily family worship. I know that it can be hard to begin. It can feel intimidating, challenging, and even scary, but we will never regret it. We may regret the fifteen minutes we spent surfing the internet, watching a sitcom, or thumbing through a magazine, but we will never lament that same time spent in family worship.
How do you begin? Begin simply. Grab a Bible, read a short Psalm, pray a brief prayer, sing the doxology. Don't wait until you prepared or no longer apprehensive. Begin tonight. Many of us have already waited too long. And then gather again tomorrow night and the night after that. When you miss a day or even a week, don't beat yourself up, just pick it right back up again. Over the course of weeks and months, you will find it to be one of the great joys of your life together as a family. A joy that carries in its practice blessing upon blessing to the praise and glory of God.
Rev. Jason Helopoulos is Assistant Pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and author of A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home (Christian Focus, 2013).