The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” In this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.
The fourth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it captures a child’s most formative years.
Get them early
We are most impressionable in our youth. One Puritan wrote: “It is common sense to put the seal to the wax when it is soft.”
I thank the Lord for my godly upbringing. While in college I once did evangelistic work with a young man who was converted just a few years prior. He was in his mid-twenties and had great zeal for Christ. But as a new convert, he was not aware of some of the most basic Scriptures. Hymns I had learned as a child he didn’t know. Even some of the children we taught had surpassed him in some areas of theology. What an advantage I had.
I’m also thankful for the many Scriptures I was forced to memorized as a child—“forced” the operative word since I would rather have wasted my time on trivial matters. My parents and teachers did right in compelling me to commit hundreds of verses to memory. I grew up with the KJV and still can quote the majority of Scripture I know only in this version.
Four ways fathers fail their children
First, fathers create bitterness in their children when they ignore the child’s spiritual formation. We know Paul intentionally singles out fathers to teach their children (Eph. 6:4b) because he had previously mentioned both parents in vv. 1-2 and it was typically the responsibility of the father in the Greco-Roman and Jewish world to educate and discipline his children.
Instead, many fathers spend more time provoking their children to wrath (v. 4a) through severe discipline, consistent nagging, arbitrariness, absenteeism and abuse of authority. We see this with David and his son Absalom. David ignored him for two years (2Sm. 14:28) until his son boiled over in murderous revenge (15:10).
Second, fathers cause resentful children when they fail to model Christ-likeness. This kind of father says: “Do what I say, don’t do what I do.” This never works. John Paton’s father so impressed his son by his life that John in his elderly years could still recall how reverent family worship was in his home:
“How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen World to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love Him as our Divine Friend.” (Auto, p. 21)
Third, fathers build spite when they demand too much from their children. The Father never gives his children more than they can handle (1Co. 10:13). Parents should remember that while children can learn quickly, they don’t grasp knowledge the same way as adults. Don’t insist your small ones prove their understanding by explaining everything back to you. They know more than they can describe. Down the road from our home are hundreds of elephants and giraffe in Kruger National Park. My smallest children have a strong impression of these animals, though they struggle to describe them—just as they do with Jesus’ parables, God’s omniscience and Paul’s missionary journeys. Be patient.
Fourth, fathers can develop malice in their kids when they demand too little. Just as Eli was unwilling to reprimand his sinful sons (1Sm. 2), so too are many fathers reluctant to rebuke wrongdoing in their children. They must resist this urge, for God models a loving father who is willing to discipline his beloved children (Hb. 12:7-11). J.W. Alexander writes:
“A single burst of genuine fatherly anxiety in the modest of ardent intercession, may speak to the child a volume of long-hidden and travailing grief and love. Such words, uttered on the knees, though from the plain untutored man, are sometimes as arrows in the heart of unconverted youth.”
A final word about wives and childless homes
I do not mean to imply here that the only people who benefit from family worship are children. A mother with a wily brood at home desperately needs home devotions. She is often exhausted physically and spiritually. She needs the priestly care of her husband. According to Ephesians 5:26, a husband is to love his wife by making her holy and clean. He does this by washing her with the “word.” This happens through faithful teaching and discipleship (Jn. 17:17).
Even if a woman has no children at home, family worship is still vital for her and her husband. Her spouse is still bound to love his wife through the daily teaching of the word and by answering any questions she may have about the Christian life (1Cor. 14:35).