Dinner is over, and the plates are being scraped and stacked.
Eyes are already starting to wander to where the phone or television or homework is awaiting attention. But before everyone scatters into the evening, it’s time to open the Bible. Dad reads something, says a few words about it, and then offers a prayer.
Does this still happen in our homes in a meaningful way? In Donald Whitney’s book Family Worship, he says there is good reason to believe that in many Christian homes there is little to no activity that resembles devotions or family worship. Maybe everyone is too busy, or the father lacks courage to lead, or the holy habit was never formed. But Whitney argues that it is Scripture’s clear implication that our great God deserves to be worshiped not just in church on Sundays, but daily in our homes (see e.g., Eph 6:4; 1 Tim 3:4-5).
In the church’s history too, this practice has long been commended as fundamental to the spiritual health of a home. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith has a companion document called “The Directory for Family Worship,” which offers the Christian much direction for this activity.
We’re probably all familiar with the three basics of family worship: read a portion of the Bible, pray together, and sing some psalms and hymns. But to strengthen our practices, Whitney makes some good suggestions. When it comes to reading the Bible aloud at the dinner table, don’t be one of those people who reads it with all the enthusiasm of reading a phone directory—let your reading be to the best of your ability. Then explain key words in the reading, welcome any questions, and discuss. Another suggestion: the stale repetition that sometimes afflicts our prayers can be avoided through inviting prayer requests or making a list of prayer points that you periodically work through.
In general, Whitney says that the practice of worship in the home should be marked by its brevity, regularity, and flexibility. With regard to brevity, family worship doesn’t require preparation, other than knowing what is the next passage of Scripture to be read, or having someone choose a song or two. In terms of flexibility, he advises that family worship doesn’t have to happen after dinner—maybe a better time in your situation is in the morning, or just before bed time. And regularity means that we develop the discipline of doing it every day.
The title of this book—Family Worship—doesn’t mean that it only has something to say to husbands and wives with children at home. It speaks equally well to engaged couples, to “empty nesters,” and to single people. There is something beneficial here for every Christian as we reflect on how better to bring worship to our Triune God. Buy a copy of this little book for your own family, buy it for families that you know and care about, and even for those who don’t have a family.
As Matthew Henry once said about the importance of worship in the home, “Here the reformation must begin.”
by Donald S. Whitney