Liturgy for Little Ones: Building Habits of Family Devotions.
There is a growing desire in many Christian families for family devotions, but when it comes time to actually having a devotion, we often end up doing nothing or not knowing what to do. This leads to our growing desire turning into regret and guilt and ends up with a lack of devotional time. What I hope to do here is help parents of little children grow in the grace of family devotions and move past regret to enjoyment in their family life.
First thing first, what do we mean by the word liturgy? A liturgy is the pattern by which we organize a worship service. Every tradition and every church follows a liturgy, from very detailed to the very loose, but all have a liturgy. For the purposes of this writing, we are using the word liturgy to help those who need to develop patterns of reading, prayer and singing into their family life.
I know that most parents have schedules they have to keep all day and often feel the last thing they want to do when they come home is have something else on the schedule, particularly something they may not feel they are equipped to do. Remember that you have been given the responsibility to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. God has chosen you to be these children's parents and as a servant of the Lord Most High, therefore we must fulfill our callings.
Secondly, remember that you aren’t planning a corporate worship service for your family, which means you don’t have to be a trained, ordained pastor. The goal in a family worship time is to fill your family with good things that keep the unity of the Spirit for the Christian family and build into family life an understood recognition that Jesus Christ is our Lord. This building in occurs in all forms, but the sit down time together can become part of the glue that keeps the unity of your family. As well, don’t feel obligated to complete each part of this family liturgy at every setting. The goal is to see how our Sunday liturgies can build routines into our family life, so they may occur in different ways, times, and places. To the fathers and mothers, as you begin thinking through these things, receive the grace of Jesus Christ to build your family upon the Rock, which is Christ. Here are the elements of a liturgy for families with young children.
READING WITH LITTLE ONES
John 1:1 tells us that in the beginning was the Word and the Word is Jesus Christ. He is the eternal Word of God. This title is important for us our discussion of family worship because we must remember what is the primary way in which God communicates with us: The written word. While other means of communication such as film and audio are gifts of God to be used and enjoyed, God communicates to us most clearly in the written word. He has made the written word an integral part of his creation, which makes the importance of reading in Christian family life natural and to be received with joy. Make reading a part of your family life and read from these types of sources.
Reading and teaching younger children about the stories of the Scriptures will take up a large portion of your family reading time, but there needs to be consistent time in your home for your children to see their parents open up the Bible and read it to them. The other stories we read will change and go in and out, but it is important to keep Bible reading active in your home. Don’t fret over time and entertainment level when reading the Bible to younger children. Remember that you aren’t leading the gather congregation in corporate worship, you are spending time with your family. Here are a few ideas to consider
• Take a selection of Scripture and read that to the children.
• Rotate between books and stories of the Bible.
• Read beyond the type of Scripture that you are acquainted with or most comfortable reading.
• Read based on the church calendar
• Throw away your calendar of reading and start the next day where you left off.
• Read for just a few minutes
As your children reach the age where they can speak in short sentences, try reading catechism questions. Catechism is an old form of teaching that is built on question and answers to help children remember biblical teachings. These have proven very helpful for centuries so I encourage you to use them in your family. A word of caution of catechisms: they open a lot of doors for parental frustration. Some children take to them quicker than others and some children are too young for the language of older catechisms. Look for some smaller catechisms for young children to be written soon. For now here are some suggestions.
• Ask easy questions that have three to five words.
• Catechize in the memory of short selections of Bible verses.
• Read them yourself to become familiar with them.
• Utilize the church calendar for types of questions
Bible story books
Because children love stories, Bible story books are wonderful gifts for children. The Bible is filled with narrative and history that is fascinating and enjoyable for children and adults. I highly encourage the use of these for children that haven’t begun school. You will be delighted at how well they will remember the stories and which stories they enjoy the most. Also, be prepared for how much more you will love the stories from God’s Word. If you find yourself understanding a story better from a children’s story book Bible, then chances are you have a good story book Bible. If you aren’t sure where to start, feel free to ask me, my wife, parents with older children for some ideas. Also ask other children which story book Bibles they enjoy the most. Remember these things too:
• Use story book Bibles that are honest about God’s character
• Use story book Bibles that show humanity’s sin and our being made in God’s image.
• Use story book Bibles that either tell the gospel in the story or are building up to the coming of Christ.
• Use story book Bibles with good artwork.
• Use story book Bibles that have appropriate lengths.
We are part of the greatest heritage humanity has ever known: The people of God. It is important to read to your children about the people of the Bible and those beyond. There are many good biographies of people from church history for children that you can obtain at a low cost. This will also be a great help to parents in learning more about our people and heritage. Here are some other ideas.
• Read to them about the first century church.
• Read about the later years of church history.
• Read about those of our tradition near and far.
• Read about ordinary saints and those from countries far off.
• Read stories about the people of God currently in other places.
• Read stories of men and women from church history.
There is a bounty of great literature in Western history and there are some fantastic new books being written for children today. Don’t forsake reading these to your kids. Let them learn about life and godly living from stories. Let them learn to read a story to ask themselves who they are in the stories. The world is often better understood in stories so read stories to your children.
While we may have a bounty of great fiction, we also currently have a bounty of stories with an ethical message, both good and bad. While stories that teach godly principles are valuable, it isn't wise to make this most of the reading our children get. Let them learn courage from a prince rescuing a princess, heroes and villains. These have more Christian truths and character in them than many want to believe. Some other points of advice.
• Read funny stories
• Slowly work towards stories that need to be read over a few nights.
• Only give them books that you want them to read. This will make their selections much easier for you.
• Feel free to remove a book from your collection that you don't approve after reading.
SINGNG WITH LITTLE ONES
Too often singing is placed on the back burner of family devotion times, but it needs to remain a key part of your family. Many today avoid singing due to no musical background or abilities to play music. Others feel awkward sitting in a group of five, singing a song together. While the parents may feel awkward about the singing, the children often don't. Remember again this doesn’t have to be at every setting, every time. If you have kids that love to sing, it will become more common in your home. Often the amount of singing follows from personal desires of the family and the ability or the ability of someone in the family to play an instrument. If you can’t play an instrument and your children seem to have an interest in music or singing then encourage them to play. Eventually they will be able to lead the family musically. No matter though, there should be some consistent times of singing in your family. Advice:
• Sing songs from corporate worship
• If possible, listen to songs from worship services in the car.
• Sing songs besides worship type songs to encourage good music where its found.
• Sing fun songs that they can laugh and play while singing.
PRAYER WITH LITTLE ONES
After some reading, singing and other things you might do, spend time praying together. Your kids will want to participate in prayer the more often you pray together. Be sure to pray before meals and before bed, because the routine of praying then will become normal for them and will build habits of prayer into their lives for years to come.
Take the time of prayer seriously. Your children are learning from you what it is like to pray to our Father in Heaven. It’s important you don’t rush through this time. Make sure when the adults pray that the children can understand what you are saying. When you are letting the children pray, teach them to pray in sentences that are precise and clear for them to understand. The real fun will begin when you let them begin to pray without your help. This is where you as a parent will learn that God cares for all of our requests, both great and small, which means that you must believe that God cares about the health of your dog and even more, He cares about your child’s desire to take everything to Him in prayer. Parents, become like little children as you enter the kingdom of Heaven.
As you enter into prayer, ask them three questions about prayer: “What are you thankful for?” “What do you need to ask God for?” and “Who do you want to pray for?” After a few moments of talking about the requests, pray for them and/or allow your kids to pray for their requests. Finally, always have a time where the kids hear you praying for them. Here are some other things to consider.
• Fee free to only ask one of the three questions.
• Teach your kids early to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
• When they have a request for themselves, help them understand what they are asking of God.
BLESSING LITTLE ONES
When the kids are going to bed or are gathered around together, it is important for parents and particularly fathers to speak a word of blessing over the group and, as much as possible, pray a blessing over each individual child. Our Father in heaven blesses us countless times in Scripture and speaks a direct word of blessing in nearly every book of the Bible. Your prayer of blessing is teaching your children of your love for them, that you want the absolute best God would have for them, that you desire them to know God intimately, and by giving them the blessing of God, your children learn from their earliest days to hear and believe the Words of God. The first place to start would be in Numbers 6:24-27 and then to read the opening and closing of the New Testament Epistles, as well as numerous Psalms or selected verses from the Psalms.
How long should devotions be? As little as five minutes to as long you think your children can stay focused.
What if we have never done this? Start for five minutes and look to build up longer. Spend one minute on each part if your children aren’t accustomed to sitting still and listening. Within a couple of days, you should be able to go longer.
Is it possible to only do one part of the liturgy? Absolutely. Remember this isn’t congregational worship. The word liturgy is used only to give clarity to having a plan and a routine, so feel free to only pray or sing, etc. The goal is a Christian household where these types of things are normal.
What if I have age wide age differences in children? As much as possible, teach to the oldest child there. It is better for the younger kids to try and catch up than for the older children to fall behind.
What if I have no children in the home? May a husband and a wife use this liturgy? Of course. This pattern is simple enough for children and may easily be profitable for adults.
What do I do if my children don’t want to participate but would rather sit and observe? Do not force them to pray if they don’t want to. Some children do not like to be put on the spot, so take things slow. Two, three and four year olds often change their demeanor and level of shyness as they get older so be patient.
Should parents have a separate devotional time together than with the children? It is wise for parents to pray together separately from the children on a frequent basis. Parents need time to discuss and be alone, regroup and prepare for the work the next day or days. They must take time to stop and pray together or read a passage of Scripture as their time of prayer.
Is it ok for the mother to participate in leading? Yes. While the father should be leading the time together, it is never wrong the mother to lead in parts.
One single time of family devotion will accomplish very little, but frequency will yield fruit for many years to come. As little ones move to older ages, you will see this fruit come to bear. Be patient parents. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain." Remember that the Lord your God builds your home and these are some of his tools. Don’t depend on the tools, but the foundation, the Chief Cornerstone. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.