OUR FAMILY WORSHIP TO THE LORD - Bert Vane
presentation was given at a combined breakfast meeting
of the men of the Emmanual Free Reformed Church and the Aldergrove and
Reformed Church. For more information on Family
Worship let me recommend a beautiful book written in the 1800s by J.W.
"Thoughts on Family Worship".
Family worship is as the name implies, the joint worship given to God by all the members of one household. This can be a small household of two people, of husband and wife, or it can be a larger household that includes all the members of the family as well as anyone staying with you at that time such as grandparents, visitors etc.
It is not my intention to prove from the Bible that we must do family worship, this exercise may be very difficult as there is no direct command of God to do so either in the Old or New Testament. However, we do see the principle of family worship appearing in the Bible, and all through history we see how important this has been to God fearing families.
Some of the Biblical passages which talk about families being together when worshipping God are: Noah who with his family present, built an altar to the Lord after the flood (Gen.8:20). Abraham with his household present, builds an altar to the Lord as soon as God tells him he is in the Promised Land (Gen12:7), Isaac builds an altar in Beersheba(Gen 26:25) Jacob builds an altar at Bethel and does so by first instructing his household and all those with him to get rid of the foreign gods they have and to purify themselves. (Gen 35:1,2). The book of Deuteronomy has much to say especially chapter six. Joshua in Joshua 24 tells all the people before he sends them away to their inheritance, to fear and serve the Lord with all faithfulness, to throw away the gods of Egypt, to make a decision on who they will serve and then says "but as for me and my household we will serve the Lord". David's whole clan made a yearly sacrifice in his hometown(1Sam20:6). In the New Testament we see Cornelius, he and all his family were devout and Godfearing, and prayed to God regularly. (Acts10:2,24, 31.) Paul and Silas in prison praising God as the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
The Reformers are known to have set great value on family devotions. The prayers of Luther in his house are recorded with warmth by his writers. The Scottish were known in the 1600s to be a nation of family worshippers, in 1647 a Directory of Family Worship was issued. The elders during this period visited every family to make sure proper family worship was set up in the families in their district. The family worship was not just a quick reading of the Bible and a quick prayer, no it was a set time of worship in the morning and evening where everyone in the household came together before their work and before bed to pray, to read the Scriptures and sing praises. Every home was to be a little church.
The responsibility of leading the family worship during this time was the head of the family. He presided and directed it, he selected and delivered the precious Word and led the common prayer and praise. He was also responsible to make sure that all members of the household were in attendance and that none withdrew themselves unnecessarily from any part of family worship. The additional responsibility the head of the family had was to carefully instruct the children in the principles of religion. With these principles the reformers believed the families and Churches would be at its' strongest, as worship draws our hearts to God's throne, leaving no room for the devil. As each home was to be a little church so the head of the house was its minister. These were the times of the Puritans.
It is important to once in awhile evaluate how we do our family worship. There are too many families doing it out of custom and routine, a few verses are quickly read and a quick recorded prayer said and then we are satisfied that we have done our duty, rather than from a heart of commitment and enthusiasm. The Lord wants our hearts.
There is no member of a household whose individual piety is of such importance to the rest of the house as the head of the family. Where the head of the family is a man of faith, of affection, and eagerness, consecrating all his works and life to Christ, then it is very rare to find in all of his household a different walk of life, as long as the head of the family has a strong relationship and worship with God. He will also want to spend the time to incorporate a proper family worship in his house. For if the Spirit of the Lord fills your heart as head of the household you will want to radiate this to others and where better than in your own household.
Where the head of the family is lukewarm or worldly, he will send a spiritual chill through the whole house. Families that do not take the time to have proper family worship, where it is performed in a cold, sluggish, negligent or hurried way are little affected by it. The Lord wants families where time is spent worshipping, to truly worship God in Spirit and truth. For then everyone individually in the household will be blessed with increased piety and happiness, everyone receives a portion of the heavenly food.
What is proper family worship? It starts with an understanding and instilling in our lifes what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman in John 4:23, "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." Worship is the human response to divine initiative. Worship is our response to the love of the Father. It is worshipping God with reverance and awe(Heb.12:29) for who He is and what He has done for us. As individuals and families we must do this daily. Our lives are to be daily punctuated with praise, thanksgiving and adoration. If we worship God in this way our service to God will flow continually. Service flows out of worship.
Proper worship is also primarily entrusted to the father as the head of the family. As a loving mother rejoices to be the fountain of nourishment to the babe which clings to her warm bosom', so the Christian father delights to convey the pure milk of the Word'. He has found it good to his own soul; he rejoices in an appointed means of conveying it to his offspring. He must lead first of all by example in his own personal worship and service to God. He shows in his walk and talk of life that he follows the true Head, Jesus Christ and so sets the atmosphere in the house. He directly tries to break channels for right influences during times of family worship. A word fitly spoken at such a time is an apple of gold (Prov.25:11). A psalm, rightly chosen, and sung with the Spirit of all understanding may bear up all hearts to God. A prayer, though perhaps issued from one who has not the lips of the eloquent, may go more deeply into the soul of a wayward son then all the sermons of the year.
The amount of time we set aside for family worship should be a fixed time, this gives dignity to the worship time for it shows that we do not give way to changing it because of other events someone might have to attend. Everyone will then know how long it will be and there will be no questions asked. What the fixed time should be, should be left to the discretion of each family but I leave you with this thought; would the time it takes to eat our physical food be a good thermometer in allowing the same time we spend on our spiritual food in worship.
The important thing is that we set a time to worship God as family and that it is organized and understood by those in the family as a time of worship. It should not be long winded, it should be prudently brought before the family. We must not drive hard at such times, don't be preachy but we must seize on opportunities, our aim is to do it in a gentle, simple, plain, tenderly, heavenly way.
Our family worship should include the reading of Scripture, singing of psalms, hymns and prayer.
The order of how we do our Scripture reading should keep in mind the age of those in our house, we must use wisdom in this and see what is profitable for the direction of the family. However, do not pick a chapter here and a chapter in another Bible book the next day, go through a whole book systematically and see each chapter you read as a lesson for that day from the Lord. A rightly chosen word spoken or question about the Word just read can have lasting effect on the soul of one in your household. Reading of Scripture should have affection, it should be done with enthusiasm, making the passage come alive. Reading of the Word in rotation is not always effective to getting everything out of the passage, although it does seem to awaken the attention of those participating. Let us remember, solemn worship to God should not be made a school lesson.
The singing of psalms and hymns as part of our family worship seems to have fallen out of practice in many of our households and this is a sad thing. I agree with the Scottish Directory of Worship that it is the duty of Christians to praise God by singing psalms or hymns publicly in the church, and also privately in the family. Let us as families reintroduce the singing of the praises of God in our homes. I have very seldom come across children who do not like singing. Let the psalms we sing be familiar, the psalms the children learn in school etc. Let them be involved in the selection of the psalms you sing. A selection of appropriate psalms is important. Let us sing from the heart daily in praise of God. Our prayers should come sincerely from the heart, be brief, simple and intelligible for those in our house. Family prayer should be varied, not formalistic and routine. Use the Scripture passage you read as a basis for your thanksgiving. As the daily happenings in the family change so a corresponding change should occur in our prayers. Take the time to ask those around your table of what could be included in the family prayer for the evening.
By a faithful observance of family worship you are inviting your household, as a household before the Infinite Giver of all good and be assured He will make a difference between those who fear Him and those who do not fear Him. Doesn't He say in 1Sam 2:30 "Those who honour me I will honour and those who despise me will be despised." Set out to do your task humbly in the fear of the Lord, for it involves a willingness to " Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God" Col 3:16.
In conclusion, let us encourage each other as men as heads of households to imitate our Head, Jesus Christ. You are, by Providence, set at the head of a family, to support it, instruct it, guard it, and in every way to care for its temporal and eternal good. When you come home from work at the end of the day and sit at home you are sitting among your greatest gifts given to you from the Lord. This is your treasure. Invest all the time you can into it.