Family Worship

This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on Saturday, 28 March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the current situation while we’re all sheltering in our homes, waiting out this pandemic, trying to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus we can’t gather together. That means no meeting up for Sunday service. It means no Sunday School for the kids. It means no Bible Study or prayer meeting at the manse. I miss it. I miss seeing you all. I miss the children. I miss having you in my home and I miss dropping round to visit you in your homes. For the moment we must learn how to do church differently. 

I want to encourage you to practice family worship. Perhaps you already do that. Perhaps you need a little encouragement to get started. Or maybe this is a strange concept to you. But wherever you stand I want to encourage you and to help you with this practice. 

Family worship is a bit like handwashing I suppose. It’s something that we all should be doing anyway, but now in the current climate we can see just how important it is. 

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua spoke to the people and told them to stop wavering and choose who they will serve. Will they continue to run after the pagan gods of the nations, or will they worship the Lord? Joshua said: 

Joshua 24:14 ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the River Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ 

God’s people are commanded in Deuteronomy to make God’s word a part of their daily life and to teach it to their children: 

Deuteronomy 6:6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

Our faith is not just something we practice for an hour on a Sunday in a special building. That kind of religion would certainly not survive this lockdown anyway. So, I want to encourage families to practice the faith at home together. Parents, you are the ones primarily responsible for teaching the faith to your children. That is a huge responsibility. But what I want to do is hopefully make this seem a little less intimidating and show you what a joy and a privilege it is. 

Timothy, our son, is three, so this year Sarah and I have been really trying to establish a routine of daily family worship together. We call it “Bible Time” in our home. I’ll tell you how we do it and what our experience has been, but you may end up doing things differently. This will have to be tailored to your situation. Maybe you don’t have kids. Maybe you have older kids. Maybe you have kids with special needs. You’ll know best how to adjust things for your setting. 

The 3 basic elements of family worship are: 

  1. Reading God’s word together 
  1. Praying together 
  1. Singing together 

Pick a book of the Bible and read through it together. If you have young children, you’ll probably want to focus on the stories of the Bible. The gospels would be good in that case. You’ll also maybe want to use a good Children’s Bible to keep things accessible for kids. 

You don’t need to be an expert in the Bible. You don’t need to prepare a study. Just open the book and read it together. 

Then pray. Keep it simple. I would encourage you to pray for something that came up in the Bible reading. For instance, if you’ve just read about Jesus healing someone you could pray that God would protect and heal someone you know about, or that God would help you to be kind and compassionate like Jesus. 

After the short prayer you can sing. Sing a hymn or worship song perhaps related to the passage, or one that the kids will know, or one that you really like. Don’t worry about singing the same song a few days in a row, that’s fine. Some people might feel a bit awkward singing, but this is an important part of Christian worship. God’s people have been a singing people from the beginning. You don’t need to be a great singer. This isn’t a performance. If you can sing Happy Birthday you can do this. 

This will all take only a few moments, but it’s so important in terms of nurturing your faith and the faith of your children. Don’t try to be a perfectionist here. Consistency is key. Those of you with young children especially, don’t worry if your kids seem uninterested or easily distracted. Timothy sometimes switches off or goes to play with Lego or something and what I do then is… let him. He’s three! There have been days when I wondered if this had any impact on Timothy at all, but there have been other days when Timothy has sat up on the couch, unprompted, opened his children’s Bible and waited for us to begin, before I was even ready. There have been great conversations about Jesus and God that seem to have come out of nowhere. It has been a joy. 

Like I said earlier, this is a bit like handwashing. It’s something we should always have been doing, but in these days, it has become more apparent just how important family worship is. So, I encourage you to engage with this practice. Do it imperfectly, messily, awkwardly, but do it. God blesses our sincere attempts to worship him and seek his presence in our daily lives. You will be surprised what a joy and a blessing this can be. 

Over the coming Sundays I hope to give a reflection on each of the 3 core elements we find in family worship: reading scripture, praying and singing. I hope that will help you to see the importance of these practices and feel equipped to do them together in your own home.