By Connie McKenzie
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]an you picture a family sitting around the dinner table with every family member present? No one is working late, playing soccer, running errands, on the computer, or watching TV. The entire family has made this dinner time priority. After enjoying the meal and pleasant conversation, everyone lingers at the table for family devotions. They are encouraged by reading from God’s Word, sharing their thoughts about it, and praying together. There is a sense of unity and joy and love in this home. They are bonded to one another and each person relishes the security of “belonging” and knowing they are valued.
Is this reality for you and your family or just a Norman Rockwell style picture? Unfortunately, most American families have given up on the practice of Family Dinner Time and Family Devotions. They are just too busy, even though the act of breaking bread together is a perfect time to interact with one another. That is why so many of our celebrations include sharing food.
Dr. Catherine Snow, professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education studied 65 families over an eight-year period. She found that children from the families that ate dinner together five times a week were much more successful that those who didn’t. She determined that family mealtime is of more value in a child’s development than playtime, school time, or story time. Most children who are chosen for the National Honor Society are united in the fact that their families eat dinner together.
While families struggle to have dinner together, the statistics for those who have family devotions show that few children receive any spiritual training at home. George Barna found that only one in 10 regular church attending families read the Bible together in a typical month. Fewer than one in 20 of these church families pray together, except before meals, in a typical month. Less than one in 20 families do any kind of worship activity outside the church building.
Many parents don’t have family devotions because they didn’t grow up having family devotions. Yet, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 instructs parents to teach God’s commandments diligently to their children. This can be done in numerous ways throughout the course of a day. I suggest that at home, where you sit on a regular basis with the whole family, eating together, is a good place to put these verses into practice.
No one wants family dinner time or family devotions to be a battle ground, so keeping the length of time and the content age appropriate is vital. Following are a few simple ideas to get you started with vibrant family dinner times and family devotions.
- Talk about the fruit of the spirit, and then let each family member affirm another person about a fruit they see in that person’s life.
- Buy or make a “you are special” plate. Honor family member’s birthdays, a good report card, a parent’s raise, special guest, or anything you want to celebrate. Thank God for the uniqueness of the person whose achievement you are celebrating.
- Make up question cards to keep in a basket on the table. After the meal, each person can choose a card and answer the question. The questions can be about Biblical things, or things like, “What was the hardest part of your day”. Use the answers as a focus for that evening’s prayer.
- Save Christmas cards that have been sent to you; choose one each evening and pray for the individual who sent it.
- Read a missionary prayer letter each evening and pray for the missionary and their needs. One of my friends did this for years and now her own precious daughter is serving as a missionary to China. Her family had demonstrated a love for God and the nations and missionaries, and she followed the example set before her.
- Invite missionaries, pastors, and other people who would be good role models to be a guest at your table. This can expose your children to great people. When I invited a missionary friend and her college age daughter to dinner, little did I know that my son would find his wife right at our family dinner table.
- Read a Bible story from a good book written for young children and talk about how the story relates to their life lets them know the Bible is relevant.
- Discuss a Biblical principle, such as forgiveness or courage, with your children.
Pray with and for each family member each day. Making family dinner time and family devotions a priority will be take effort and determination, but the rewards will truly be eternal.
Connie McKenzie is the Director of Children and Family Major at Christ For the Nations Institute, Dallas, TX.