Spiritual Disciplines for Young Families

Does your family have a time of devotions together? How do you “train your children up in the way they should go,” and teach them, as Deuteronomy 6 instructs?

We’re not super pious. We’re not super spiritual. But we do want to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (and to love our neighbor as ourselves). The fact that Jesus even has to tell us to do this shows that it doesn’t just happen, but requires some measure of intentionality.

To that end, I have found it is invaluable to build certain habits or spiritual disciplines into our family schedule. They have to be fairly simple (easy to grasp by a toddler), not too time-consuming (feasible on busy days and with short attention spans), and of course – faith-building. I expect these things to grow and change as our family does, but the important thing to me is that we are doing some things consistently to teach our children some spiritual disciplines. 

[Please don’t in any way feel overwhelmed when thinking about doing devotions or making spiritual disciplines a part of your family routine. Just try one thing. Be consistent with it, and when that’s a habit, add in something else.]

Here are some of the things that are working for us right now (our kids are 4, 2, and 5 months old)…

our "prayer jar"

our “prayer jar”

1) prayer – there are several times throughout the day that we pray together with our kids. sometimes spontaneously, but always at mealtimes and bedtime. we keep a cookie jar filled with slips of paper and names of friends, family, and missionaries we want to pray for. the kids take turns drawing a name at breakfast each morning, and that’s who we pray for. it’s a really simple “system” but i love having one particular person or family in mind to pray for throughout the day. it prevents me from telling people “yeah, i’ll pray for you!” without ever following up. and the kids are learning to pray for others, and we’ve seen God answer some of our prayers! it’s really exciting.

2) scripture memorization – kids’ minds are so readily and naturally picking up information all the time! i am amazed at how easily memorization comes to little ones. the hardest part of memorization i think is just taking the time to consistently review it. we have a big chalkboard that we write portions of scripture on, and we try to read through it several mornings a week. a while back kaya and i memorized psalm 23 and it was helpful to us to use the ASL motions (see youtube clip above). the motions really helped keep us both focused, and i was amazed at how easily a 3 year old can memorize an entire chapter! the key for us has been to just spend 5 minutes or less on it, but to do that regularly. keep it fun, keep it light! it is easy to get discouraged if you’re not making serious headway on memory verses, but just jump right back in and keep going – a little bit at a time! it’s making an eternal impact on your heart and on your children’s hearts and we can expect opposition to that in the spiritual realm. also, check out the “scripture typer” app for more memorizing helps!

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3) devotional & story readings – i read to the kids every morning, and daddy reads to them right before bed. we use a variety of bible story books, including the Jesus Storybook Bible, and most recently a set of Bible story books that quote directly from the Bible (Contemporary English Version) – which i especially love. i’ve been surprised at how the kids can hang with the sometimes lengthy stories and just keep wanting more. don’t be discouraged if attention spans are very short at first – keep reading! their attention span will grow. i also love Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. the pictures are beautiful, paired with sweet thoughts & a verse, and are perfect length for a meal-time devotional. here is another fun idea for bible study with kids! some of our most wonderful, heart-probing conversations with our little ones have been during or after these sweet times of reading to them from God’s word.

4) worship – this is one area that i really desire to grow in. while i believe all of life and obedience can be worship, we see a lot of worship through music in the scriptures and i believe it should be a huge part of our lives! we enjoy having our kids join us for at least a portion of our corporate church worship service, but want to make it more of a daily habit. nels and i have decided to choose one hymn a month to focus on and help the kids to learn since they are so rich in spiritual truths and can be such an encouragement in hard times. sometimes we have crazy worship times where they dance and jump around and beat on their tambourines and daddy’s djembe. worship is a discipline, but it’s also a joy, and i think we should let them really enjoy praising God, especially in the appropriate context of our home.

I think it will be really fun to see how our family grows in these disciplines and add in fasting, giving, etc. in creative ways appropriate for different stages. I’m eager to see my children grow in the Lord, and want to help them to use their own spiritual gifts to bless others.

bedtime story with dad

Perhaps the biggest challenge in having times of family devotion and worship??… Guarding our schedule so that we are not constantly bombarded with busyness. Consistency in the pursuit of these spiritual disciplines depends in part on our consistency with mealtimes.

What about you? What are the biggest obstacles to nurturing spiritual development in your family? How do you overcome them? Have you established some disciplines that are working well for your family? Share your ideas with me!

jordan

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

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