God’s Word in the Christian Home
By Joshua Hayes
God wants His Word to be learned not only in our churches and schools but especially in our homes: “You shall teach [My words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house” (Deut. 6:7). The apostles taught fathers to view this as one of their primary responsibilities: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Some of us grew up with great examples of this and understand what it involves. Increasingly, however, Christians have not grown up with any Bible learning in the home or much talk about God. They are not sure where to start. It is not surprising that the rise in Nones has coincided with a decline in congregational and home worship. With God’s help and our mutual encouragement of one another, we can reverse this trend. Three things especially encourage us to take up this godly work:
First, we live in grace. All Christians plead guilty of neglecting prayer and the Word. God is happy with you for Jesus’ sake. Many people shy away from home devotions because their guilt over their poor prayer life prevents them from making a start. This is similar to people who have skipped church for a while thinking it is too awkward to return. But Christians are pleasing to the Father not because their prayers are good enough but because Jesus’ blood covers all their sins.
Jesus already lived a perfect life of prayer for you. He intercedes for you still. You do not need to manufacture a perfect prayer life and then bring that before the Father as your righteousness. Instead, Jesus invites you into His prayers. Christ teaches us to pray, “Our Father.” With that one word, “our,” Jesus invites us to join our prayers to His. God is our Father — not only yours and mine, but Christ’s and ours. It is as if He is saying to us, “Dear Christian, come, sit alongside Me and pray with Me to our dear Father in heaven. Attach your prayers to Mine.”
Second, realize that God commands this and that whatever God commands is good and wise. Luke 6:48 (NKJV) says: “He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Jesus promises that His words will be enough for us to withstand falling away. It is true that you are saved by grace. It is true that you contribute absolutely nothing to your salvation. It is also true that Jesus hands you a shovel and asks you to dig. Bible time in the home requires modest effort and sacrifice, but it is eternally worth it.
Third, know that God has attached great promises to His Word for preserving and sharing the faith. The biblical formula for passing on the faith from one generation to the next is simple: Learn the Word of God by weekly attendance at the Divine Service and by daily Bible learning in the home. Sunday school, VBS, youth groups, even the pastor’s confirmation class are all wonderful aids, but these cannot replace the spiritual powerhouse of congregational and family worship. When this is done, children are less likely to leave the faith when they are grown (Prov. 22:6). To the contrary, in times of persecution they will have a treasury of God’s Word laid up in their hearts from which to confess their faith and spiritually thrive. After all, the Lord wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others. The more we are comfortable discussing the things of God in our homes, the more comfortable we will be sharing them with others. When God’s name is praised in the home, it becomes much more natural to share His name with others, even if suffering for His name’s sake (Acts 5:41).
Beware of two obstacles. First, if you are just getting started, know that it will probably feel awkward at first. Embrace the awkwardness. All new habits are strange at first. I tell people to blame it on me. So, a father who is just getting started and has teenagers can say to them, “We’re going to have Bible time every day from now on. If we miss, we’ll pick up where we left off the next day. I know it seems awkward at first, but pastor asked me to do it so let’s just do it.” That offloads some of the pressure. Also, give time (at least three months) for the power of habit to kick in. Eventually it will feel strange not to have devotions.
Second, people naturally ask what resources they should use. Beware of “paralysis by analysis.” Our church produces more resources than ever before, such as Portals of Prayer and the Treasury of Daily Prayer. These are wonderful. But people often complain that they have not “found the right resource,” which is beside the point and an excuse to inaction. I recommend the Bible. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible for everyone. Keep it simple and read from the Bible. If you are already doing that, then you can add other things.
As for practical advice, households vary widely, and so it is not possible to give a one-size-fits-all formula. Families with children, singles and widows, empty nesters and so on, all face different challenges and opportunities in this task. Specifics will change and develop over time. The following advice will need to be applied to your situation. Ask your pastor if you need help. He will be happy to come to your house and lead you in a model family devotion to get you started.
The basic task can be summarized as:
A — Hearing and reading the Bible,
B — Learning and teaching it, and
C — Prayer.
A — Hearing and reading the Bible
Adults who are not familiar with the basic Bible stories or who have small children should start with 120 Bible Stories (CPH) or a similar faithful children’s Bible. For absolute beginners, I ask them to read one of these Bible stories per day, discuss it briefly and then say the Lord’s Prayer. Anyone can do that and will be blessed by it. As new members are born to the family, it will usually be necessary to return to the children’s Bible every so often. Once the basic stories are well known, move to a regular Bible.
B — Learning and teaching the Bible
God not only wants His Word read, but also learned and talked about in the home (Deut. 6:7). This is a necessary ingredient. Sometimes this will take two minutes, while other times the discussion will take off and continue for some time (singles might consider taking notes or sharing what they read with a friend). Basic questions to discuss are: Who was mentioned? What did they do or say? Where were they? When? Have children retell the story or act it out. As age and understanding allow, move on to questions like: Why? How? What else in the Bible does this remind you of? How does the catechism apply to this? Check cross-references in a study Bible or see if the passage you read is listed in the Scripture index of your Small Catechism. If so, you will easily have connections and applications to discuss. Luther suggests we complete statements like: “From this Scripture God wants me to learn …”; “I can give thanks for …”; “I can confess these sins …”; and “I learn to pray for …” In this way, life’s tough questions and important conversations will arise naturally from the Bible. For example, you will probably never need to have a special conversation with your kids about extramarital sex and the dangers of falling away because you will have already discussed it countless times from the family Bible.
Bible memorization, catechism recitation, and devotional and doctrinal readings can be added here under discussion and teaching. Older youth and adults should occasionally find time to study apologetics — answering the objections raised by our fallen flesh. Not everything has to be done in one sitting. Some days will go better than others. On Sundays, talk about what was learned from the pastor’s sermon, and ask what was covered in Sunday school.
C — Prayer
Hymns — ideally sung, but if not, reading them aloud is good too — fit under prayer. Using the same hymn verse(s) for a week or more enables us to build up a set of memorized hymnody to which seasonal hymns can be added. Psalms and prayers in addition to the Lord’s Prayer can be added, or the particular requests and thanksgivings for which we are praying the Lord’s Prayer can be named.
Between the Bible, the catechism and the hymnal you will have a lifetime of material. The order (and sometimes chaos) in which you do this, along with the specifics, will change and is not nearly as important as having these three general ingredients: (a) hear and read the Bible, (b) discuss and teach it, and (c) pray.
God’s Word is our great heritage and makes for the happiest life (Psalm 119:111). Whether you are single, busy with children, empty nesters or widowed, it is the blessed hope of heaven and being forever with Christ that brings happiness and joy into our life. The daily study of God’s Word impresses this heavenly hope upon our hearts and brings joy to our daily lives through the Scriptures.
This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Lutheran Witness.