When I was a child my father and mother gathered the six of us in the living room after breakfast every morning for family prayers. First we sang a hymn, omitting none of the stanzas, accompanied on the piano by one of our parents. It was in this way that we learned a good bit of solid theology without any conscious effort. I must emphasize that it was hymns and old gospel songs we sang, not choruses or gospel ditties.
There are some young families who still do this today. Judy Palpant of Spokane, who had heard me tell about our family prayers, writes, “Our children know that you were the inspiration for our three-year-old tradition of singing a hymn with our family devotions. We sing the same one each morning for a month. Tonight was the first time we tabulated the number of hymns we learned. The children were impressed! Let me assure you that many new words and truths have been impressed upon their hearts and minds as we have discussed the themes and words of our chosen hymn. Our many guests at breakfast (especially when we were in Africa) were often blessed by the singing of a hymn. My husband’s parents were visiting us when we were singing ‘Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.’ That hymn was sung at their wedding. During the Easter season one year we were learning ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross on Which the Prince of Glory Died.’ A missionary from Kenya underlined the words ‘Prince of Glory’ for us by sharing some insights with us. Thank you for this idea which has enriched our family as well as our guests.”
A reader asks, “At what age were the children when your parents started family prayers? How long a passage was read?” I think they must have begun as soon as the first child was born. I am Number Two, and I can’t remember a time when we did not have family prayer. All of us were included, the smaller ones sitting on laps. My father read from Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible (wearing out three hardback copies!), just a page or so each morning. In the evening after dinner he read the evening portion of Daily Light, which is pure Scripture (King James Version). The hymn came first, then reading, then (in the mornings, because we were not around the table then) we knelt to pray, my father leading, all joining in the Lord’s Payer to close.
This question from another reader: “How can I encourage my husband as the spiritual leader of the family to have regular family devotions?” This is one I am often asked. If he is a Christian I would hope that he is willing at least to listen to his wife’s suggestion. Many men believe their wives are “more spiritual” than they, and feel justified in leaving spiritual training of the children up to them. This is a mistake. The father is the priest in the home. He is the head of his wife. It is his God-given assignment to take spiritual leadership. No matter how brief and simple the devotional time may be, there is no calculating the power of its long-term effect on the children. They learn very early the place God has in their parents’ lives. My father was a very simple man—humble, honest about his faith, but reticent in the extreme about speaking of it. We had no such thing as “sharing times” in our family. It was rare for us to converse about spiritual things, especially personal experience. But we knew our parents prayed in private, read their Bibles, and prayed and read aloud with us. It was routine. But it mattered. It matters to me now. I hope perhaps these words of testimony may nudge some of those reticent Christian fathers to take courage, take the bull by the horns, and say, “I’ve learned something. It’s important. More important, maybe, than anything else we do in this house. We’re going to start today.”
This excerpt was originally published in the September/October 1986 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.