Family Worship (2013)

My last pastoral letter was about our Sunday services of worship. This one is about family worship at home. While it’s primarily directed to parents and their children, others who read this might want to pray for our families and encourage them as they seek to bring up their children in the faith.

In his book, The Family Worship Book, Terry Johnson argues that there are two simple keys to a family’s spiritual well-being.

The first and primary key is a commitment to the church’s Sunday services of worship. Johnson says that the most important single commitment we ought to make is to attend the public services of worship in our church.

How is it, after all, that we come to put our faith in the Lord Jesus and how is our faith in him strengthened? The answer given by our church’s Shorter Catechism is that God works in us through the reading and preaching of his word, through the sacraments, and through prayer. Sunday by Sunday, as we gather in church to hear God’s word, to celebrate the sacraments, and to pray together, God works in us and in our children to create faith and to strengthen that faith.

One of the keys to our own and our family’s spiritual health is remarkably simple. It is found in the regular, ordinary, worship services of the church.

The second key, according to Johnson, is a commitment to daily family worship when the whole family gathers together to read God’s word and to pray to him.

Johnson says that children who grow up with the daily experience of seeing their parents humbled in worship, focussing on spiritual things, and submitting to the authority of God’s word, will not easily turn from Christ. Every day for the 18 years or so that your children live with you, they have the opportunity to join with you to sing praises to God, to hear his word, to talk about the faith, and to intercede to God for others. Think of the cumulative effect on you and upon them over the years!

Daily family worship provides many benefits: It gives parents the opportunity to show every day that worshipping God is important and that we depend on him for everything. It provides a daily setting to read God’s word to our children and to provide them with instruction in the Christian faith. It’s a way for parents to see how our children are growing in their knowledge and understanding of the faith. Answering the questions children ask will help parents to think through what we believe and parents will learn over time how to explain the faith simply to others. It ensures that prayer is offered to God each day for the needs of the family and for the church. It draws the family together at least once every day. Above all, it helps parents fulfil the charge given to them by the Lord to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (cf. Deut. 6:7; Ps. 78:4–7; Eph. 6:4; see also 2 Tim. 4:14+15).

Like a little church, the family is able to assemble every day to offer praise to God, to hear his word and to give thanks for his mercies.

How do we get started?

Should anyone want to begin the practice of family worship, let me offer the following hints:

  1. The best way to get started is just to get started! Choose a day to begin and go from there.

  2. Settle on a routine that will work most days of the week. For example, at the breakfast table, at the dinner table or at bedtime. When I was a child, we worshipped together at the end of breakfast. Now we worship together at the end of dinner (Monday to Saturday).

  3. Persevere. If you miss once or twice, don’t despair. Persist and eventually a routine will be established.

What should we do?

Our own family worship begins with a song (we’ve even sung psalms together). I then read a passage from the Bible (a real Bible and not a children’s one). I might say something about the meaning of the passage or ask questions about it (What does this tell us about God? Is there a sin to avoid? Is there a duty to perform? Is there a promise to believe? And so on.)

We then pray, one by one: praising God, confessing our sins; praying for one another and for others. Every Saturday we pray for the Sunday services. Occasionally we’ll say the Lord’s Prayer together afterwards. Then we close with the benediction.

Sometimes we might recite the Apostles’ Creed together and I’ll ask the children questions about it. We might also sing a doxology at the end.

The whole thing only takes 15 minutes or less.

What we do is perhaps a bit over the top: the main thing is to read God’s word with understanding and to pray together.

What should we read? I have a list of 70 Bible readings which move from the creation to the cross to the early church. I also have a list of 21 Psalms and 21 important NT passages. We work our way through these and they appear below. Other resources are available such as Terry Johnson’s The Family Worship Book, Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds and Paul Reynolds’s 66 Books, One Story. Joel Beeke has written several books about bringing up our children in the faith. The Good Book Company also provides helpful resources.

I hope you find this helpful.

Creation and Fall

  • God created the world. Gen. 1:1–10
  • God fills the world. Gen. 1:11–25
  • God created Adam and rests. Gen. 1:26–2:3
  • God plants the Garden of Eden. Gen. 2:4–9
  • God created Eve. Gen. 2:15–25
  • The fall. Gen. 3:1–13
  • Expulsion from the Garden. Gen. 3:14–24

Noah and Abraham

  • God’s covenant with Noah and his family. Gen. 6:5–8, 13–22
  • The flood. Genesis 7:1–16
  • God remembers Noah. Gen. 7:17–8:4; 8:15-19
  • God’s covenant with the world. Gen. 8:20-22; 9:8-17
  • Abraham believes God’s promise. Gen. 15:1–6
  • God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Gen. 17:1–8
  • Abraham tested. Gen. 22:1–18

The Exodus

  • Pharaoh oppresses God’s people. Exod. 1:1–22
  • The birth of Moses. Exod. 2:1–10
  • Moses flees. Exod. 2:11–25
  • The burning bush. Exod. 3:1–12
  • God reveals his name. Exod. 3:13–22
  • The Passover. Exod. 12:21-28
  • The Exodus. Exod. 12:29–42

In the Wilderness

  • Pharaoh pursues God’s people. Exod. 14:5–14
  • Crossing the Red Sea. Exod. 14:15–31
  • The people complain. Exod. 16:1–12
  • Bread from heaven. Exod. 16:13–30
  • God’s people at Sinai. Exod. 19:1–9a
  • The Ten Commandments. Exod. 20:1–17
  • The bronze snake. Numbers 21:4–9; John 3:14–15

The Promised Land

  • The death of Moses. Deut. 34:1–12
  • Joshua chosen. Josh. 1:1–9
  • The people cross the Jordan. Josh. 3:1–17
  • David anointed king. 1 Sam. 16:1–13
  • God’s covenant with David. 2 Sam. 7:1–17
  • David’s prayer of gratitude. 2 Sam. 7:18–29
  • God’s promise to Solomon 1 Kings 9:1-9

OT Prophecies of the Saviour

  • A new prophet. Deut. 18:15–22; John 6:14
  • ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ Ps. 22:1–21
  • To us a child is born. Isa. 9:1–7; Luke 1:30-33
  • The suffering servant. Isa. 53:1–12
  • Anointed to preach good news. Isa. 61:1–4; Luke 4:16-21
  • Daniel’s vision. Dan. 7:9–10, 13–14
  • The place of birth foretold. Mic. 5:2–6

Jesus Christ: Birth and Early Career

  • The birth foretold to Mary. Luke 1:26–38
  • Mary and Elizabeth. Luke 1:39–56
  • The birth. Luke 2:1–20
  • Jesus presented at the temple. Luke 2:22–40
  • Wise men. Matt. 2:1–15
  • Baptism and testing. Matt. 3:13–4:11
  • Marriage feast at Cana. John 2:1–12

Jesus Christ: Ministry

  • Jesus heals an official’s son. John 4:46–54
  • Jesus feeds the five thousand. John 6:1–14
  • Jesus is the Bread of Life. John 6:22–40
  • Many desert Jesus. John 6:60–71
  • Jesus heals a blind man. John 9:1–11
  • The Good Shepherd. John 10:1–18
  • Jesus raises Lazarus. John 11:17–27, 38-44

Jesus Christ: The Cross

  • Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Matt. 21:1–11
  • The Lord’s Supper. Luke 22:14–23
  • In Gethsemane. Luke 22:39–53
  • The trial of Jesus 1. Luke 22:66–23:12
  • The trial of Jesus 2. Luke 23:13-25
  • The crucifixion. Luke 23:26–43
  • Jesus’s death and burial. Luke 23:44–56

Jesus Christ: Resurrection and Ascension

  • The empty tomb. Luke 24:1–12
  • On the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13–35
  • Jesus appears to the disciples. Luke 24:36–49
  • Jesus appears to Thomas. John 20:24–31
  • Ascension. Acts 1:1–11
  • Pentecost. Acts 2:1–21
  • The early church. Acts 2:42-47

Jesus Christ: Second Coming

  • The final judgment Matt. 25:31-46
  • A day fixed for judgment Acts 17:22-31
  • The resurrection 1 Cor. 15:12-24
  • The resurrection body 1 Cor. 15:35-49
  • Victory over death 1 Cor. 15:50-58
  • The coming of the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • The day of the Lord. 2 Pet. 3:1–13

Twenty-One Psalms

  • Psalm 1
  • Psalm 2
  • Psalm 19
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 32
  • Psalm 42
  • Psalm 46
  • Psalm 51
  • Psalm 73
  • Psalm 84
  • Psalm 96
  • Psalm 100
  • Psalm 103
  • Psalm 110
  • Psalm 119:97–112
  • Psalm 121
  • Psalm 127
  • Psalm 130
  • Psalm 139
  • Psalm 145
  • Psalm 150

Twenty-One NT Passages

  • God’s love. Rom. 8:31–39
  • Genuine love. Rom. 12:9–21
  • Submission to authorities. Rom. 13:1–7
  • The message of the cross 1 Cor. 1:17-31
  • Love. 1 Cor. 13:1–13
  • The gospel. 1 Cor. 15:1–11
  • Fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5:16–26
  • God’s eternal plan. Eph. 1:3–14
  • Be imitators of God Eph. I 4:25-5:2
  • Household duties. Eph. 5:22–6:9
  • The armour of God Eph. 6:10-18
  • Humility. Phil. 2:1–12
  • Household duties. Col. 3:18–4:1
  • Prayer. 1 Tim. 2:1–7
  • Christ as prophet, priest and king. Heb. 1:1–4
  • Draw near to God. Heb. 10:19–25
  • Discipline. Heb. 12:1–11
  • Duties of pastors and people. Heb. 13:7–19
  • The tongue. Jas 3:1–12
  • Fights and arguments. Jas 4:1–12
  • John’s vision. Rev. 1:9–20