REMEMBER THE TIME WHEN FAMILY
devotion was called family worship. The name change notwithstanding, almost every evening my wife, two daughters, and I gather together as a family to worship God. Seventh-day Adventists are aware of our need
to maintain a loving and lasting personal relationship with God. What’s more, those of us who are parents want our children also to have a positive experience with the Lord. We therefore try to assemble the family each day for worship.
The Bible provides evidence early on of family worship. In Genesis 22:5 we read how Abraham and Isaac worshipped as a family, even when they were traveling: “And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’” (NKJV).*
My wife and I truly enjoy our worship time with God, and we thought the girls should experience the same pleasure. You can just imagine how happy we were when our daughters gave the impression they were thoroughly enjoying our family worship. They seemed most pleased with the opportunity to pray. When we closed our worship each night, always with a single prayer, they appeared unable to restrain themselves as they volunteered to pray.
Life’s Little Surprises
It finally dawned on my wife and me that something was not quite right. We knew the girls enjoyed worship, but they rarely gave us an opportunity to offer the closing prayer. My older daughter is a wonderful child, yet she can be a little crafty on occasion. She tends to make plans and then sweetly ropes her younger sister into playing along. So apparently, she and her sister thought our prayers were getting too long. As my wife and I grew older and our children neared the teen years, we found more and more to pray about, and family worship seemed as good a time as any to let our children know we were praying for them and to show them they should pray for others as well.
Our girls, however, decided the best way to limit our prayers and to shorten worship was to ensure they gave the closing prayer during family worship each night. They would attempt to pray on alternate nights, and thus it reached a point in which we as parents rarely, if ever, prayed during family worship. Our adorable—yet wily—daughters knew very well that no parent in good conscience would refuse a child an opportunity to go before the Lord in prayer.
This went on for quite some time before we realized what they were doing, and as a result of their behavior, we knew we needed to reevaluate our family worship. We wanted to try to understand better why we need worship and how it should be practiced in our Adventist home.
Does God Need Our Worship?
I expect family worship began in the Garden of Eden with God and Adam and Eve. Sometimes I envision what their worship was like, and I can picture only the most meaningful of experiences.
I have heard some Sabbath school members suggest God needs our worship. They intimate that without this need He would not have created humans because He had the angels to keep Him company. Other Adventists say God delights in, or desires, our worship and our praise. “Desire” and “need” have different meanings. When we have needs we cannot function fully without those needs being fulfilled. Desires on the other hand are merely wishes that may or may not allow us to live more happily, but we can certainly live functionally without our desires being met. God, therefore, desires our praise and worship.
Do We Need to Worship God?
Although God desires our worship, we humans apparently need somebody or something to worship. God seems to have hardwired within us the need to worship Him. Anthropologists suggest that throughout history human groups have found something to worship. As a result of Satan’s deceptions, people have chosen to worship the sun, the moon, trees, and false gods—among other things. People today worship music and movies and sports and television and the so-called “stars” of these enterprises. For some, money is the biggest of “gods.”
I am uncertain how God benefits from our worship, but I certainly benefit from the blessings of daily family worship. After a difficult day at the office, nothing is as stress-reducing as meeting the Lord during family worship. It is a wonderful period of each day in which we acquire a sense of peace as we transfer our burdens to God. When Peter’s eyes were focused on Jesus, he was able to walk on water without the rough waves overwhelming him. When we focus on God during daily family worship, we are spiritually rejuvenated and better prepared to withstand the devil’s temptations.
A Family Tradition
Growing up in an Adventist home, worship was part of my upbringing. I recall vividly the days of my youth when my parents would call me and my four siblings early—very early—in the morning for family worship. I was born in the Caribbean, and although it never truly was cold in the mornings, we children all moved slower than snails as we struggled out of warm beds and made the short trek to the seemingly frigid living room. Our worship period seemed interminable, although it probably lasted only about 45 minutes.
What a shock it was for me to realize that I had become my parents. They are wonderful and successful people and both are committed Adventist Christians. Nonetheless, my parents’ style of worship was not the most appealing for me as a child, and a similar style was not having an entirely positive influence on my children. I wanted to make worship much more meaningful for them.
A New Tradition
Our family prays together each morning before we leave home. I also try to arrive early to my office every day to spend a few minutes in prayer and Bible study before I begin my work responsibilities. Remembering my past, however, my wife and I decided our family should worship together in the evenings. Meeting during the early evenings perhaps would help the girls appreciate worship better and more keenly experience the peace it brings and the strong relationship it helps us establish and maintain with God.
Our family worships together for about 30 minutes daily, and everyone participates. The girls help select songs and lead out in the singing. They actually take turns conducting song service, just as the song leader at church does. Our girls occasionally perform short solos and play their piano recital pieces. They read from a devotional book nightly. We learned from one devotional reading to write Bible texts on index cards and place the cards on a key ring as a good method of organizing the texts as we memorized them. We also reserve a period during worship in which we study the girls’ Sabbath school lessons with them. Once a week, usually on Fridays, the girls even act out short Bible and religious skits.
And what about our closing prayer? Well, each family member now has an opportunity to pray by way of rotation. We parents decided to shorten our prayers. We pray nightly for our nuclear and extended families. In addition, for a one-week period we may pray nightly for our neighbors; the next week we pray nightly for our church school teachers; the next week for our pastor and his family; and so forth. We found this to be the best method to hold the girls’ interest and yet continue to bring our burdens to God.
Our worship sessions are becoming such a blessing that as our daughters become older (one is now a teen), they appear to be growing into more mature Christians. This is not to suggest they have become perfect or respond promptly each night when worship is called. Occasionally, we have to coax them to come to worship. Nonetheless, they participate regularly and take the lead quite often. Sometimes our worship periods stretch to an hour, but the girls rarely seem to mind.
A Good Value
Our children benefit from family worship when we structure the sessions in such a manner that they retain the girls’ interest and satisfy their spiritual needs. Sometimes it is difficult to meet as a family for worship each day, but if parents value their relationship with God and want their children to benefit from a similar relationship, then family worship will remain a regular, engaging, and meaningful practice in our Adventist homes.
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Oliver W. Edwards is assistant professor of Child, Family, and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida.