The Family at Worship
By Clifford Goldstein
"All happy families are alike," wrote Count Leo Tolstoy, "but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion."
Maybe. Or maybe unhappiness in families is rooted in something common to all unhappy families—a lack of unity, of closeness, of familial bonding cemented by a love born in heaven but manifested in the home.
Here's where family worship can help, not as a guarantee of familial happiness but as a means to make it more likely. Family worship is one crucial conduit into which the happiness that the Lord wants for Christian homes can flow. It takes more than such worship alone to develop strong spiritual families; on the other hand, it's hard to see how any family can have the spiritual foundation requisite for happiness without it.
"In every family there should be a fixed time for morning and evening worship. How appropriate it is for parents to gather their children about them before the fast is broken, to thank the heavenly Father for His protection during the night, and to ask Him for His help and guidance and watch care during the day! How fitting, also, when evening comes, for parents and children to gather once more before Him and thank Him for the blessings of the day that is past!"
When we think of family worship, we tend to think of children, although not all families have children. But whoever and how many make up our home, family worship means just that—family worship. Thus, the family (be it 2 or 10) should be gathered to worship communally. This is not like going into the closet to pray intimate and personal prayers, nor is it like the corporate worship done in church on Sabbath. Family worship is something in between, something private yet shared in common.
Adjust to Fit Your Family Situation
Whatever the family situation, the family's worship should reflect it. The 12- and 16-year-olds won't relate to what one might do with 2- and 6-year-olds. But whatever age the participants, family worship should not be made a drudgery, something long, drawn-out and boring. If that's the case, the family would almost be better off without it. Long and lifeless worships could hurt a family, sundering what was meant to be united, not accomplishing what family worship should do.
"Let the seasons of family worship be short and spirited. Do not let your children or any member of your family dread them because of their tediousness or lack of interest." More good, sound, practical advice from the Lord's servant, to be sure.
Family worship is another manifestation, another expression, of what worship should be about in general: a means of keeping us aware of who our God is and what our relationship to Him should be. "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isa. 64:8).
Conducted in a family setting, in a spirit of thankfulness, dependence, and submission, such worship can help the family move in the same spiritual direction, growing in the grace of the God who has given us so much through Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Family worship is a means of speaking to the Lord as a group, a time when intimate family matters can be brought before the Lord together as a family. It can help the family understand that their bonds with each other are unlike the bonds they have with anyone else. Family worship allows the Lord to keep those bonds strong. How crucial such a bulwark is today, when the devil throws us so many things that, unless carefully guarded against, will shatter the family into almost irreparable pieces.
The Lord alone can keep the family together, and He can do that only by how much we allow Him to work in us individually and as a family. Just as private prayer opens us as individuals to the power of God, family worship does the same on a family level. "Without me," Jesus said, "you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Does that include keeping our family ties strong and founded upon the Lord? One would think so.
The Sweetest Time
Family worship should be a joyous, happy, upbeat time. Worship in Israel was supposed to always be that way (2 Ch. 29:30; Ps. 9:2; Ps. 30:12; Isa 35:10). The worst thing anyone can do, especially with children, is to turn family worship into a time of rebuke, of chastisement, of correction. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Eccl. 3:1)—and that includes rebuke and correction as needed. But the precious moments each day when the family gets together to praise the Lord are definitely not the season or the time. The times of morning and evening worship, wrote Ellen White, "should be the sweetest and most helpful of the day." It's hard to imagine anything more calculated to turn people off from the Lord, or from family worship, than using family worship as a convenient vehicle to upbraid or chastise.
Instead, let this family exercise create happy memories for children. Consistent family worship will create "hooks," memories that will remain in the child's mind long after they become an adult. How much better for them spiritually if those memories are filled with joy and warmth, as opposed to fear, anger, and resentment.
Few people will ever develop the kind of relationship with the Lord they need, however, if their only time of prayer, of worship, of Bible reading is at the family altar. In the end, the quality of family worship will be no higher than the spirituality of the one leading out. Thus, the spiritual leader needs to be grounded in the Lord in a way that comes only through a personal conversion experience (see John 3:3), one maintained by a daily recommitment to the Lord. "As ye have found Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye therein" (Col. 2:6). This is crucial.
Only the power of God working in us can give us the graces that we need to back, with words and deeds the high and lofty principles exalted in family worship. Nothing's worse than a hypocrite, and the best family worship in the world can be negated by the harshness, unkindness, and abuse of one parent to another, or to the children. This doesn't mean we have to be perfect (none of us are, especially we who are parents). It means only that the more we—through personal prayer, study, and surrender the to the Lord—allow God to manifest His grace and sanctifying power in our lives, the more we can demonstrate the truths that we profess before our family at each daily worship.
"Sanctify them through thy truth," Jesus prayed, "thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Love, forgiveness, acceptance, grace, mercy, and law shouldn't just be topics for family devotion; they should be manifested in the lives of those who adhere to a religion based on these vital truths. Living out before the family the truths we profess as Christians will multiply exponentially what's taught at the family altar. In contrast, professing what we don't live can undo what's taught at that same altar at the same exponential rate.
The family is one of God's most precious gifts to humanity. The love that's manifested and expressed among members can be a powerful object lesson, helping each one to understand the love that God has for them. But good, strong, happy families don't just happen—they're made. That process takes effort, patience, grace, and forgiveness. It also takes time; and to give time means to give of oneself, to perhaps put aside the things one might want to do and devote that time to others (in a limited way, rather like what Christ did for us). One way to do this is through family worship.
It shouldn't just be an activity to which we feel obligated because it's what's expected in the "Adventist home." We should do it, instead, because we love God—and our families—more than we love ourselves.
QUESTIONS FOR SHARING:
1. What does Ellen G. White say about having a fixed time for morning and evening family worship? How should we reflect on this counsel in the light of the contemporary situation in families?
2. According to the reading, what are the most important elements of family worship?
3. Family worship would take different forms, depending on the composition of the various family units. Describe and discuss several cases, with suggestions to match each one.
Clifford Goldstein is director of the Adult Bible Study Guide program at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. This article initially appeared in the Adventist Review 2002 Week of Prayer Meetings. It is being reprinted with permission. To read the original article, click here.
1 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance, p. 520.
2 Ibid., p. 521.
3 Ibid., p. 522.