Family Worship (Part 3)
By J. R. Miller (1840 – 1912)
[Editor’s Note: The following article refers to the household altar or family altar, terms used by previous generations in regard to family Bible study, prayer and worship time.]
It is very important that the family worship be conducted in such a way as to interest the younger members of the household, and even the little children. It ought to be made the brightest and most pleasant exercise of the day! In some sad instances, it is rendered irksome and wearisome. Long chapters are read, and read in a lifeless and unintelligible manner. The prayer is the same day after day, a series of petitions of the most general kind, reaching out over all classes and conditions of people – except the little group which kneels about the altar, and embracing all the great needs and wants of the world – except the needs and wants of the family itself which bows together. If singing is part of the worship, the psalm or hymn is not carefully chosen for its appropriateness and fitness to the experiences and hearts of those who are to sing it. In the whole exercise, there is nothing to win the attention of the children, or to interest them in the holy service. It is taken for granted that because it is a religious act, that it cannot be made pleasant and attractive, that children ought to sit still and listen attentively, even if the service is dull and wearisome; and that it is an evidence of their depravity – that they fidget and wriggle on their chairs, or carry on their sly mischief while the saintly father with closed eyes is droning over his stereotyped prayer.
But there is no reason in the world why religious exercises should be made dull and irksome. The family worship should be of such a character, that it would be anticipated with eagerness, and that its memories would ever be among the most hallowed recollections of the childhood’s home. Each portion of the exercise should be enlivened by pleasing variety. Instead of being stately and formal, it should be made simple and informal. Instead of requiring the children to listen in silence while the father goes through the whole worship alone, a part should be given to each member.
Just in what manner it is best to do this, each household must decide for itself. Indeed, no one method is always best, as variety is one of the elements of interest. In some families the Scripture is read by verses in turn – every member reading. In others it is read responsively, the leader taking one verse and all the members together the next; in others the father alone reads. The matter of the selection of passages to read is important.
An occasional topical lesson is pleasant and helpful. For instance, on some day in the spring, let all the verses that refer to flowers and plants be culled and read. When the first snow falls, let all the passages that relate to snow be gathered from the Bible, with an appropriate word concerning each one. It will add to the interest in these exercises, if the topic is announced in advance and each member of the family requested to find as many verses as possible bearing upon it. All Scripture reading in the family worship will be brightened, and its interest for children enhanced, by an occasional explanatory remark, or by an incident that illustrates the thought.
Singing should form part of the worship whenever possible. The prayer in the household worship should be brief, particularly where the children are young. It should be fresh, free from all stereotyped phrases, couched in simple language that all can understand. It should be a prayer for the family at whose altar it is offered, not altogether omitting outside interests – but certainly including the interests of the household itself. It should be tender and personal, frequently taking up the members by name and carrying to the Lord the particular needs of each remembering any who are sick, or in trouble, or exposed to danger or temptation. Some part in the prayer may also be given to the children. If the children are young, they may repeat the entire prayer after the father, phrase by phrase. The Lord’s Prayer may be used at the close, all uniting in it. In these ways, the whole family will be interested in the worship, and it will become a delightful exercise, full of profit and instruction and rich with influences for good.