Pillar Journal

Special acts of worship in families

According to Scripture, God should be served in special acts of worship in families today in the following three ways:

(1) Daily instruction in the Word of God.

God should be worshiped by daily reading and instruction from His Word. Through questions, answers, and instructions, parents and children are to daily interact with each other about sacred truth. As Deuteronomy 6:6–7 says, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (cf. Deut. 11:18–19).

The activities this text commands are daily activities that accompany lying down at night, rising up in the morning, sitting in the house, and walking by the way. In an orderly home, these activities are done at specific times of the day. They offer opportunities for regular, consistent, and daily times of instruction. Moses wasn’t suggesting a little talk, but diligent conversation and diligent instruction that flow from the burning heart of a parent. Moses says that words from God should be in a father’s heart. Fathers must diligently teach these words to their children.

A parallel text in the New Testament is Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition [i.e. instruction] of the Lord.” When fathers cannot fulfil this duty in person, they should encourage their wives to carry out this precept. For example, Timothy benefited greatly from the daily instruction of a God-fearing mother and a God-fearing grandmother.

(2) Daily prayer to the throne of God.

Jeremiah 10:25 says, “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name.” While it is true that in the context of Jeremiah 10:25, the word families refers to clans, this word also applies to individual families. We may reason from larger units to smaller units. If God’s wrath falls upon clans or groups of families that neglect communal prayer, how much more will not His wrath fall upon individual families that refuse to call on His name? All families must call upon God’s name or else subject themselves to the displeasure of God.

Families must daily pray together unless providentially hindered. Consider Psalm 128:3, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” Families eat and drink the daily provision of a gracious God at their tables. To do that in a Christian way, a family must follow 1 Timothy 4:4–5, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” If you want to eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), and the food you are about to eat is to be set apart for that purpose, you must sanctify it by prayer, Paul says. And just as we pray the food and drink may be sanctified and blessed to the nourishment of our bodies, so we should pray for God’s blessing of His Word to the nourishment of our souls. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

Furthermore, don’t families commit daily sins? Shouldn’t they daily seek forgiveness? Does not God bless them in many ways every day? Should not these blessings be acknowledged with daily thanksgiving? Shouldn’t they daily acknowledge God in all their ways, begging Him to direct their paths? Shouldn’t they daily commend themselves to His care and protection? As Thomas Brooks said, “A family without prayer is like a house without a roof, open and exposed to all the storms of heaven.”

(3) Daily singing the praise of God.

Psalm 118:15 says, “The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.” That is a clear reference to singing. The psalmist says this sound is (not simply ought to be) in the tents of the righteous. Philip Henry, father of the famed Matthew Henry, believed this text provided a biblical basis for the singing of psalms in families. He argued that joyful singing comes from the individual tents of the righteous. It involves family singing as well as temple singing. Therefore, the sound of rejoicing and salvation should rise from family homes on a daily basis.

Psalm 66:1–2 speaks similarly, “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.” Here the duty of praising God in song is laid upon all lands, all nations, all families, all persons. Secondly, our songs are to be the psalms given by inspiration of God which show forth the honor of His Name—the verb “sing forth” (zamar) being the root of the word “psalm” (mizmor), and elsewhere translated, “sing psalms” (Ps. 105:2; cf. Jas. 5:13). Thirdly, we are to praise Him in a worthy manner, with a loud voice (2 Chron. 20:19), and with grace in the heart (Col. 3:16), so making His praise glorious.

The Lord is to be worshiped daily by the singing of psalms. God is glorified, and families are edified. Because these songs are God’s Word, singing them is a means of instruction, enlightening the understanding. Singing promotes devotion as it warms the heart. The graces of the Spirit are stirred up in us, and our growth in grace is stimulated. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

Heads of households, we must implement family worship in the home. God requires that we worship Him not only privately as individuals, but publicly as members of the covenant body and community, and socially, as families. The Lord Jesus is worthy of it, God’s Word commands it, and conscience affirms it as our duty.

Our families owe their allegiance to God. God has placed us in a position of authority to guide our children in the way of the Lord. We are more than friends and advisors to our children; as their teacher and ruler in the home, our example and leadership are crucial. Clothed with holy authority, we owe to our children prophetical teaching, priestly intercession, and royal guidance (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 32). We must direct family worship by way of Scripture, prayer, and song.1Oliver Heywood, “Family Worship A Commanded Duty: An Exhortation of Heads of Families,” The Banner of Truth, No. 5 (Apr. 1957):36–40, and “The Family Altar,” in The Works of Oliver Heywood (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 4:294–418.

Those of us who are pastors, must lovingly inform the heads of families in our churches that they must command their household to worship God as Abraham did. “For I know him,” God said, “that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19).

Excerpt from
Family Worship
Joel R. Beeke