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 (Manna 51: Family Focus)
Establishing a Spiritual Altar in the Family
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Establishing a Spiritual Altar in the Family

Translated from Holy Spirit Monthly—Issue 3181


In many families today, parents and children are emotionally distanced from each other. Parents are busy at work, and children are busy with school or after-school activities. Parents and children hardly see each other, let alone establish a close relationship. Under such conditions, parents can hardly lend timely help when their children run into problems.

There are cases where children have been arrested for a crime, and the parents are in complete disbelief when informed by the police. How could their well-behaved children possibly break the law? Some persist in total denial that the arrest was nothing more than a mistake.

Criminals are not made overnight. Parental neglect and failure to empathize can lead to children going astray. It may be too late for any action once the children make some grave, irreparable choices.

In the church, we see less of such phenomenon. But, undeniably, we have seen youths losing their faith after going off to college or military service where they are too far from church or members to congregate for services. It may seem unbelievable, but a couple of years away from church have the potential to completely undo some twenty years of religious education.

A few hours of religious education (RE) classes in church per week do not quite make the cut for educating a developing child. While religious education in church is necessary and essential, home is, after all, where children spend most of their time. It is their parents, who live with them every day, that have the most profound influence on them.

The passing on of faith is not something that can be accomplished merely in the classroom. Faith is not just knowledge—it entails much more of real life experience. As such, parents must take up the responsibility of nurturing reverent children.


Biblical history has seen some parents who failed to keep their children under control, which ended with dire consequences. Samson’s mother was originally barren, but by God’s mercy, she gave birth to a son. God specifically instructed Samson’s parents that he was to be a Nazirite, consecrated to God from the very day of his birth. He was not to drink any form of wine or touch or eat anything unclean.

When Samson desired to marry a gentile woman, his parents dissuaded him to no avail. He even hid the truth from his parents about eating honey out of the unclean carcass of a lion. By not even inquiring about what he did outside of the home, his parents indirectly contributed to his sin (Judg 13, 14).

The two sons of Eli the priest were evil men. When Eli learned about their sexual immorality with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle, he tried to admonish them:

             “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” (1Sam 2:23-25)

But apparently, Eli’s words were ineffective. His children persisted in evil-doing.

Developmental psychologists emphasize that life experiences in infancy and childhood are the key elements that shape a person’s character and affect his or her development throughout life. In a similar vein, the Bible also teaches us, “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Prov 19:18).

Eli and Samson’s parents failed, not because they did not discipline their children, but because they tried to teach them when it was too late. They failed to fulfill their responsibility of teaching their children when they were still young and while they could still be molded. Consequently, by the time their children entered adulthood and their characters had been shaped, they no longer took their parents’ admonitions seriously.

Timothy was Paul’s good helper. Paul recognized that Timothy’s faith could be attributed to his mother and grandmother.

            I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Tim 1:5)

Timothy’s mother must have established a good religious education while Timothy was young—resulting in Timothy’s strongly rooted faith.

Moses was cared for by his mother, Jochebed, in his childhood. Jochebed took hold of this opportunity to teach and nurture Moses and to establish his faith. That is why, after Moses returned to the palace to be trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, he was still able to keep his faith. He “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:24-25).

After Samuel was born, he was cared for by his mother, Hannah, at home. It was only when he was weaned2 that he left his parents (1 Sam 1:23) and served the Lord before Eli. The good education Samuel received must have been the primary reason that preserved him from the evil influence of Eli’s sons and kept him in God’s favor.

            Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6)

When children are still young, parents should start to teach their children diligently to know and fear God. Trying to do so when the children are grown up would not be nearly as effective.

Balancing Sacred Work and Nurturing Our Children

            Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward. (Ps 127:3)

It is the responsibility of the parents to take care of this heritage. Just as it is wrong for parents to be so busy with their jobs as to neglect their children, it is also wrong for parents to be active in sacred work for God at the expense of time with their family.

Samuel served as a judge over Israel. He anointed the first king of Israel and inaugurated the period of kings and prophets. Throughout his life, he never faltered in judging the people of Israel (1 Sam 12:3-5). But sadly, “his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (1 Sam 8:3).

Perhaps Samuel was too occupied with judging the people that he did not have time for his children even when he was home.

            And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (1 Sam 7:15-17).

Even for a faithful servant of God, God did not guarantee that Samuel’s children would automatically grow up to be God-fearing.

The family forms the basic unit of any society. In the spiritual kingdom, the family is all the more the foundation for feeding the Lord’s lambs and strengthening each other.

After many years in his ministry, Paul also felt deeply the importance of the home. He mentioned in 1 Timothy that to qualify for the work of an overseer, the person must not only have good personal conduct but also needs to “rule his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Tim 3:4).

In reality, true service should begin in the family. “For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim 3:5).

When we try to repay the Lord and serve fervently in church, we must be careful not to neglect our families or overlook the education of our children. We must do our job of teaching and nurturing our children that they may grow up in reverence.

The Benefits and Importance of Family Devotional Time

It may be common knowledge that we need to train our children in the habit of reading the Bible and prayer. It is true that Bible reading and prayer serve as the basis of our faith. But how are our children reading the Bible? Do they understand what they read? Do they focus when they pray? Is the content of their prayer correct? If we want to help our children in their faith, having a family devotional time is a very good way to do that. Family devotional time uses the family setting as a place of worship. Worship and drawing close to God should be incorporated into our family lives.

During the devotional time, if our children are still young, we may use Bible stories as teaching tools. From that, we can gradually build up our children’s habit of Bible-reading and prayer, as well as preparing them to stay quiet and orderly during service.

When they are older and are able to think and ask questions, we can study the Bible with them and share personal testimonies. Further along, we can have longer prayers, discuss doctrines, and share reflections.

The entire family can care for the work of the church together. By encouraging one another through serving the Lord, praying for each other, and working hand in hand, a fine Christian family is thus built up. Besides worshipping God, family devotional time also serves as a channel of communication between parents and children. Parents can get updated on recent happenings in the lives of the children—in church, at school, and in general.

Faith is intertwined with and inseparable from daily life. We should seize hold of every opportunity to educate our children. Often times, our children observe how we handle a situation. Through such opportunities, we can share our life experience with them and offer them advice. Such guidance can be a great help to their life of faith.

The family devotional time is an opportunity for the children. Parents should hold themselves back from interrupting what their children have to say. One problem to look out for is an urge to turn the family devotional time into lecture time. Otherwise, the children might dread having family devotional time, hence defeating its purpose. “You, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the LORD” (Eph 6:4).


Parents should treat the family devotional time as a channel to getting to know the children better and convey our care and concern. If we do not respond positively when they tell us little things in their lives, we may unintentionally be shutting off the channel of communication. To attempt re-opening such a channel later will take much more effort.


Now that we know the importance of family devotional time, we must remove every obstacle in the way and set aside a time for drawing close to God. We need to give first priority to family devotions. We should never allow daily activities to deprive us of the benefits of family devotions. In the midst of busy schedules, we must set aside a family devotional time.

We might have the erroneous idea that our children are already so busy with school that we could not possibly have the time for family devotions. Even if everything revolves around our children’s studies, it will not guarantee that they will do well in school.

            Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
(Ps 127:1)

Nowadays, evening church services have a lower attendance rate. If, for work or other various reasons, we cannot be at church during service time, it becomes all the more important to set aside a fixed time for family devotions.

We must not allow ourselves to draw away from God for reasons of being busy with secular matters. Such neglect of our spiritual lives can cause us to fall prey to the devil’s snare.


It is the responsibility of every parent to lead their children through this chaotic and sin-filled world. Besides praying for God’s protection, parents need to examine themselves to see if they are teaching and nurturing their children. The most practical way to establish our children’s faith is to establish a spiritual altar in the family.

Family devotions can help parents and children grow together through worship and family religious education. For religious education to be effective, the family has to play a dominant and active role.

Religious education in the family is a life-long endeavor. If we can establish and maintain a spiritual altar in the family, our family will be blessed and filled with Christ’s fragrance.

            Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
(Ps 128:1-4)



1.        1 http://www.joy.org.tw/holyspirit.asp?num=1329&word=%AEa%AEx%B2%BD%BE%C2

2.        2 Jewish children in those days were weaned at the age of three.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church