Establishing a Spiritual Altar in the Family
Translated from Holy Spirit Monthly—Issue 3181
INADEQUACY OF CHURCH RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
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
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
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.
TEACH AND NURTURE THE CHILD EARLY
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
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:
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.
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
Timothy was Paul’s good helper.
Paul recognized that Timothy’s faith could be attributed to his mother and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SETTING ASIDE A TIME FOR FAMILY DEVOTIONS
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
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.
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
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.
2 Jewish children in those days were weaned at
the age of three.