Series introduction: Family worship doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of coming together as a family to worship God in the home is sorely needed in our homes today. Because there’s no specific to-do list in the Bible about family worship, I’ve struggled this year to work out what it looks like for us when I’m leading my own growing family.
To encourage myself and others about this, I’ve interviewed a few families that Cheryl and I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with intentionally leading their families to know and love Jesus Christ.
One of the many blessings from our church hosting a conference each year is the opportunity to meet and make friends with Christians from other churches.
That’s how I first got to know Philip and Nahomi Dhinakar (after they attended STAND 2010).
Over the years we’ve enjoyed meeting them at other events and getting to know their three children: Tim, Lydia and Priscilla, who attend our young adults’ homegroup from time to time. Over the years we’ve enjoyed and benefited from their encouragements, prayers and curiosity. We see the Dhinakars as an example of a house wholly devoted to serving the Lord, as Joshua 24:15 describes.
Nahomi and her children offer a generous(!) glimpse into their lives as a worshipping family, striving by God’s grace to pass the gospel on to their future generations.
1. Tell us a bit more about your family.
- Philip – an accountant by trade, reads theology in his free time and takes Bible studies for interested groups among friend-and-family circles.
- Nahomi – technical writer, dreamed once of starting an orphanage like Amy Carmichael did (but God obviously did not need it).
- Prisy (24), loves history, good to have on your team for Bible quiz.
- Tim (22), civil engineering cadet, plays guitar and loves being with other young people zealous for the Lord.
- Lydia (20), studying to be a nurse, takes an interest in the community and currently serves as Secretary of the Manurewa Youth Council. Loves to sing.
2. Describe what you did the last time you worshipped together as a family.
Typically, Philip and I along with Prisy, Tim, and Lydia gather in the lounge. We are joined by my father GB, who sits down in his special chair, and any others who may be staying/visiting with us at the time. Our cat Millie loves family prayer because it gives her uninterrupted lap time.
The term we use for this activity is Kudumba Jebam which means “family prayer” in Tamil. The whole exercise takes about 20 minutes… Needless to say, prayer is the one component that is always a part of our family worship. Very often we include singing (from our family hymnbook). But Bible reading, listening to sermons, or reading a book are various components that come and go.
When we pray, we go around in a circle mentioning points for thanksgiving and then our petitions. GB who does a lot of evangelising over the phone has plenty of points for both thanksgiving and petitions. In addition to the many easily-discerned earthly blessings and seemingly-pressing material needs, we try to acknowledge and ask for spiritual assistance, in keeping with Colossians 3:2. Philip, who has not taken notes, closes with prayer, fleshing out every point, without missing a single one.
If we come to a season when it is difficult to gather like this, we convert the “Grace” before our evening meal into something a bit more elaborate. Maybe Philip will pray a more comprehensive prayer before the meal or, better still, elicit points for prayer from those seated at the table.
3. Tell me more about your family hymnbook, and how you use it.
In the past we sang from hymn books compiled by GB when he was pastoring our former church in India. It was GB who also introduced us in the 70’s to David & Dale Garratt’s Scripture in Song, a song book we would use in past years along with the hymnal.
The current one was compiled by Tim. He leads the singing, accompanying us on the guitar. Sometimes he uses online musical accompaniment. He has introduced our family to several new and wonderful hymns, much like how GB did in the past.
4. Did your parents practise any sort of family worship when you grew up?
Yes – it is normal for people from traditional Christian backgrounds in south India to have family prayers. Philip remembers regular family prayers in his parental home with his grandmother reading from the prayer book. My father GB, the son of a Lutheran Pastor, remembers how much his family would struggle to have the family prayers on a regular basis. Impetus for regular family worship can come from tradition and it can come from a real relationship with God. Whichever way this legacy was handed down to us, we are grateful.
My father GB came to faith when I was about five, and so all the family worship that I can remember in my parental home were his heart expression of worship to God and his attempts to move away from anything that smelled of tradition.
The hundreds of family prayers we must have had have all blended into a haze, but I do remember one night vividly when GB read Isaiah 6. I remember being terrified and trying to cover myself completely, during the prayer that followed, with the blanket that I had with me at the time.
The other thing I remember about those family prayers was that my mother and I had no trouble gathering for family prayer during the days when GB told us a little bit every day from David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, he would bring us to a very exciting place in the story and then stop saying, “The story will continue tomorrow.”
4. So what convinced you personally about the importance of family worship?
Nahomi: Family prayer times are an important part of the adherence of the practical principle laid out in Deuteronomy 6:7. Whether we are guiding the conversation to godly things during family prayer times or when we are waiting for the school bus, it rings true to the child only when Christ is real to you.
Lydia: Now that I look back, I am so grateful that I have memorised so many scriptures. It helps me in life, especially now as a young person facing various temptations, struggles, sins, and trials, the memorised chapters and verses seem to just pop up in my head.
Prisy: From the point of view of the child, family worship was where a lot of our spiritual training was done. It was there that we learnt to memorise scripture. It was there that we learnt to pray. It was there where our questions were answered. Family worship was also where we learnt to grow together in faith. When our family went through its Great Theological Change from a Dispensational Arminian side to the ‘Covenantal’ Reformed side, family worship was where we developed a lot of our understanding.
5. What other books, resources have you used as a family? Have you done things differently over the years?
Tim: It has morphed a lot. Almost all stages involved us singing and praying at the end. But we tried to fit the Bible in differently at every stage. In the early stages, were just memorizing passages such as Psalm 23. This I can recall from when I was three or four.
Prisy: We’ve studied certain books of the Bible together (Acts and Nehemiah come to mind). At one time, we were doing John MacArthur’s A Faith to Grow On. We’ve tried reading Pilgrim’s Progress together more than once. The last time we tried, we got up to Christian meeting Hopeful, I think. Sometimes Papa reads from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. I think a lot depended on how old we were at the time.
Nahomi: I believe I know why Prisy remembers reading the book of Nehemiah; it was because we wrote the names of the builders down on a long roll of paper that, when stood up, looked like a wall itself.
6. Would you do anything differently if you were starting over?
Prisy: I don’t know if our parents could have done things too differently because our family prayers changed and developed according to our circumstances: moving houses, moving to different countries, Dad’s work situation, Mum’s work situation, church circumstances, changes in theology, growing children. Still I think we would have benefited from some more structure and order; a lot of it was just so haphazard.
Nahomi: In India, work hours were crazy. Philip was on call 24/7 and worked till 9pm each weekday and till 7pm on Saturdays. Commuting to and from work was not easy either. When Lydia was six, I went out to work as well. Although Saturdays were usually holidays for me, I had to work late on weekdays and sometimes spent the night in the work place. Time spent with children and nurturing them in the fear of the Lord had to be really high up in our list of priorities, for things to have worked out as they did. What grace and favour we were shown by the Lord that we had that motivation!
7. What’s one thing that’s worked well for your family devotions?
Nahomi: As a child, I had a Sunday School teacher who impressed Psalm 119:11 (“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”) to me as she encouraged me to memorise scripture. Sadly, I could not retain more than half of the scriptures I learned by memory as a child. I was determined that my children would not forget the scriptures they memorised, and the Lord showed me a way to do this. I would take a really difficult-to-memorise passage like John 1:1-18, and start composing a tune, phrase by phrase. Musically, to this day, I have no idea what it all means!
Lydia: But we can still remember all of them and can sing them by heart to this day.
8. And one thing that didn’t work so well?
Nahomi: Attempting to read Pilgrim’s Progress has been one of my failures. Tim tells me that it is becauseth I haveth decideth to read it in the original! I have not given up; I am sure that I can bribe them yet. Or maybe I need to give in and instead learn from those days in the 70s when the story of David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz made family prayers something to look forward to.
9. So now that Tim, Lydia and Prisy are all young adults, do you still fit in family worship into your schedules?
Prisy: I think it’s been quite hard for us to guard the time for family worship, especially with us young ‘uns all grown up. We have so many different commitments, youth fellowships, Bible studies and prayer meetings that it’s really hard to get evenings free to ourselves. It’s just too difficult to schedule time for family worship. But because it’s been such a big part of our family life, we make it a point to have it just whenever we can.
Tim: We’ve tried schedules but they don’t last long. Since someone or other is busy every day of the week with spiritual events, we have stripped family worship to prayer at least. When we have more time we sing and listen to a video/sermon or read something.
10. Final words you’d like to leave for readers?
Nahomi: It is possible for readers to look at a post like this and feel discouraged, thinking that achieving something like this is beyond their reach. In reality, the only reason our story may look alright is because the luxury of looking back over 20 years allows one to overlook many of the failures. Readers do not see our everyday irritations and moods. Moreover, our adherence to any structure, order, or schedule has been and still is woefully inadequate. So, far from discouraging you, let our family’s case be an example of the grace of God to you.
Other posts in this series: