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Family Altar (Bible Time)

by Al Troester (1916-2002)

Al TroesterThe title "family altar" simply means family Bible study and worship time. Every Christian family should have such a time daily. It is amazing how few families really take this seriously and practice this routinely. It is the best guarantee to have Christian children with good moral standards that do not drift through the teen years, to have a family that has a witness for Christ in the community, and to have a family that takes the church seriously and enjoys going to all the services.

It is well to remember the great command that the Lord gave to Israel.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 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" (Deut. 6:4-7).

Worship of the Lord is first of all vertical and then horizontal and begins in the home and takes in the whole family.

I. What Is the Purpose of the Family Altar?

  1. To worship God together and learn more of His ways. What could be a better purpose. Children should learn to worship God in their early years that they might have respect for Him in the later years. They need to learn how to regard Him and to realize that He is the Creator, Holy, and to be honored in all that we say and do.
  2. To honor God's Word, develop respect for it, and to live by it. James says, "But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Home is a good place to practice the exhortation, "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). In these days when we have put the Bible out of our schools, we need to put it back in our homes and teach our children from it.
  3. To establish the family in the faith, personal convictions, and doctrine. Children and young people need convictions to stand up against their peers. They must understand their faith and know something of good Bible doctrine so they know what they believe and why. The home makes a good Bible school where the children can be grounded as they face the humanistic, evolutionary philosophy of [our modern society].
  4. To pray over family problems and needs, burdens the children may have, and that they may have confidence in the God that answers prayer in the everyday things of life. All the members of the family have personal needs. It would be good if they could learn to share them openly and take them before the Lord together. There are school needs, boy and girl friend problems, problems with play mates, character problems such as timidity and fears of all kinds, questions about amusements, finances. Teenagers have deep needs and hate to express them for fear of being misunderstood or embarrassed. Their problems are big problems to them and must be considered. Mom and Dad have needs of all kinds. Financial needs, Dad's work needs, the car, moving, and all kinds of things can be prayed through with God. All the family needs to know they can have confidence in Him and that He will hear and answer prayer.
  5. To pray and intercede for others such as the pastor, missionaries, sick folk, unsaved loved ones, the neighbors, fellow believers in need, the church, our president, the shut-ins, those who are in trial or going through persecutions. Children who can learn to pray openly at home will have no problem praying publicly in the church weekly prayer meetings as they grow.

II. Practical Suggestions That May Be of Help.

  1. Search out methods that will appeal to all age levels in the family. Different ages have different interests and what may appeal to one will not appeal to another.
  2. Vary the methods so as to keep family time from being boring and from being cold routine. Interest for all should be maintained so monotony does not kill it.
  3. Do not make it a time of forced listening to the Bible, of bitter participation, or unhappy endurance while you drone through whole chapters of the Bible beyond family comprehension and then drag the family through a long dry, routine prayer. If they participate in bitterness, they will abhor the family altar time.
  4. Make it a delightful, happy, interesting time filled with enthusiasm so that the whole family looks forward to it with real expectancy.
  5. Do not make it so long that the children despise the time it takes. Better have it short and sweet, vital and satisfying, so their appetites hunger for more.
  6. Let all participate and become involved. Those that can read should take turns in reading as well as in prayer. Even the little tots can say a few words in prayer even if they cannot read. They can be taught songs in which all can take part.
  7. Take time for discussion, answering questions, solving problems, and for self expression. All have some. Children especially are inquisitive and want to know.
  8. Do not spend time in criticizing or gossiping. There is nothing that will sour the whole thing more than engaging in tearing something or someone apart. This is not time to air church problems unless for a matter of prayer. Make sure that you do not have roast preacher. Remember it is a worship time.
  9. Let the children that are old enough conduct the family worship time some time either in the whole or in part. Let them do it their way and express themselves. It will create interest in it for them. This is also a good way to develop them spiritually and in self confidence. They should be encouraged in what they do or say and not be belittled.
  10. Have the family altar when it is most convenient for all. Supper time is usually best for all before the various activities of the evening begin.

III. Possible Methods That May Be Used.

  1. Paragraph Bible study. Rather than read a whole chapter at a time which may be quite long and hard to retain, do just a paragraph a day. Let all the members of the family suggest a title to the paragraph according to its content. Let each one list some things they observe in the paragraph such as places, people, things, special words, etc. This can be great fun for the children and a real challenge to all. It is like observing things in a room or in an automobile ride. When you have gone through the paragraph like that, then investigate spiritual lessons that may be learned. Let each one make it personal and tell what they have learned for themselves.
  2. Read Bible stories from the Bible. They supply answers to different family needs and give a challenge to spiritual living.
  3. Go through the miracles of Christ. You could do one a night and learn something about Christ from each miracles and especially let each one learn something for himself. Study the miracle as to where it was, the occasion, what happened, who was involved, and then personal lessons.
  4. Study Bible characters. This can be good for a different kind of study for the sake of variety. Read about the character in the Bible and study his weak and strong points and discuss how you may learn something from him or her. You can see yourself in Bible characters and learn many precious lessons.
  5. Study Bible doctrine. Everyone should know the basic doctrines of the Bible. All the family should be grounded in the truth. You could follow the doctrine by means of a good concordance or perhaps taken from a book on basic doctrines of the Bible.
  6. Bible book study. This might be more difficult and might be better for older ones rather than children. Take one Bible book at a time and find out its theme, major divisions, lessons, key chapters and ideas, etc.
  7. Great chapters of the Bible may be used. If not done this way, one can go through a Bible book chapter by chapter. To read a chapter a day could well be done if the children are not too young so they can comprehend. Learn the key verse in the chapter, get the key word, study any special promises, see how Christ is seen, look at the important doctrine in the chapter, break the chapter down into its paragraph parts if you can to get the structure of the chapter, study what sins should be avoided and what things a person should do and what lessons can be learned.
  8. Devotional books for various age levels. You can buy such books in a local Christian book store or send for some from a Christian publishing house. They are written for various age levels. Children enjoy these and find them very interesting. There are books for primaries, juniors, teens, etc. [Discernment needs to be used in selecting titles. One suggestion is A Family Devotional Guide by Pastor Clarence Sexton. Each booklet (12 volume set available) covers thirty-one stories of the Bible. You read the story in the Bible, answer questions about it, and memorize a weekly Bible verse.]
  9. Major verses. This is a good method for variety. Just take a verse a night for a period of time and scrutinize it as to what it means for each one. For example, you might take a series of verses on great promises in the Bible such as on prayer, salvation, victorious living, Christ's second coming. Try to memorize the verse.
  10. Bible games. This can be very interesting and add challenge to the family altar and can be very appealing to the young folks and keep the family altar time from being boring. Use Bible games that teach a lesson and from which you may learn something helpful for Christian living. [see Bible Challenges]
  11. Have a map study. After all, salvation is also geographical and children might learn where certain countries, rivers, and mountains are and what happened there such as the law on Mt. Sinai, crossing the Red Sea, and Christ walking on the water. Show them where it took place and draw some lessons from it.
  12. Use pictures. This is a wonderful way to interest children. Many Bible story books have many pictures in them that tell a story for the child.
  13. Object lessons. Visual aids of all kinds can be used. Be creative and use whatever object you may have handy to teach a Bible truth. Christ readily used object lessons such as the sheep and goats, the rock, water in the well of Samaria, etc. There is no end to object lessons.
  14. [Read short biographies of godly servants of the Lord Jesus: missionaries, evangelists, pastors, etc. Good sources are the Christian Biographies and Missionary Biographies on this Web site, as well as Profiles in Evangelism, a book of 46 short biographies available from Sword of the Lord Publishers.]
  15. [Listen to dramatized biographies of godly servants of the Lord Jesus. Stories of Great Christians— Dramatized biographies of godly servants of the Lord Jesus available as complete DVD set or individual CDs. The following are recommended for all ages: James Chalmers, Franny Crosby, M. R. DeHaan, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Moffat, D. L. Moody, Ira Sankey, Billy Sunday, William Tyndale and John Wanamaker. The following are recommended only for young adult and older: John Bunyan, George Mueller, John Newton, and Charles H. Spurgeon.]
  16. [Read wholesome short stories. Let each member of the family who can read take a turn reading. The Children's Corner on this Web site includes Carrying Light in Darkness, Children of the Bible, Menna of Nepal, True Stories by the Doctor and True Stories of God's Love. See also Strange Short Stories and articles on the wonders of God's Creation.]
  17. [Have Scripture memorization for the family during the summer months. Even a 3-4 year old can learn ten verses during the summer if you select the right verses, and by the time a child is five years old, he can learn Psalm 23. Try it, make it fun, and you will be amazed at what your family can accomplish!]
  18. Use gospel songs [Eph. 5:19.] You should always sing if possible. [Have a hymnal, such as Bible Truth Hymns, for each member of the family. Learn the great hymns of the faith. There are also many traditional choruses that can be sung. Sing the Books of the Bible song to learn the books of the Bible.] You can also teach from the songs that are sung and there are stories behind the hymns available [for example, 101 Hymn Stories and 101 More Hymn Stories.]
  19. [Listen to sermons of fundamental preachers/evangelists/teachers on audiocassettes. One suggestion would be the album "Unforgettable Voices," available from Sword of the Lord Publishers, which contains preaching by John R. Rice, Bill Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Bob Jones, Sr., J. Frank Norris, Paul Levin, Harold Sightler, Harry Ironside, G. B. Vick, Oliver B. Greene, and B. R. Lakin. The Lord can use His preached Word in the lives of each family member.]
  20. [Read God's Word together. Select a book of the Bible appropriate for your children's ages and have each family member read 2-3 verses as you go around the room. You can read anywhere from 1-2 chapters to an entire epistle such as Philippians each night. Let the children help choose what book of the Bible to read.]
  21. [Have a Sword Drill, which is a fun way to learn the books of the Bible and where they are located, by turning quickly to a specific verse in the Bible.]

Copied with permission of the author. Information in brackets and links added by editor.

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