For many generations Christian families have gathered around the table to have family devotions. This was commonly known as the Family Altar. This family altar was esteemed an important part of everyday family life. The father, as the head of the family, would read a portion of Scripture and pray. In many cases he would invite the rest of the family to also offer up prayers on behalf of loved ones as well as for the nation.
Most Christian families also encouraged each individual member to develop their personal, daily prayer life as well as attend the midweek church prayer meeting. This custom was not only observed in America but in all Christian nations.
With the advent of TV, and more recently, the computer age, the family altar has broken down. In many Christian families this practice no longer exists at all. It is no wonder that the Christian family is breaking down and can no longer be regarded as the secure foundation of western society that it once was.
Both my wife and I were brought up in families where the Bible was read and prayers were made, usually at the end of the evening meal. We have continued this habit throughout the 46 years of our marriage up until this day. This practice has proven, over and over, to be a unifying experience as well as creating a sense of well being, peace and security in the home. God only knows how much we all need this in these days of great fragility.
We mainly use the devotional book, called the Daily Light which has a morning and evening devotion of Scriptures from different books of the Bible on a particular theme. Because of the duties and pressures to get on with life in the morning, I read aloud the morning devotion at the end of breakfast and pray for the whole family.
In the evening, after the meal and while we are still sitting at the table, I read the evening devotion followed by questions. Following this, everyone sitting around the table prays. We often have a more well-attended prayer meeting sitting around our table than at many church prayer meetings.
When we have concluded, everyone thanks mother for her effort in creating an appetizing meal. One great blessing that comes from this is that the mother/wife feels blessed and appreciated for her motherly service to the family.
“The angel of the Lord encamps round them that fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7) The family altar demonstrates our fear and trust toward the Lord. We can rest at night knowing that the angel of the Lord is watching over us to deliver us from all enemy attacks.
We often ask the different members of our family to pray for another nation as well as our own. We should never underestimate the power of the family unit when it comes to prayer. It is a place where the powerful prayer of agreement can be made to bind the works of Satan and lose the chains that bind individuals and nations. Praying families can impact the nations of the world from their family meal table.
I was recently informed that there are 25 million college students in China (one million in Beijing alone) from whom will emerge the new leaders of this nation. A Christian band played auditoriums that were jammed to overflowing. When the students discerned the band was singing about Jesus Christ, they were surrounded with crowds of students earnestly desiring to know more about Jesus.
How wonderful! I can remember, as a young man growing up in New Zealand, attending prayer meetings for the breaking of the stronghold of communism in China. There has been one of the greatest revivals happening amongst the peasants and farmers of China, but now the college youth are hungry to know about Jesus too. I believe that small family prayer meetings have played a huge part in this great revival in China. We can also encourage our families to bind the power of Islam.
Are you aware of the awesome potential your family has to pray? I constantly say to parents, “If you have not taught your family to pray, you have not taught your family the most important thing you can do.”
1 Kings 18:30 says, “Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.” Like Elijah, we must repair the altar that has been broken down.
Abraham, the father of faith and the pattern father of godly fatherhood, built a number of altars. Everywhere he went, he established an altar to call upon God. Isaac and Jacob, his descendants, also built altars. We would do well to do likewise and receive the same commendation that God gave Abraham in Genesis 18:17-19, “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and the all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, 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; and that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him.”
We never read about Lot building altars, even though he dwelt next to Sodom and Gomorrah. Had he built altars, calling on the name of the Lord, as his uncle had done, his end would not have been so devastating. Instead, he suffered the loss of everything.
Abraham’s altar building is still having a positive impact upon the world today. It is obvious that God is the intimate friend of all those who have a lifestyle of calling upon Him. (James 2:23)
I recently read about the Church of Scotland during the time of Reformation. In 1647 they produced a Directory for Family Worship for their parishioners. They even appointed ministers and ruling elders to diligently make sure that every family practiced Family Worship. If any family neglected this duty, the head of the family was admonished privately. If this neglect continued, he was reproved by the whole session. If he still disregarded Family Worship after these reproofs, he was suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper. Could we imagine this happening today?
When my brother flew into Seoul, Korea, a number of years ago, he noticed the city was lit up with thousands of lighted crosses on the roof tops of the houses. These lighted crosses informed the people where there were house cell churches. One time when I was praying, I saw in my spirit lights, like flames of fire, shining in the dark from certain homes across the nation. The Lord gave me the understanding that these were homes where families daily gathered together for prayer.
Never, ever underestimate the power of the family altar. It is as powerful as the kingdom of heaven, for indeed the kingdom of heaven is all about encouraging the little children to come to Him. In Luke 18:16 Jesus said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” The family altar is where you draw your children to the Lord. There is no other education that can compare with this.
Here are some steps to take in building your family altar.
1. Start now. Do not put if off.
2. Get a good devotional book suitable for the age of your children or choose a passage of Scripture to read for each day.
3. The husband should take the lead in establishing and leading the family altar. If the husband is unable to do so, the wife can do her part.
4. Encourage everyone to pray. Makes sure each one prays so that they can be heard and all can say, Amen. Teach children not to mumble their prayers.
5. Pray passionately. Remember, the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
6. Sing a song of praise.
7. Continue the family altar, even when you have visitors.
8. If you miss a night, quickly get back to doing it.
You can order the Daily Light from any Christian bookshop or do a Google search on the Internet. We use the King James Version but you can purchase it in many different versions.
The Patriarchs were altar builders:
Abraham – Genesis 12:7-8; 13:4; 13:18; 15:9; 22:13
Isaac – Genesis 26:25
Jacob – Genesis 28:18; 31:54; 33:20; 35:1-7; 35:14