What’s missing from this photograph?
The answer is of course – handheld technology. Eric Pickersgill has deliberately removed smart phones from a series of photographs. Meanwhile, those in the photographs are posed as though still using them. The intention is to demonstrate visually how unreal our lives can look when we are joined to these devices.
It arose from the experience of being near a family in a café who were disconnected from interacting due to their devices. He says: “I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience”. There are of course benefits to technology. Perhaps it helps to connect and coordinate family members and their activities. In some cases, parents may read together with their children in a new way and share other interests together. Parents may have more time for their family if technology can be used to work in a more flexible way. These positives can also turn into opposite negatives, however. It is not the technology but rather how we choose to use it.
1. Missing the Main Thing
What is missing in the photograph? More than devices. Conversation, full attention, personal interest, family interaction etc. The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes. That is interacting about spiritual things. In the past, this was called family religion. It didn’t just mean saying grace before meals and going to Church. It meant the type of interaction that we read of in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. This is clearly natural interaction as part of family life. Spiritual realities are to have a powerful impact in our homes. This can only happen as it is made clear that technology and all other things must take a second place to the things of God.
2. God-centred Homes
Perhaps we should speak about a God-centred family more than family religion. This is what Joshua meant when he said “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It should become natural that questions are asked and answered and discussion takes place. This can arise informally because it takes place regularly when the family worships God together. In these activities, we have a golden opportunity to communicate together in a meaningful way about the most important matters.
Why is family religion important? Because it shapes the lifelong attitude that children will have in relation to spiritual things. They take this with them where they go, whether in the life of the Church or of society. It brings the whole of life into an eternal and Godward perspective. George Whitefield believed that the spirituality of the early church could never be revived unless there was a revival of family religion. No wonder the Puritan Richard Baxter strongly exhorted ministers on this subject. He said: “if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion”.
3. Authentic Religion
Family Religion is our faith made real. It is easy to attend Church and engage in public and outward acts. Living out our faith in the everyday warp and woof of life is more challenging. Spiritual realities are made a vital part of life by family religion.
Family religion was one of the foundations laid by the Second Reformation in Scotland. Everything possible was done to encourage it. Family Worship draws on a guide produced by Alexander Henderson. In it he outlines what family religion should look like. Many writers describe it in terms of family instruction, worship and discipline (where required). Henderson’s definition goes wider.
The main matter he emphasises more than others is providence. In other words, teaching children how to understand and respond to the events of life. These may be blessings or difficulties requiring thanksgiving or earnest prayer. Our world is full of sad calamities personal and public. Our society does not know how best to deal with them. Certainly not in a way that is God-centred. There can be great outpourings of grief which people try to express in any way they think best. Children should be given an example of how to respond to these things in a God-honouring way.
- Teaching or Catechising. It is not enough that members of the family are catechised at Church. They must also be instructed in a plain and simple way at home. This will include the basic principles of Christianity and the doctrine which is according to godliness.
- Prayer and thanksgiving morning and evening, before and after meals together with psalm-singing where possible.
- Discipline exercised with wisdom and patience. This is necessary for practising godliness. There must be warning, reproof and correction for faults that are appropriately dealt with in the family. For this reason the head ought to observe diligently the ways of all within the family.
- Observing the providence of God. We must learn about God from His works of justice and mercy both past and present.
- Private fasting and humbling ourselves in response to God’s call in providence. This may arise from public calamities or the private distress of the family. The Scriptures read and the prayers poured out at this time must be relevant to the situation. Such duties help in abasing ourselves and strengthening our faith.
Whatever else may be missing from you home, it is vital for the glory of God and the good of your children that family religion prevails.
This is the spirit of prayer that animated those who prayed for the Second Reformation to come in Scotland as a spiritual revival (read more about Scotland’s Greatest Revival).
How does it compare to prayer as we know it? As Thomas Watson put it: our prayers do not need eloquence but violence.