On Father’s Day this month, I was privileged to share some thoughts with White Rock Community Church in White Rock, BC. Here are the notes from my remarks.
You may think I’m qualified to speak to fathers on Father’s Day because I am busy raising 9 children. It is especially apparent that I am especially a parent. Really, all I know is that I don’t know so much. So today I’ll just share with you two things I’ve learned.
1. God uses Christian parents to disciple their kids.
- Proverbs 2:1-11, My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.
There are two implications here:
A. Fathers are instructing their kids in the ways of God. The same could be said for mothers, but it is Father’s Day after all.
- Deuteronomy 6:1-9, These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
- Ephesians 6:4, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
It is clear from these passages and others that a father’s spiritual responsibility is to teach his children what the Lord’s commands are and how to obey them. Not moms. Not Sunday school teachers. Not youth workers. Not pastors. Who trains them and instructs them in the Lord? Fathers.
It’s our job to make a permanent God-impression on our children. Moses described this job as a full-time fixation. We talk about the things of God in all our family settings. Sitting at home, traveling along the road, lying down at night and getting up in the morning. These are all good times for conversing about God and his ways. Even if you excluded all other times, that’s a significant portion of our daily routine.
Dads, if we don’t, who will? Somebody will. Friends, schools, churches, media. But none of them were assigned the task and none of them have a personal stake in the outcome. None of them love our kids like we do. None of them have access to our children when we sit, commute, rise up, and tuck in for sleep.
It’s our unbelievable privilege to influence them toward the Lord in those informal personal moments. So let’s relish the task and do it as well as anything else we do.
But that’s only one half of the interaction. The writer of proverbs also assumes that…
B. Kids are listening and putting what they hear into practice.
- My son, listen… 1:8; 4:1, 20; 5:1; 6:20
- Do not forget/forsake what you’ve been taught… 1:8; 3:1, 21; 4:20; 6:20;
- Do what we taught you… 3:1, 21; 7:1-2
Can you hear the earnestness in this father’s voice? The ache, the concern, the yearning for his son’s very best? Because, it’s not a guarantee you know. Our children won’t necessarily hear us.
If the pleading is “Listen, my son”, then the inference is that sons don’t have to listen. If the instruction is don’t forget or forsake what you were taught, then the assumption is that children can forget or choose to forsake what they are taught. If kids are warned to carefully do what they’ve heard, that means they don’t have to. Am I right?
Looking at our text, everything depends on the son’s willingness to listen. “If… if… if…” “then…then…then…” You want spiritual insight, knowledge and wisdom? You want supernatural success and protection? Then you start by listening and hanging onto your father’s instruction. And you want it for yourself as much as your father wants it for you. All the godly teaching in the world won’t make a dent if the very first instruction here is ignored. All the listening in the world won’t make a difference if there’s no instruction going on.
There are two parts to this discipleship process. There are two players in this game.
I find most sports exhausting. It’s kind of the point, isn’t it? You work your body hard and hit the showers tired out.
But the most exhausting sport of all is solo tennis. That’s where you go down to the tennis courts alone with your tubes of balls and your racket. Then you serve the ball and while it’s still traveling to the other side, you jump the net and hit it back to yourself. Then you hop the net again and return the volley. Then you run around the side and backhand the ball just over the net. And so it goes. You have to have a pret-ty good pair of sneakers to pull that off.
Solo tennis is a miserable game. It’s a fantasy game. And quite impossible. You just can’t play both sides of the net. You are responsible for the play that happens on your side. That’s all. Nothing more.
But we try. We try to make our kids listen to us by manipulating them, berating them, humiliating them, harassing them. We push harder, speak louder, and talk longer to cajole a response. But that’s on their side of the net. Fathers, our side is to instruct and love, their side is to listen…or not.
Worst of all, some of us sit on the sidelines and critique others for not playing solo tennis well enough. We blame children for parents who didn’t teach them. And we point the finger at parents whose children won’t hear or remember what they’ve been taught. Working harder at playing solo tennis will not make anyone a better player. It’s a game no one can win. It’s time to stop playing.
But it’s just as important to understand this: You’re not the only father in the picture. Your Father is using your children to make you look more like His children. As surely as Christian parents disciple their kids…
2. God uses their kids to disciple their Christian parents.
If I had to name the one key insight that parenting these 21 years has taught me, this is it. When my oldest children were small, I lived with the ever present notion that God had given us the children we had so that we could engender a household of Jesus followers. True enough.
But what I have become profoundly aware of over the past 10 years is that, even more than my children, I am becoming a follower of Christ. And my fathering is leading me there.
- Romans 8:28-29, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”
IF that scripture is true, then “all things”—including the father you have and the children you have—are the means he is using for the good of those who love him. And what is the good? Conforming those who love him to the image of his Son.
Nothing will shake out the selfishness like waking up for the 4th time in one night with an infant or toddler. Nothing will produce humility, if not humiliation, like taking your 4-year-old to the grocery store. Nothing will demand perseverance like the 18-year haul of rearing a child from helplessness to independence. Nothing will require hope like tackling every morning with the vision of what God might do. Nothing will draw out courage like helping your kids address the huge unique obstacles in their lives.
If God uses “all things” that way, then parenting is “all things” on steroids. He wants you to be an effective father, but most of all the Father wants you to be like Jesus.
In love, God has placed you in the family you have. In love, he has given you the children you have. In love, your heavenly Father is using your father to nudge you closer to the character of Jesus. In love, your heavenly Father is using your children to make you more like His children.