Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Exodus 18:19-20 (ESV)
God did not create human fathers, realize they were like him, and decide to call himself our Father. On the contrary, He created marriage and family to communicate not only Christ’s love for his church, but also the Father and Son’s love for each other.
When a child looks at his earthly father, he should be able to see the qualities of God. Though an earthly father is flawed, his likeness to the Father should be enough to instill in a child the proper fear and love for God. It is part of our nature to judge what we cannot see in light of what we can.
Consider how a child thinks. If my father loves and cares for me, then God loves and cares for me. If my father means what he says, then God means what He says. If my father would die for me, God would die for me.
On the other hand, if their earthly father is harsh or distant, then what will children think when someone says “God is your Father”? Based on what they know of a father, how will they view God?
Some readers of this newsletter are not fathers, but are mentors of boys or girls. Every parent needs to look for godly mentors to reinforce the training of their children. If you don’t look for the right mentors, your children may find themselves drawn to ungodly, influential people.
When I was in eighth grade I had a football coach who was tough, but kind. When school photos came out, he signed one for me that said “To my favorite ball player.”
I must have reread that sentence a thousand times over the next five years. I can still see every stroke of every letter in my mind’s eye. I can’t tell you what his spiritual beliefs were. But I can tell you that if he had shared them with me I would have listened to every word he said.
In 1 Peter 3, speaking to church leaders, God calls men to humility. In verse 3 he warns leaders not to be “domineering,” but instead to be “examples to the flock.” Leaders should “not lord it over” those under their authority. The Message paraphrases it, “Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.”
Dads must be careful to recognize our power and speak humbly. Years ago when my daughters were teenagers, we were having a family discussion about some biblical doctrine. My wife shared her thoughts and both of our daughters did. Then I gave my opinion. Suddenly the discussion stopped. I said, “What’s wrong?”
My daughter Karina said, “Dad, once you give your opinion, who’s going to disagree?” When I explained they should feel free to disagree, Karina said something profound. “Dad, you’re in the power position. When you say something, it’s like the final word.”
She was right, and I’ve never forgotten that. Fathers, we must learn to see ourselves as our family does. Without meaning to, without even being aware of it, we can come across as domineering, causing them to wilt rather than blossom.
A deep reservoir of proven relationship will tend to defuse the lording-it-over-them bomb. Encouraging our wives and children to tell us how they really feel will keep us from finding out too late—or never finding out at all. Let’s ask while we still have time to do something about it.
In his excellent book Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley states, “the most effective parents have a clear grasp of the cross and its implications for daily life. The implications are manifold. They include the fear of God, a marriage that preaches the gospel to its children, deeply ingrained humility, gratitude, joy, firmness coupled with affection, and consistent teaching modeled by parents daily.” [i]
While a Christian family should maintain high moral standards, many fail to recognize that such standards are insufficient. They are not inherently life-changing for children. We must always take our children back to the cross, to the gospel of Christ. This should be the center of everything in family life. We need to teach our children the meaning of a new birth in Christ. They must see their deep need not merely to be outwardly obedient, but to be delivered from the power of sin, to be transformed on the inside, to become new creations in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Many parents are mystified when their grown children seem to reject the faith they grew up with. Often what they are rejecting is a faith that never became theirs in the first place. We dare not assume that just because our children have heard the gospel and attended church, that they have had a transforming new birth experience. Rather, we must bear the fruits of our conversion, and both pray for and consciously lead them toward their own new birth.
A. W. Pink wrote,
The new birth is very much more than simply shedding a few tears due to a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practicing of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf, but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting. [ii]
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25:10 (ESV)
Fathers are to be the primary influence in their children’s education. A man’s success as a father is largely determined by his commitment to inspiring and training his children to develop a right worldview.
Who is God? Who is mankind? What is God like? Does God have a plan? Do even bad events serve God’s purposes?
In light of the great number of young people who reject their faith, we must encourage our children to think through these questions. Warm feelings toward the Christian faith won’t sustain them when they find their faith attacked. But deeply rooted beliefs built on God’s truth will allow them to hold fast to their faith.
Many kids are in college before they are faced with the questions, “If you were all wise and all powerful and all loving, would you permit children to starve and be abused? Well if you wouldn’t, doesn’t that suggest that there is no God, or if there is one he lacks either love or power or wisdom?”
A professor’s eloquence may persuade your child that he has identified something you and your church are unaware of and would cause you to lose your faith if you only knew. If you have not been proactive in helping your child develop a deep faith based on a thorough knowledge of Scripture’s truth, what will keep your child from doubting God?
Fathers, do you study Scripture in order to understand the world? Is your life consistent with God’s Word? Are you deliberately passing on its teachings to your children?
One day I picked up the phone and heard my Dad’s voice: “I’ve called to say good-bye.” Several months earlier, my 84-year-old father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Then Dad added these horrifying words: “I’ve got a gun to my head. I’m sorry to leave you a mess.”
I begged him to put the gun down. Twenty minutes later I threw open the door of his house. We raced to the hospital, where the doctors scheduled surgery for the next morning.
My dad was more closed to the gospel than anyone I’d ever known. I had prayed for dad’s salvation for the 22 years I’d been a Christian. My daughters grew up praying for him. When I walked into dad’s hospital room, I read to him from Romans for twenty minutes, and God used his Word to reach Dad’s heart. Incredibly, Dad asked Christ to forgive his sins.
Only in those next four years did I know my father as a Christian. As his body and mind weakened, we had the best conversations we’d ever had.
My dad had some great stories, but when I was young he was rarely home, and seldom in the mood to tell them. His stories of working in the Texas oil fields, riding the rails during the Depression, and coming down a mountain in a truck with failed brakes, fascinated me. But by the time he became more open with me, he’d begun to lose his memories.
When he lay dying, Nanci and I, our daughters, and my brother, Lance, stood at Dad’s bedside and watched as his pulse monitor steadily dropped, then went blank. My dad was gone.
Yet, because he had given his life to Jesus, we said good-bye knowing we would see him again. Despite the pain, I had an overshadowing peace and joy.
When I look forward to Heaven, I am profoundly grateful that my dad and I will continue to develop our relationship. I think he will tell me many stories I never got to hear.
If there’s one lesson that sticks with me from my dad’s life, it is this—don’t miss your opportunity to invest in your children and grandchildren. One day that window of opportunity will close. Today is the only opportunity you can be certain of. Take it while you still can.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. Proverbs 17:6 (ESV)
The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now; I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ Matthew 25:23 (NLT)
If we delight ourselves in God, the desire of our hearts will be to hear his words of approval. What could be better than hearing him say “Well done” about loving our wife and raising our children?
There are many men who, when they get older, end up puttering around and wasting time that could be invested in younger men who could benefit from their wisdom. But the men who keep their minds and hearts keenest for God are those who mentor younger men for God’s glory. I have invested in many younger men, and I always feel I come away the beneficiary.
“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Psalm 78:4 (ESV).
One of the great ironies of our culture is that fathers spend more time making money and less time with their children. Their children receive a rich inheritance, but a poor heritage.
“What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” And what will it profit him if he leads a Fortune 500 company, but loses his own children?
Multimillionaire Andrew Carnegie said, “The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse. No man has the right to handicap his son with such a burden as great wealth.”
Without their parents’ guidance, children will not learn wisdom. Without wisdom, wealth will only damage our children by subsidizing addictions, laziness, and immorality.
Let’s be sure we give our children what they really need.
When I was a young pastor, each day I poured myself into endless church appointments and meetings. I found myself drained. One night, I was wrestling with my little girls, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up. We all laughed. But it got my attention. I went to the elders of my church and said, “Something has to change. I have to stop giving all the best hours of my day to the church. I need to spend a lot of those best hours with my family.”
By God’s grace, I made the needed adjustments and became a better husband and father. Looking back, I made many mistakes, but overall, Nanci and I invested in our children, and sought to train them to follow Jesus. When we look at our daughters and their husbands and children today, we are deeply grateful to God for what he has done. And we are profoundly grateful that our sons-in-laws’ parents raised them to fear and love God.
At the end of his life, no man says, “I wish I’d done more at the office and on the golf course.” He says, “I wish I’d done more with my family.”
So instead of one day looking back and wishing you’d done it, why not choose to do it now?
[i] William P. Farley, Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009).
[ii] A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (1928; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993), 79.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.