I was out of town in Florida all this past week and had originally intended to do a pretty short and light talk so we could get on to eating and enjoying the day. But as I was on my travels, the Lord made it clear to me that He did not approve of that plan – at least the “light” part. In fact, over the past week I came under some serious conviction about how I was doing as the father of my four children. And so, I’ve been ordered to share that conviction with you…
With it being Father’s Day, it seems only appropriate to talk about parenting. The Bible has a bit to say about the topic, such as every parent’s favorite passage…
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Which is quickly followed by the one we like to leave off when quoting this to our kids…
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
“exasperate” translates the Greek word παροργίζω (parorgizo) which literally means to provoke to anger.
But this is not speaking of provoking them into sudden outbursts of anger, like from teasing them. It’s not talking about making them lose their temper. The anger this word is referencing is ὀργε, which is the same kind of anger Jesus was speaking of in Matthew 5 where he said
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
The other Greek word for anger is θυμός which does mean the sudden outburst kind of anger. Orge is a slow burning, deep seated kind of anger. The full definition is (“settled anger”) proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes someone or something based on extended personal exposure.
It basically equates to a deep seated hatred for someone.
It is this kind of anger that we as fathers, and really we as parents should not provoke our children into. It’s the kind of anger that builds over their childhood and erupts in a child who leaves home and never comes back,
or vows never to be like their parents,
or rejects everything you thought you had raised them to be.
But that is not the worst of it.
The worst is that what this ultimately results in, at least for the Christian home, is the child walking away from the faith that you tried so hard to instill in them. And the reason that happens is because to our children, we represent God himself, for better or for worse.
In fact, that’s exactly how God set it up.
Ephesians 6:1 references the 5th commandment.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
And in the Greek, the term used in the Ephesians passage is actually not “obey” your parents, it’s “honor” your parents. It’s the same term used when Jesus says despairingly of the Jews of his day that they honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him.
Children are to give their parents the same kind of honor that we are to give God. Because ultimately as parents we are appointed to be God’s representatives to our children while they are in our care. Which means that everything they see in us, they will ultimately equate to God. How they see us behave, and react, and speak, and handle situations, and especially how we treat them – will all give our children a picture of “our Father in heaven.”
It’s really quite a heavy responsibility. It’s no wonder that most of us screw this up royally, and it is only by the amazing grace of God that any of us manage to return to the faith in our adult years.
Although it’s been clear in God’s Word for centuries, part of this I am just figuring out now that I’ve been a parent for a few years.
It was probably two or three years ago now that it dawned on me that I was now the same age my mother was when I actually remember her as a child. I was a rather self-absorbed child and didn’t really notice other people in the world until I was probably 10 or 11. But what I do remember thinking, until I went through puberty, that my mom knew everything and that everything she did must be the way things should be done. Effectively, she was the example of a perfect human being in my eyes because she was my mom. Of course all that changed a few years later when I suddenly realized that I, myself, knew everything and everyone else was stupid – if only we could stay teenagers forever!
But seriously, it dawned on me that I was the same age that my mother was when I thought she was perfect. And guess what I realized – she wasn’t!!
In fact, if she was anything like me – she was still in the process of figuring out life for herself while at the same time trying to show me how to live! She was still growing up herself!
That’s how I felt a few years ago and I still feel the same way now. I hear that it doesn’t change no matter how old you get.
So, the question is – since I am not quite a master at life yet, then how am I supposed to apprentice these impressionable children as to how to live right when I don’t even have it all figured out yet?
I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
Well, the great thing about God is that when He tells us to do something, He also tells us how. In this case, He told us how way back during the time of Moses.
The setting is when the Israelites are about to enter the promised land. For the past 40 years they had been wandering the wilderness until the older generation died away. God did this because of their disobedience and mistrust of Him the first time they came to the promised land, so He basically told them they couldn’t come in.
Now they are 40 years and one generation removed from all the amazing things God did to bring them out of Egypt.
But before they go in, God through Moses gives them a reminder of what they have been through and instructions on what to do now.
In chapter 11 of Deuteronomy, it begins with God reminding the people that their children – who had been born during the 40 years in the wilderness – had not personally witnessed all of God’s wonders like they had, so it was now vitally important that the people do two things.
One was to make sure to obey all of the Law that they now had from God. And two was that they teach it to their children.
He elaborates on that in
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
We mostly all know the famous proverb:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
But how many of us actually know how to train up our children? Well, the answer is there in Deuteronomy…
Step 1 is: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds.
Ultimately, our children will become what we ARE…..not what we SAY. If we want our children to know God…WE must know God. If we want our children to seek God…WE must seek God. If we want our children to have a checkbox faith where they check the church box on Sunday but chase the almighty dollar the rest of the time…well, you get the picture. Our children will be what we ARE – not what we WANT.
The part about symbols on your hands and binding them to your foreheads is a way of saying – Keep God’s words always in your sight!
So, step 1 is the solution to the problem of feeling unprepared for parenting. If you are seeking the Lord with all of your heart and all the things that come with that, then not only will your children follow suit – but God himself will give you the needed ability to parent your children as He has commanded you to.
Step 2 is: Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Step 2 is NOT sending your kids to church and hoping they get a little Bible lesson in the children’s ministry. It’s NOT sending them to a Christian school and hoping the teachers will give them some Bible. While both of those things are good, they are simply NOT ENOUGH. It’s YOU and ME – WE as parents, talking about the things of God with our children all the time. When you sit at home. When you walk/drive around. When you go to bed. When you get up. Basically, that covers all of the waking hours that you spend with your kids.
The way we train up our children is by first of all being the example, and then intentionally training them in the very thing you are learning yourself. As you are learning about God yourself, talk about it with your family. Just like you ask your kids what they learn in school, turn the table and tell them what you’re learning in your bible studies.
There’s more ways to do it, but you get the picture.
Sounds simple enough, right?
So, why don’t we do it?
Why don’t I do it?
I could give plenty of excuses, as I’m sure that most of us could. But the plain and simple fact of the matter – at least for me – is that I have had my priorities wrong. Specifically, I have had my parenting priorities wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I do spend time with my kids and I love them very much. I don’t put work before family – and most people would say that I have four rather well-behaved kids. Many of you have even said so. And while that does make me feel good, it also makes me realize where I have gone wrong.
For seven years now, I have succeeded at exactly what I was trying to do – raise WELL-BEHAVED kids. The problem is that God did not tell me to raise well-behaved kids. He told me
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
I am to bring them up – raise them – nurture them in the
TRAINING – the Greek is instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity)
INSTRUCTION – The Greek is (“warning through teaching”) improves a person’s reasoning so they can reach God’s solution – i.e. by going through His thought-process.
OF THE LORD
I am supposed to train my children the things of the Lord – just like Deuteronomy tells us. But I am also to instruct them in such a way that they understand the thought-process of God. Basically, I’m to teach them to KNOW and LOVE the LORD. To TRUST and OBEY Him.
That is not the same as behaving well. Behaving well is an outward action. God wants me to teach my child’s HEART to KNOW HIM, not just his HEAD to KNOW ABOUT HIM.
At this I believe I have failed. I have been so focused on behavior, that I fear that at least with my oldest I have already provoked some of that slow burning anger in him. My only hope is that it is not irreversible.
Because what I realized as I was writing this, is that parenting with a focus on outward behavior rather than leading the HEART to God is teaching my children to do exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for.
8 These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.
I’ve been teaching my children to honor me/God with their lips/behavior – but I have not been addressing their hearts. They are learning to simply obey my human rules.
And to their credit, they are quite good at it. But a recent breach in that good behavior followed by several conversations revealed to me that they had no idea why certain things were wrong, such as lying, other than that they could get in trouble for it.
And it would be easy to chock that up to developmental level because they are young, but the Lord has made it clear to me that it’s not a development problem. It’s MY parenting problem. They don’t know because I have not taught them. And by not teaching their hearts while holding their actions to an arbitrary standard, I am doing exactly what God told me not to do.
This was my personal conviction this past week that I felt compelled to share with you.
Perhaps some of you feel the same way.
I know many of you are past the parenting years. My intention is certainly not to make you feel bad (if you do). If you are too late for your own children, perhaps you can make a difference in your grandchildren. And you are still your children’s parents. It doesn’t hurt to try.
I also know many of you are in the later parenting years. It’s really never too late to start making some changes if they are needed.
There are also a good number of families in this church similar to mine. Your children are still rather young, which means you have more time to do it the right way if so far you have been doing it the wrong way like I have. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as I was pondering this talk and my own personal convictions, I also felt like it would actually be pretty awesome if Nicole and I didn’t have to do this alone. So, on the off chance that there are others out here that feel the same way, we are interested in starting a parenting small group. I don’t know exactly how it would go, but it would be based on parenting and would be a place where parents like us can get together and talk about our successes and failures and learn from each other, but mostly learn from GOD’S WORD on how we can do better at training our children’s hearts.
So, if you are at all interested in that, please come talk to me and/or Nicole sometime today or send us an email or something and we’ll see where this goes.
Well, at least I succeeded in having a SHORTER talk than usual….
The main thing I hope we take away from this is that as parents we are always training our children, intentionally or not.
God tells us to make it intentional.
And as a bonus we get to personally grow because of it.
Because the best way to learn is to teach!