“Men as Fathers”
In a courtroom, many years ago, a young man was being sentenced to prison. The judge had known the young man from childhood, and he was also acquainted with his father, a famous legal scholar who had authored an exhaustive study titled, “The Law of Trusts.”
“Do you remember your father?” the magistrate asked. “I remember him well, your honor.” Trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?”
After a pause, the young man said. “Well, I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying ‘Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” Hearing this, the judge muttered to himself, “Alas! He finished the book, but he lost the boy!”
You and I grieve over the tragedy of that broken relationship between father and son. But let’s not rush to judgment. After all, “How many of us have said similar words to our children, the only difference being, we weren’t writing a book?” The degeneracy of our culture is a daily reminder that this ineffective kind of fathering has been, perhaps, the most common method in recent decades.
As a result, many young fathers, even Christian fathers, are unsure about what their role is. If you’re a pastor or community leader and a young father comes to you for advice, what would you tell him? In our community, we have a state funded Center for Families that runs something called the “Fatherhood Initiative.” There’s probably something similar where you live. Would you send a young father there?
I will, as the saying goes, “lay all my cards on the table” right here at the beginning. Any organization or group that proposes to help fathers understand their role but is either forbidden by law to use the Bible as a guide, or simply ignores the biblical principles of fatherhood, will not have a lasting impact. If you or I or anyone else really wants to help men understand and fulfill their role as fathers, there is only one primary source-book – the Word of God.
The conviction that the Word of God is the primary source of wisdom and training for fathers leads us back to the principle we’ve noted several times in the past few weeks; the dual responsibilities given to men in Genesis 2:15, to “work and to keep.” Today, we will begin to examine how these two basic commands provide a foundation upon which to develop our understanding and practice of “Men as Fathers.”
As we begin, I will read several selected verses of Scripture which a have direct bearing on the topic we are addressing. I invite you to listen as I read.
Genesis 2:7-9, 15; Proverbs 23:26; Ephesians 6:4
These Scriptures and others remind us that the main responsibilities of working and keeping are fulfilled in the PROCESSES of fathering – they are, discipling and discipline.
The First PROCESS is,
The Discipling of Children
There is a fairly common lament among fathers today that goes something like this. “Pastor, I have a problem. I just found out that my sixteen-year-old son is hanging out with friends I disapprove of, and I think he’s using drugs. I have no idea how this could happen.I spent a lot of money to send him to Christian school, our family was always in church on Sunday morning, and we faithfully sent the children to VBS. My wife and I monitored his friends, to make sure they came from good families, and we tried to screen the TV shows he watched. We even spanked him when he was little. Where did we go wrong?”
I would say that the problem was not what he and his wife did; it’s what he left undone. Any father who believes that providing a Christian environment for his child will be sufficient to make him a godly person is only kidding himself. Controlling media content, screening friends, and making sure they attend churchwill not guarantee they will turn out to be faithful Christians. That myth should have been debunked long ago, but unfortunately there are still a multitude of fathers who have bought into it. Those who do are following a recipe for potential disaster. What is really necessary is the discipling of children.
A disciple is a follower. In order for there to be a follower, there must be a leader. A disciple is also a learner; so, there must be a teacher or a role-model from whom the disciple can learn. And being a disciple of someone or something also implies connectedness, a relationship.
In the context of discipling, it is fairly simple to discover what God has in mind for men who are fathers. Notice, I said it is simple to discover; I didn’t say it was simple to do. A very important part of a father’s work is to nurture and disciple the children God entrusts to him. To do that a father must understand the importance of having the heart of his children.
As I said a few moments ago, discipleship implies a relationship, a connectedness. That is what a father needs in order to impact the lives of his children. He needs their heart. I repeat Solomon’s words in Proverbs 23:26. “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe [or delight in] my ways.” What does Solomon mean when asking his son for his “heart”?
When the Bible speaks of the heart, it refers to the entire inner person, his thoughts, his desires, his affections, and his will. In Proverbs 4:23 we read, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” And in Matthew 12:34, Jesus said; “…out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” When Solomon asks for his son’s heart, he’s asking for the real person. He wants to enter into the desires, affections, and thoughts of his son. Why? Because he knows if he has the privilege of entering that private space, he can have a huge impact on his son’s life. But he also knows he cannot force his way into this inner sanctum. He must be invited.
Let’s pause here to note a few things that Proverbs 23:26 does NOT say. It does not say, “My son, give me your behavior.” Neither does it say, “My son, give me your physical presence.” While good behavior is important, we desire much more than outward conformity to the guidelines of our family. Our world already has too many well-behaved sinners. And while the child’s physical presence is important too, we know that his physical presence with us in the home, Christian school and church is not the source of godly living. That source is in the heart!
Now, if the key to effective discipling is to have the heart of our child, how do you and I get their heart in the first place? Proverbs 17:6b gives us a starting place; “…the glory of children are their fathers.” If you are a father, and especially a father who has sons, you would be amazed at all the things you can do! In the eyes of your little boy, you’re the biggest, fastest, strongest, and best at whatever you do. So right here is your doorway – work at keeping what you already have. I am so thankful to my godly wife for encouraging me to build relationships with our children when they were small. She encouraged me [and this is KEY] to give my heart to my children, instead of to other people and pursuits. Her godly wisdom and counsel have paid huge relationship dividends for my children and me.
I said earlier that a father cannot force his way into the heart of his child, he must be invited. How does that happen? It happens when a father leads by example, when he opens his heart to his son or daughter. This is not an event; it is a lifelong process.
Fathers, do you know what your children need and want most from you? They want your approval, your acceptance, your encouragement, your attention, and your TIME. If you have trouble picturing in your mind what that may look like, try this; think about how much your wife has sacrificed for you and your children. Like her, you may need to set aside career ambitions, recreational pastimes that don’t involve the children, hobbies, sports – and the list goes on. These are all part of the cost of discipleship, of receiving and keeping your child’s heart.
In his book, “The Masculine Mandate,” Richard Phillips writes; “To really open up a child’s heart, a father must observe the work and keep model of Genesis 2:15. There must be the working – a father nurtures and cultivates the soil of the child’s heart.” How do we do that? How do we nurture and cultivate our way into the hearts of our children?
First of all, we need to show our children how much we value them. Psalm 127:3 tells us that “…children are the treasure [literally, heirlooms] of the Lord.” Treasured heirlooms are carefully guarded and protected even though their worth may be largely sentimental. Our children need to know that next to the Lord and their mother, they are our greatest treasure! And remember what Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Our children know whether or not we treasure them by how much we invest in their lives.
Furthermore, we must open OUR hearts to our children. We must share with them the value of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our desire to see them enjoy the same. We can remind them of how we prayed for them before they were born and dedicated them to the Lord and His service. We can confidently assure them that God has a plan and purpose for their life, and we will do all we can to help them find and fulfill that plan. We can envision for them the godly young man or woman they will become and pledge our ongoing prayers as God works in them.
In learning how to cultivate and disciple a child’s heart, I refer again to Richard Phillips’ book, “The Masculine Mandate.” He gives four simple steps every father can use to be actively and intimately involved in receiving and keeping his child’s heart. They are: Read, Pray, Work, and Play.
READ A father’s primary ministry is a ministry of God’s Word. Dad, there is NO substitute for your children hearing the Word of God from your lips! No, you don’t need to be gifted as a pastor or teacher. You just need to be willing to read and explain the basic truths of Scripture. You need to be able to make practical application to your life and the lives of your family members.
Unlike the fathers I mentioned at the beginning of this message, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND that church services, Sunday School, VBS, summer camps, Christian school, and the church youth group will not be sufficient to bring the desired spiritual results in your child. “You must read the Bible to your children yourself.” You, Dad, are responsible to work out your family schedule so that, as a rule, each day contains a regular time when the family meets for Bible reading and prayer. As your children see the intersection of God’s Word and your daily choices, they will most likely be led to embrace your faith in God.
PRAY Another way for fathers to nurture and care for the hearts of their children is through prayer. Pray for your children and pray with your children. When our children were very small, we started the practice of praying with them as we tucked them in bed. It’s been a great blessing in my life.
Prayer is a powerful way to connect our children with God. Worship, adoration, praise, and thanksgiving are all important parts of prayer. When we ask God to meet our needs, we help our children understand that we are not self-sufficient. When we pray for their needs, for the things that are pressing on their hearts, they realize we care enough to know what they’re facing.
We should also ask our children to pray for us. While we may not be able to share some details of what we’re praying about, our children can pray that God would give us wisdom and guidance for making godly decisions. When a family member becomes ill, one of the first things we should do is gather the other family members around and pray. Our family has been blessed again and again to see God work in healing, avoiding trips to the doctor or hospital. I simply cannot overemphasize the value of prayer as a part of discipling your children.
WORK Fathers need to teach their children how to work. This includes helping them with their work and including them in ours. When your children struggle with schoolwork, are you able to help them? If not, will you find someone who can? This conveys to your child that, not only is the work important, but they are important too. When your child is working at developing a special skill, are you willing to give of your time to work with them and encourage them?
And then there are chores. Every child needs chores; yard work, basic household maintenance, and more. For years, we’ve had a dish washing schedule in our household. And guess what? I’m on the schedule for the noon meal every Sunday.
Working with my children involves patience. Many times, I could’ve done the job faster and better, but how were they going to learn if I didn’t allow them to try? If they gave their best, I could praise their efforts even though the results left something to be desired. That builds confidence and a desire to do better. I am so grateful to my parents and others who gave me opportunities to learn and grow in the developing of my skills.
PLAY Last, but not least, fathers need to play with their children. I must confess, this is a part of nurturing I’ve really enjoyed in the past and continue to enjoy today. I have fond memories of my dad playing games with me and my siblings. My Dad, before his passing, played many games with his grandchildren! What a wonderful relationship building activity.
Each year our whole family gets together for a weekend away from home. We enjoy our time together hiking, swimming, volleyball, grilling hot dogs and burgers, sitting around the campfire, Sunday morning worship time, recalling old memories and making new ones. It is truly a special time of investing in each other’s lives!
READ, PRAY, WORK, PLAY. Nurturing our child’s heart in these four important areas will yield a precious harvest. And yes, I know that all these things will require time. But as Richard Phillips reminds us, “…time is the currency with which [you and I] purchase the right to say, ‘My son, my daughter, give me your heart.’” This is the key to fulfilling your role as a father. This is the key to helping your child become a disciple of Jesus.