Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. (Psalm 127:3)
Children are a gift from God, but we can look at them as either blessing or intruders. I can recall when our first little guy came in 1953. I realized for the first time that someone else might be taking time away from my wife Shirley and me. There was a little problem there because at times I tended to think of him as an intruder.
But as I look back over the years, I know my two sons have been a tremendous blessing. I’ve had some problems—but what a blessing!
When Jacob met his twin brother Esau after a twenty-year separation, Jacob had with him his eleven sons and one daughter. Esau asked, “Who are these with you?” Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” God has graciously given us our children. Apart from salvation and our wife, children are our greatest gift. So we need to tell them once in a while just how much we appreciate them—to say, “Hey, I’m happy you’re part of this family.”
Howard Hendricks made the statement, “Our children are not our prized possession to do with what we want, but are simply passing through our lives on to theirs.” Our job is to help our children through our lives right on to theirs—preparing them to be mature and to make right decisions.
To do this, I can’t think of a better basic guideline than Luke 2:52—”Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” We want to help our children develop in those four ways—mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. If we shortchange them on any one of those, we’re really hurting them. They won’t be ready when they start playing the “game of life” by themselves.
God lays this responsibility right at Dad’s doorstep (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). The father is responsible for his children.
Look at the instructions which God gave Israel in these three verses in Deuteronomy: First, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). We are to love God with all we have. How do we do this? “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts” (Deuteronomy 6:6). We love God with all we have by getting his word into our lives. We put the Scriptures into our spiritual blood veins.
Then, we are to teach the Scriptures diligently to our children—”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” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teach your children God’s word in the real atmosphere of everyday life. Wherever you are, help them see as much as they can from God’s perspective. When they’re young and you’re out camping, tell them that God made those rocks and the sky and that fish you caught. When they’re in school, pray with them about that test today or that teacher they’re having problems with. When one of them breaks a finger playing baseball, remind him how God is in charge and allowed that to happen.
They’ll often have spiritual questions for you. I’m amazed at the kinds of questions my kids when they were little would ask before going to bed—”What is God like?” And then, “What is heaven like?” Their questions would get more and more profound. Here they were, ready to go to sleep, and they’re trying to figure out what life is all about.
Someone has said the first picture a child gets of God is by looking at Dad. That’s scary, but it’s true. To give your children the right picture, nothing will take the place of relating God’s word to them in every area of life. They need to see that God is real—a part of everyday life.
The way you appreciate your second greatest gift from God—your wife—is also important for your children to see. Oneness in marriage is God’s plan. He wants husband and wife to be one.
Your children need to see this in action—Mom and Dad being united in love, with one purpose, being one in their discipline, one in every area. Show them you really care for and are committed to your wife. Show them you love her to the extent of really giving yourself for her, as Christ did for the church.
Together you and your wife must honor the Lord in the totality of your lives. Your children will pick up what you are more than what you say. We can’t help them make Christ a reality in their lives if he isn’t real in ours.
Your third greatest gift is your children. Your wife and your children are more important than your job or your ministry outside the home.
Two hundred junior high students were asked, “How much time each week does your father give to you?” When the answers were compiled, the average time was seven and one-half minutes. Sometimes we say, Make sure you give quality time to your kids—don’t worry about the quantity. But it’s got to be both quality and quantity. As a child goes through the experiences of growing up and you’re not there to share them with him, he will wonder if you really care, if you really mean it when you say “I love you.” When he flunks a test one day and he’s shattered, will you be there to see the tears fall?
Are you a good father? Here are some more specific questions that can help you decide:
Are you a gentle father? Do you hurt when your children hurt? When your son breaks that finger playing baseball, when your daughter falls off her bike and racks her elbow, are you there?
Of course, you need firmness as well as gentleness. You need to stick to your convictions, and they need to know you do—that they can’t get away with everything. Kids are looking for firmness. But they’re also looking for gentleness.
Are you dependable? You promised them that camping trip. Did you take them? Can they depend on your word?
Remember too that God gave us a wife to support us, not to lead the family. Don’t be so involved with other things that you make her raise your children. I know of a man who came home once after traveling most of the time for several years. He went to his teenage son and said, “Son, I’ve got some plans for you I want to talk about.” His son said to him, “You’re not my Dad. You don’t care what happens to me—you’re never here!” We can’t be absentee fathers.
Are you humble? You probably know Philippians 2:3–4—”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Have you applied that passage to your relationship with your children? Are you putting your children and their welfare ahead of your own?
Are you a forgiving father? Can you put up with those things they do sometimes that you just can’t believe they did?
One day I received a call from the high school principal who said my son had been caught with several other kids in a certain forbidden activity. I said, “Are you sure, Mr. Greenhorn?” He said yes, it was my sophomore son. I said I would be right there.
There were four or five other dads there to pick up their sons, who had to go home for the rest of the day. My son and I got into the car and drove home. At first I was boiling inside. Oh, how could he do this? Then I thought, Well, I did things that were worse than that. So on the way home we were able to talk it out, and I accepted him and loved him, and forgave him.
He never did this activity again that I know of. But if I had really jumped on him and verbally ripped him apart, he might be in much deeper trouble today.
Do you listen to your children? Accepting your children leads to communication with them. Do you really listen to them? James said, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). When you’re busy but they want to tell you about the test or the baseball game or whatever, do they think, “Well, Dad doesn’t care; I’ll tell Mom”?
Be a father who draws out your children. Ask them good questions. They will often have something deep down they want to tell you. It helps a great deal to go out and take a long walk together, or go out for a hamburger, just you two.
Do you have fun with them? I discovered how valuable a ping pong table is. I think we solved more problems over the ping pong table than anywhere else. Loosen up, and be a fun Dad.
What about your discipline? Do you think of it as punishment—or as training? Norman Wakefield defined discipline for children as “guiding, supervising, and educating a child’s choices.” Jay Adams called it “training with structure.”
Positive discipline means putting up fences to give your children the security they want, and letting them know that if they go beyond that fence they must suffer the consequences.
Look at God’s example with us: “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). God disciplines us out of love. Right discipline springs from a heart of love. This means you must not only love your child. Discipline that is truly healthy for your children means you must have a strong bond of love with God and a strong bond of love with your wife.
In discipline, have the objective of preparing your children for maturity. Study your child and know his personality, and fit your discipline to meet it.
Use the Bible as you set standards for them. Concentrate on biblical necessities, and help your children understand them. Don’t have too many rules, but be loving and consistent in enforcing the ones you do have.
Do you respect your children? Don’t attack their personality attributes or character traits—you’re too giggly, you’re too loud, that’s a crazy laugh you’ve got, you’re always lazy. In fact, it’s best to drop the words always and never from your speech—you never clean up your room, you’re always late for supper, or whatever.
Don’t violate their privacy. They like to have their own room, and there comes a time when you need to knock before going in. And if they don’t want you to come in, hold off for a while. Respect their feelings.
I hope you have the privilege to learn in the fullest way how children are God-given blessings.