A Word To Fathers
Hello Church Family,
I hope your week has gone well. I’ve been praying for you, that God would allow you to experience the richness of His presence, so that you can say with Asaph, “the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28 NASB).
For some reason, I’ve had several unsolicited discussions this week about fathers. Good ones and bad ones. And I’ve also had a few memorable conversations as a father, myself, with my own kids. Again, good ones and bad ones. And all this prompted me to offer a few words to those men who have, by God’s grace, spawned children of their own.
I’ve often heard it said, “How can I ever learn to trust God as my Father when my dad was such a _____?” Jerk. Hothead. Liar. Cheater. Choose whatever descriptor you prefer; I’ve heard most of them. And this much is true: the word “father” has certainly been darkened by some horrible evils. But all is not lost. There is a way to turn this problem around, to redeem this important moniker. And that is by carefully observing—and reconsidering—who our Father truly is and how He interacts with His own.
Here’s a great example: from somewhere over the shallow stillness of the Jordan River, God the Father spoke His first-recorded words of the New Testament. The scene unfolded like this: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
Not only do we learn much about God from the account above, but we’re left with an indelible impression concerning the nature of the ideal father-son relationship. Or father-child relationship, for that matter. Pastor and author Douglas Wilson says: “This is where fatherhood reaches its ultimate expression. In human history, there will never be a more perfect father-and-son moment that this moment between Father and Son.” Through the example of our Heavenly Father we learn at least three actions a good father takes:
1. A good father is present. When Jesus was baptized, His Father was there. This is a pattern we see of God and an example for us to follow. Of course, I recognize that we have certain spatial limitations from which God does not suffer, and that there are a thousand obligations that constantly vie for our time and attention. Add to the mix a wife, a daily commute on an impossibly busy freeway, a house that needs endless repairs, a small-bladdered pet, and an elementary school with weekly ceremonies (at which every child seems to win an award) and you’ve got a scenario where survival seems more than good enough. It’s no wonder that we feel so over-taxed. Nevertheless, a good father makes it a priority to be with his children. Even if it means saying ‘no’ to other important things. Naturally, no father can be everywhere—and I have missed my share of games and recitals—but a good father recognizes that sometimes other things have to wait. Children fare much better, generally speaking, when their father is around. Physically, verbally, and emotionally. Yet, as one social commentator said recently: “Failure at this point is one of the saddest features of the modern family.”
2. A good father identifies with his children. I had a childhood friend whose father always seemed to be embarrassed by him. Reluctant to identify with him. This friend’s dad was constantly making excuses for his son, taking every opportunity to register a subtle dig at his son’s expense. The dad was a terribly insecure man, and he made sure his son dealt with the same issues. Years ago, when I tried to get this same friend a job where I was working at the time, his constant refrain was: “I just don’t think I have the necessary abilities.” Actually, he did. But he couldn’t see past his father’s mockery. Sadly, this friend of mine still deals with a very low self-esteem. Consider the starkly different approach we have modeled by God: when Jesus was baptized, His Father eagerly identified with Him; He said, “This is my beloved Son.” And this, by the way, is how God sees us as well. The Apostle Paul writes this in Galatians 3:26: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” God delights in us and is glad to call us His own. Imagine how encouraged and emboldened our children would be if they knew that we, their respective fathers, were proud of the fact that they belonged to us.
3. A good father expresses pleasure in his children. The other day I watched a documentary called Misery Loves Comedy. The film explored the relationship between pain and humor, and, in particular, the kind of deep-seated hurt that leads one to make jokes for a living. (By the way, I wouldn’t recommend it due to the occasional profanity it contained, but it was a telling feature.) One of the things that struck me most was the number of stand-up comics who had overbearing, hypercritical fathers. Several intimated that they could never do enough to stave off the evaluative gaze of their perennially disappointed progenitors. It was heart-breaking, actually. Contrast this with the perfect Father’s words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” For every generation to follow, God expressed His extreme pleasure with His Son. He makes this clear: He thinks His Son is doing a great job. Far too many sons and daughters have never heard a similar expression of approval from their dads. But a good father regularly says, “God’s really gifted you in this area and I’m grateful for it.” Or, “You’re doing so well at school.” Or, “I’m so impressed with the way you handled that.”
God loves us, His children, with a love that is unconditional; and with a depth and intensity that we can never fully duplicate. But as recipients of such an incredible love, we should be stirred to love others, and especially those who have been entrusted to our familial care.
Fathers, how does your love for your children reflect the love of your Heavenly Father? What will your kids think about God when they consider the way you love? Make no mistake: we all blow it. We all fail in this area. And if you haven’t done well, you can take heart: your child’s “success” will ultimately be a result of God’s grace and nothing you’ve done or haven’t done. But for those of us who still have opportunities to influence, there’s no better time than right now to begin being present, identifying with your children, and expressing your pleasure in them. Weren’t you just looking for a reason to cancel that evening meeting tomorrow anyway?
Only by grace,