Malachi 4:5-6 – Ephesians 6:4 – Colossians 3:21
Family Life, p. 3
Malachi 4:5-6 - “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Ephesians 6:4 - Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
A man in the supermarket was pushing a cart which contained, among other things, a screaming baby. As the man proceeded along the aisles, he kept repeating softly, "Keep calm, George. Don't get excited, George. It’s gonna be ok, George."
A lady watching with admiration said to the man, "You are certainly to be commended for your patience in trying to quiet little George."
"Lady," he declared, "I’M George!!!"
Raising children can be hard. The neediness. The constant complaining. Someone astutely observed, “The trouble with children is that when they're not being a lump in your throat, they're being a pain in your neck.”
And while it certainly CAN be hard – after having 5 of my own – I can honestly say that my girls are a treasure – and I am a better man because of them. --- Most days. --- Probably. --- Maybe. :)
Two things make parenting terribly hard: their world and their will. No matter how persistent and insightful a parent might be – when they walk to the bus stop every day, they enter a world where they hear – not just counter-points to your instruction, we could defend ourselves against those; no, an angry suspicion of our motives.
We can do our very best to provide a solid, Biblical foundation… but when they walk out those doors, we need to pray – hard – because the world and their own will – will systematically tear down everything we’ve labored to build.
As Anne Frank mused, “Parents can give their children good advice and set them on the right path, but the final forming of their character lies in their OWN hands.”
I’m thankful I have the Holy Spirit and the Church on my side, Amen? I’m glad there are others standing with me, because there is so much at stake. No matter how lost you feel at times, you are NOT alone.
At first blush, our passage from Malachi might seem an unusual passage to reference for a parenting message – I mean – it’s a prophecy… written over 2,500 years ago. It concerns the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
But we cannot overlook the plain fact of the verse: How – through the coming of Christ, a godly love will return to the family unit. How parents will rise ABOVE the daily grind of life – to seize hold of their calling to raise a generation of children to be weapons for God. As David proclaimed in Psalm 127: “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.”
You are NOT ALONE in this calling to raise up a mighty army of powerful servants of God. The BIBLE offers all the tools you need. The Church is laboring alongside you. The Spirit is guiding, shielding, protecting. So the question of the hour is:
What do children need from us? What gifts can we give them that will help mold them into servants of the Lord?
You will notice that Paul commands (in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3) ‘Fathers’ - because YOU – dad - are the key… the head of the home. As the father goes, so goes the family. You carry the responsibility of establishing the spiritual climate of the household – you set the course your family will run.
However, “Father” can be a “collective” word as if to say “Parents.” Either of these viewed works for what we trying to do.
So - What gifts can parents give their children? 4:
1. They need Illustration – Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “far more is CAUGHT than TAUGHT.” They are watching your life. They formulate the values that result in ACTIONS by watching your example. They NEED a good example. Amen? Not just parents who go to church and establish rules for the household. Children need parents who SHOW them how to live – through their own actions and attitudes. Examples. The ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ parent won’t cut it.
So, what kinds of things should kids CATCH from their parents?
They need parents whose relationship is described in Ephesians 5. Dads who are the sensitive, spiritual leaders of the home. Moms who are respectful and supportive of their husbands. They need parents who have a strong relationship with each other – who love each other, deeply, with a love that is visible. The very best gift you can give your kids, AFTER Jesus, is to love your spouse with all your heart.
Kids need healthy parents whose lives are balanced. Their priorities are straight. They walk with Jesus. They love God’s House. And they protect their time. They spend time in God’s Word and prayer – and they know how to say ‘NO!’
Kids need parents who refuse to argue in front of them. Parents who never undercut each other. A united front. When disagreements come, and they WILL come, the wise parent will handle those things behind closed doors. If there is ever a time when I think my wife has gone too far or not far enough with my kids, she and I will work that out at a later time. It is easier to apologize to my kids for being wrong about something, than it is dealing with the problems associated with undercutting my wife in front of them.
Kids need parents who will be parents instead of friends.
One of the dangers of our culture is the number of kids who are raising kids. And by the way, I’m not talking about AGE. I’m talking about MATURITY. There are a LOT of 40-year-old moms that need to get their act together. They need to QUIT acting like their teenager’s buddy and start being a mom. There are a lot of dads who are nothing but overgrown boys with game controllers affixed to their hands. They need to get off the couch and be MEN.
Kids need Illustrations – they need us to be proper examples. While I am certainly glad for the OTHER positive influences in my child’s life, nothing can take the place of Mom and Dad.
Are YOU the kind of example they need? When you react to problems? When you talk about people? When you serve at the church or talk to people about Jesus? They need illustration.
2. Children ALSO need Instruction – Whereas ILLUSTRATION is passive teaching, where, young people observe your life and learn what they ought to do through your example, INSTRUCTION requires hands-on, deliberate, methodical Teaching. Parents who teach the Word of God, Work ethic, responsibility, and common sense. Your kids need Instruction. Paul uses the words “nurture and admonition.” He is describing the Consistent, Considerate spiritual leadership that sets expectations high enough to stretch and shape their young person – but not so high that it frustrates or crushes them.
That is the picture Paul paints in this text… the picture of kids being discouraged and defeated by parents who are Inconsistent and Inconsiderate. If you want to defeat a kid, then be a moody, arbitrary parent with whom the rules, and the consequences for violating them, changes from day to day. One day you freak out, over-reacting to every little thing – the next day they could commit murder and you wouldn’t even notice. You want to frustrate them – do THAT.
You need to find a happy medium between requiring too much and requiring too little. You need to teach them to respect authority. If you are balling out their teachers for every perceived slight, you are gonna turn your child into a prima donna – a demanding, selfish brat who pouts or pitches fits whenever things don’t suit them.
You need to teach them what God expects. Teach them the word. Let them see you reading and praying… and then lead them to do the same. Encourage them to pursue excellence – to please GOD – but love them through their failures.
Long time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Howard Hendrix, used to say, “Your home is the number one influence in the life of your child. The average church has a child 1% of his time, the home has him 83% of his time and the school for the remaining 16%. This does not minimize the importance of churches and schools, but it establishes the fact your home is 83% of your child's world and you have only one time around to make it of maximum benefit.”
It’s too easy for us to fall into the trap of blaming our child’s environment for their wrong choices. And yes, peer pressure IS a problem. It is worse than when WE were in school. I got it. But God hasn’t changed – and neither has His methodology for building character.
It all starts with Illustration, being a good example; followed by Instruction, careful, diligent teaching, pouring truth into their lives. And third,
3. Children need Intimacy – Love and Encouragement. Support. Affection. Hope. Parents who are positive. They need your time. As has been said many times – “Children spell ‘love’ T-I-M-E.”
Former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders notes, “It is easier for many children to find drugs than it is for them to find hugs.” Every child needs someone who believes in him.
What are you doing to communicate your love to your child? We mistakenly think that providing a roof of their heads is enough. We feel good about the things we buy them – the opportunities we provide for them socially – playing ball – scouts - trips. And certainly = that is PART of demonstrating love. But children need other things too, like:
Listening to them without making them feel judged. Get them to talk to you – refuse to settle for silence. Get them to share their thoughts, dreams, plans. Get them talk about their friends and what’s going on at school. Learn how to ask questions in a way that doesn't sound like an accusation. The number 1 complaint I hear young people say about their parents is: ‘They don’t understand me.’ Communication is one way to show them your love.
You should also - Learn their bent and help them find their way. When Solomon said, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” he was talking about studying the way your child is wired and helping them find where they fit in life. While that certainly includes spiritual things, it isn’t limited to them. Get to know your children – take them on special outings – one-on-one. Make an appointment with them, take them to their favorite restaurant or shop, and spend time getting to know your child. Find out what makes them tick – the things they are interested in – passionate about. Then figure out how YOU can set them on a course to fulfill those passions.
And after listen and learning – LOVE them. Tell them you love them every day. Show them. Be affectionate. Forgive them when they disappoint you or hurt you. Encourage them when they filled with self-doubt or are afraid. Admonish – or correct them when they need a kick in the pants to motivate them. Prioritize them. In all these ways, your love is on display.
But after Illustration, Instruction, and Intimacy, your child needs:
4. Independence – Part of good parenting is giving your child the freedom, the room to make decisions. The older they get, the ‘looser’ must be your grip. You need to trust God that He will watch over and guide them; you need to trust the things you’ve taught them, and you need to trust THEM, and release them to learn.
This is gonna be the hardest thing you do. It requires patience and grace. It’s as Henry Ward Beecher wrote: “You cannot teach a child to take care of himself unless you will let him take care of himself. He will make mistakes, and out of these mistakes will come his wisdom.”
Some mamas and daddies hover, control, and restrict the life right out of their children. They can’t grow up – because mom won’t let them. You’ve got to begin releasing your child at some point. You can’t control or filter or protect them from everything. There’s going to come a time when they will be alone – and the only way they will be able to handle that freedom responsibly, is if you have given them a chance to practice making good decisions.
Teach them how to do their own laundry. Teach them how to cook. Teach your sons basic mechanic skills on the car or how to work with their hands… what TOOLS are for. Kids today know EVERYTHING about the WRONG THING. They are not prepared for life. They don’t know how to balance a checkbook or handle money. And from my perspective – THAT’S ON YOU.
I know a woman who was raised by fine Christian parents. They had her in church every time the doors were open. They prayed every day. They read the Bible in the home. They regulated what their children could watch on TV. They were calm and didn’t yell or argue. They were FINE people.
But they were ALSO people who never let their kids make decisions for themselves. Their youngest daughter is my age, and she can’t drive, or buy groceries or go shopping or to a restaurant. She is a hermit – a socially awkward, mentally dwarfed hermit - and were it not for the kindness of her church family, she and her mother wouldn’t survive.
You DWARF your child when you don’t give them responsibility. When you don’t give them space to make decisions. When you don’t let them learn how to function independently of you – you are – with your own loving hand – destroying that kid.
Will they disappoint you? Most certainly. Will they make a costly decision or two, or experience pain and regret? Without a doubt. But by giving them independence, you are teaching responsibility and you are helping them mature. Kids were born to grow up. Are you helping them… or hindering them?
These are the things kids need: Illustration, Instruction, Intimacy, and Independence. It sounds so easy. So why do we often feel like failures? Behind that confident mask there is self-doubt and worry over the ‘what-ifs.’ I know. That’s why you can’t do this alone. You need the Lord and His Word. You need a church who will stand with you and help you when you have questions.
And maybe right now – you need some help? Will you come pray about it? Will you grab a friend by the hand or come pray with your spouse and ask God to help you be the parent your child needs?
This time is for you.