Father’s day was this past Sunday, and I believe fathers, both natural and spiritual, are in need of much encouragement these days. This will be a series of four blogs aimed at encouraging fathers to fulfill their God-given role in the family, in the church, and in society. This series is adapted from a teaching I gave to the men of Living Way Church on December 15, 2019. If you want to listen to that teaching, you can find it by clicking HERE. You can also download the handout here:
Goals, Conditions, and Orientations
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.Psalm 103:13
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.Proverbs 3:11-12
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.Proverbs 13:24
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.Hosea 11:1-4
I wish I could give you the one key to success as a father. Not only would I be able to help you, but I would probably be one of the word’s best-selling authors and most requested speakers! There’s a reason, however, that you have never heard of that author or speaker who has the one secret: being a good father is much too complex and is irreducible to simple solutions.
Not only are we, as fathers, complex individuals, but our children are uniquely designed by God, with varying needs, strengths, weaknesses, emotional structures, sin patterns, and natural abilities. If you have more than one child, you have probably learned by now that you cannot use the same approach towards each child. Rather, it takes wisdom and understanding to be the father your children need as individuals.
Therefore, rather than jumping into detailed prescriptions for how to be a father day-to-day, I want to begin by zooming out to the big picture of fatherhood. I think it starts with this question:
What is the main goal of being a father?
Perhaps you have never thought about this, but in any area of life, we have to know where we are going if we are ever going to get there. Another way of saying this is the “Why” should determine the “How.” Once we answer the question of why we are going to do something, then we can rightly address the question of how we will do it. If you get this order wrong, you will be lost, as you will begin with the practical solution rather than the heart attitude.
What is the main goal of being a father, then? I believe the main goal of being a father is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When we realize that’s what we are aiming for, it will reshape how we do everything.
The main goal is not to raise well-adjusted children, nor to educate them well, nor to give them athletic opportunities, nor to make sure they are financially independent. The main goal is to raise them to see the beauty and glory of God the Father. The main goal is that they would follow Christ, along with their children after them, continuing for generations long after we are dead. Consider the following scriptures:
And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.Malachi 2:15
For I have chosen him [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.Genesis 18:19
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:14-19
Our fatherhood, then, is sourced in the Fatherhood of God. So, the goal is that our children, grandchildren, and so on, would be godly, righteous, and just, knowing the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love Jesus Christ our Lord. In short, the goal of fatherhood is that our children would know the Father, in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.
From Understanding the Goal to Creating the Conditions
Once we understand the goal of being a father is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for generations to come, we need to turn to the conditions that will make fertile ground for the growth of these disciples.
If you were going to plant a garden, you would take the time to consider the kind of soil you need, the amount of water the plants would require, the environment you live in, and the time of year you would sow your crops to reap the optimal harvest. You cannot just skip ahead to throwing the seeds out without creating the right conditions for success.
In the same way, as fathers, we need to be creating conditions in our homes, churches, and businesses that make for fertile ground as we carry out the various duties of fatherhood. The verses I listed at the beginning of this post give us the underlying conditions that should be present in our fathering, whether with our natural children or spiritual children, at all times, whether we are eating dinner together, reading the Bible, disciplining our children, or asking our children to follow our example. These four conditions are:
- Delight (a high degree of gratification or pleasure: joy)
- Compassion (sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it)
These are all part of God’s nature as our Father (Exodus 34:6-7), and we should mirror these attributes to our natural and spiritual children. They should know, and feel, without a doubt, that we love them, that we delight in them, that we will be kind to them, and that we will be compassionate towards them.
We know, in Christ, God the Father delights (Isaiah 62:4) in us as His children, just like He delights in His own Son (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). So, also, we should show the delight of God the Father to our children. If your fathering is flowing out of these four conditions, I believe you will see great fruit and can expect a great reward, provided that you are faithful to carry out the duties and responsibilities demanded of a father.
The Three Orientations of the Father
Now that the goal of fatherhood and the underlying conditions of being a godly father have been clarified, we need to move into what I call the primary orientations of a father. Rather than thinking of a list of things we need to be doing, which are many, we need to be thinking about the balancing act we have in holding in tension the different callings. This is why I call them orientations. We must orient each of these callings toward the goal of making disciples within the right conditions for fruitfulness.
One way to think about this is like an archer shooting an arrow. First, he must know what he is shooting at: the target. Second, he needs to check the conditions. Is the wind blowing too hard? Is visibility good for locating the target? Third, he must orient himself to the shot. Just holding the bow steady is not enough, just aiming at the target is not enough, and just pulling the arrow back with the right force is not enough. All three of these factors, steadiness, aim, and power, must be held simultaneously, in proper balance, for a successful shot. When those are combined with the right conditions and proper target, then an archer will make a good shot.
Biblically, I believe a father has three primary orientations:
For the remainder of this series, we will look at how each of these orient us towards fathering our spiritual and natural children. As you read, I want you to remember balance is important. You should not instruct your children without providing for them or without living in a way they can imitate. Likewise, living in a way that is an example without instructing them is not enough. Also, being the provider without instructing them or setting an example will make you miss the mark.
The diagram below puts together everything we have discussed up to this point, with making disciples right at the bullseye:
In the next three posts, I will go in depth into these three orientations, as we explore what the Bible teaches about how a father is to instruct his children, set an example worth imitating for his children, and provide for his children.
“Living in a way that is an example without instructing them is not enough. Also, being the provider without instructing them or setting an example will make you miss the mark.”. I can attest to the truth in this statement. I didn’t want to pressure my children to follow Christ, but always provided examples in my life of disciplines of the Christian life. I made sure that we went to Church on Sundays, didn’t participate in Halloween, didn’t allow any Harry Potter books, and never had cable TV. I mean, what more could I do, right? I wanted so desperately for my kids to experience Jesus for themselves and not to piggyback on their parents’ faith. This attitude lead to laziness and apathy when it came to discipling my children. I left it to someone else to share the Good News with my kids because I thought they might resist the Gospel if our relationship ever deteriorated. Our relationship did struggle at times, and going to church often became a topic of contention. It was so difficult to resist forcing upon my children issues that I believed were so crucial, but therein lies the problem: I believed it was my burden to be carried out by my own strength. If only I had spent more time in prayer and humility before the Lord that is more than willing to grant wisdom and understanding to all father’s who ask. I missed many opportunities when they were little, but with God’s guidance it’s not too late. So let’s be attentive, Dad’s with wayward kids, this teaching is not designed to shame us, but to lead us even with our adult children.