In the Hands of the Father

Matthew 7:7-12

Our son Tim and his wife Megan and their kids (our grandchildren) are coming the end of this week. We love spending time with them. One of the things I enjoy most is when he finds himself doing and saying things that remind him of me – he’s becoming his father! You know those things that your father did or said, that you swore you would never do or say? But you do, and the cycle continues. It’s just a little poetic justice.

Have you ever wondered why God put such enormous responsibility for raising children into the hands of fallible human parents – knowing that we would be inadequate to the task, and make so many mistakes, and fall flat on our faces? Either he’s flipped his lid, or he has a warped sense of humor, or… or he didn’t intend for us to do it on our own.

That’s all I can figure out when I read the story of Sampson’s parents before he was born. Manoah is away on business and Mrs. Manoah is at home praying for a child, when suddenly an angel appears telling her that she is going to become a mother. When Manoah returns home, his wife tells him all about the angel and the announcement, and Manoah prays his own prayer – “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

I did some of my best teaching on parenting before we had kids – I was a self-proclaimed expert. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t preach much on parenting these days – my kids have disproved everything I ever thought I knew about the subject. It’s tough pretending to be an expert about a subject everybody knows you don’t know anything about. So, as Solomon said, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.” 

We need wisdom – wisdom from above – if we are to raise children who love and serve God. And really, while I might admire the example of parents who are raising great kids, I want to imitate the example of the Father himself. And certainly, Scripture paints an incredible picture of the Father’s love for us to imitate.

“Not once,” says Philip Yancey, “does the [Moslem] Koran apply the word love to God.” Aristotle stated bluntly, “It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus – or that Zeus loved a human being, for that matter.” In dazzling contrast, the Bible affirms that “God is love” and cites that love as the reason that God “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

In no other religion does one even entertain the suggestion of the possibility that a god might love people, but the Bible maintains, from cover to cover, that the true God, the creator of everything, not only loves, but constantly expresses that love in a multitude of ways, seen and unseen. Literally everything he does flows from that love.

Jesus gives us a promise, an illustration, and an application in the Sermon on the Mount.

First, the promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

 

The promise here is that God is available and accessible. He isn’t locked away in his office or off on the golf course, unavailable. He is attentive to our needs, he responds to our requests. As a father to your children, take a cue from your Father in heaven – be available and accessible to your kids.

Now the illustration: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

God is not only available, he is generous. He doesn’t brush you off and hurry you out the door. He doesn’t skimp or cut corners, he pours out his love abundantly. Your Father in heaven is anxious to bless you. He wants the very best for you. Do your kids sense that they are getting your very best? Do you give them the best moments of your day, or just the leftovers when you’ve taken care of everyone and everything else? Your kids need your best.

And finally the application: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:7-12).

Isn’t it interesting that you can sum up the Law and Prophets in eleven words? Do to others what you would have them do to you. How simple is that? And yet, it is perhaps the most demanding command ever spoken. Treat your kids like you would want to be treated. Treat them with respect and love and appreciation. Be a selfless servant who would lay down your life for your kids.

Even earthly fathers know what love looks like. But do you want to love like your Father in heaven?

God loves to give – and what he loves to give most is himself. Practice generosity without limits, and proactive, not reactive love. In other words, initiate loving exchanges with your children – don’t wait for them to do something worthy of your love – pour it out on them before they deserve it. Don’t dole out your love in little bits but lavish your love on your children. Give them the “how much more” of your love, that leaves them wondering, “what got into dad?”

I guess that’s something I’ve had a tough time learning. I’m a frugal guy. I don’t like to spend money if I don’t have to, and I certainly don’t like to waste it. And there have been times I’ve been a cheapskate. And the truth is, I don’t think your kids appreciate what they have if you just give them everything without them having an investment in it. Generosity is different than spoiling.

But generosity really goes beyond spending a lot of money. It means you not only give them what they need, but more. You are extravagant in your love for them. Think of ways to give – not only things, but yourself to your kids – be creative in blessing them with that little extra that says you are really thinking of them. And it’s not just a matter of what you give, but how you give – the attitude with which you give it. Do you want your kids looking back on you as a dad and saying, “my dad sure could save a buck,” or “my dad was the most generous man I’ve ever known”?

When the prodigal son left home for the far country – it broke the father’s heart. And a day never passed after that that he didn’t look down the road hoping to see his son coming back home. And then one day he did. The son had come with a pretty fair plan – take me back and I’ll work off my debt like a hired hand. But the father wouldn’t hear of it. He didn’t just let him come back as a hired hand or a second-class member of the family. He brought the best robe and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and killed the fattened calf so they could celebrate his return. That’s extravagant love. Don’t wait for your kid to leave home before you think about it – try it out now.

God doesn’t give blessings, measured and exact, not a drop more than what we need. Listen to Jesus: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Lk 6:38). What better place to practice that than with your family?

Now, just about the time you’re thinking, this fathering thing is all about hugs and kisses, the writer of Hebrews drops a little reality into the love-fest – And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Love isn’t just about warm-fuzzies, it’s also about firm guidance.

Discipline is not the opposite of love – it is a very important dimension of love. The father who refuses to discipline his children doesn’t love his children – he is, in fact, condemning his children to miserable, self-centered lives. Discipline isn’t about punishment and beatings – it’s about guidance and direction. The very word, “discipline” is a cognate of the word “disciple.” If you want your children to honor Jesus as the Lord of their lives, they need your discipling discipline in their lives.

And your children won’t appreciate it – the writer said, “no discipline seems pleasant at the time.” They’ll argue with you when you say “no” – they’ll resent you when you take away privileges – they’ll tell you “I hate you” when you give them a spanking. But someday they will thank you because you loved them enough to discipline them. He writes, “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

When I think of fathers, I think of how Paul described his ministry with the Thessalonian church: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11-12). That doesn’t come naturally to most of us men. We think that’s mom’s role – encouraging and comforting – and most of us leave the spiritual leadership to mom, as well.

But Paul says, that’s what fathers do. We ought to be our kids’ biggest cheerleaders. They ought to know that no one believes in them more than their dad. And comforting – that’s our job too. Sometimes we cheer them on when they are first chair and honor roll, sometimes we comfort them when they fall on their face and miss the game winning goal. We’ve got to be there when they are winners and when they are losers. They need to experience our unconditional love and acceptance.

But they also need – and this is perhaps the most important for us to “urge them to live lives worthy of God.” We need to be the spiritual leaders in our homes. God bless you if your wife is a spiritual giant, but she needs you to be the spiritual leader. Your kids will go with mom to church when she takes them, but when they see you sitting at home instead of in church week after week, I’ll tell you whose example they will follow when they get to choose. They need to see you in church, they need to see you following Jesus, they need their father to imitate the Father.

Most of all, they need THE Father to be your father, too. So many of the men I know struggle with how to be men of God. They might do pretty well in the business world, they’ve got the recreation thing going, they’re not bad when it comes to being a good man. But the thing their family needs most, they just can’t let go and let God rule their life. What – do you think real men don’t need Jesus, that God’s okay as long as he sticks to church stuff – but leave him out of real life? This is real life – and real men do need Jesus – and your real family is dying for you to step up and lead them in faith.

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