A father came home from work to find his little girl brushing the dog’s teeth with his toothbrush. He was horrified and asked her what she was doing. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, daddy, I’ll put it back like I always do.”
Fathers deserve a day.
You’ve heard the bad news about men and fathers: one in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present; just a quarter of adult men attend church regularly; only slightly more ever read their Bibles; only a third even claim to be “born again.”
The clear pattern from years of family counseling is that a bad or absent father can harm the education, personality, vocation, and future of his children. For example, almost all the members of Chicago’s street gangs come from homes with inadequate fathering.
Here’s the good news: it has been proven that good fathering strengthens children and home in every way. Self-esteem and individual identity, definition of purpose and direction, a basic sense of worth all derive from good fathers.
A child psychologist spent years studying the faith of children and comparing it to their relationships with their fathers. Here is his famous conclusion: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.” What an awesome responsibility and privilege we have been given!
Here’s the basic point of this article: where the father goes, his children will follow. Let’s explore this principle and find its application to our lives and families today.
An Example to Study
Jacob’s story is one of the real roller-coasters to be found in the word of God, and his family rode every up and down with him. His name meant “deceiver,” and his story proved its accuracy. He was born the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, one of the great men in all of Scripture.
But he plunged quickly into family deception. As a young man, he cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, and he later tricked his blind and elderly father into giving him the blessing his brother deserves. As a result, he was forced to flee from his brother for his very life, running to his uncle in faraway Mesopotamia.
On his way to Canaan, God found Jacob at a place called Bethel. The Lord revealed himself and covenanted to bless him and his posterity. But soon he slid down again into the depths of deceit. His uncle deceived him into marrying both Leah and Rachel; he tricked his uncle and increased his herds and possessions; finaly, he ran from his uncle as he ran from his brother.
But again God found him, this time at a place called Peniel. He wrestled with Jacob until daybreak and changed his name from Jacob (“Deceiver”) to Israel (“One who wrestles with God”). This was in many ways the high point of his entire story.
Then the slide began again. His daughter Dinah was defiled by a man named Shechem; then his sons deceived the Shechemites and killed them all. Jacob said to them, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land” (Genesis 34:30, NIV). But they were only following their father’s example, going where he led them.
Finally Jacob returned to Bethel, where he first met God. Here he led his family to rid themselves of their foreign gods, built an altar to the Lord God, and worshiped him. And again, his family followed him.
But the downward plunge came again as Joseph’s story began. Is it any wonder that his brothers would enslave him and lie to their father? Any wonder that this family would spend twenty years in dysfunction and pain? What their father was, they became. Where he led, they followed.
But God was good. He restored their family through Joseph and preserved Jacob’s nation and people. Along the way, he gave us an example we can learn from. Where the father goes, his children usually follow.
What does this fact say to us today?
Principles to Practice
Be what you want your family to become.
Hear the word of God: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
And then this text: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 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” (v. 7). Lead your children as God leads you.
A father decided to stop drinking the day he staggered home through a snowfall, turned, and saw his little boy walking in his wandering footprints in the snow.
Be the spiritual person you want your children to become. If your family grows to be exactly what you are spiritually, will that be a good thing? The chances are that they will.
Give your family the time love requires.
Hear the word of God: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Training and instruction” refer to the idea of nurturing love, time spent in the things of God, time invested in their lives and souls. Love takes time. For children, the two are synonymous.
A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose: time with television or with their father. Ninety-two percent chose time with their fathers.
A friend sent me a touching story about a little boy who asked his hard-working father how much he made per hour. His father was tired, and upset with his son’s question. Finally he said, “I make $20 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Then could I borrow $9?” His irritated father said, “You just want some of my hard-earned money to spend on more toys. When will you stop being so selfish?” He sent him to bed without the money.
Soon he calmed down and began to regret the way he had spoken to his son. He went into his bedroom, apologized, and gave his boy the nine dollars he requested. The boy was very excited, and pulled a wad of dollar bills out from underneath his pillow. “Why did you want more money if you already had some?” his father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” the little boy replied.
“Daddy, I have $20 now. Can you play with me for an hour?”
Lead with the result in mind.
The famous management principle also applies to parenting: begin with the end in view. Remember always that you are molding eternal souls. What do you want them to become?
Hear the word of the Lord: “Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah became what his father wanted him to become.
What do you want your children to be like? What end do you want to produce? What kind of family will you wish you had when your life is done? Start with that end in mind. Begin now.
A family counselor named John Drescher once listed things he would differently if he were starting his family over. See if one of these resolutions applies to you:
- Show my children more that I love my wife.
- Laugh more with my children. Oscar Wilde said, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”
- Be a better listener. The average child asks 500,000 questions by age fifteen.
- Seek to be more honest, admit mistakes, be human.
- Stop praying just for my family, and start praying more for me, that I would be the man God wants me to be.
- Try for more togetherness. Counselors surveying a group of junior high boys for two years found that they spent 7.5 minutes per week with their fathers.
- Do more encouraging.
- Pay more attention to the little things.
- Seek to develop a feeling of belonging.
- Seek to share God more intimately.
The best advice I can give to any father today is this: guard your heart. Keep your heart close to Jesus.
In the book of Numbers, God led the people by day and his pillar of fire by night. The text says, “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped” (Numbers 9:17–18).
The people could follow God because they were close to him. They stayed under his cloud and by his fire. They stayed close enough to be led in his word and will.
Would Jesus say you are close to him today? Can he lead your family through you? Are you guarding your heart for your sake and theirs?
Do you have a father who is close to God? Have you thanked God and thanked him? Do you have a father who needs to be closer to God? Have you prayed for him?
Are you blessed with the privilege of fatherhood? Never sell short the influence of your life on the eternal souls of your children. This is life’s greatest responsibility and privilege.
Let’s give Charles Spurgeon the last word:
On the mantelshelf of my grandmother’s best parlor, among other marvels, was an apple in a bottle. It quite filled up the body of the bottle, and my wondering inquiry was, “How could it have been got into its place?” By stealth I climbed a chair to see if the bottom would unscrew, or if there had been a join in the glass throughout the length of the bottle. I was satisfied by careful observation that neither of these theories could be supported, and the apple remained to me an enigma and a mystery. [Later on,] walking in the garden I saw a bottle placed on a tree bearing within it a tiny apple, which was growing within the crystal; now I saw it all: the apple was put into the bottle while it was little and grew there.
Guard your heart. Where you lead, your children will likely follow. This is the warning and the promise of God.