Five minutes with my kids is all it would take to validate that what follows is a prayer for the future, and not a present reality. My wife and I have three children, ages 12, 11, and 6. We are now in our 40’s. We’re tired. My kids misbehave. They fight with each other and they disobey me.
But here I am sharing a few thoughts on parenting gleaned from a minor prophet. Weird. Though I am not an Old Testament scholar who spends combing the original language for various insights that others fail to notice, I am a dad who reads the scriptures hoping for any glimpse of Jesus. As I read Micah I am not only finding Jesus, but also our Father who is the example for parents. What if I fathered like our heavenly Father?
Acting Contradictory to the Character of God
One quick way to get me angry as a dad is when our children willingly and boldly talk or act in a manner that is contradictory to how we—my wife and I—have instructed them and attempted to model before them. When we have placed a particular focus in an area over a long period of time—including a conscious modeling before our children—and then our children act in defiant opposition of what our family stands for…it is frustrating to say the least.
At the core of that frustration is the strong, DNA-level desire for our children to act in a manner that is congruent with and reflective of the DNA of our family. Now, I’m well aware that often our children’s misbehavior is merely an image-bearing reflection of me and my sin. But still, it’s frustrating. It’s maddening. It’s aggravating. I mean, we’re talking about core values, attitudes, or actions that we’ve worked on over and over. When those not only get ignored, but rebuffed, that’s a sure-fire way to incite anger.
Now, I believe that anger can be a righteous reflection of the kind of anger God had over Israel throughout their history. He makes in known through prophets like Micah. In Micah 2:2, we see a description of how God’s family is behaving.
They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance. – Micah 2:2
At first blush, I was tempted to roll right past this description and assume, as is often the case in the minor prophets, that God was talking about some foreign nation under some foreign god. Then, the Spirit reminded me that this description is a description of God’s covenant family, Israel. That gave me reason to pause. His family, his treasured possession, was acting lik this.
God is a gracious, perfect provider for his people’s needs. And yet, here is his own family wasn’t satisfied and coveted more. Here they are, not only wanting more toys, but forcefully ripping them from the hands of their brothers and sisters. Do you see the thought process? “I want it. They have it. I will use whatever power I have and take it. I will use my bigness, and sit on you, and rip that toy right out of your hand.”
In contrast, God gives graciously to his people. They have received more than enough. In fact, God has intentionally blessed them for the express purpose of being a blessing. Instead, they demand “It’s not enough.” God is a ‘gladdener of hearts’ not an oppressor. I feel like I need to say that again, because the reality is, I often don’t believe it: God is a gladdener of hearts. He seeks to make our hearts and lives happy. When God shows up, life gets ‘gladder’, not sadder.
When God looks at his family, Israel, and sees coveting and oppressing, this rightly angers him because his family is acting in direct contradiction to his character; rather than reflecting it.
Providing Gracious, Consistent Discipline
Therefore thus says the LORD: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster. – Micah 2:3
With God as an alert and active Father/parent, the result is, you cannot avoid him as a disciplinarian. There’s no hiding. His people cannot sweep this under the rug. There’s no loophole. There’s no secret tunnels or passageways to get around him.
I picture many a ‘hallway’ football games with my big brother. Growing up, we’d often play football in the narrow hallway of our home. And there he would stand, looming a few feet away. And there was no getting around him. He was unavoidable. Now, I’m not so sure my brother’s unavoidable-ness was born out of love for me. I’m guessing it had another root. But God’s unavoidable-ness is born out of love.
You see, God hates covetousness and bullying. He will not stand for it. He will not allow his family to treat each other that way. Why?
- Because of his own nature and character. He created this covenant community to be a new kind of people/family, one that would show the world what it looks like to live in God’s ways. Coveting does not accomplish this purpose.
- He cares about each member of his family and he will not put up with coveting (I want what you have, that I’m convinced I deserve) or oppression/bullying (I’ll use my power or bigness to take advantage of your powerlessness or smallness). We often find ourselves saying this to our older kids in regards to their younger siblings, “How did Jesus use his power and bigness towards us? Did he use it to hurt us and harm us, or did he use it to serve us and love us?”
- He cares about those outside of his family who are looking in and making judgment calls about who God is based the behavior of his family.
Now, those are three great reasons we should regularly share with our kids. “Why do mom and dad care about your behavior and the heart behind it? The same reason God cares about his family’s behavior and the heart behind it.”
First, am I actively, lovingly, graciously, consistently unavoidable in my discipline when my children
act in a manner contradictory to our Father? Have I communicated why this is important and worth discipline—not simply because it’s important to dad, but because it’s important to God!
Too often, I’m inconsistent, too tired, or too lazy to step in to correct and to explain. In addition, I also think somehow that grace competes with consistency, as if I must choose between the two. But our Father doesn’t. He is graciously consistent because the most unloving, ungracious thing he could do would be to passively ignore our destructive behavior.
Second, am I aware and moved by the incongruence of my kids behavior and the character of the Father? Do I care enough about his reputation, his DNA, his life-giving character to step in?
Or do I even know enough? Better yet, have I experienced enough of his gracious, beautiful character to be moved to intercede when my children fail to act in line with who he is?
The Good News
The answer to the above is a resounding NO. No, I don’t step in consistently and graciously. And no, I don’t have a heart-level compulsion based on my own experience of his Fatherhood that moves me to act. So now what, Micah?
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13
Well, now our Father calls an assembly, which he himself assembles. Who’s invited? Myself, along with all of the other parents who have failed. So, what can we expect at this assembly? A guilt-soaked lecture? A lashing? No. A gathering like sheep, into the fold of a gracious shepherd. A flock of noisy, but satisfied sheep in a green pasture. King Jesus leads the way, the Good Shepherd who willingly lays his life down for his sheep. Jesus provides a way of salvation. The Father cares so much about his own reputation, about how his family treats one another, and about how outsiders view him, that he breaches the gate by sending his Son for our failure. Now, that’s a great dad. That’s a Great Savior, and King, and older brother. He has gone on before us and made a way.
It’s only when I believe and taste and experience what truly makes God a perfect Father, that I’ll be motivated to step in when my kids fail to act in accordance with his character.
May the love of the Father compel us, the sacrifice of the Son free us, and the power of the Spirit move us to graciously, consistently, and lovingly parent our children to reflect him.
Robby Fowler is a Pastor & Elder on a great team at Fellowship Jonesboro in northeast Arkansas—part of the Soma North America family and a member of the Acts 29 network. He is a husband to Kelly for 18 years, and father of three: Colby Grace, Cade Robert and Carson James. He is not a particularly great parent, but his hope rests in Jesus for his kids.
Read A Beginners Guide to Family Worship by Winfield Bevins