You can’t make your children Christians, but you can make it easy to love Jesus in your home. You can seek to make your home ring with gospel joy. You can endeavor to make your family not only a family of Christians but a Christian family—sold out for Christ and his cause. God has more for us than the hum-drum life of work, rest, and entertainment. He has more for your children than extra-curricular activities, college scholarships, and good jobs. He has the storehouses of grace and glory for your family.
Our problem is, as C.S. Lewis famously said, “we are far too easily pleased.” We settle for mud pies when a holiday at sea is ours for the taking.
As Christians and as parents, we should not settle for the goal of simply raising obedient Church-goers. Rather we should strive to meet a higher standard of parenting – one that invites our children to lives of sacrificial obedience to Christ.
DO NOT PROVOKE
In Ephesians 6:4, God calls parents to disciple their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Though Paul uses the word “fathers” here, this command applies to both fathers and mothers.
In Paul’s day, the children were under the father’s complete control. He could have them killed or sold into slavery. No law stood in his way. It’s easy to see in that kind of culture how a child would be provoked to anger. Who wouldn’t be provoked living in an unjust home?
But Christ came to bring justice. He came to set things right.
That’s why Paul begins with a negative command, “Do not provoke your children to anger.”
Though we may not live as first-century Christians did, this is still a frightening statement because it is saying that there is a possibility for a parent to create in their children a settled anger and resentment that could last for a very long time.
Of course there will be times when a child gets angry. Who doesn’t get angry? But there’s a difference between intermittent anger and deep, abiding anger as a result of your upbringing.
How does that happen?
On the one hand, parents can be too hard. They can give unnecessary commands, be too heavy-handed, or just down-right mean. They can be easily frustrated and lash out at small wrongdoings. They don’t care about discipling and training the child. They just want the child to fall in line.
King Saul was like that. In 1 Samuel 20, Saul noticed David wasn’t at dinner as he should have been. He asked his son Jonathan where David was. Now, Jonathan knew Saul was mad at David, wanting to kill him, so he helped David avoid the dinner. Jonathan was doing the right thing, but Saul didn’t care. He wanted him to fall in line. Saul said to his son, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman.” Saul went on to command David be brought before him so he could be killed. When Jonathan asked what David had done, Saul thrust his spear at him. So Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger. And rightly so.
That’s a parent who is too hard and too mean. But it’s also possible for a parent to be too soft. For example, in Genesis 37, we see the failures of Jacob as a father. What was Jacob’s failure? He was too soft on his son Joseph. He favored him above the others, and it led to the anger of his other sons. Eventually, they sold Joseph into slavery.
The point is, it’s easy to provoke our children to anger. We don’t have to be evil like King Saul. We can be a kind father like Jacob and do just as much damage.
When we fail to treat our children as a stewardship from the Lord and instead view them as servants for our agenda or necessities for our emotional state, we provoke either them or our other children to anger.
A STEWARDSHIP FROM GOD
A Christian parent doesn’t see their children as either an annoyance or an emotional crutch. Rather they understand their children to be a stewardship from the Lord, for his sake, and seek to bring up their kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
That last phrase is so important. Most parents will raise their children with discipline and instruction. But a Christian parent notices those last three words, “of the Lord.”
It’s not our discipline and instruction that matters. It’s Christ’s. It’s our duty to help our children to follow Jesus—not to follow us.
This means parents must be aware of the rhythms of their family life. How is your week structured? How much of a priority is Jesus in your family life? Is church a checklist item on Sunday morning or is it an anticipation on Saturday night? Is youth group dependent on the children’s sports practice or it is the reason you have to call the coach to explain their absence?
Your rhythms of family life will either prove or disprove the reality of God.
If you never pray or read the Bible in front of or with your kids, if you never talk about Jesus in any regular, open way, if you never invite others into your home for the sake of the gospel, if you never serve Jesus together as a family, if you never ask your kids about who they think Jesus is, if you’re just thankful you’re a Christian and going to heaven but your Christianity hasn’t made an impact on the way you raise your kids, then you haven’t yet realized the glory your family is missing with Christ.
It’s all too easy to just let life come at us, but a Christian parent loves God by helping their children follow Jesus. A Christian parent is active, treating their children as a stewardship from the Lord. Like Jesus, a Christian parent pursues.
You can’t save your children, but you can point them to the Savior. You can make the Savior real in your home.
JESUS REDEEMS OUR PARENTING
Some parents need to consider the command of Ephesians 6:4 with a new openness. Some haven’t parented according to their calling. So what’s the path forward?
Here’s a question that redefines everything in the Christian life, including parenting. It’s a question I’ve brought to bear in my own life in several areas recently.
Do I believe that Jesus is a Redeemer?
I respect him as King—one who watches over me. I listen to him as Prophet—one who speaks with power. But do I trust him as Redeemer—one who makes all things new?
When we trust him that way, we stop quenching the Spirit, and he starts working in our lives. Jesus can change the story of your family and my family, starting today. And he’s asking us, “Will you let me?”
That Jesus is a Redeemer means no parent, no matter their failures, is too far from his grace when it comes to discipling their children. You may think, “But our family is a mess.”
But aren’t we all?
By God’s grace, our path forward is as simple as turning to God. All you must do is say to Christ, “I’m your mess.” And he’ll come in and clean it up. That’s what a redeemer does: turns messes into miracles. And as your children see you turn to the Redeemer, they’ll learn what it means to follow Jesus. They’ll see that he’s a real Savior, and they’ll taste the grace he gives as your family begins to draw life from his mercy.
No one is the perfect parent, but if we’re waiting for perfection or nothing, we’ll get nothing every time.
Let’s trust Christ and say yes to the next right thing.
The triune God is at work in our lives to bring redemption. And in the Trinity, we have the Son who loves and honors the Father perfectly, the Father who never provokes to anger and knows how to discipline and instruct, and the Spirit who sustains it all.
The whole God is invested in the whole you. Our part is simply to trust him and not limit what he can do in us and in our families.
David McLemore is the Director of Teaching Ministries at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.