While the Christian marriage is likely full of benefits for both parties, it is not primarily designed to benefit both parties. It is meant, first and foremost, to put Christ on display.
When you fear the Lord, his ways become your ways. And it will be well with you. Husbands and fathers, are you God-fearing men?
My three-year-old sat in her kid-sized chair, feverishly swiping and tapping on the phone while her siblings ran laps around the house and shouted their favorite tunes. Only it wasn’t a phone she was playing with—it was a Hot Wheels car. We had long since decided against handing phones over to toddlers. In the absence of the real thing, our daughter did what all kids do and used her imagination. She flipped the car over and was pretending the flat bottom was a screen.
After realizing what was going on, I asked her why she would rather sit on the chair pretending to scroll through a phone than run and play with her siblings. Without looking up, she answered, “It’s what all the big girls do.”
My heart broke in that moment. It broke because she was right.
WHAT THE BIG GIRLS DO
My little girl had noticed a pattern, the same one you see when you look around the mall. What are all the big girls doing? When you go to the park, what are all the parents doing?
The average U.S. adult spends five hours per day on their mobile devices. As parents, our hands and schedules are probably full enough that we’re not spending five hours on our phones, but how much time do we spend double-tapping and scrolling? Not long ago, the answer for me was far too much.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were convicted of our use of technology. We took a hard look at how we used our devices and read about what happens when we’re always connected. We started making changes. It wasn’t easy. We struggled to put our convictions into words and explain to family members why we didn’t want them showing our kids how to play games on their phones.
Then Andy Crouch wrote The Tech-Wise Family, which helped us articulate our thoughts and hearts. Crouch’s book features ten tech-wise commitments, many of which we’ve adopted and made our own. In our home today (with four children six and under), we’re committed to:
- Leaving our phones out of sight and out of reach so we can focus on who God has in front of us
- Minimizing the number of toys with buttons available throughout the house so our children develop the capacity of imaginative play
- Reading aloud and talking during car rides (even hours-long road trips), so we can learn how to be around each other and engage more of our senses
- Allowing kids to watch TV only rarely (about once a month), and only with the whole family so the screen becomes a novel, shared experience
I still use Instagram to stay in touch with my friends (and see pics of their kiddos!). I’m grateful for podcasts to listen to while I’m cleaning or exercising. But I can say that, by the grace of God, I’m not dependent on my devices. That’s less because of behavioral modifications, though, and more because of what the Lord has shown us through our tech woes.
OUR REFUGE IN THIS DIGITAL WORLD
My daughter’s comment—"It’s what all the big girls do”—revealed that while we can seek to create a tech-wise home, we can’t fully shield our children from a tech-saturated world; a world with screens on our wrists, in our pockets, and in our living rooms and bedrooms.
Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to stay faithful regardless of what the world worships. Jesus did just that when he came to Earth. He was in the world, but not of it. He dined with sinners, yet remained free of sin. And he calls us to do the same.
But it’s so easy to get lost in questions like What boundaries do we set? How much screen time should my kids have? How old should kids be before they play video games?
When I get lost in these questions, I forget that sin and distraction entered the world thousands of years ago in a garden—not with the invention of the iPhone. Sin separated us from our Creator and sin will condemn us when we stand before him on the day of judgment.
But God loves us too much to let that be the end of the story. God longs to see our relationship with him redeemed. Psalm 34:22 tells us, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants, none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (emphasis mine).
When we take refuge in God, he promises redemption, not condemnation. But taking refuge in the Lord requires trust. And from day one, that’s just what God has been after.
Christian parents can do many really good things without ever trusting God. In the early years, we can make kids eat their carrots before their chocolate. We can put boundaries around technology (as my family has).
But if we fail to daily submit our children, and our role as parents, to the Lord, then we miss the point. Our parental efforts at behavior modification are good, but they aren’t primarily what God’s after.
He’s after our heart. And our hearts reveal what our motives truly are, and those determine our actions. If we want to address technology in our homes, we have to start with our hearts.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The next time you’re evaluating tech use in your home, ask why you’re really checking your phone or turning the TV on. Get to the heart of the matter. Are you justifying handing your phone to your child because you simply long for a break? Or the next time you go to check Instagram, ask what you’re hoping to find—affirmation, satisfaction, relief?
Then consider getting your kids involved in the heart check too! Or at least begin the conversation. You may find what we did, that our child was mimicking what she saw around her because she longs to be “big.” Or you may ask a thirteen-year-old and realize his or her worth and identity is wrongly wrapped up in their online presence.
Together your family can reflect on if the heart of your tech use is in line with the world or the Lord.
And if you’re like me and my family, you’ll probably be overwhelmed with the need to repent—of placing hope in getting something accomplished and using technology to “babysit” because it's easy (and free.) Or repent of placing trust in what others think of me and Instagram likes give me instant “love”. When God reveals the true desires of my heart, and how out of line they are with his heart, my sin feels overwhelming.
But that’s why the gospel is such good news! Because in Christ, I am redeemed by his work, not my family's tech habits. He doesn’t love me more when I stand strong in our tech-wise commitments, and he doesn’t love me less when I hand a screaming child a phone because I don’t know what else to do.
Regardless of what “all the big girls are doing,” I will continue to pray for my heart and my children’s hearts. I will continue to beg God for the grace to trust him more. That might mean our family is more up-to-date with board book stories than Instagram stories, but we’re learning to be okay with that.
Maggie Pope is the CEO of a small nonprofit that invests heavily in the lives of a handful of young children. Since the staff is small, she also serves part-time as the janitor, teacher, bread-baker, and driver. Okay, she’s a mom. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four children.
Many pastors fail at being the pastor of their family. We may be ashamed to admit it, but often when we pontificate from the pulpit about how parents shouldn’t outsource the discipleship of their children to the church, we aren’t even discipling our own children. Before you feel a heavy hand of condemnation, let me remind you that no man wakes up one day and instantly becomes the pastor of his home. It takes years of experience—and many awkward face-plants—to grow into that role. From my limited experience as a father and husband, here are a few simple habits that will get you on the trajectory to being a healthy “pastor-dad.”
PRAY FOR AND WITH YOUR FAMILY
It should be the most natural thing for a man to pray for his family, but it isn’t. It takes intentionality. My wife is a praying woman, and her prayer life pushes me to have a healthier prayer life of my own. It is now part of my daily routine to pray for Rebekah and my boys. If you develop the habit of privately praying for your family, then publicly praying for them will come naturally. Your family needs to hear you pray for them. Your children need to hear their father praying for their salvation.
TURN OFF THE TV, PUT DOWN THE PHONE, AND ENGAGE
I’ve gone through periods when I struggled to come home from the office and simply be pastor-dad, not Pastor Dayton. Our culture calls us to take pride in maintaining a slammed schedule, but our culture also celebrates and encourages a million other things that starve our spiritual vitality and destroy our families. Don’t come home from a long day and shut down. When you are with your family, turn off the TV unless you are watching it together. You also don’t need to be checking sports scores or your email on your phone. I know it’s hard, since many of us have rewired our brains to “need” to check our phones every few minutes. But it can wait.
TALK ABOUT JESUS WITH YOUR FAMILY
What you talk about most often is what your kids think is most important to Dad. If you can’t remember the last time you had a meaningful exchange with your family about the person and work of Jesus, then your kids have no idea that Jesus matters to you. You don’t have to drop theology bombs on their little minds. Just talk to them about Jesus.
READ SCRIPTURE WITH YOUR KIDS EVERY NIGHT
There is no easier way to make sure you talk about Jesus than to read the book that’s by Jesus and about Jesus. There are a number of great resources for families, and most of them can be used in increments of ten or fifteen minutes. For instance, if you have small children you can use resources such as The Gospel Project Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. Reading a chapter or two takes no time at all.
The next day, come home from the office and ask your kids what they remember about the previous night’s family devotion. Ask them how they applied the gospel truth from last night during their day. Tell them how you applied that truth to your heart and life. It’s simple; it just takes intentionality.
PRACTICE DISCIPLINE THAT REVEALS THE GOSPEL
The vast majority of parenting advice from our culture is horrible. Why? Our nation has become post-Christian and is quickly moving toward being anti-Christian. Even for many who believe in God, the default worldview has become something akin to what sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called “moralistic therapeutic deism.” “Moralistic” means someone thinks God just wants them to be a good person; “therapeutic” means they think God wants them to be happy (according to their own definition of happiness); and “deism” is a way of saying God isn’t personally involved in their life.
You do not want to tell your kids that Jesus matters and then parent them through a filter that encourages moralism. That duality is how you create little religious hearts that try to earn God’s favor by being good. This may be the most difficult aspect of being a father and a pastor. We face all kinds of real and perceived pressure to have children who behave properly, who obey, who do not become the stereotype of the wild and crazy pastor’s kids. Our default wiring, with its natural inclination toward religion, will cause us to apply this pressure when disciplining our children, and in doing so will turn them into legalists.
If you believe the gospel, you will not be shocked by your child’s sinfulness. You do not need to lament that your eighteen-month-old is a viper in a diaper the first time he disobeys, but you should remember that Scripture says we are sinners by nature. When we respond to our children’s sin with shock, we communicate to them: “Do better, try harder, make yourself righteous.” Our goal as fathers must not be mere behavior modification. Our aim is to see our children repent and believe the gospel. Therefore, do not respond to their sin in a way that simply calls for a change in behavior; respond in a way that calls for heartfelt repentance.
The moments when we discipline our children are of incredible value for pointing them to Jesus. I’ve found that asking my oldest son a few pointed questions keeps me calm and helps draw his attention to the Perfect Father in Heaven. I ask my son, “Who am I?” He says, “Daddy.” That’s right! “Do I love you, son?” He replies, “Yes!” I then tell him, “Because I love you, just as you are, please obey me.” Sometimes it makes a huge difference. Many times, he doesn’t get it. However, I’m trying to lay gospel groundwork, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
PASTOR YOUR HOME ON PURPOSE
None of this is hard. It just requires intentionality, yet we are often far too passive. This passivity is hurting your family. Begin implementing these basics habits now!
As you pursue being the pastor of your home, you will fail. It’s OK! We all fail, but we cannot allow failure to become defeat. The stakes are too high and your family is far too valuable.
 This term is from their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Content taken from Lies Pastors Believe: Seven Ways to Elevate Yourself, Subvert the Gospel, and Undermine the Church by Dayton Hartman, ©2017. Used by permission of Lexham Press, Bellingham, Washington, LexhamPress.com.
Dayton Hartman holds a Ph.D. in Church and Dogma History from North-West University (Potchefstroom) and an MA from Liberty University. He serves as Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Additionally, he is an Adjunct Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC) and Columbia International University (Columbia, SC). Learn more at his website.
The glass sun face hanging in our bathroom tells a story. It’s from our honeymoon nineteen years ago. On our last night in Ixtapa, Mexico, my husband and I had just enough money after dinner for either a taxi ride back to our hotel or to purchase this souvenir, but not both. Convinced my brand-new husband really liked the sun face, I encouraged him to buy it. And, as we walked the hilly two miles back, he carried the package and congratulated himself on securing a treasure his wife clearly wanted.
Not long after getting back to our hotel room, I said, “I’m so glad we got that sun face for you.”
Incredulous, my husband said, “What? We didn’t get that for me. We got that for you.”
We love that story. We still repeat it to one another and laugh about it. The story the sun face tells is that on our honeymoon we were eager to walk miles in the heat to make the other happy.
All these years later, I can tell you the preferential treatment of our honeymoon hasn’t remained our default behavior. Rather, like all couples, as the days and years progressed we began to live transactionally.
Transactional living looks like this: I’ll do this for you, if you do that for me. But if you don’t keep up your end of the deal, I’m not keeping mine either.
If you work all day, I’ll cook dinner. If I do the taxes, you have to schedule the babysitters. I’m willing to mow the lawn if you do the laundry.
Or if you’re selfish, don’t expect me to be generous. If you’re critical, I will be too. And if I feel like you’re not listening to me, I’m not going to listen to you either.
In a transactional marriage, we keep a secret scoreboard in our heads, tallying our own good deeds alongside the misdeeds of the other. Not surprisingly, we always are in the lead, sure we are outperforming our spouses.
Aware of this human condition, Paul tells us “not to think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3).
Our internal scorekeeping is not only rigged and inaccurate, but it steals our joy. The practice of picking apart our spouse’s shortcomings only begets more picking. It’s a vicious cycle. Our flesh is insatiable.
If we want any hope of a joy-filled marriage, we must heed Paul’s words, given in the same breath as his instruction above, to view ourselves with sober judgment. He says, “by the mercies of God … present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2).
Rather than following the worldly model of transactional living, we are called to renew our minds. Here are four methods of renewing our minds in the midst of marriage.
1. LOOK TO JESUS AS OUR MODEL
Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
Our Savior, himself the God of all creation, left his throne in heaven, put on flesh, and came to Earth to rescue us. He, who knew no sin, took our sin upon himself, giving us his righteousness instead (2 Cor. 5:21). There has never been, nor will there ever be, a greater injustice.
In the midst of marital strife, in a season when I am prone to keep score, I try to remember Jesus’s example. If he—though perfect—was willing to die for me, how much more willing should I—being far from perfect—be willing to serve my spouse? The cross brings perspective.
2. REMEMBER PAUL’S INSTRUCTIONS
Throughout the New Testament we see a variety of instructions from Paul to wives and husbands as to how we should treat one another. What is key, though, is that the instructions are given in the context of worship. Paul tells us to love our spouses in the name of Jesus.
Right before imparting specific marital instructions in his letter to the Colossians, Paul said, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Our treatment of our spouses is meant to flow from our love for Jesus and our gratitude to the Father.
Paul does not tell us to treat our spouses well because it’s the right thing to do. He doesn’t say to serve them because they deserve it. Through Paul, God commands us to sacrificially love our spouses because God himself deserves it. Our kindness in marriage is “to the Lord” (Eph. 4:22).
When our spouses sin against us, and when we are tempted to withhold goodness because they have wronged us, we can remember Paul’s exhortation. We serve Jesus above all. Our tenderness in marriage is in Jesus’ name.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT GOD PROVIDES STRENGTH
Any married person past their honeymoon knows serving your spouse is not automatic. Our flesh is quick to serve itself and we want to be served by others. Just as our salvation was not secured by our own strength, neither are our good works. Like Paul said, it is “not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
In order to avoid transactional living, in order to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]” (Phil. 2:3), we must remember that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
If we are to have any hope in marriage, any expectation of longevity and happiness and unity, we must call on Christ to work through us.
4. BELIEVE THIS FOR YOUR JOY
The counter-intuitive truth of the Christian life is that joy is granted when we deny ourselves. Our Savior endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). In the same way, when we seek the good of our spouse, when we forsake ourselves, we find joy.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).
We find our lives when we follow our Lord and pour ourselves out. When we treat our spouses preferentially, it is for their good, for our joy, and for the glory of God.
This laying-down lifestyle is the opposite of a transactional lifestyle. This way asks, How can I bless you? What do you need? In this kind of marriage, spouses keep no record of wrongs—or rights.
Rather, they give a blessing for a cursing. They honor one another above themselves. They emulate their Savior. And they find not only a lasting marriage, but lasting joy.
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.