The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

May I suggest that after our children’s salvation in Jesus Christ, the second-most important prayer we can pray for our children is actually… a prayer for ourselves: “God, please turn my heart toward my children.”

We need to pray this prayer for at least four reasons.

#1. Our identity is one of being ambassadors of Jesus Christ to our children(Deut. 6, Eph. 6:1-4, 2 Cor. 5:20). God’s clearly revealed will is to use us as the primary evangelizers and disciplers of “our” children. To do this well, our hearts need to embrace what is already true about us: that we have been given this calling. God’s callings are His enablings.

#2. We are easily distracted by everything going on around us.Technology has made our attention spans like that of gnats on espresso. Instant gratification is just milliseconds away. Consequently, we’d rather lick the icing than make the cake. Priorities? What are those? Everything seems equal in importance. We complain about the tyranny of the urgent but in our worst moments we use it is a convenient excuse for why we rarely engage our children on a deeper, spiritual level. What do we really value most? Our hearts must change.
#3. We would rather pursue things that bring us glory.Let’s be honest. Discipling children, even with its joys, is still what sometimes feels like an odyssey into the paranormal that does more to humble us than shower us with accolades of success. We find it easier to give our time to pursuits that we find much more affirming, immediately rewarding and fun. Our hearts must change.

#4. God is conforming our children into his image, not our image.Our children were created in God’s image, not our own. Jesus’ death and resurrection ensures the transformation of his children into his image. Yet, how often do we find ourselves trying to conform them to an identity that wehave planned out for them? God has a plan for “our” children that usually looks different than our own. We have to stop the tug-of-war with God. God’s dream needs to become our dream. Our hearts need to change.

Time is short. It seems to go by ever so slowly until you wake up and realize that you’ve been at it ten years and the things you wanted to do “tomorrow” you didn’t do. Regret is hard to live with. I already regret things I should have done but didn’t because in key moments, my heart was somewhere else.

Good fathers are not perfect (as if that were even possible). Instead, good fathers are weak fathers who have hearts that are increasingly mastered not by guilt, fear, or self-righteousness but by the overwhelming, compelling love of Jesus Christ for us—in our weakness.

His love for us becomes compelling when each day we realize ALL that he has done for us in making us new creations and giving us every spiritual blessing. We have been given a new identity that is rocket fuel for us fathers.

What are you praying for as a father? Is it for God to change your heart toward your children? If so, seeing all that God has already given you in Jesus is a powerful tool he will use to answer your prayer.

Take a look at what Jesus has done for you!

Please consider the following two resources. First, my 38 minute webinar, Three Wounds Fathers Face and How Our Identity in Christ Helps us Overcome Them, and then second, our 25 page booklet, Who ARE You? For Men!
Two Simple Encouragements for Parents

Two Simple Encouragements for Parents

All ten of us were around the dinner table and the conversation slouched in a bad direction—fast. The kids were discussing some choices that a friend had made. These were not necessarily sinful choices but could reasonably be categorized as lacking wisdom. I tried to arrest the free-fall by looking over at my youngest son, Hunter, asking him, “Hunter: What is something you are thankful for today?” I don’t even remember what he said. I then headed around the table asking his siblings the same question.

I could not believe it. Like a school of piranha fish my children began attacking one of their siblings for what they said they were thankful for. Distraught, Leslee left the table and quietly went upstairs. I stayed for about 3 more minutes and went upstairs to find her.

Is this a familiar scene in your home?

Leslee and I were both angry about what we saw. It was a struggle. The situation needed to be addressed. But how? We knew we needed to pray and get our own hearts right so we could then discuss what had happened. We discussed what we should do in order to address what happened. Then, we went downstairs and called a family meeting. After everyone gathered in the living room, we prayed with the children and then calmly asked some questions. We had about 45 minutes of good discussion which led to some confession and restoration between siblings. Leslee and I even gained some insights we hadn’t had before. It wasn’t quite a scene from the Sound of Music but it was effective.

I wish that I could say that events like this were rare. And I wish I could say that they all cleaned up as relatively easily as this one apparently did. My point in sharing this is to encourage mothers and fathers with two reminders:

First, God works through the messes. The messes are real life. I think we all (parents and children) learn more from messes than from perfection. We all want life to be less confrontational and more peaceful. We wrongly conclude that because there is conflict that there is something inordinately wrong. But that doesn’t have to be, nor is it usually the case. While we seek peace it doesn’t just happen because we wish it but because we work through the inevitable challenges presented by our sin.

Second, Prayer is powerful.Prayer demonstrates a simple dependence upon him. He must act because he is the only one who can change our hearts. Sometimes—especially in the midst of conflicts—we don’t want to pray. Prayer sometimes feels hollow. But God sees in our hearts the desire to honor him. He is glorified in this. And we are helped.

It is easy to become discouraged when we see the same song, 99thverse in our homes. We can easily lose hope because we wrongly conclude that God is not at work. But don’t give in to the hopelessness that is so easy to give in to in the home. Stand firm in the fight for our families. Use the powerful means of prayer. Never doubting that God is at work through it all to accomplish his glory and our ultimate joy.

What is More Important? Actions or the Desires that Drive Them?

What is More Important? Actions or the Desires that Drive Them?

frustrated manIt is 11:59 PM. You’re exhausted. But the conversation with your teenager (or spouse) has now drug on for 48 harried minutes. Despite your generous investment of time and attention, it is clear that the issue on the table is about as clear as a London fog.

We know that these conversations are an inevitable part of life in a fallen world. It is easy to grow weary of them and tune out or avoid them altogether. But they can be part of good relationship development. We learn a lot about others and most especially—ourselves—through them.

Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out a way to burn through the fog? Refocusing our attention on the cause of the issue or conflict (whichever) that lies beneath these conversations can help reduce the duration and frequency of these conversations so that they are more redemptive. Here’s how.

To begin, there is no formula. I apologize if you thought I was going to give you one! (Faith is not a formula but it doesn’t stop us from hedonistically searching for formulas, does it?) What I’m going to share with you is something more fundamental that cannot be replaced with a mere on-demand formula although it can also be helpful in the moment.

Desires Drive Life

The issues of our lives—that cause conflicts and those squirrely conversations!—are the passions, or desires that are idolatrous and rule our hearts. Luke 6:55 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

“Evil treasure” can also be described as deceitful desire or evil desires as we see in Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:5 (respectively). “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.”

Desires Can Become Demands

Most desires are not inherently sinful but become idolatrous when they depend on something or someone other than God for fulfillment. For example, a desire for the delicious taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream is not a bad thing in itself. But what happens if you go to the store and they are out—or worse, they don’t have green mint chocolate chip but only the white kind? Do you get angry about it? Getting angry is a sign that the desire has indeed become idolatrous.  Another example could be a desire for a secure future. You have diligently saved and invested wisely. But there’s a market correction and your portfolio loses 40% of its value. How do you respond? Ultimately, our response reveals where our trust really is. If it is really in the portfolio then fear and anxiety will overcome us. If however it is really looking to God, then amid the conflicting emotions will emerge obedient rest in God despite the loss.

The issues of life are fundamentally desire-driven. This represents a challenge for us, especially as parents. Are we merely training our children to “do what is right?” Or, are we getting to the real heart of the issue which is the often stealthy desires that have driven those actions? Actions are merely the flower, the desires are the root. Based on how we parent, would our kids say that doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason?

If desires are the problem, then what are doing about them? First, desires are always directing us. They never rest. Perhaps putting it that way is enlightening? If desires are always at work, then it is appropriate to discuss them at any time. We rarely evaluate ourselves or discuss desires with others this intently. The second thing we can do then is to get into the habit of discussing desires.

Talk More About Desires

One day a few weeks ago, I took one of my teenage sons on some errands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was—his—errand! Anyway, he was talking quite passionately about a particular interest of his. (If my van were electric, I could have plugged him into the engine and saved a lot of gas.) At the end of what was at least an 8-minute monolog, I simply said, “WOW. You have strong desires!” Then we had a good discussion about desires. Nothing my son said that day was sinful. He did nothing wrong. But in the moment, the opportunity presented itself simply to draw attention to this fact.

It is good that—especially in normal, non-confrontational conversation—that we talk about our desires so that we can begin to be more attentive to their presence, identify them, and connect them to our behavior more readily. In normal and stressed conversations asking the question, “Why?” is a great tool that allows you to cut through the fog and reach the desire level.

Dealing With Actions on the Desire Level Provides Hope

Talking about desires prepares us to be able to deal more effectively with those issues especially when they come up at midnight and you are not in the mood for a 48 minute game of mental hopscotch. This is not hard to understand. However, the things that are simple to understand can sometimes be the hardest to do because they require intentionality and usually more of our time. But we must remember that our investiture pays off because this is what God has said is our core problem. Addressing the core problem as God defines it gives us tremendous hope that better days are ahead and confidence that we, in all of our weakness, can be God’s instruments in each other’s lives!

Four Ways for Parents to Seize More Moments

Four Ways for Parents to Seize More Moments

A high school graduation. A marriage. Or perhaps more likely the death of a friend or family member. All are occasions to reflect on how wisely we have invested our time in the people most precious to us. As I graduated my first child, Abigail, from high school this year I was slapped across the face once again with the reality that her days left under my roof are likely very few.

Over the last few months, I have waxed misty-eyed nostalgic about my “little girl” as cherished moments fly through my mind to the sappy chorus of Memories sung by Barbara Streisand. Wow. Did I do enough? Did I accomplish everything I should have accomplished? Perhaps I missed too many moments?

Most moments are just that, moments. Often unscripted. Pure. Vapor. In a day of endless distraction with Lilliputian matters that add little positive value to our lives we would do well to more carpe diem, or to “seize more of the day”. Following are four ways to do that:

  1. Ask God to give you a heart for your children. The prophet Malachi wrote that the coming of the Lord would be heralded by the hearts of fathers being turned to their children. Fathers tend to be more easily disposed to work, not relationships. Asking God to give us hearts for our children is a prayer he loves to answer.
  2. Have a weekly planning time where you review what is happening in your family. As part of this time, start a journal where you write a sentence or two about what you notice going on in the life of each child. This forces you to think about each person at least once per week in a way that will alert you if you are in fact needing to make more relational opportunities.
  3. Be intentional about making time with your children. Since we actually do 90% of what we write down in our calendars, schedule a time in your week to spend time with a child.
  4. Ask your spouse to alert you when they observe you “zone out”, miss a que, or make wrong choices. Speaking personally, I can be sitting right next to one of my children and never hear a word they say. Why? I’m thinking about something else. A problem at work. Or begrudging why the Washington Redskins are such a poorly run football franchise. Since we are often blind to some of our interpersonal failures, asking to be informed while sometimes difficult to hear, is really necessary if we are serious about doing better.

When we are on our death bed we will not wish that we had spent more time at the office. There is a lot of wisdom in this statement but it is still moralism. In fact, my four suggestions by themselves are moralism. They still don’t provide a motivation to want to set aside the facebook timeline or a game of golf and seize the moments with our kids. We are often motivated to do right things for the wrong reasons. This is convicting as a parent. It is much easier to do what we want to do.

I am reminded that the backdrop for Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is Deuteronomy 5:6, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Before we were parents, we were slaves. But God has redeemed us from that slavery by the blood of his own dear Son. Jesus has bought for us redemption which includes a new identity that is not dependent upon our performance as parents. It also means that our parenting has an eternal and God-glorifying mission to it. Remembering these things and more motivates us differently. It is the only power great enough to compel us to be more intentional when it is hard—and it is often harder than it is easier. Imagine actually wanting to seize moments?!

Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Maybe it’s a Saturday. You are busy doing any number of things all at once: entering receipts into Quicken, squeezing in a three and a half minute conversation with your wife, or trying to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen… and then it happens. Like a bolt of lightning screeching from a cumulonimbus cloud, one of your kids rushes in, “Dad! Will you please do something about (insert sibling’s name)?! I am SO SICK AND TIRED of how he doesn’t listen to me!”

It is in those encounters that as fathers we might close our eyes and ask, “WHY is this happening to me—again?!” At worst, we might think, “Why did I ever think it was a good idea to have children?!”

Those are revealing moments. Thankfully, our righteousness is not in our performance as fathers, but irrevocably in Jesus Christ. We can confess such thoughts and our angry, frustrated, or disinterested responses as sin and be forgiven. But wouldn’t it be better to simply have a good response in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to quit viewing such events as pesky distractions and instead embrace them with a completely different perspective?

Consider the following quote: These guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of childrearing is not the child but the parent.

I do not endorse that statement as a philosophy for parenting. But there is a powerful string of truth in it that is insightful and even biblical. Romans 8:28-29 talks about how God uses “all things” in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. For fathers, this includes those situations where we struggle with our kids’ behavior. We should ask God to show us how he is using these situations to reveal how—we—need to change!

I confess that I am often wrapped up in my own issues to the extent that I sometimes don’t see that there are other people—even my own kids who are standing right in front of me—who need/want my help. In fact, I often see those moments as the burdensome requirements of parenting rather than providentially orchestrated opportunities for greater redemption in my own life.

If God is trying to show us something about ourselves, and we refuse to listen, we are kicking against the goads. Often, he uses our spouses and children as his sanctifying tool. We can conquer these tests by asking God, “Ok. What are you teaching ME here?” When we know we’re struggling with our own attitude, asking this question helps position us not only to minister to our children, but to do so in a way that allows us to see God’s redemptive intention for us as well.

When the lightning strikes and we remember that God intends to refine us, too, it humbles and comforts us and then compels us to minister in a truly redemptive way. This provides an entirely different perspective on the otherwise frustrating situations we often encounter with our kids.