Parenting isn’t easy, but neither is being a child. If we’re not careful, our children can become discouraged or lose heart in the process of growing toward adulthood. Throughout the Bible, we are reminded of the incredible power our presence has as fathers in the life of our children.
In Colossians 3:21, the Apostle Paul writes to men by saying, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” In Ephesians 6:4, he writes with nearly identical words, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
It is worth noting that while children are instructed to obey their “parents” in the preceding verses, it is “fathers” who are given the instruction to be careful of causing their children to become weary or discouraged. Paul doesn’t say, “Fathers and mothers, do not…” He addresses fathers directly.
Why is this important?
First, I think because it speaks to God’s design and desire for dads to be actively involved in leading their families. In a culture where men feel pressure to “prove” themselves in the gym, on the job, or with their stuff, the Bible calls men to success at home (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
But secondly, because in general, a lot of men (myself included) can struggle to be the patient, instructive, tender, and thoughtful parent. It seems to me that the mention of “fathers” speaks to the tendency for men to sinfully error in the direction of being too strict or stern, as they are shaping young hearts toward maturity.
While I know I will never be the perfect father, I want to take serious the role and responsibilities God has given me in the life of my family. I want to impart the good life of walking with God to my children. My desire is to see them grow up into young men and young women who experience the fruit of living with God and for God. And the truth is, as fathers, the life we live will in large part be the life we give to our children. So here are five simple ways we can help shape and mold our children…
- Model Jesus for your kids – One of the most foundational passages in the Bible about parenting is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. At its core, we see that parenting is relational. Our values, habits, treasures, pursuits, and attitudes will largely influence the life of our kids as they are growing up. Far more than a program, ministry of a church, method, or formula, WE will shape the hearts of our sons and daughters by the life we live. It is a humbling and challenging reminder that our kids will “follow” us. So one of the primary ways we will influence our children is through the life we are living right in front of them – day in and day out!
- Grow your kids in God’s Word – Our children will imitate us, but they also need us to instruct them. In Ephesians 6:4, when Paul writes, “bring them up,” the word he uses means to “feed them.” We are to “feed” or “nurture” our children toward spiritual health and maturity with God’s Word. This means we take an active role in teaching our kids the Bible. This might include picking a book of the Bible and reading through it as a family. Growing our kids in God’s Word might look like leading our kids through a family devotional or children’s Bible that is age-specific. We can share what God has been teaching us. We can encourage our kids to memorize Scripture. All of these can be simple and practical ways to plant God’s Word in our children’s hearts.
- Discipline and don’t just punish your kids –In the New Testament, discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11) takes place in the context of a loving relationship. As Christian fathers, the goal of discipline is to correct ungodly or sinful habits, attitudes, and desires. But it is also to train and prepare our children to obey Jesus. It requires being consistent, lovingly setting boundaries, and holding our kids to appropriate consequences for the sake of shaping godly character.
- Protect your kids – We protect what we value. And there is nothing more valuable to us than protecting the hearts and minds of our children from worldly influences. Are you guarding what your kids watch and listen to? Are you cautious with friendships? What boundaries have you established with electronic devices? There is a reason why the Bible tells us to “Be Alert” (1 Peter 5:8). We have a real spiritual enemy and so we can’t afford to fall asleep in leading, teaching, and protecting our children as we are helping them build godly character.
- Encourage your kids – And finally, fill your kids’ life with encouragement. Avoiding discouragement in our children means we work hard to bring out the best in our kids. We praise them. Help them discover gifts and interests. We routinely affirm our love for them, sending them out into the world someday with the assurance they are deeply and securely loved.
The good news is that we are not doing this alone. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give in. God is at work in you and through you, accomplishing his purposes. Lean on him. Abide in him. He’s promised to give us wisdom and grace as we seek to pass on faith in our families.