Be the Parent of Your Child's Dreams

There was a pastor who gave a talk about parenting even before he had a child. His title was, “How to Raise Your Children.” Then he had his first child. It took him some time before he gave that talk again. When he gave it, he changed the title into “Suggestions for Struggling Parents.” Then he had two more children. Again he changed it into “Hints for Helpless Parents.” Finally, when they became teenagers, he ended up with this: “Anyone here got a few words of wisdom?”[1]

Parenting is really tough! It can bring out the best or the worst from us. But it is God’s will that we experience meaningful relationships. The book of Ephesians teaches us how to live a significant life, “a life that measures up to the standard God set when he called [us].” (Ephesians 4:1b, Good News Bible)[2] A significant life leads to significant relationships. We already discussed the husband and wife relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33. Two weeks ago, we talked about the responsibility of the children to obey their parents in Ephesians 6:1-3. Now, parents, it’s our turn. Let’s look at verse 4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note that the apostle Paul focused on the fathers. We tend to think that because we are good providers we automatically become good fathers. We assume that because the mother stays at home she can take care of parenting our kids. Fathers, don’t think that we can raise our family by remote control. God holds us personally responsible.

Of course, wives partners with their husbands in raising their children. But I believe that God directly commanded the fathers as the head of the family. Dr. James Dobson wrote, “A Christian man is obligated to lead his family to the best of his ability… If his family has purchased too many items on credit, then the financial crunch is ultimately his fault. If the family never reads the Bible or seldom goes to church on Sunday, God holds the man to blame. If the children are disrespectful and disobedient, the primary responsibility lies with the father… not his wife. [Our] greatest need is for husbands to begin guiding their families, rather than pouring every physical and emotional resource into the mere acquisition of money.”[3] Fathers, God wants us to be directly involved in the lives of our children. We cannot delegate it to our wives.

We have two commands in Ephesians 6:4, the first is negative, the second is positive. We need to obey both commands. We cannot obey one without the other.

Let’s look at the first command: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children...” In the New American Standard Bible, “do not provoke your children to anger.” When we exasperate them, we provoke them to anger. How? I summarized it in the acronym

We come down hard on our children when we Pressure them to achieve. Of course, we are to challenge our kids to excel. But there are times we end up pushing them unreasonably. I read about a child who cried when she got 95 out of 100 in an exam. When the teacher asked why, she said, “Because my father will spank me for every point away from 100.” Why push our kids to be perfect when we ourselves are not perfect? The Message goes like this: “don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.” There are times we come down hard on our kids because we want THEM to fulfill OUR dreams, the very goals we failed to achieve ourselves. Dr. John MacArthur in his The Fulfilled Family warns us, “You can push so much that the child will have absolutely no sense of fulfillment; nothing is ever enough. causes them to become bitter.” One time one of my sons asked my wife, “What if my exam is not perfect? What if I didn’t make it to the Directress’ List?” She answered, “I will still love you.” My son smiled and said, “Thanks, Mom. That feels good.” Well, he made it to the List anyway. God is good!

We exasperate our kids when we Reject them or refuse to give them our approval. When we always point out what’s wrong, when we fail to highlight what’s right, we discourage them. Of course, we only credit them when it’s due them. It will not make an impact if we overdo it. But the problem is we are too quick to correct and too slow to compliment. Some of us think that if we praise them, they would become proud. Or, to sound spiritual, we say, “They might lose their reward in heaven.” But we parents will actually lose our rewards if we fail to give them our approval.

We provoke our children when we are Overprotective. We control them obsessively. We decide every aspect of their lives. We should teach our kids to stand on their own feet. Teach your kids to take risks because they will face a world full of risks. Allow them to make mistakes. Now I am not talking about sin. I’m talking about teaching them to decide on things that matters, like the college course to take or the choice of friends. Yes, they are accountable for their decisions. Of course, they will have to face the consequences of their actions. Yet, we teach them to make their own decisions because we will not always be there to decide for them. We just have to provide the guidelines or the boundaries and then coach them.

We hurt our children when we subject them to Verbal and physical abuses. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” We are to use the rod carefully. We should not spank our kids when we are angry. Most of the child abuse cases started with good intentions. But rage blinded them. We should not always spank our kids every time we need to correct them. The older they get, the less we spank them. We should also be careful with what we say. We can batter our kids even with our words.

We also anger our kids when we give them Obligatory love, that is, when we make our love conditional rather than unconditional. We should not give love as a reward or withdraw it as punishment. We make our kids insecure when they need to perform or roll over to be loved. We make them feel like they are in an American Idol audition and you are Simon. Don’t wait for them to sing, “You’ve got to love me for what I am, for simply being me. Don’t love me for what you intend or hope that I would be.” If we love conditionally, we might be using our kids to feed our fantasy. We are not really in love Biblically speaking. We don’t even have to say it to show it. We just neglect them. Someone said, “When we say we have no time, we are actually saying ‘It’s not my priority.’” Our kids spell “love” as “T-I-M-E.”

We also irritate them when we Keep favorites, when we prefer one kid over the other. We show favoritism when we compare or say, “Why don’t you act like your sister?” Or, “Why can’t you be as bright as your brother?” We may even be exercising favoritism without us knowing it. According to The Fulfilled Family by MacArthur, “If you want to destroy your child, just make him feel inferior to everyone else in the family. You can test for this problem easily: ask your children how they feel about each other, and find out if they have preferences toward each other. If they do, they’ve probably picked them up from you.”

Lastly, we disappoint them through Extreme expectations. We frustrate our kids when we expect too much or too little from them, when we expect them to act like adults or when we don’t allow them to act like kids. Of course, kids must learn how to behave. But at times we demand that they behave not because it is the right thing to do but because we are afraid of what people would say. We fear that people will say we are not good Christians if our kids are rowdy. That’s why there are some pastor’s kids who ended up denying the Lord their father served. People demanded so much from them. Let us keep in mind that kids will be kids, even if they are pastor’s kids.

So we provoke our kids through...

Verbal and physical abuses
Obligatory "love"
Keeping favorites
Extreme expectations.

Now, let us look at the second command: “instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The word “instead” in the Greek gives a sense of a strong contrast. We may be “cool” parents. But if we fail to bring up our kids in the Lord, we are not “cool” before God. As I have said, we cannot obey one without the other.

To bring up our children in the Lord’s way is a command, not an option. Parenting is our CALLING. Fathers, we cannot delegate this task to our wives. We cannot turn it over to the school. The church is not a substitute also. The Sunday school complements you but it cannot replace you. We are disobedient if we fail to parent our children. We must take responsibility for them.

It is also in the present tense. So, parenting needs our COMMITMENT. We teach them through our words and works. We cannot say “Do what I tell you. Don’t do what I do.” We have to walk the talk. Teaching our kids God’s standards has to be daily. We have to be consistent. Then we are to “tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning.” (Deuteronomy 6:7, Contemporary English Version)

Parenting requires COMPASSION. The word “bring them up” has the idea of “nourish tenderly.” It is the same word used for “nourishes” in Ephesians 5:29, “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” It means to provide what they need to grow. We care enough to confront, if needed. Let me talk to the children. It’s tough enough to be parents. I know that you like it when your parents trust you. Please make it easy for us to raise you. I agree that love should be unconditional. But that doesn’t mean you abuse it. If you want your parent’s trust, be trustworthy.

The words “in the training and instruction” involve being both corrective and preventive. We give not only the “don’ts” but also the “do’s.” But our goal is not merely to impose rules. Our ultimate goal is to help them develop a personal relationship with the Lord. Charles Swindoll in his Becoming A People of Grace wrote, “To discipline is to correct the child who is going the wrong way. To instruct is to show the child the right way. Christ is the center of the relationship. The nearer parents and children draw to Christ, the nearer they draw to each other.”

Let us remember we raise our children not to control them but to release them. The Bible describes them as “arrows in a soldier’s hand.” (Psalm 127:4b, Good News Bible) Like arrows, we must free our kids to be the persons God meant them to become, to realize their full potential. Note how the father is described in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, “With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into his own kingdom, into this delightful life.” (The Message) We have the responsibility to make sure our kids would live worthy before God. Fathers, you may feel like, “That’s too tough for me.” But when God calls, He enables. Take heart. God will empower us to be better parents, the parents of our child’s dreams.

Let us pray...

[1]Adapted from Charles Swindoll’s Growing Wise in Family Life study guide.
[2]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise specified.
[3]From “Straight Talk to the Men and Their Wives.”


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