I think I may be leaving one phase of fatherhood behind even while I enter into another. My youngest child is just about to turn eight, which means that we are not only past the baby and toddler stages, but even nearing the end of the little kid phase. Meanwhile my oldest child has turned fourteen and is just months away from high school. All this change has caused me to think about fatherhood and the new challenges coming my way. I have found myself thinking back to the many models of fatherhood I have seen and admired through the years. What made these fathers admirable? What set them apart? What was it that they said to their children? From these models I have drawn seven things a good father says.
I love you. Few things are more important to a child than knowing where he stands with his parents. As I think back to my childhood, I remember several friends who lived with uncertainty in their relationship with their parents, and their fathers especially. They longed to hear words of love and approval. But I saw other kids who had total confidence in that love and approval. Often the difference was little more than three simple words repeated regularly: “I love you.” Men can be so petty, so prideful, and hold back those words. Yet there is no good reason for it. The more awkward it feels, the more urgent it is. From the dads I admire I’ve learn that a father needs to say, “I love you,” and he needs to say it often.
Let me kiss it better. Even as a young child I remember observing two different kinds of fathers in my church. When children fell and scraped their knees, there were two ways I saw dads react. Some fathers would pick up their children, set them back on their feet, and tell them to get over it. “You’re fine. Walk it off!” They wanted their soft children to toughen up. There were other fathers who would pick up their children, hold them in their arms, make a show of extending comfort, and say, “Let me kiss it better.” These were fathers who wanted their hard children to soften up. Sure, there are times to tell your child to walk it off, but there are far more times to extend love and concern through those childhood bumps and bruises and through the bigger sins and mistakes that come with age. From the dads I admire I’ve learned the value of saying, “Let me kiss it better” (though, obviously, as the children get older the wording changes!).
Come with me. There is so much in life that can be better caught than taught. Often the best way to train up a child is to let that child into your life. One father I admire taught me the distinction between being face-to-face with my children and being shoulder-to-shoulder. I saw this shoulder-to-shoulder parenting in my own father who often brought me with him on his errands or, even better, to his work. This allowed me to see the value of putting in a hard day’s work, and the value of building relationships with clients, suppliers, and so many others. It allowed me to see that work was an extension of the rest of life, and not a part of life that exists all on its own. The fathers I have admired are the fathers who say to their children, “Come with me,” and who welcome them into their day-to-day lives.
Please forgive me. Every father sins against every one of his children. He probably does it every day. Sadly, sin is every bit as inevitable as death and taxes. Fathers need to be in the habit of identifying their sin to their children and asking forgiveness. But as I think back, I saw this and heard of this in so few fathers. There are only a few I knew to consistently identify their sin and seek forgiveness for it. As I consider my fourteen years of parenting, I see far too little of it as well. The practice seems so much more difficult than the theory. The good dad is the one who humbly, carefully says to his children, “Please forgive me.”
You’re forgiven. Just as every father sins against every one of his children, every child sins against his father. The father who asks forgiveness also needs to be willing to extend forgiveness. Every father punishes his child at times, but too many fathers punish in the worst way—by holding a grudge or by letting the child suffer as dad withholds forgiveness and reconciliation. Our children need to be forgiven and they need to experience the joy of reconciliation. Here I think of a father I know—a father I admire—who taught me that a good dad doesn’t just say, “It’s okay,” but always goes further to say, “You’re forgiven.”
Let’s pray. There is one father I admire whom I have only met in the pages of books he has written. Of all he has written, what has gripped me most is the ways in which he prays with his children. He reserves special time each week for each child and in that time he inquires about their souls and prays with them. That sounds like a wonderful practice. And in the rhythm of daily life with all its ups and downs he is also quick to lead them in seeking God’s strength, God’s help, God’s wisdom. Here he teaches them the best and deepest kind of dependency on the best and greatest Help in the world. I have learned from him that the good dad is quick to say, “Let’s pray.”
You can’t do it. We live at a time when parents are known for being extravagant in their praise for their children and assuring them, “You can do anything.” But the good dad assures his children that in the most important area, they can’t do it. They simply can’t. One of the great challenges every Christian father faces is in showing his child that behavior is a reflection of the heart and that the child cannot simply will himself into heart change. And this is where the gospel becomes so precious, because it begins with that inability, leads straight to the blood and righteousness of Christ, and then to the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The dads I love and admire are the dads who assure their children, “You can’t do it,” and who quickly lead them to the gospel and to the Savior who can.
I am eager to hear what you have learned from good fathers. So, following roughly the same format, share in the comments below what you’ve heard a good father say.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
Recently, I came across a few different articles on a common theme: grumpiness. These were articles meant to offer guidance in those times—those inevitable times—when you’re in a bad mood and just can’t break out. While the articles had some helpful advice, they had this in common: They dealt with symptoms rather than root cause. They dealt with overcoming the manifestations of grumpiness instead of looking for the heart of grumpiness. Christians can do better.
I know a thing or two about bad moods. I am usually an upbeat person, but on a regular basis am forced to deal with a pretty significant case of the grumpies. I know how difficult it is to snap out of that bad mood. But even though it may be difficult, it is not impossible. Here’s how to beat that bad mood:
Go to the Gospel
If there is ever a time to preach the gospel to yourself, this is it. Reminding yourself of the gospel is the ultimate reality check. Reminding yourself of the gospel, and allowing those truths to cross your mind and heart, is reminding yourself of the deepest realities of the universe. You will remind yourself that you are a sinful person who deserves God’s wrath, that God himself entered this world as a man, that he bore all your sin and condemnation, that he suffered the wrath of God on your account, that he died the death you deserve, that he rose in triumph, and that all of his righteousness has been given to you. Some people say that when you’re grumpy you ought to meditate. They’re exactly right, except that instead of that Eastern mind-emptying meditation, you need that Christian mind-fillingmeditation, where you deliberately fill your mind with the truth of the gospel.
Call It What It Is
Having preached the gospel to yourself, you are now in a place to call that grumpiness what it is. It is sin. It is exactly the kind of sin Jesus had to die for. There is never an excuse for being grumpy. To be grumpy is to be bad-tempered and sulky, surly and peevish. You get grumpy when life has not gone the way you wanted it to, when others have interrupted your plans for a peaceful and easy life, when others have somehow irritated you. You may even just wake up grumpy for what appears to be no reason at all. Grumpiness works itself out in your mind, so you keep chewing over ways you have been wronged. You become irritable and short-tempered. You snap at others and excuse yourself. There is a category of righteous anger (“Be angry and do not sin,” says Ephesians 4:26), but there is never righteous grumpiness. Jesus was angry and indignant in the face of moneychangers in the temple and in the face of disciples who would tell children to get lost. But he wasn’t grumpy. Grumpiness is sin, plain and simple.
Give It a Name
You have acknowledged that your grumpiness is sin. That’s a great first step, butsin is a general term. You should now advance one step farther and give that sin a biblical name. Grumpiness isn’t a term the Bible uses, so it is far better to go with irritability, impatience, or unrighteous anger. Maybe all three. Those are the ways the Bible describes your grumpiness and in every case it describes it as sin. You may want to dress it up in all kinds of pretty clothes (“I’m just struggling right now” or “It’s fine, I’m just in a bad place”), but in the end it is simply one or more of those sins. By naming grumpiness as sin—the sin of unrighteous anger, or the sin of irritability, or the sin of impatience—you have allowed yourself no excuse and have put yourself in a position to deal with it properly. And the proper way to deal with it is to ask God’s forgiveness for it.
Note: I know this all sounds rather formal and wooden, but all three of these steps can be accomplished in all of ten seconds. It may be worth taking longer, especially when grumpiness becomes a pattern, but in the heat of the battle, this kind of thinking can be done in a very short time.
Go to the Source
You have gone to the gospel, you have named that sin what it is, and you have asked forgiveness for it. Now is the time to go to the source, to try to establish the reason for that grumpiness. It may be that you have been allowing yourself to meditate on what is ugly and sinful and that your sinful mood is related to your sinful thoughts. It may be that someone has sinned against you. It may be that you have sinned against your child or your spouse. It may be that pride is at the cause, and that your grumpiness is a response to embarrassment or a response to being overlooked. It may be that you had a dream in the night and somehow your brain is confusing that dream with reality. (Am I the only one this happens to?) It may even be that you will never find a source. But if and when you do find that source, you also find a clear means of response or restitution—an apology (when you have sinned against someone), a confrontation (when you have been sinned against), a good laugh at yourself (when you realize that you are in a bad mood only because your pride has been wounded).
Counter Sin with Truth
The way to beat error—the kind of error that leads to grumpiness—is to counter it with truth. Truth is always more powerful than error. The problem with grumpiness is that it is so, so difficult to reason yourself out of it. In your bad mood you need to act contrary to the way you feel. When you feel grumpy, it is the time to act in truthful, joyful ways and to trust that your feelings will follow your actions. Some can do this by simply meditating on what is true. But for many others, extra help is needed, and here we have help: Truth plus music is a powerful combination. It’s a combination that can so easily turn the heart in a whole new direction. So sing! Sing of what is true—of God and the gospel and the work of Christ. And then act in godly, truthful ways.
The sin of grumpiness, like every other sin, is an issue of the heart. Our temptation is always to deal with the manifestations rather than the root. The best and most lasting way of beating that bad mood is always to go to the heart and to deal with the deepest root cause.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
I want to offer you a challenge. You too, women, but allow me speak to the men first. Beginning on March 1, I am going to begin a program I’m calling 31 Days of Purity. This is for all of us—for those who are young and those who are old, for those who are married and those who are single, for those who struggle mightily in the area of sexual sin and for those who may barely struggle at all. I would love it if you would commit with me to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of considering what God’s Word says about sexual purity and thirty-one days of praying that God would help us fight sin and pursue holiness in this area.
Will you join me?
WHAT IF I DON’T STRUGGLE?
A little while ago I wrote an article titled When You’re at Your Best, Plan for Your Worst. My point there was that even if you have gained significant victory in this area, thank the Lord, but don’t stop battling. What I said there still applies:
There is a kind of weakness, a kind of vulnerability, that may come when we are convinced of our strength. It is when we are not being tempted, it is when we are standing strong in the Lord’s grace, that we ought to consider the times we will be weak and tempted and eager to sin. We need to assume such times will come and we need to use the moments of strength to put measures in place that will protect us when we are weak.
Also, even as you pray for yourself, you can partner with a friend who may not be experiencing the same victory. Encourage him along. There is every reason for you to join us, even if you are not struggling in this area.
WHAT ABOUT WOMEN?
Women, you can be involved too. I would love it if you would follow along, read what God’s Word says, and then pray for the men in your life: your husbands, your sons, your grandsons. What a blessing it would be to them if you will pray for them in an area in which Satan seems to be winning so many battles. Also, if you are struggling in the area of sexual purity, you’ll easily be able to adapt the devotionals and prayers to your own use.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Men, here’s how to get started.
First, pray about people who might join you in this challenge, and then ask them. I am convinced this time will be especially encouraging if you ask a friend or two to join you and if you make it a point to pray with and for one another.
Second, consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men)
Finally, beginning on March 1, I will post a devotional every morning. I will be writing some of them, Mike Leake (with whom I am teaming on this challenge) will be writing some of them, and we have also asked a few friends (whom you may recognize) to help out from time-to-time. Each post will include a short section of the Bible, a couple of paragraphs of explanation or application, and a prayer. You can ponder the Scripture, read the devotional, and pray the prayer. Obviously this is no magic talisman that will ward off sin. However, since we believe in the power and authority of God’s Word and since we believe that God loves to hear and answer our prayers, why shouldn’t we expect that he will move powerfully in our lives?
It all begins right here on March 1. If you would like to begin thinking now about sexual purity, we’ve reduced the price on my book Sexual Detox, so it’s just $1.99 for the Kindle edition (I haven’t seen the price adjusted yet on Amazon, but it will change soon!). You can buy the ebook version direct from Cruciform right here, or the print version (just $5.49) right here.
One of the real privileges I’ve had over the past few years is experiencing and participating in worship services at quite a variety of churches. These churches have spanned a few different continents, at least four or five different countries, and a host of denominations and traditions. They have ranged from congregations with hundreds or even a thousand members all the way down to churches with just a handful of faithful Christians.
Yesterday I found myself reflecting on many of these churches and I realized something that surprised me: I am drawn toward a church that sings poorly and am a little suspicious of a church that sings really well. Let me explain.
A few years ago I worshiped at a church that had been established decades ago. This was quite a large congregation where three or four generations were worshiping together and where God’s Word had been faithfully proclaimed for many, many years. It was faithfully proclaimed the day I was there. The congregation has a distinct but unusual style of singing, one established many years in the past and carried on to our day.
These people know how to sing. They sing loudly. They sing skillfully. They sing beautifully. They sing in parts and with minimal instrumentation so that together they raise one voice to the Lord.
But one reason they sing so well is that there are very few among them who are new to the faith; there are very few among them who have not been raised to hear those songs week by week from their youngest days. By their own admission, they are poor evangelists and their church is not attractive to outsiders because it is so bound in a distinct culture foreign to those around them. They sing so well because they evangelize so poorly.
And then I think to another church I visited in the not-so-distant past. This is a church where the singing is, well, not quite as beautiful. Though there are some in the church who know the songs and who know how to sing a hymn or a contemporary worship song, there are many more who simply do not. As the music rises and falls, many of those voices fall and rise. As the songs progress, many in the church can do little more than mumble along and hope to hit at least a few of the notes.
These people do not know how to sing. Most of them sing quietly. They sing without a lot of skill. They depend upon instrumentation to help carry them. But the reason they sing so poorly is that there are so few among them who are mature in the faith; there are so few among them who have been raised to hear those songs week by week from their youngest days. This is a church where the gospel is being preached in the worship services and where the people are taking that gospel to those who live nearby. The gospel is doing its work, many are being saved, and they are coming to those Sunday services to pour out their praises to God. This church sings so poorly because they evangelize so well.
Many churches in this position will compensate—over-compensate—by cranking the volume to drown out the voices. But not this church. They know that the best and purest instrument of all is the human voice and they allow that instrument to dominate. And there is beauty in it, if you listen closely.
There are exceptions, of course. It is not a hard and fast rule. And yet I think there is something to it. We who have been Christians for many years are tempted to judge a church by the quality of its singing. But as I reflect on those two churches, and many like them, I wonder if we have it all backwards.