Sleepless Nights

What keeps you up at night?  As a father of five, I often spend countless hours at night thinking and praying about the spiritual welfare of my kids.  Yet, if I'm totally honest with myself, it is not the prayers that are causing me to lose some of that sleep.  It is my perpetual concern that I'm not doing enough for my children.

As a young man, I always aspired to become a father.  Even as a teenager and young adult, I had a love for kids that my peers seldom shared.  I also had a very strong paternal sense for those children that were left unprotected by their parents or society's welfare systems.  Yet, too often during those years I spent countless hours on myself versus investing in the needs of the children that God positioned around me.

"It's a boy!"  I can still remember hearing those words for the first time.  Can you?  My wife and I had recently celebrated two years of marriage.  We were young, in love, and now parents.  Seeing my son within my wife's womb is still a memory I pray that I will never forget.  He was only a few inches in size.  Yet, he captured a part of my heart I never knew I had until that day.

Twenty-two years and seven children later, that portion of my heart still aches for my kids in a big way.  Two of those children never saw this side of eternity and went straight to be with their Heavenly Father.  The tears that swell within my eyes as I write this are the tears of a father's love.  It is a God-given love, a love that I know God hard-wired into my being as a father.

You would think that a love so strong would be a defining force over one's life. Unfortunately, I've allowed other loves to become equal driving forces in my life that have often pulled me away from my greatest loves.  For some men, it is their love of sports.  For others, it is their work.  Regardless of the type of love that pulls dads away from their homes, the results are always the same.  The children suffer.

"Lord, I don't have enough time in the day to get done what I know needs to get done for my children."

Have you ever said this to God?  I'm guessing as many moms say this as dads do. I think of all the single moms out there that often do the work of two parents.  My heart goes out to them.  I know that God gives us enough time to do what He wants us to do.  It really comes down to priorities and trust.  Are we doing what God wants us to do and are we trusting Him with the results?

I was reminded recently of the similarities that are shared between a father and a farmer.  Can you picture it?  It is a few weeks before harvest time.  The late summer nights that were once filled with sun are giving way to shorter and cooler days.  The farmer leans against the old wooden post.  It has been another long day.  The beads of sweat slide down his sun-wrinkled face.  He sighs and looks with longing eyes at what is before him.  He has poured his life into these fields and now he must trust God with the results.

Isn't this the case for us dads as well?  God has given us, in some sense, a farmer's role over the hearts of our children.  This is a sobering thought.  As father's, we are given the precious gift and responsibility to cultivate our kids' hearts for God.  Yet, like the farmer, we can only do what we can do and then we must put our trust in a sovereign God.

The pinnacle question is this: Are we doing all we can do with what God has given us?
The follow-up question:  Are we then trusting God with the results?

As a father, I must resolve with great intentionality to do all I can do to cultivate the hearts of my kids for Christ.  This no doubt involves living and pouring God's Word into them as much as I can.  I have often said that our children catch our actions much better than they hear our words.  It also entails praying daily for their hearts to be anchored to God through Jesus Christ.  I do this remembering that "my" kids have a Heavenly Father that loves them even more than I do.  This is what allows me to eventually fall asleep.

These are some of the things I wrestle with in the wee hours of night and for good reason.    What about you?  What keeps you up at night?

"And He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers..."

Malachi 4:6

Fatherhood Challenge  

Consider the following questions:
  • Are you intentionally cultivating the hearts of your children for Christ?
  • Are there any weeds or pollutants in their soil? (media, poor friendships, etc...)
  • Are you loving the helper God has given you?

Cleaning House

Keeping our house clean is important.  Yet, how much more important is it to keep clean the spiritual welfare of our households?

Have you ever received that call from a family member or close friend telling you they were "in the area" and would be stopping by any minute?  It is amazing. Dishes, laundry, books, toys, etc... that have been out of place for days are put back in their proper place within minutes, or at least strategically positioned in a well-hidden location.

King Josiah was a man who knew how to clean house.  Amazingly, he was only eight years old when he became the King of Judah.  His father, King Amon, was killed after only two years into his reign.  However, during his short tenure as king, Amon "did evil in the sight of the LORD, as his father Manessah had done..." (2 Chronicles 33:22).  Not only did Josiah's father leave an evil wake of unfaithfulness to God, Josiah's grandfather Manasseh did not do much better.  Manasseh did repent after being taken captured.  However, he was the one who originally built many of the carved images that his son Amon would later worship.  This is the kingdom and legacy that Josiah inherited.

As men, we have all been given a legacy of some sort.  Given the reality of sin within the lives of mankind, all of our legacies will always come with some baggage.  While it may not be to the extent of Josiah's corruption and idolatry, it will inevitably involve a plethora of sin issues that have tainted the heritage in one way or another.

Yet, while a legacy or heritage can be a profoundly powerful influence over one's life- it does not necessarily define the future of the next generation.   God's grace has the stain-removing potency that can clean up any sin-filled past we can muster up. Within His divine providence, God calls men and women out of darkness and into light.  He gives us an opportunity to turn from our sinful past and embrace a grace-filled future.  This is exactly what Josiah did.

"And he (Josiah) did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or the left."  2 Chronicles 34:2

Josiah, like many of us, had every excuse in the book to take the so-called low road. He had been given a past of extreme idolatry, and very possibly could have witnessed the murder of his father (2 Kings 21:23; 2 Chronicles 33:24).  If there was ever an opportunity for a boy to be angry and bitter over the circumstances of his life, Josiah had that chance.  And who would blame him?

Yet, despite his father's sins, despite his grandfather's shortcomings, and despite the corrupted past handed him, Josiah chose to follow God in a big way.  He chose the road less traveled and undertook some serious cleaning house within his kingdom.

"...and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images..."  2 Chronicles 34:3

Regardless of his past or the circumstances of his life, Josiah was determined to follow God.  In doing so, Josiah relentlessly pursued a life and kingdom that would obey God's Word.  This is another essential tenant of our faith that we can glean from Josiah's life:  To follow God, we must build our lives upon His Living Word.

"Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes...And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.  Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all of his heart and all his soul..."  2 Chronicles 34:19; 30-31

If we desire to clean house and redeem a legacy or simply make a great legacy a better one, like Josiah, we too must make obedience to God's Word a life quest. Jesus told us multiple times that if we love Him, we need to obey Him (John 14). Obedience is not optional when it comes to our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Our obedience represents the reality of our love of God.  One compels the other.

As fathers, our legacy, i.e. the generational heritage we pass onto our children, can and should be one of our highest life priorities.  God has placed us in an impact role - one that could echo for generations.  Regardless of what legacy we received, we have a chance to give our children a heritage that is defined by Jesus Christ.  For most of us, this means we must do some serious house cleaning on a regular basis. Not just a twenty minute clean up we do on the fly when we find out people are visiting.  No.  We need to follow Josiah's example and make sure all the idols are torn down from their high places.  As fathers, we need to set the pace for our household.  Our children are watching.  They will likely follow us where we've been and continue in the same direction where we're going.  It's time to clean house.

Prelude:  During one of our last quick clean-ups, my daughter astutely inquired, "Dad, why don't we do this on a regular basis and just keep the house clean?"  Good point, eh?

Fatherhood Challenge:  This week prayerfully consider if there are any idols and/or high places within your household.  Today's idols may not be the carved image type; yet, they are idols just the same.   They often involve things or lifestyle choices that take us closer to this world and push us further away from the God we love.   

Here is one truth that helps me clean house:  Happiness and holiness should go hand in hand.   If something or someone makes me feel good, and yet pulls me away from Christ-likeness (less holy), it likely is a high place that needs to be removed from my life. 

Unless you have cleaned house recently, there is a good chance that you likely have some high places or idols to be removed.  After your assessment, meet with your family to discuss and come up with a plan to keep your house clean before God.  

A Father's Confession

It never fails that when I seek to minister to others, God uses the experience to minister to me as well. A number of years ago, I was involved in our local county prison ministry. During that time, I met with hundreds of men and women that came from very broken homes. While in some cases the brokenness revolved around the life of the mother, the absentee or abusive father was by far the prominent variable that most of these men and women shared in common.

During those years of prison ministry, I could count on one hand the number of men and women that shared that their fathers had been a positive impact on their lives. Most often their stories were just the opposite. Sadly, this was true for those that said they were raised in Christian homes as well. This is not to say that the destiny of every child out there is forever tied to his or her relationship with their father. Yet, we cannot deny the tremendous influence that a father has on the lives of his children both for good and for bad.

In a very telling survey summary on Christian parenting, the Barna Group shared the following: “...we found that the qualities born again parents say an effective parent must possess, the outcomes they hope to facilitate in the lives of their children, and the media monitoring process in the household was indistinguishable from the approach taken by parents who are not born again.” They found that only 3 out of 10 Christian parents included the salvation of their children as a top priority within the parenting process (The Barna Group, Ltd. Parents Describe How They Raise Children, Feb. 2005).

Being involved in family ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the topic of absentee and/or passive fathers with pastors across denominational lines. Regardless of the pastor or the church, the overriding message is identical to Barna’s findings. Fathers, for the most part, have walked away from their primary responsibility as disciple-makers within their homes.

For myself, I know all to well how easy it is to stray from my God-given priorities as a father. Whether it is my work or just being more focused on taking care of the day to day non-family needs around me, too often my weeks can be filled with busyness that contributes little to nothing regarding the spiritual welfare of my children’s souls. The greatest tragedy in all of this is that I’m leading my children, and my wife for that matter, down a lifestyle path that is for the most part void of God.

I know the priorities I live out daily are the greatest influencers on my children. If I’m not intentionally building Christ and God’s Word into our daily household routine, I’m teaching them that our ongoing relationship with God is not that important. From his book, Bringing Up Boys, Dr. James Dobson notes: “Parents...need to ‘play offense’--to capitalize on the impressionable years of childhood...” As a father, it is not enough for me to tell my children not what to do, i.e. a good defense. I must have a game winning offense that translates into a daily pursuit of placing God first in my life.

Okay, here is my confession. Perhaps the following has happened to you as well. I had numerous projects and deadlines happening all at the same time. To compound this, we had scheduled a trip right smack in the middle of all the craziness. After weeks of going full throttle, it suddenly hit me that I had not spent any recent time in God’s Word with my children. My kids had watched their “ministry-driven” dad pour himself out for everyone else but his own children.

After a string of these lapses in my primary responsibilities as a father, I began to ask, “If we are not taking care of the most important things in life, why are we so busy with everything else?”

If my day-to-day life is not supporting this end, I am experiencing a serious missional drift. In some sense, I have chosen the world’s road and not the narrow one that God has established for my home. From a practical standpoint, I am creating a generational path for my children that will not lead them closer to God.

This has translated into the ongoing need to truly live out my convictions in a way that defines my life priorities. This does not mean that I will ever get it all right in this lifetime. Actually, I know very well how imperfect my life has been to date and will continue to be in some shape or form. However, it does mean that what matters most to me, my relationship with God, will define who I am and how I live.

God has, indeed, placed us dads in a powerful position of influence.  Without question, living out my life priorities for Him will impact my children and God will be glorified.  My children will see more of Him and less of me.  As a father, this is what it's all about.

Fatherhood Challenge:  Make sure your convictions are truly defining who you are and how you live.   They will shape the lives of your way or another.