Having been blessed with two young children (ages 3 and 4), Father’s Day has become more meaningful to me of late, even more so as my children grow and develop the means to express sincere affection and gratitude. Perhaps the best way to spend this holiday, besides simply enjoying one’s children, is to reflect on what it means to be a father and how to be more faithful to this high calling.
My wife and I teach “children’s church” one Sunday a month (children ages 3-5 leave the service before the sermon for a child-centered lesson and activities). Our lesson was on the relationship between David and Solomon, focusing on the time period before David’s death and Solomon’s ensuing ascension to the throne, as recorded in 1 Kings 2 and 3. As I prepared and then taught, I was struck by David’s final words of advice and exhortation to his son, and by the effect of these words on Solomon’s life and reign. As David passes the throne to Solomon, he gives him this charge:
“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.'” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 (NIV).
These words are instructive of what godly fathers should aim for in the raising of their children: that they should walk in the ways of the Lord, obeying His Word faithfully from their hearts. All parents wish success for their children, as David does here (Jesus said that even the wicked give good gifts to their children). But not all parents, even Christian parents, link success to faithfulness to the Lord. Rather success is viewed commonly as a product of education and activity. Thus, many good parents are preoccupied with ensuring that their children attend the best schools, earn high grades, and participate in a myriad of artistic and athletic opportunities. Now I am not opposed to any of these things: I certainly desire to provide my children with the best education possible and other auxiliary means of growth like sports. After all education is how we discover and are prepared for our calling in life. However, I want to flee the temptation to trust in these things above the promises of God for my children’s welfare. I have met many parents who seem to value their children’s worldly success – defined in terms of report card, test scores, athletic achievements, etc – more than their children’s faithfulness to God – defined in terms of maturing Christian character and the obedience that accompanies it.
Because this mindset is so common, I know I should not naively believe that avoiding it will be easy. The temptation must be subtle and the deceit sophisticated. I know that my wife and I need a community of like-minded parents who can see ways in which we have succumbed to it and care about us enough to call us out on it. We especially need the involvement of parents whose children are older from whom we can learn (please comment on this post with your parenting insights) .
Solomon’s decisions in the beginning of his reign, decisions that resulted in a prosperous reign, were surely influenced by his father’s words and prayers. In a well-known story, Solomon is presented with an extraordinary offer from the Lord – a choice that any of us would love to have – to ask Him for anything he wants. In his response, Solomon eschews riches, power, fame, and security, and instead asks the Lord humbly for wisdom:
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Such a response would please any godly father and it delighted the Lord who not only granted him the wisdom he sought but also riches and honor that surpassed any of his contemporaries and any of his descendants. God granted him these things because Solomon sought after what matters most – wisdom. That is why the Proverbs say, “For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 8:11).
Everyone knows that it is a father’s duty to care for, protect, and provide for his children. I am grateful to my own father for doing these things faithfully for me. Christian fathers, though, with the Lord’s help, should focus on the higher aim of teaching their children, through instruction and example, the heavenly wisdom revealed in God’s Word, and supremely in Jesus Christ who is the wisdom of God. In doing so our children will experience the reality of our Father in heaven and, by the grace of God, grow up to walk in his ways.