A group of expectant fathers was in a waiting room, while their wives were in the process of delivering babies. A nurse came in and announced to one man that his wife had just given birth to twins. “That’s quite a coincidence,” he responded. “I play for the Minnesota Twins!” A few minutes later another nurse came in and announced to another man that he was the father of triplets. “That’s amazing,” he exclaimed, “I work for the 3M Company.” At that point, a third man slipped off his chair and lay down on the floor. Somebody asked him if he were feeling ill. “No,” he responded, “I just work for 7-11.”
Parenting is a challenge, whether we have one child or five. Those of us who are parents do not need any reminders of the challenging nature of this work. I pray that we not only know parenting to be a great challenge, but I pray that we know parenting is one of the greatest blessings under the sun. Psalm 127:3-5. When Esau and Jacob reunited, Esau asked whose children were all around. Jacob answered, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” (Gen 33:5).
Tonight, we’re going to think about the blessing God has given us in children and one of the keys to successful parenting.
Paul Faulkner is a well-known family therapist among Churches of Christ. Dr. Faulkner was, of course, part of the duo of the Brecheen and Faulkner Marriage Enrichment Seminars before they retired, and Dr. Faulkner taught at Abilene Christian University for over 39 years. Dr. Faulkner interviewed thirty strong, vibrant families to uncover their secrets. Tonight, we want to think about one of the most fundamental truths of raising children—to parent on purpose. There are, according to Dr. Faulkner, three essential elements to “Purposeful Parenting.”
One: Set Your Sights on the Target
Goals are important in any area of life. We understand the importance of goals. At the beginning of a new year we decide that we’re going to lose weight, pay off the credit cards, try to be a better person, or a whole myriad of other goals.
But, in my mind, the real question centers not on the importance of goals but whether or not the goals are important. How much is my weight really going to matter to God when I stand before Him in judgment? How much is it going to matter how much money I have in the bank account? How much is it going to matter whether or not I was a “better person,” based on how the world might define “better person”?
If we set goals which are after temporary things, we might end up like Jimmy Valvano. Valvano won the 1983 NCAA basketball championship coaching for North Carolina State against terrible odds. After his coaching career, he became a broadcaster for ESPN and ABC. He, as I’m sure we’re all aware, was stricken with cancer, and he came to understand how trivial his pursuits really were. Coach Jimmy Vee said: “You get sick and you say to yourself, ‘Sports means nothing,’ and that feels terrible.” He had spent little time with his wife and kids through the years and said, “I figured I’d have 20 years in the big time, who knows, maybe win three national titles, then pack it in at 53 or 54. . . . I was going to make it all up to them, all the time I’d been away. . . . It sounds silly now. . . . But it went on and on, that insatiable desire to conquer the world.”
What does the Bible have to say about all this? The Bible teaches goals are important. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor 9:24). “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
Think about Noah: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb 11:7).
We know that Noah likely worked on the ark nearly one hundred years. We know for a fact from the time God determined to destroy the world and the time of the Flood one hundred and twenty years passed (Gen 6:3). Had Noah not set out to build the ark in that 120-year time span, he and his family would not have survived the Great Flood. Why did Noah and his family survive the Great Flood? Precisely because Noah had a goal to build that ark and he did so.
Think about Jesus. When Simon found Jesus after the Lord had spent a night in prayer, Jesus said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth” (Mk 1:38). “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28).
Jesus allowed nothing to remove His singular dedication to that goal, did He? Not the temptations of Satan, not the doubting of the apostles, not the ridicule of the Jewish hierarchy, not the threat of death.
What goal do we need as parents? It seems to me that the Bible teaches there’s only one thing which really matters in our family life:
Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). Proverbs 23:13-14. The discipline here is not punitive, but it’s a form of instruction—the point of discipline is to save our children from death. I’m convinced “die” here means “be lost.” The text doesn’t mean that you can’t spank too hard, but it means that through spanking, we are saving the souls of our children.
Is our goal to raise our children to be faithful Christians? Are we more concerned with teaching our children manners or teaching them right and wrong? Are we more concerned that our children get their homework done so that they can get into a nice college or are we more concerned that they know the Scriptures so that they can get into heaven? What goal do we have?
Two: Commit to Hitting the Bullseye
Dr. Faulkner found that parents who did best in parenting were those who not only had goals but those who sacrificed of themselves in order to obtain the goal. Goals aren’t going to work unless we are willing to sacrifice. If we decide that we’re going to lose weight, but we never sacrifice what we eat and never sacrifice time to exercise, we won’t achieve our goal. If we decide we’re going to control our temper and we never sacrifice the urge to lash out, we won’t achieve our goal.
Scripture teaches us to be willing to sacrifice in order to serve others. It is extremely important in our families that we serve one another. We often talk about Christian service, and I fear that we don’t often apply this to family life. In Dr. Faulkner’s research, he talked with one father, for example, who lengthened his commute by two hours a day rather than ask his high school children to relocate during high school. In every family Faulkner interviewed, the needs of the children came before the parents’ own needs.
Notice what Scripture says about service. When teaching His disciples to serve, Jesus says, Mark 10:42-45. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14).
Do we ever think of serving our children like that? Do we think of giving up our interests and hobbies in order to help our children in what’s supremely important? Are we willing, for example, to give up watching the ballgame in order to teach our children what’s right and wrong? Are we willing to do what we can so that we can be cheering at the ballgame when our child is up to bat?
One family summed up their philosophy of family in these words: “Parenting requires your best, your dedication, your attention. It involves self-discipline. Good families don’t just happen. Sometimes you have to choose between what you want to do and what you ought to do. It is difficult to be good at both golf and tennis. You have to select and choose. You have to take time and do it right. We have our children for such a short time. If you don’t do it now, it won’t get done. Early in the marriage we decided we wanted children. We also decided we would make them a top priority in our lives. Parents need to be there not just to conceive them, but to nurture them. If the parents don’t nurture their children, it won’t get done.”
In Scripture, we have a wonderful example of Mary. Mary was minding her own business, preparing to marry Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared and said: (Lk 1:30-33). Mary accepted the word of God and said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Think of all the sacrificing Mary did. Remember what Simeon, the old man in the temple said to Mary and Joseph? Luke 2:35. I cannot fathom he horrible pain of losing a child, a pain some of you know all too well. However, could any mother’s pain be more than Mary’s? Not only was she at the foot of the cross as her child was enduring untold physical agony, but she witnessed His bearing the sin of the world.
Can you imagine the pain Mary was enduring when she and Joseph could not find Jesus on their way back from Jerusalem? Luke 2:48. And then to discover that he was simply in the Temple teaching and listening to the scribes?
Mary was willing to give of herself to raise the Messiah. Are we willing to give of ourselves to raise our children?
Three: Never, Never Give Up
We absolutely must understand that parenting is a long-term commitment. We cannot simply throw up our hands in the middle of the game and say, “Coach, I’m tired. Take me out.”
In order to do so, we absolutely must have persistence. Charles Spurgeon, a very famous Baptist preacher, once said, “The snail would never have made it to the ark except through perseverance.”
Scripture teaches us to be persistent. “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9). “We also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).
Are we going to be persistent in our parenting? When one of our children breaks a rule, are we going to follow through on the promised punishment, or will we change the punishment to make it more palatable? Will we continue to teach our children right and wrong, or will we stop because teaching right and wrong takes up too much time? Just how persistent are we going to be?
A few years ago, I read about a family who are members of the church out in California. They had a son who really acted out—in fact, he acted out so much that he ended up in prison. When the time for his release drew near, his father met with the preacher to discuss how he and his wife should handle the son’s return. The father told his preacher, “This time, I’m really going to lay down the law and tighten up the rules.” But the preacher’s response surprised him, “I know a guy in the Bible whose son messed up bad, and when he returned home, the father gave him a party,” referring, of course, to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
The parents began to rethink their response to the son’s return. When the son came home, he saw lots of cars in front of his house. There was something big going on—a party! And come to find out, it was for him—complete with cake, candles, his relatives, and a big banner that said, “Welcome home, son!”
Today that family is in church every Sunday. The son sits with his parents, and he has his arm around his mother.
That’s persistence! That’s not giving up! Will we be persistent in raising our children?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.