In Ephesians 6:4, we parents are given quite the instruction: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." It is really easy to read over this verse quickly because it follows verses two and three that we parents like a lot. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Now I don't usually toss that out to my children, but I do know it is there and am grateful that the Bible gives our children this instruction. It is a bit of cold water in the face (if I am to be honest) that what follows is a correction for me.
Our pastor preached a sermon on this verse a few weeks back and I have been mulling it over ever since. It is a good thing my children love me and forgive me because I am quite guilty of committing this sin. I do exasperate or provoke them sometimes. If we are not to exasperate our children, what ought we to be doing? My pastor shared some meaty things with us that made me take an entirely different view of this verse, and I hope something here helps you.
We are to come back, day by day and week by week to evaluate how our children should best be brought up. Are we doing what we need to do (within our human ability) to be what they need? Are we bringing them up in the way of the Lord or are we scooting by? Are we doing spastic parenting or being impulsive in our relationships? Raising up our children is a special sacred duty given to us by God. What does it mean to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord?
We are to correct, discipline, instruct, warn, teach, admonish, chastise, nourish, shape, and model for them in the Lord. It is Christ who changes hearts. We are not the heart changers - the Holy Spirit does that. However, scripture tells us that we are to walk with Christ as an example for them. This is a hard calling, isn't it? It is so much easier to sin, to want our own way, to be a poor example, or to let the crazy busy aspects of our life influence our behavior. I know that I struggle with this all the time.
Before we go to our children to admonish and chastise, to correct, discipline, and to shape them, we should be sure we have the planks out of our own eyes. This is such a powerful piece of scripture. I love the frankness of the Word of God. Luke 6:42, "How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?" Are we struggling with the same sins we are going to our children about? Probably! Maybe not in the same ways, but we do.
I think our children should see our humanness. (Not that we could keep it from them, really, but they should understand that we know what it is to struggle with temptation or abiding sin, and that our Savior has paid for it all.) How many times have I just finished having our Bible time together in the morning and then not ten minutes later, I have gotten upset over something absurd? How many times have you seen your children arguing over some nonsense right after you were teaching about loving your brother? :) We humans are a messy lot, aren't we? We are to shepherd our children, to invest in them.
How comforting is it when you know someone with deep faith? I know some of these people in my life and when I ask them to pray for me, I know they will and somehow I feel they will really get the message to God. :) I know that sounds silly because I know that God hears His people when they pray, but sometimes I feel that some people have a direct line or something. :) Our children need to see us before the face of God. They need to see that we need our Savior. They need to see that our lives flow from our sense of love for and from Him. They need to hear us talk about and really live our faith.
Lamentations 3:22-24 states some extremely powerful words that we often forget when we are burdened by our own sin. "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."" His love for us never ceases. His is unwavering and always faithful to us--even in our deepest times of need and when we feel lost in our failures. He knows our weakness and forgives our sins when we turn to Him!
It is by the always present, every day mercies of God, that we live and breathe and have our being. We can't do anything without Him. We don't and can't do God's will without the saving work of Christ in our lives. Jesus washes our sins away. We cannot do any of it for ourselves and something important to remember, we can't do it for our children. But our great hope, and the hope we have for our children is found in Ephesians 2:4-5: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved..." He is rich in mercy--to us and to our children. This is such a beautiful gift!
While I want to be a shepherd to my children on behalf of Christ, to be the person Christ calls me to be, I know that I will often fail them. But even in my failures, Christ displays His perfect patience and forgiveness towards me as He did with Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:15-17
"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."