“To be honest, some days I just hate the job.”
This refreshingly frank statement was made to me recently by a Christian father who was struggling with his children. The words “hate” and “job” may seem inappropriate in describing a man’s feelings toward parenting, but, as he said, those words were “honest.” If more men were honest with themselves, they might articulate their feelings toward fatherhood in the same way.
Many Christian resources exist that instruct fathers what to do and say with their children, but a man must first find a true passion for the relationship itself if he is to be effective. He must see the relationship in God’s program. If a father lacks a godly desire for his own children, no method of parenting will ever bear true fruit.
Our Basic Pursuit
A Christian chorus from the 1980s states, “Give me one pure and holy passion; give me one magnificent obsession; give me one glorious ambition for my life: to know and follow hard after You.”1
I love the simplicity of this song. It reflects the basic truth that the purpose of life is quite simple as well: to know and follow hard after God. Each day, by the Spirit’s power and in the light of the gospel, we are to pursue God’s purposes for our lives with a great passion. We should not complicate this with all the details we might want to tack on to it.
Consider how Scripture implores us: “Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth,” (Col 3:1–2).
For Christian fathers, this daily pursuit always includes our relationships with our families. In marriage, a man has become one flesh with a woman, and he is to care for her as he cares for himself (Eph 5:28). In parenting, fathers are charged not to exasperate or provoke their children (Col 3:21), but to bring them up in God’s discipline and instruction (Eph 6:4).
When leading and caring for our families becomes a task that distracts from the rest of life, when providing and protecting is seen as an optional burden, then we have begun to think wrongly about this life altogether. In God’s good design, fatherhood is germane to the daily pursuit of Him. For the Christian father, to know and follow hard after God means to have a passion for the members of his own household.
Looking with Love
Paul told the Ephesians that he prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened (Eph 1:18). Of course, these “eyes of the heart” that Paul referenced are not actual eyes located in actual hearts. Rather, Paul was referencing spiritual insight, understanding, and motivation.
The eyes of our hearts reveal us as we truly are, and we are naturally prone to fixate on darkness; it takes a supernatural work to bring light to the eyes of our hearts.2
R. Kent Hughes comments: “In Scripture, the heart is the fulcrum of man’s being, the seat of his intelligence and will. Paul asks, therefore, that our spiritual center will be given spiritual vision…We simply need our spiritual eyes opened to the truths that surround us.3
In other words, we need to have our passions aligned with God’s purposes for our lives.
How can we know if the eyes of our heart are focusing on what God desires? Interestingly, the status of our spiritual eyes is often revealed by our physical eyes. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus said (Matt 6:22a), and many have come to agree with the statement, “The eyes are windows to the soul.”
You can tell if a person is happy, sad, or angry by looking into his eyes—and our children can tell the same things about us in the same way. As a man, Jesus communicated through His eyes, too, and over twenty times in the gospels it states that Jesus looked at someone or something.
Consider the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked Him what he should do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17–22). Having called him “Good Teacher,” the Lord responded by reminding him that no one is good but God alone, and then He refreshed him on some of the Ten Commandments. Foolishly, the young man said, “I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
Jesus could have rightly furrowed His brow in anger. He could have wept out of utter frustration.
“Looking at him,” the account reads, “Jesus felt a love for him,” (v. 21, emphasis added). This is the perfect impulse. Jesus, love personified, responded perfectly in love for this young man and gave him an invitation: “Come, follow Me.”
Bringing It Together
In relationship with your children, how many opportunities do you have each day to respond to foolishness? Our responses that fall short of Christ’s love quickly reveal our lack of godly passion for our children.
When I was in high school, a friend of mine was intent on never changing the oil in his car. Seeing it as a needless expense (and not caring to honor his parent’s gift of a vehicle!), he simply ignored the responsibility of car maintenance and went about his life. Eventually, plumes of smoke started to emanate from his car each time he would start it up. That alarming scene was not the problem in and of itself—the smoke indicated something that was wrong below the surface all along.
In the same way, our frustrations with our children often serve to reveal our frustration with God’s calling on our lives. The smoke billowing out from our annoyed and aggravated hearts might be a sign that we are actually annoyed and aggravated with God, not our children.
Let us never imagine that children get in the way of our pursuit of God. The Lord has put our children in our lives as a very intimate part of our pursuit of Him. Setting the mind on things above often looks like changing diapers, sacrificing sleep, listening to childish stories, and gently reminding or disciplining.
As fathers, we must understand that a passion for God means a passion for our children. Running the daily race of following hard after God means slowing down to look at the members of our household and feeling love for them. Let us seek to maintain that godly desire for our children day by day.