This post originally appeared on the Proclaim and Defend blog and has been published here with permission.
“I wasn’t raised in a good home and my father never talked to me. So, I don’t really know how to talk to my own kids.”
It’s time for some tough talk, dads.
Being raised in a poor environment is no excuse for failing your own children in your most basic responsibility as a father—to teach your kids.
I know you believe your most basic responsibility is to provide for your children and protect your children, but take a look at the biblical data. By far, the most pressing biblical mandate is to teach your kids. The moment your children came into the world, you got a new job description.
“But I don’t know how!”
You did not know how to drive, file your taxes, or do a thousand other things that are now part of your daily life. You learned because you had to. You can learn this too.
“It’s too late now! I failed my kids early.”
Fatherhood doesn’t stop when your children turn eighteen. Yes, they have to leave and cleave (Matthew 19:5), but the Bible is full of examples of parents continuing to teach and influence their children into adulthood—from Job and his children to Paul and Timothy.
A Biblical Guidebook
And God has given a guidebook and helpful examples to follow. In particular, the Book of Proverbs is the Bible’s Guidebook for Parent-Child Conversations.
Have you ever really thought about it? The entire Book of Proverbs is a conversation between a father (it works for mothers, too) and his children. It is the primary biblical means of carrying out the Deuteronomy 6:6–8 responsibilities.
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
How to use the Book of Proverbs to teach.
1. Read Proverbs.
Read it personally. From the time I was a sophomore in high school until years into the ministry, I had a habit of reading a chapter in Proverbs a day.
Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 31 days in most months, I simply read the chapter that corresponded with the day of the month.
If I happened to miss a day, I didn’t sweat it, I just read the chapter that corresponded to the next day. That book has transformed the way I think and the way I approach all of life.
2. Read Proverbs to your children.
My dad was the youngest of 12 children. His parents were believers but by the time he got to be in junior high, his parents had sort of checked out of parenting. He did not ever remember his father leading a family altar.
My mother got saved as a “bus kid” in a Salvation Army church. But those two established a daily practice that had a huge impact on my life.
We always ate an evening meal together, even if it wasn’t fancy. We did this five nights a week (not Sunday or Midweek service night, that’s just what they did). Dad would read the Bible to us.
When we were young it was a Bible picture book, and the Bible itself when we were older. He usually chose an updated version so that younger children could understand more easily. Then we would talk about it and pray.
It was that simple.
3. Talk about the lessons you have learned.
When Dad would read Proverbs, we were free to ask what various sayings meant. Sometimes Mom and Dad did not know what a verse meant and we would try to figure it out together. I especially remember Dad talking about how various Proverbs had proven true in his own life.
Dad read Proverbs 6:1-4 and explained that “surety” in the modern world means “co-signing.” He told the story about how he wished he knew this verse was in the Bible before he co-signed for a friend in a business deal and had to pay his friend’s debt (and never got the money back from his friend).
Mom piped in, “I told him he shouldn’t do it.”
“And I should have listened to you,” he replied, smiling at her.
Don’t get the wrong idea. Mom was never afraid to speak up if she believed something was not right, but she also loved and respected my father deeply and followed his leadership. Dad was humble and kind, but never shirked from his responsibility of leading in our home.
I learned two lessons. Don’t co-sign and don’t disregard the counsel of a godly wife.
Tell your own stories about how you have seen Proverbs work out in real life. Do not be afraid to tell your children about things you learned the hard way. Do not be too proud to reveal your failures. Have enough humility to teach your children to avoid your failures.
Let the Spirit lead you as you talk. Even if the kids act bored, have the conversation. They will remember. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. In fact, it is better to keep it short. Even five or ten minutes can be life-changing.
Aside from teaching your children about salvation, if all you ever talk about in your teaching time with your children is the Book of Proverbs, you will have done very well.
4. Involve your wife.
Show this article to your wife. Plan a daily time for your family to be together. At the end of the evening meal usually works quite well. Read today’s Proverb. Talk about it for a few minutes. Then pray.
Just do it. Now. Today. Do not wait another day.