Nearly every time I visit my parents with my family, my mom tells my wife and me, “You’re doing a great job with the kids!” It’s such good news to hear, especially when parenting feels so tough.
The trouble is, things aren’t actually going that well, I’m not always doing a great job with the kids, and I have a hard time seeing fruit from our labor. If I look around my home, here’s what I do see:
- Plenty of arguments between siblings
- Lots of crying, talking, shouting, singing, and coughing (Sometimes that last one gets so intense, our home sounds like a Red Cross tent after a major battle.)
- A couple tired parents
- Numerous unanswered questions
- And some key anticlimactic gospel moments (You know—when you think your child is about to receive Jesus, and he asks instead if he can eat the rest of his Valentine’s candy before bed.)
Perhaps you recognize some of these from your own family. Honestly, they’re probably signs that we’re not the best parents. But may I suggest that they’re also signs of something else? Could it be that the chaos of life as a Christian family reveals that God is up to something really amazing in your family?
Christian dad, I want to encourage you that God is doing a great work in your family despite your sometimes fumbling attempts at parenting. Actually, let me say that a little stronger. Through your fumbling attempts at parenting, God is doing a great work in your family.
Let’s explore three key ways He’s doing a great work.
1. God is doing a great work through the family.
It’s no secret that the institution of the family makes a difference. The statistics overwhelmingly point to the significant role of a stable, traditional family in the health and experience of a child. Conversely, an unstable family markedly disadvantages a child.1
One key factor here is the presence of a father in the home. A home with an absent father often yields children with behavioral, academic, psychological, and social issues, while a present father has the potential to greatly increase his children’s well-being and success.2
These realities exist only because of God’s design for the family. The family is the first institution in the Bible and becomes the foundation for human society (Gen. 1:26–28).3 Even after the fall, God’s plan of redemption is closely connected to His plan for the family (Gen. 3:15–16, 20; 4:1; 18:19).
In God’s plan, there’s something special about your family. If you’re reading this, chances are, you have a family. I’m going to guess you’re a present dad. You’re a part of the foundational institution of the family. Don’t underestimate the power of that reality.
At a glance, your family may look like a chaotic mixture of fights, laughter, drama, discussions, and mess.[^4] But be encouraged. Your family is—familying. Under the surface, the engine of the family is at work. God is doing a great work in—and through—your family.
2. God is doing a great work through His Word.
God’s Word works.
We see this truth all over Scripture.
- Isaiah 55:11—“My word…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”
- Jeremiah 23:29—“Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
- Hebrews 4:12—“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
It’s no wonder that parents are commanded to “teach [God’s words] diligently to your children, and…talk about them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7).
God knew that this steady input of God’s Word would do something in the home. The child would begin to connect some dots: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies…that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son…” (Deut. 6:20–21).
What follows is simply the story of the Exodus, God’s rescuing act of redemption. A steady stream of God’s Word spoken in the home paves the way for gospel conversations.
There’s nothing like watching your kids connect the dots of Scripture! And there’s nothing like watching the estuaries of their young hearts be slowly formed and shaped by the river of God’s Word.
So, here’s the question: “Is the word spoken in your home?” I’m sure it is. But I’m sure you feel it could be even more present. So, keep speaking the Word! Make it an everyday part of your own life, and, as an extension of that, speak it to your children.
A few ideas:
- In your own personal devotions, consider reading the Bible out loud. I often read my Bible with a child nearby who’s up too early—if they’re going to be up, they might as well hear some good news!
- Start a habit of family worship. (See Kristopher Schaal’s article for some starter ideas.)
- Memorize larger portions of Scripture with your family. If combined with hand motions or some friendly competition, this habit can become an enjoyable part of your family devotions. (If your children are teenagers, however, the hand motions will probably have the opposite effect.)
- Seek to use God’s Word in discipline. What does God say about this situation? What solution does the good news give?
- Encourage early readers to start reading their Bible every day. Even five verses a day before play can be a huge step.
Family devotions around here are a riot. I’m slowly loosening my grasp on what I consider ideal family devotions and trying to focus on just one thing—God’s Word must be spoken in our home. Don’t underestimate the power of His Word. Through His Word, He does a great work.
3. God is doing a great work through His Spirit
God’s Spirit is at work in the second verse of the Bible, creating order out of chaos (Gen. 1:2).
After the rebellion of man, the Spirit has continued to work, breathing life into dry bones and forming a New Creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although the final form of that New Creation is still future, even now, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Because the Spirit lives in you, you are a new creation, and He is producing new creation fruit in you” (Gal. 5:22–23).
Don’t underestimate the power of the Spirit. He created the world. He empowered Jesus. He raised Him from the dead. One day, He will raise you!
The Spirit’s work may be quiet—a gradual softening of the heart, a gentle blooming of new life—but it is powerful. He, and He alone, is able to bring your children to Jesus and to transform them into His image.
So what should you do? Be with your children! The Spirit is in your home—in you. And He’s at work in your children—through you. Allow Him to bear His fruit in you for your family to see and enjoy.
God is doing a great work through His powerful Holy Spirit.
A Final Thought
If God is doing a great work in my family despite my failures, does that mean I can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show?
The realities we’ve covered should actually have the opposite effect. God’s work through the family, His Word, and His Spirit should actually motivate all of us to engage more and better with our families. We cannot accomplish this work on our own. But it’s not our work. It’s His! And we are His instruments.
Over the years, your family life will be filled with thousands of little moments—moments that seem disconnected and mundane. But, if you look again at those moments against the backdrop of God’s grace, the days that seemed routine will illuminate with His unseen power. He is at work in your family.
For some helpful research on this topic, see Heather Sandstrom, Sandra Huerta, “The Negative Affects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis,” (The Urban Institute, September 2013). ↩
In his work The Christian Family Herman Bavinck observes, “This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society” (8). ↩