Before the Fire Will Fall!

1 Sep 2001

It’s tough raising children! There’s a Father’s Day card that reads, “Dad, everything I ever learned, I learned from you, except one thing: the family car really will do 110.” Parents really do have the toughest job on earth. I know, sometimes we feel like we are being beat up on from all sides—even at church. One little boy said to the preacher after the service, “Boy that was a good sermon. My dad slumped way down today!” But the truth is, there are no perfect parents. In fact, the role model for all parents, the very best picture of a parent in the Bible, is the Father of the Prodigal Son. Jesus holds him up as an example for us. And even the Father of the prodigal son had struggles in his home! Being good parents does not guarantee that your kids will be without struggles. But is there anything we can do to improve our chances of raising young men and women who are mighty in spirit? I think so.

God’s greatest commandment was simply that we love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength. How do we do that? Deuteronomy 6 makes it plain that it is taught, and mostly caught, in the context of the home. We talk about Him when we sit in our house, when we walk along the way, when we lie down and when we rise up. I believe God is spelling out His method right there: before principles are ever learned, habits are in place. I know some like to say, “We don’t live under law but under grace.” For them, that means, “We don’t plan anything!” I am under grace, too, brothers, and it is precisely because I have tasted that the Lord is good that I want to do everything I practically can to see that my children taste Him, too. It’s like when Elijah cut the wood, built the altar, and even poured on the water (just to give God a challenge!). The fire fell from heaven but not until Elijah prepared a place for it to fall. We prepare a place for the fire of God to fall in our own homes by making Him the centerpiece of our lives. That does not happen accidentally, but through careful preparation and sacrifice.

What are some things we can do to make room for the fire to fall? Well, here are a few suggestions that I believe are consistent with the Deuteronomy passage. First, talk about Him when you sit in your house. Make a plan for family devotions and then carry it out! We desire to have morning devotions as a family, five days a week, at 6:45 a.m. We begin with Scripture and end with all of us on our knees together in prayer. We also try to eat most evening meals together (except on Friday night, when Cindy and I have our weekly date!). During the family meals, I ask the kids to tell me what they learned that day. Sometimes I will bring up something that is in the news and we will discuss it from a biblical perspective. (I don’t let my sons read the sports page until they have read the first section of the newspaper. I desire sons and daughters who are like “…the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…” (I Chronicles 12:32).

We also need to talk about Him as we walk along the way. Jesus’ last command was to make disciples “as we go into the world.” As we drive with our children in the car, we try to use that time to ask them questions about what they believe, where they are in their faith, what their struggles and questions are. Our children are, after all, our primary disciples! I have had some of the best and most honest conversations with my children when I am riding alone with one of them and they feel free to let me into their lives. I also want my children to be world Christians. This summer I took my oldest son, Micah, sixteen, and my second son, Caleb, fourteen, to Haiti with twenty-eight other people. It was Micah’s third trip and Caleb’s second, and each time they have returned with a greater sense of God’s love for all of the world and our call to “preach the gospel to every creature.”

Third, we talk about Him as we lie down. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to read together at night before we go to bed. We will spread out in the family room, each of us in our favorite chair or stretched out on the floor, and together enter a different world through books. We have been to the magical land of Narnia, into the slough of despair with Christian, and onto the battlefields of Europe with Sergeant Alvin York. Right now we are experiencing the horrors of the sinking of the Titanic and the bravery of those men who cried, “Women and children first!” and died so that their brides might live. Our children learn from these books that suffering is part of God’s plan, that Christ bids a man to come and die, that nothing compares to His unspeakable joy. Someone said once that we would all be the same five years from now except for the books we’ve read and the people we’ve met. Our desire is that our children see Christ at work in the lives of great men and women of God and know that they are called to run the same race with endurance!

Finally, we talk about Him when we rise up. I want my children to greet every day with a heart of gratitude to the Lord that He has allowed them to live another day to serve Him. Paul said, “To live is Christ.” So, Cindy and I are teaching our children to say things like, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” (As a pastor, I dream of people who will come to our church with a heart to serve, rather than, “What do you do for the youth? What kind of classes do you have for the children?”) The world caters to our every whim, and if we are not intentional about it, we will train up a quiver full of consumers rather than servants! But Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Do you know what? Our children (and yours!) want to be challenged to live beyond themselves. They want to be dared to really live an abandoned life. That’s what God has put in each of our hearts, and when we, as parents, can call that forth, our children will respond. I remember the story of the three service men who were given a chance to speak to a high school assembly. They were recruiters for the various branches of service and were told to speak five minutes and no more because time was limited. After the fifteen minutes were up, students who were interested in each branch would meet the recruiter at a table in the cafeteria. The man from the Navy was first and he gave a sales pitch for his branch that took about seven minutes. The man from the Army was next and he praised the Army and invited students to come talk to him in the cafeteria. His talk also took about seven minutes. The Marine recruiter was last and he knew that the other two had used his time. He had only one minute to speak. He stood up and looked at the students for a full forty-five seconds without speaking. Then he said, “If any of you think you’re man enough to be a Marine, I will see you in the cafeteria.” When the three recruiters walked into the cafeteria a few minutes later, there was a mob of young men standing in front of the Marine’s table, only a handful at the other two tables.

It’s not easy being a good father. But is there anything else that is more important? May God help us to walk in the knowledge of His exceedingly precious promises, that our children may be reared for His glory!

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