In Pursuit of Those Things That Matter

As usual, we have received the yearly missives from family and friends across the country. One dear woman handwrites her multiple-page letter to us, and it is a celebration of life in a family serving the Lord Jesus. Others, like ours, are mass produced and get the message out to a large number quite effectively.

As a letter is read, the family is presented through the eyes of the writer, usually Mom or Dad. The family’s events and accomplishments of the previous year that are considered important to the parents are condensed down to a page or two. So in just a couple of minutes of reading, we are updated on the noteworthy accomplishments of a family.

However, I’m grieved by most of the letters we receive from Christian families. What is being shared generally shows such a worldly focus in the homes. There is mostly entertainment and trivial pursuits, versus serving and life preparation, that rule. Is the Lord’s bride in love with Him or the world? Sadly, the proof is on the paper.

Certainly, these letters reveal the hearts of dads. Let’s “talk” Christian “man to man” for a little bit as we reflect back on this year and look forward to a new millennium. The return of our Lord Jesus draws closer each day. Will He find us busy? If so, busy doing what?

Will the Lord Jesus say to us, “. . . Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). After reading the majority of the letters we received, I wonder whether it really won’t be, “. . . Thou wicked and slothful servant. . .” (Matthew 25:26).

How can a family know whether they are spending their time harvesting chaff or spending their time as the Lord desires? As usual, it begins with the father’s daily, personal, quiet time with the Lord Jesus. Dad must be “plugged into” the Vine if there is to be a chance of knowing what God wants his family to do. It may even be something that is good, but if the Lord hasn’t told us to do it, we must not.

Next, don’t seek a ministry, but seek Jesus. Frankly, it may be that the dad and mom with young children do little, if any, “ministry” by themselves outside the home. I’ve seen churches so hungry for male leadership they will take a father away from the home when the mother desperately needs him. There are seasons in life, and raising little ones may demand the full attention of Mom and Dad for several years. That is how the family strengthens their testimony for future years. Later, when they have succeeded in raising up godly children, the seeds and credentials for a strong ministry have been planted.

Dads, we must understand that a “need” is not a call. Only when the Lord clearly says, “Go!” and it does not impede our responsibilities, should we do it. It may be that the Lord has someone else He wants to fill the position (or if it is unprofitable, He doesn’t want it filled at all), and it really wasn’t for us. So if you have little children and are asked to do something that requires even an hour away from your family (few things ever really take only an hour anyway), and you can’t take your children with you each time, then this might not be the time to say “yes.”

A few years back, a friend greatly surprised me by nominating me for a statewide position I should never have accepted. I had a lot of interest in helping the “cause,” but it really wasn’t the season for me. After limping along under the conviction it wasn’t God’s will, I finally had to resign. So the need, a friend’s counsel, and a hurried prayer led to a wrong action. Something that required my time should have had serious prayer. Since my decision to agree to the nomination was needed right then and time would not allow for sufficient prayer time, it was clearly not God’s will for me.

Last evening I heard a radio interview with a retired Navy Blue Angels pilot. He said he felt it was a wonderful career opportunity to show that a Christian could do the job. However, he went on to say he had really struggled with the conviction that he should be home with his children instead of traveling three hundred days a year. I had to turn the radio off! Why wasn’t he man enough to quit and do what God had called him to do first?

The pressing need of our day is for fathers to turn their hearts to their children. Even those of us who think we are involved in our children’s lives need to constantly be on guard to be sure we are looking to their hearts. Taking children to Boy Scouts, T-Ball, and soccer is not turning our hearts to our children. These may be entertaining and fun, but they have little, if any, eternal benefit. Do we want to raise up men and women of God, or worldly, pleasure-seeking children who never mature? Even if some may argue the above is not chaff, no one should argue that if we are not doing what Jesus wants us to do, it is chaff. That is all that matters.

Most of those letters were such an indictment of the modern “Christian” family. Dads, may we hold each other accountable. May we challenge and exhort each other to good works. Are you willing to pour out your life for your family and your Lord, to cherish your wife and delight in her, to count every activity and commitment as chaff unless the Lord directs you to do it?

I would challenge every one of us in this matter. Why not, as husband and wife, agree to eliminate EVERY activity and pursuit? (This includes TV, books, sports, clubs, etc.) Now, prayerfully add back in only those that the Lord clearly says He wants the family and individual to be involved with. Don’t add it back until you can look your wife in the eye and say, “God has told me that we are to do this.” May our Lord welcome us with, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” on His return.

Posted in: Dad's Corner

How Long Does Character Growth Take?

Are you ever disheartened because your children aren’t making the progress you desire, particularly in an area of character growth? Does this cause you to want to give up working on it? The Lord has been showing Steve and me some new insights concerning this that I believe are worthy of discussing in a Mom’s Corner.

Do you remember when I shared with you last summer about our work on teaching our younger children to say, “Yes, Ma’am” and, “No, Ma’am?” Let me reprint that part of the Mom’s Corner here to refresh your memory.

For example, this summer we were teaching our younger children to answer with, “Yes, Ma’am. No, Ma’am. Yes, Sir. No, Sir.” This was being accomplished by dropping one M&M into a mug with their name on it each time they respond in the desired fashion. At an approved time they would be allowed to eat their M&Ms. We also made this into a game for character teaching time when there was a major cleanup to be done.

“Jesse,”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Please pick up the Legos.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Two M&Ms are popped into his mouth and another one when he returns after finishing his pickup.

“Anna,”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Mommy wants you to take these socks and put them in the dirty clothes hamper.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Again, two M&Ms are immediately eaten and a third one offered when she returns. We continued until all the little tasks were completed, and would you believe they didn’t want to stop even when I couldn’t find anything else to do?

This training was so successful that the children were saying “Yes, Sir” to Nathan, our twenty-one-year-old son. Nathan was pleased enough with this show of respect from his younger brothers and sisters that he purchased a three-pound bag of M&Ms and another one of Skittles to continue the character-teaching rewards.

I wrote that Mom’s Corner a little over a year ago. At the time this was written, it sounded greatly successful, but it was short term! However, guess who, in the long run, was trained to say, “Yes, Ma’am”? It was Mom! After the newness of our project wore off, I was constantly reminding the children how they were to respond, and M&Ms were being handed out infrequently.

I was disheartened and took the situation to Steve. He encouraged me to keep working with the children on their “Yes, Ma’ams,” and to wait patiently for the results. So we continued.

Do you know that a year and a half after we began this character project with our children, they are finally consistently responding the way we want them to? Our ten-year-old son, the oldest of the children who are learning this, is the “king” of “Yes, Ma’ams” in our family. It goes down the age line as to how well each child is doing with answering properly.

Does a year and a half sound like a long time to learn to say, “Yes, Ma’am?” It sure does to me! To be honest with you, if I had known a year and a half ago that it would take my children this long to learn it, I am not sure I would have undertaken the job. At least, I would have begun with different expectations. This has brought a new perspective on the reality of what character teaching really means!

I like quick results! I am willing to put forth effort in a certain direction with my children’s character growth, but I want to see immediate, lasting results. I am slowly learning character development is not always an instant outcome kind of project! As a matter of fact, it is likely to take weeks, months, and even years.

What I am continually learning through these last twenty-three years of parenthood is that God has called me, as a mom, to be faithful to Him. Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Therefore, I am to be obedient and consistent in teaching my children the ways of the Lord. I am to teach, train, discipline, encourage, and praise. I am to pray diligently concerning the specific area we are working toward. However, the results are the Lord’s; “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Whether it takes a week, a month, a year, or ten years does not matter.

How freeing this can be for us, as moms, to not have to shoulder the responsibility for the outcome. On the other hand, the responsibility of remaining consistent in focusing on the teaching and training is tremendous. It can become wearisome, at times, if our eyes come off the Lord and onto ourselves. Galatians 6:9 is a familiar verse to us. It says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” What better good is there for us to do than to teach our children to grow in Christ-likeness?

It is easy for us mothers to wonder if we are ruining our children when we don’t see the development of character that we believe should be there. My prayer is that we can let go of these negative thoughts and feelings while dedicating ourselves to fulfilling the calling the Lord has given us.

It should not be surprising that it would take our children time to develop godly character. Look at our own personal struggles with character as adults. For example, how often do you respond to your children with a slight tone of irritation in your voice? Is that the way you want to answer them? Have you prayed and worked toward not letting this happen? Do you still do it?

Hebrews 5:14 says, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” If, “by reason of use,” we come to discern both good and evil, it makes sense to me that “by reason of use” is also an integral part of learning to do good. “Character” doesn’t happen overnight!

I so much want to encourage each of you to expect the development of godly character to be a long, continuing, ongoing process worthy of the pouring out of your very life! Don’t look at the short-range progress but at the long-term goals. Set your heart, prayers, and consistent teaching on the Lord’s desire for your child to grow in Christ-likeness. Then patiently, day by day, teach, train, and love your children toward their character growth, knowing that the Lord Who has called you is faithful. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)” (Hebrews 10:23).

My heart rejoices when I hear my children answer with sweet, positive “Yes, Ma’ams.” I am grateful Steve encouraged me to not give up when I was ready to do so a year ago. The fruit truly is worth the continuing efforts that were put forth.

What about you? Have you been discouraged lately over a lack of character growth in your children? Have you become weary in your well doing? May I encourage you to step back, take a deep breath, lift your heart to the Lord, and continue on. Be ready for the long haul, not looking for immediate results but trusting the Lord for the long-term ones.