Can Dads Influence Their Children’s Spiritual Outcome? – Part 1

Recently, a father wrote about a number of issues that should be near and dear to the heart of every father who wants to raise children to love and serve the Lord Jesus. I thought I would share some thoughts on the first part of what he wrote this month and then discuss the last part next month.

We live a pretty controlled life. We dress plain. We built ourselves a small cabin to live in, in order to “Owe no man any thing, but to love. . . .” My wife homeschools, and we keep our kids with us constantly. (We can’t even trust either set of grandparents to maintain our level of protection.) No TV, etc., although we do take the kids shopping and to church (only three families in the church, including us [and no other children]).

The brethren in the church we fellowship with believe that you can’t really guarantee that your children will be saved. Both of them, godly men, have children that don’t follow the Lord (one of them had all his children slip away). They even have a grandson who was homeschooled, but went away when he got into the work world. A dad (To be continued next month.)

Praise God for the heart of this dad! Did you sense the love he has for his children and that he is willing to live any way necessary to raise men and women of God? No wonder he is concerned by what he is being told.

I, too, have heard a number of others, including Christian men in leadership, imply that you can’t guarantee how your children will turn out. They indicate that no matter what you do, a child may still rebel. Those types of statements can be so discouraging to dads who have hearts for their children. Personally, the guarantee I am putting my trust in comes from God’s Word—that He Who is faithful and begun a good work in my children will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

Look at 1 Timothy 3:4-5, where one of the qualifications for a bishop (elder) is listed. “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).” Next, look at Titus 1:6, where the bishop’s (elder’s) children again determine his qualification for office. “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” God said if someone is to be an elder then his children can’t be rebellious, and in Titus 1:6 we read that they must be faithful. The idea is that if an elder can’t raise his children to love the Lord, he won’t be able to lead a church either. I don’t believe God would have made that a requirement if it weren’t a reasonable thing to expect.

First, let’s evaluate carefully those from whom we hear these kinds of negative statements. It is always reasonable to cross-examine a witness bringing testimony. In court, under cross-examination, a testimony may be discredited, or thrown out, if there is reason to doubt the accuracy of what is being reported. The purpose in this case is not to condemn those who have “lost children,” but rather to understand and learn from them. My experience has been that upon careful scrutiny there seems to be justifiable reasons why a child might rebel in his teens and not serve the Lord as an adult.

Just because the men (mentioned at the beginning of the Corner) making those statements appear to be godly, this doesn’t mean they (who said children can go astray) actually raised their children in a godly home. It doesn’t mean the men were godly when they were raising their children. It doesn’t mean that the men’s hearts were turned toward their children. And even if the children were raised by godly men in a godly home, it doesn’t mean the children weren’t exposed to harmful influences that drew their hearts away.

This has been a subject of great interest to me through the years. As such, when I have met someone with wayward children, I will gently ask the father some subtle questions while we talk. My questions will vary depending on how well I know the person, but the following are representative of what I try to discover.

How was the Lord Jesus lived out in the home? Did they have a daily family worship time? Was it a time the children enjoyed? Did Dad lead it? Did he like leading it? Did they eat together as a family? Did they worship together? Did Dad, Mom, and the children have personal devotions each day? Was it a good or a dreaded time?

What influences were there to pull the hearts away? Did the dads feel like they had their children’s hearts and, if not, who did? How much time did Dad spend with the children? Did he have two jobs requiring long hours out of the home? Was there a TV in the home? (I believe this was less of an issue 30 to 40 years ago, but is a critical issue now.) Did they go to movies? How important were friends in their children’s lives? What did the family do when Dad wasn’t working? What did they do for entertainment and recreation? Did they minister to anyone as a family or individually? Two important questions nowadays: are the children homeschooled, and are they in a youth group?

Another big issue is to sense if the dad has an angry spirit. Children will not draw close and trust a parent who is angry or even has a spirit of anger. I believe that this alone can drive children away.

These questions aren’t to condemn anyone, but I think they can be very indicative of how the child will do as an adult. I hope that the “right” answers don’t bring to mind an unattainable, perfect family. If they do, it is only because the drifting of the current “church” in our country sees what should be normal life for a Christian as extreme. The answers to my questions present a picture of whether Deuteronomy 6:6-8 was being lived out in the home, whether Dad’s heart was lovingly turned toward the children, and what harmful influences were pulling at the children.

Also, I don’t want you to think for a moment that I believe that if you follow a simple list of do’s and don’ts, your children won’t rebel. I’m not saying that at all. James said, “. . . I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). The essence of what I try to find out is just how the love for (and of) the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word is lived out in a home. I believe that is an indication of how real a presence the Lord Jesus had in the home and whether the children will want to live for Him themselves.

Now, to understand the basis for my questions, let’s take a brief look at Deuteronomy 6:6-8. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.”

Notice that the words of God’s commands must be in Dad’s heart. What we treasure and love is in our hearts and is the essence of our very beings. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). What is in our hearts will come out in our words and actions. No one knows Dad like those living in the home.

The Lord shall be taught diligently to the children. Have you noticed how it is almost impossible to train a bad habit out of your children that you haven’t personally conquered in your life? Our children observe how we live out our faith. Our life must affirm what we are teaching them. If we don’t live it as we teach it, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t choose to live it either. If we live a life of hypocrisy, our children will want nothing to do with our “religion.”

My heart is deeply grieved by how many professing dads don’t live Christ out in the home. “Thou shalt talk of them” conveys that we will so love the Lord Jesus that our talk is seasoned with Him. He is the salt that flavors and adds real meaning to what is being discussed. Those topics that are being discussed will not be the things of the world with a little religion added in once in a while.

In the original language, the word for “diligently” carries the picture of how one sharpens swords and arrows. It is far more than just casual discussions of the Lord during the day. It is a purposeful decision to do something that is important. It takes effort and care. You don’t put an edge on a sword or a point on an arrow carelessly. It takes determination, skill, and careful observation of the progress being made with each sharpening stroke. We are to continuously, skillfully, and methodically share Jesus with our children.

I have “spoken” with some who believe they can’t fulfill Deuteronomy 6 unless the dad is working from the home and has his children with him. I would encourage any father who feels this way to question whether he is doing everything he can with his family life in his current vocation. Is Dad having a personal time with the Lord each day? Is Dad gently coaxing each child to spend time with the Lord each day? Is Dad leading the family in a time of Bible reading and worship each day in the home? If not, I don’t believe coming home is the answer.

Why not find another man and hold each other accountable? Ask each other specific questions each week while remembering it is not a list of do’s and don’ts that determine how your children will turn out. How much do you love the Lord your God, and how are you living that out in the home? The questions are merely an attempt to catch a glimpse of what is going on.

A dear brother and I were discussing the difficulty of a father keeping the hearts of his children. We wholeheartedly agreed. There is nothing more difficult, time consuming, and worthwhile than a father striving to keep the hearts of his children while directing them to Christ. Dads, it is a tall order, but we can’t quit and assume “we have arrived” for a moment. The enemy seeks our children.