The great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards once reflected:
“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”
We look around us at all creation has to offer, and we are meant to see these great works of majesty and beauty not as objects of worship, but rather as signposts – those things that point us to the Creator. It’s true of creation, but it’s also true of me as a father.
As dads, we are shadows. For our children, we are meant to not only care for them; to nurture them; to protect them; to serve them – we are shadows of the substance of God. God has given me these children for me to be a signpost pointing to their greater Father. By God’s grace, I pray that they might say over and over again when they encounter God is something like this: “He’s like daddy, but better.”
- God loves me like daddy does… only better.
- God provides for me like daddy does… only better.
- God disciplines me like daddy does… only better.
- God takes care of me like daddy does… only better.
Specifically, though, there are certain characteristics that we as dads can display in our relationships with our children that will point them to God:
One of Jesus’ descriptions of our heavenly Father is found in Luke 11:11-13:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
This whole passage is about giving gifts; not paltry, surface-level gifts, but real ones. Good ones. Extravagant ones. And, as these verses tell us, that these gifts are not always the gifts we have in mind, but they are good gifts nonetheless. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ; He gives us each day the daily bread we need; He provides in ways that we are both aware and unaware of. What’s more, He is generous with His time, His love, His affection, and His forgiveness. So may it be with us as fathers, that we would not be stingy, but generously giving.
I’m like most dads in that I field somewhere between 2 and 3,000 requests from my kids every day. And that’s on a workday. On my best days, I’m able to faith to meet those requests with joy. But then again, there are many times when I meet with with frustration. I put up a defensive posture, ready to propel these requests. And I know my kids are smart enough to see it. This posture comes out in my body language, my initial response, and even the speed at which I respond when I hear the word, “Daddy?”
“Welcoming” is the opposite of this posture. Welcoming is choosing not to hoard my resources and authority, but instead embracing the request coming from one who doesn’t have those things. Of course, one can be welcoming and not say “yes” all the time. But when we welcome our children to come to us, with our words, our eyes, and our tone, then our children will keep on coming even if the answer must be “no” sometimes.
Welcoming is the posture by which our Heavenly Father receives us. When we come to the Lord to present our needs, we thankfully don’t find a Father that is overburdened by such requests. We do not find one who rolls His eyes at yet another ask from His children, or one that wants just a few minutes without someone asking Him for something:
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
When we become Christians, God brings us into His family. We are His beloved and adopted children, given a place in His family that is irrevocable for it is sealed by faith through the Holy Spirit. We never have to wonder if, this time, we have gone too far. Or if this time, God will meet our repentance with anger and frustration. Or if this time, God will tell us that His grace has run out.
Repentance is safe because God is our eternal Father. As earthly fathers, it should be the same with our children. Their repentance should be safe with us.
When our children own their rebellion, their defiance, their smart mouths, their lying, their laziness, their whatever it is that drives us crazy, and they seek to turn from that, their repentance should be safe with us. We should not do what God does not do with us – that is, meet our repentance with skepticism, or heap condemnation upon them after they’ve already grasped the gravity of what they’ve done, or manipulate them into better behavior by some perceived withholding of affection and acceptance from them. May it never be. May they be safe with us as their fathers.
Finally, we should be a shadow of God’s active engagement in our lives. To put it in opposite terms, we must reject the temptation to be passive. We must press into our kids’ lives, caring deeply about what matters to them rather than always asking them to care about what matters most to us.
Their “thing” must become our “thing.” Whether their “thing” is art, athletics, music, whatever – we must be engaged. And in so doing, we are pointing them to the greater reality of their Heavenly Father who is always present, always engaged, always caring about the intimate details of their lives:
“Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:26-30).
There are, of course, more characteristics than these. But it will do us well as dads, I think, to consider the gravity of what we are doing here. We aren’t just trying to get our kids through their teenage years without them causing too much trouble. We are shadows of their true and lasting Father, showing them the slightest glimpse of what He is really like.