Dads, what would you say your wife and children need more from you than anything else? Or maybe more revealing, what would your wife and children say they need more from you than anything else?
In our staff meeting the other day, we read through the lengthy Psalm 78. Just listening to the psalm as it was read sent me on a roller coaster ride of emotions over God’s sovereign purposes and my own personal holiness. Psalm 78 is a poetic description of the journey of post-exodus Israel. Throughout the psalm there is the pattern of divine provision and human rejection. God provides for his people in miraculous ways, but his people continually turn their backs on God. Some of the most tragic verses in the psalm follow majestic sections of descriptions of God’s sovereign goodness.
The psalmist recalls God’s provision for his people in the wilderness, and then we see “Yet they sinned still more against him” (Ps. 78:17). The psalmist details God’s kindness and the people’s stubbornness. In spite of all God’s goodness to them, the people rebelled against him in the wilderness and beyond. Honestly, if the constant rebellion was not so tragic, it would be comical. What a tragedy to see the glory of God’s goodness and grace, yet continue to walk in ungodliness.
The verses detailing the rebellion of Israel despite witnessing the glory of the Lord send a shiver up my spine as I consider my responsibility as a husband and father. I would say that more than anything else, wives need to see their husbands and children need to see their dads walking in personal holiness. Family discipleship is both more effective and more organic when it comes from the leadership of dads who are personally reading and meditating on the Word. When dads find little time to pray and read the Bible, they will likely find little time to read and pray with their wives and children.
You see, the reason for the Israelites’ failure to grasp and obey the covenant, the reason for their pursuit of sin in the face of the glory of God’s goodness and grace was not due to a lack of Torah study groups. It was not because their worship services lacked necessary umph. No, the reason for national rebellion was a failure on the part of dads to tell the coming generation of the wonders of the Lord. Israel turned her back on the Lord because dads didn’t instruct their children in his ways. The psalmist resolves against such parental neglect:
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4)
What appears to be spiritual neglect on the outside is actually rebellious hiding on the inside. Dads who do not teach their children the gospel are hiding from them the glorious deeds of the Lord. So, more positively, the discipline of reading and praying the Word as a family is the practice of not hiding, but showing the glory of the Lord. Dads, don’t hide the greatest news in the history of the world from your children. Instead, habitually point your children to the light of the glory of the gospel, which shines in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Now, I don’t know any Christian father who would willingly hide the gospel from their children. They may be habitually forgetful to lead their families in worship. They may even be regretfully neglectful of their duty as primary disciple-maker in the lives of their families. But this is where the rubber meets the road in family discipleship. Every passive act of neglect, amnesia, or laziness is a very active work of hiding that can have drastic and lasting effects.
Wives and children need courageous dads who will wake each morning with the resolve to die to self in the work of telling the next generation about the glory of the Lord. This begins with a personal devotion to know and rejoice in the glory of God as he has revealed himself in his Word.
I found in my own life that the more committed I am to the personal spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer, the more I lead my wife and son in Bible reading and prayer. When I am personally gripped by the Scriptures, my wife doesn’t have to nudge me to read the Bible at the dinner table. Our lives are the natural overflow of what is in our hearts and minds. So, what we fill our own hearts and minds with will be what we pour into the hearts and minds of our wives and children. Few things will impact your children like them seeing their dad love the Lord more than their own lives. More than they need you to be at their ball games, your children need to see you diligently reading and praying the Word.
The humbling reality before every Christian father is the massive responsibility of leading his wife and children in the gospel and how this depends on his own practice of Bible study and prayer. I experience this nearly every day. I come home after a full day at the office ready to just chill out on the couch and watch the NBA playoffs. But the question I am beginning to ask myself is this: Do I want my wife and children to see me glaring into a big screen TV, totally zoned out from them? Do I want them to pick up on the fact that through my neglect, amnesia, and laziness, I am truly hiding the glory of God from them? Maybe more directly, do I really want to hide God’s glory from my family by neglecting to read and pray with them?
Of course not. So, they will need me to personally read and meditate on the Scriptures. They will need me to wake early in the morning and fall on my knees in prayer to the only one who can empower this kind of discipline. And because they need me, I need Him. The good news for dads is that even in all our failings, we have an eternal Father who is faithfully committed to the glory of his name in the lives of our families. We have a Father who makes enemies into heirs. In him we will find all the grace we need to resolve to tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Ps. 78:4).
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.