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Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Bubba Jennings
Fathers, Don't Provoke Your Children
There are two texts in the New Testament that directly address fathers: Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. Interestingly, they begin the same way: “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”
This pair of verses underscores the most serious threat a Christian dad can pose to his kids: to provoke or irritate them to the point of discouragement. As a dad, I have found two paths I am prone to walk towards provoking my four girls: perfectionism and passivism.
I desperately want my girls to become mature Christian women. I want them to be molded into women who think, feel, act, and speak like Jesus.
Yet I provoke my girls to discouragement when I expect them to be perfect now, in their own strength, by doing more or trying harder.
One time, while eating out with the family and a friend, one of my daughters complained about the taste of her enchilada in a most distasteful way. I had never heard her use the word she chose before. I was stunned, my wife blushed, and our guest squirmed. She sincerely apologized to us all and asked for forgiveness. But I struggled. I wanted her to do penance. But she respectfully reminded me that Jesus was more than her forgiver; he was in fact her forgiveness. I was trying hard to impress this discouragement on her, but she refused to be provoked.
Perfection, in the sense of being completely like Jesus, is the end goal. But perfection never comes through human performance, nor is it fully attainable in this life (1 John 1:8).
The overcorrection to perfectionism is passivism. Passivism has the fatalistic attitude, “Because Jesus must change my child’s heart, there is nothing I can do but pray and watch and hope for the best.” This error completely ignores the charge to dads regarding their children in Ephesians 6:4,“Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is the flip side of the coin of the great “Do Not”: there is much to do!
I traditionally take each girl on a father-daughter spiritual retreat in the summer between her 5th and 6th grade years. My youngest daughter just entered 7th grade, but we haven’t made the trip yet. I brought this up the other day as another summer passed and said I was sad it hadn’t happened and hoped it would soon. She replied, “I’m sad too, Dad. But I can’t drive, and they won’t let me buy plane tickets yet. Just sayin’.” She was right. This trip was entirely on me, and my passivity in planning it was provoking her to discouragement.
Preaching to Myself
If I am to be the dad Jesus calls me to be, per Colossians 3:16, it must flow out of the word of Christ living in me. The most important task I face each day as I raise my daughters is to preach the gospel to myself, turn from my sins of perfectionism and passivism, and instead trust in the finished work of Jesus for forgiveness and future obedience. Only then will I stop provoking my kids to the point of discouragement and start bringing them up in the Lord.
Originally posted on the Mars Hill Blog.