Children – A Lightning Rod for Sanctification

I have been blessed to be the father of 4 very unique (and sometimes rowdy) young children.  My oldest, and only girl, is five.    I also have a 4 year old son, 20 month old son, and 5 month old little guy.  It is a wonderful and most rewarding thing being a father.  However, after 5 years of this gig I have come to a realization.  This realization is that my children are used, more than anyone or anything else, as a tool for my sanctification.  That is, the Lord uses them to shape me and mold me (and my wife as well) into the image of Christ through learning patience, love, sacrifice, time management, discipline, faith, hope, trust, and a myriad of other Christ like features.  I am blessed to be called a father; though I do not always recognize the blessing in the middle of frustrating times of teaching, molding, (and dare a say, spanking) my children.  Here are three ways the Lord uses my children as a lightning rod for my sanctification.

When they obey:

One of the greatest joys in my life is to see my children obey their mother and I out of love and respect for us.  I believe this is also true of the Lord when we trust and obey him in our life.  Scripture tells us in I Samuel 15:22b “. . . Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”  The Lord loves an obedient child.  I cannot help to think that is part of the reason that we see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father in Acts 7, when Stephen is being stoned, because of His love for his obedient children.  It is easy to love someone when they are obedient, but often before a person obeys it takes a period of training.  This is where the real sanctifying work begins.  Obedience is really an Ebenezer stone for sanctification.  It is evidence that work has been done.  This is when a person can sit back and see what progressive sanctification really looks like.  That is what brings me ultimate joy.  It is not the one time act of obedience (as great as that is) that has brought us as parents to a higher level of sanctification, but the continued act of obedience on our part to help our children get there.  While we are still working on this ourselves, it is very rewarding (and sanctifying) to see them obey.

When they disobey:

Obedience is wonderful, but what I believe is more sanctifying is our children’s disobedience.  I am continually amazed as I look at scripture at the long-suffering of the Lord with His children.   The Lord waited some 700 years to finally scatter the nations of Israel into exile for their disobedience to Him.  Something He promised he would do in Deuteronomy 28:64.  I must admit, it is hard for me to wait 8.2 seconds at times to intact discipline on my children when they are blatantly disobedient, especially toward their mother.  However, when I sit back and think about how patient the Lord is with me in my disobedience (me being a child of God, and my children still being unregenerate) it humbles me.  I believe the Lord uses my children’s depravity to sharpen and mold me so that I can in turn be more Christ-like to them.  It is not easy when my oldest son puts his foot in the ground and decides he is not moving to remember that this is a sanctification test, but as I think of myself doing this to the Lord, even now, it helps me to remember the importance of long-suffering and having a Christ-like attitude (still working on this one) towards him.  Yes, we are to train them and teach them to obey, but even during their disobedience the Lord is training us.

When we discipline:

This is my least favorite part of parenting.  However, since I love my children, it must be done.  Proverbs is riddled with verses like the one in Proverbs 13:24, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”  I am so grateful for the Lord’s discipline in my own life.  While we do not like it in the middle of the process, after we look back on His loving hand we can see His purpose and be appreciative for it.  As any loving father, I never want to see my children hurt, but some temporary discomfort is better than a lifetime of heartache.  I really do believe it hurts the parent more than it does the child when disciplining them.  However, the parent knows that it is best and does it out of love.  The Lord is no different.  When He corrects us, it is not to hurt us, but to mold us into the likeness of Christ.  We as parents need to always be consistent in our discipline or else we risk the sin of “frustrating our children” by requiring obedience at one time, and then not enforcing it another time.  The Lord is consistent with us, thus we need to be consistent with our children.  Herein lays the process of sanctification.

I love my children second only to my wife.  They bring me much laughter, smiles, tears, and every other emotion possible.  I now see why those older in their faith are so far along in their sanctification . . . they have already raised their children.  Gray hair is a sign of wisdom…it seems it is also a sign of raising children (or I am just getting this parenting thing all wrong).  We need to teach our children to obey, but in their disobedience we need to remember that the Lord is teaching us something as well.  The Lord knows what He is doing.  Children are not born good (Romans 3:10, Psalm 51:5).  He has given parents a great responsibility to train their kids up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  The beautiful thing about it is that at the same time, He is training us up in the fear and admonition of Himself through them.  What an amazing God He is.

Soli Deo Gloria

Adam B. Burrell

Who Do You Love More Anyway, Your Children or Your Spouse?

I have been blessed to become a father to four wonderful children (one girl, followed by three rambunctious boys).  I remember wondering when my wife got pregnant with our second child if I would be able to love him as much as my first.  A very wise person told me once that love does not divide, but multiplies.  After having my fourth child just months ago, I can testify that this adage most definitely rings true.  I have had the privilege of working with youth and their families for more than a decade now, and in that time I have noticed a disturbing trend that I don’t think most parents see as that troublesome.  This trend, I believe, is a tool that is used be “the deceiver.” This trend is putting the love for your children above the love you have for your spouse.  I have seen it more times than I can count.  It seems like a reasonable thing: to love your children more than anything else on earth.  It is a very good thing to love our children.  They need our love, and they need to be shown our love.  However, far too many parents make near idols of their children, leaving their spouse in the distance.  This is not wise, healthy, or biblical.  Yes, you are commanded to train and love your children (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 29:15, the book of Proverbs), but one of the best ways to love your children well is to love your spouse well . . . even more than your own children.

Here are two reasons why I see this is true . . .

You Made a Covenant With Your Spouse, Not Your Children

In the 5th chapter of Ephesians you read about the husband and wife relationship.  Verse 25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  This is a huge statement when you start to understand the ramification and practical application of it.  One of the major reasons for Christ coming to earth was to redeem and rescue His bride from the punishment she so justly deserved.  Jesus loves His bride above all others on earth.  This is supposed to be true of all husbands as well.  When you made a covenant with each other in marriage, and joined yourselves together, you then became one flesh (Ephesians 5:31).  You became united.  This is a special relationship that you only ever enter into with one person (until death, or a biblical divorce happens).  This is a covenant that is made with your spouse, not your children.

You Will Live With Your Spouse Forever, Your Children Only Temporarily

            On your wedding day you most likely said something in your vows to this effect: “Till death do us part.”  My wife and I have made it a priority to try to go on at least one date a month to help continue to foster a great relationship together.  I have heard so many parents say that they have not gone on a date alone since they had kids.  One of the things that worries me about this is that after you spend 18-20 years pouring into your children (which you should), are you even going to know your spouse if you do not continue to grow your relationship together?  God has given each parent a great responsibility in raising their children, but one day they too will “leave and cleave,” Lord willing.  You will always have a certain responsibility toward your children, as they do to you, but the relationship you have to your spouse never changes or goes away.  By God’s design you will, or should, live with your spouse until death separates you.  However, you only have a temporary time with your children.  In one way, our children are only ours to borrow, whereas our spouse we have full ownership of (I Corinthians 7:4).

Children are a blessing.  Children are a gift from God.  We are to love them.  We are to train them.  We are to thank God for them.  However, they should never consistently come before your spouse.  Marriage, not parenthood, is a picture of Christ and the Church.  Marriage is a life-long covenant by design.  While parenthood is life-long as well, the meat of it is only brief.  For those of us who still have children in our home, let’s be sure that we are spending much time in developing our relationship with our spouse and not just our children.  Let’s be sure that when our children leave our home, we still have a thriving marriage with our spouse.  Let’s make sure that when we think through these things we think with our Bible open, and not just our hearts, which so easily can lead us astray.  Love your children well . . . but love your spouse even more.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Five Thoughts on Training Boys to Be Godly Men

One of my biggest fears in life is the thought of having my four children grow up in a home where Jesus is taught, yet they do not come to faith in Christ. It haunts me at times. I believe in a sovereign God who calls and even woos his children to himself to be part of his bride. I also believe that man has a responsibility to place their faith (albeit a faith that is a complete gift from God by grace) in the Lord. I am a young father who loves God’s word, His bride (The Church), and my family. I have had the wonderful opportunity to observe other godly fathers as well as search the scriptures to try to figure out how to honor God in training up my children to fear and love Him. While we cannot make our children trust in the Lord, we can certainly train them up in a way that is biblical and practical at the same time. I have observed (both from other Godly fathers and from scripture) a variety of ways that I believe can do just that. I will list 5 practical ways in this blog, and I encourage you to take them and add to them as you find the opportunity through your own reading and observation. I have implemented these things into my own children (particularly my sons) in training them up in godliness, and I am praying that I remain faithful and “never grow weary in well doing.” This is my prayer for you as well.

1. Teach them the value of hard honest work.

II Thessalonians 3:10b says, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” In the very beginning of time God placed Adam in the middle of the garden and told him to go to work (to name the animals and tend the garden). It was not a hardship for him (before the fall), it was a joy. God has created men to be providers. To do this, a man must be willing to work. A good work ethic is something that we need to instill in our children. It is a characteristic of God. If we want our sons to grow up to be godly men then we need to teach them the value of hard work. Solomon (the wisest man to ever live) found it profitable to write about this in Proverbs on several occasions (Proverbs 12:24, Proverbs 13:4, Proverbs 14:23). Just as Solomon taught these truths to his sons, so we too should be diligent to do the same. You may ask, “How do you do this when you have young boys of 2, 3, and 4 years?” If you are doing something that you can have them help you with . . . have them help you. Let them see you working. Talk about work to them. While letting them help you may take the job longer to be accomplished, it is an investment worth making.

2. Spend one-on-one time with them.

One of the highlights for my children each week is getting to Friday morning when one of them gets to take the trash to the dump with their daddy. We make a “date” out of it. We make it special by stopping at the store before we leave so that we can get a treat. We usually turn the radio off so that we can just talk while we drive. We talk about everything their young minds can think about. The average father in America today spends less than 3 minutes a day (one-on-one) with his children. There is no way to invest in the lives of your children by spending this amount of time with them only. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go . . .” To do this will mean spending quality time with your sons. Do not be on par with the average statistic. If you are going somewhere and you can bring them with you, then use it as an opportunity to spend time with them. Spend time with your sons. It is not your time to spend after all if you are a Christian, it is God’s.

3.Teach them how to pray.

4-5 times a week my family gathers around our dinner table to have some type of informal family worship (prayer, Bible reading, and singing). God has given me the privilege and responsibility to do this (Genesis 18:19, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Eph. 6:4, Proverbs 22:6). I always open with a prayer, and my wife or I close with praying through the scripture verses we just read. Often we allow our children to pray and repeat the words after us. We purposefully do not dumb down our prayers when we do this. We want them to learn how to pray. When we pray with them before bed, we pray fervent prayers that they can hear so that they can see and hear what a prayer sounds like. When something particularly concerning is going on in our family, we pray. If you want your children to grow in godliness, you need to teach them to pray. James writes, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” If you want your sons to be spiritual warriors when they are grown . . . teach them how to pray. After all, this is what the disciples asked of our Lord . . . “teach us how to pray.”

4.Show them how to love, by loving their mother.

I often learn better by seeing and trying to replicate than by reading and trying to apply. One thing that is true of almost every godly man I know is that he loves his wife well. If we are going to show our sons how Christ loved the church, we must show them how to love their mom. Ephesians 5:21-33 explains to us what this picture looks like in the lives of the family. Christ loved the church so much that he died for her. Let your sons see you hug, kiss, and even show other types of affections to your wife (although do not go overboard with it, some things are just meant for you and her). They may find it gross or silly, but when they grow older, they will be thankful for it. Take her on dates, romance her, respect her . . . and let your sons see it. If they are to love their bride as Christ loved the church, they need a good example of what that looks like. Praise her for the things that she does well, and never tear her down. She is your bride, and is a gift from God. Make sure your sons realize that she is a special gift.

5.Pour the gospel into them every chance you get.

This is one of the harder ones. This is something that I still have to learn to do a better job of. However, the one thing that every godly man has in common that I have observed (and obviously scripture teaches) is taking every opportunity to pour the gospel into their children both formally and informally. The best place in scripture to see this command is found in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. Formally, you need to be reading, praying, and singing together as a family in your home regularly. This is good, and it is needed. However, you also have the opportunity to do this informally. I will tell you this: most of what I have learned has been caught, and not taught. This is where the informal pouring out of the gospel happens. Let me give you an example. When your son has a bad night playing baseball and you can share the gospel with him, take that opportunity. Tell him, “You know son, striking out at the end of the game is hard. It does not feel good. I am sorry and wish I could change it for you; but I am proud of how you handled it. Remember that Proverbs say, ‘whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty’ . . . Although it was not what you wanted to happen, it was honoring to God how you handled it.” Take every opportunity to feed your sons a steady diet of the Lord’s word. This also means, however, that you need to be living it yourself; otherwise you have the whole “log-in-eye meet spec-in-eye” thing going on. Of the five that I have listed, this is the one that is most important and sets you apart from just the average “good” dad that is not a Christian. Good dads (that are not Christians) love their wives, spend time with their sons, and teach them the value of hard work. However, they never say a word to them about the Lord . . . and their sons may very well die and go to hell without Christ. The gospel is what matters most. Be sure that you are pouring it into them, and living it out in front of them.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell