Written by Paul J. Bucknell on August, 15, 2020
The Heart of Godly Parenting —Part 1 The Journey to Parenting
Secrets to A Godly Family & Powerful Ministry
God shapes parents to develop well-rounded children guided by proper relationships, providing stronger leadership in the home, church, and society as a whole.
I once took some of my children on a hike. Some places along the path were marked and were easy to follow, making the hike stress free. At other times, however, the trail was not clearly marked. At one point, we climbed into the mountains where there was a lot of rock. The path was confusing, and I started thinking that I had gone the wrong way. I was just about to turn back when another hiker, climbing very fast, came up and casually said, “This is the path. Keep going, and it will be clear before long.” Up he went without losing a breath. He walked that trail many a time, mastering all of its special turns. The scriptures are like that expert hiker. The scriptures provide many unique insights into raising godly children.
Parenting should be looked at as a growing skill rather than a class that needs to be taken. It’s a life path that we walk along—a journey. This process becomes dynamic due to the number of changing factors: (1) Our own developing spiritual lives, (2) Different encounters with growing children, and (3) Various outside influences such as health problems, specially gifted children, etc.
Besides, once parents have mastered a parenting situation, they soon discover that they have again lost control. For example, once a child has settled into a good routine and nap, the child changes and no longer wants to take a nap. What before worked, no longer does. Nothing is static in raising children. In this life journey, we need to actively depend upon the Lord for strength, wisdom, and protection. I often tell parents that it is okay not to know what to do but keep seeking the Lord. He, at the right time, will guide us.
There will be times during our long, tiring journey that one just wants to sit down and enjoy the cool fresh river going by. Perhaps one will be tempted to take another path, thinking it will be a shortcut. The wise parent knows that there are no shortcuts. We need to be careful and not underestimate the challenges that we face.
Can you think of a person who gave you the wrong directions? What happened when you listened to them? You got further lost—wasting your precious time and resources. We, too, need to be careful in parenting. God guides us in the task of nurturing godly children.
Our biggest issue is getting on this path, being convinced that we can put our full trust in God’s instructions. We also face problems staying on this path. Unfortunately, most of us think we are doing fine until calamity strikes. We need a disaster to wake us up. This thinking that parenting comes naturally primarily comes from the assumption that parenting knowledge comes built-in. Although the mother gives birth to a child, parenting doesn’t so easily happen. Nor does bad parenting just happen! To reach our goals of godly children, we need to be deliberate and eagerly learn of God’s ways.
Fortunately, no matter how far we have strayed from that helpful path, some are very far away. God, however, is desirous to help us discover His wonderful way of raising children. My situation is a case, in example.
I remember once when pastoring, walking in the main hallway of the church, overhearing a small group’s conversation discussing John 4. They stated that this Samaritan woman was very unlike their situations, even laughing. I responded differently. I grew up in a home like that, thinking how my Mom’s case was so similar. She married and divorced four times. And if you know anything about divorced people, you will know their families are disastrous due to the intense bitterness and trouble within. As a result, when I started parenting, I was ill-prepared and far from understanding God’s path to raise godly children (I never even thought of it). God intervened in my life, creating a beautiful miracle in my life, bringing me to where I could raising godly children.
At the time, I did not know anything about this. I suppose, as most young Christians, I figured it would naturally work out—but spiritual warfare was at work. I was saved and already heading toward full-time ministry, but that doesn’t necessarily change things. The Lord had to retrain me. I needed a lot of help in almost every area of my life—most of which I was oblivious. Many of my writings since then, like here, reflect how God’s Word has helped me to progress in my understanding. I discovered how a wrong perception of the Lord brought about wrong behavior, which, if repeated, would lead to a bad pattern, leading to serious problems.
On the other hand, when I sought after the Lord’s truth, He would correct my mind and change how I treated a situation or person. The whole area of difficulty improved remarkably quickly. As a faithful trainer, the Lord set my feet on the right path, the way of righteousness, which is defined as righteous living—living the right way with others. Listen to the Psalmist. Is this your heart?
“Teach me, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, And keep it with all my heart.” “Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, For I delight in it.” “Establish Thy word to Thy servant, As that which produces reverence for Thee.” (Psalms 119:33, 34,35,38)
The Lord constantly tries to restore us to His path so that we can raise godly children for His glorious purposes. That path starts with knowing Jesus, but having known Him, we must set our hearts on to know Him more. He is the Way, the Life and the Truth. God our Father, then trains us.
God, Our Model of Holiness
If we looked more closely at Him and what He says rather than popular magazines, pop psychology, and banal television shows, we substantially grow in our parenting skills. Parenting has the goal of raising godly children. Most parents raise children in ignorance and rebellion, using different goals from God. God, however, is our perfect parenting model.
We have no doubt repeatedly stated the Lord’s Prayer but probably never think of it from a parenting context. “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9, also Isaiah 63:16). Note four things we learn about parenting from our God.
We could learn so many more things about parenting if we went through the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.
Let us look briefly at a few more passages to gain insight into parenting. This verse might be a surprising verse for some, especially to fathers. What does Matthew 23:37 teach us about how God treats His children?
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling (Matthew 23:37).
This passage teaches us about the mother’s role of caring and shielding her little children. The mother should be filled with compassion and attentiveness to each of her child’s needs. Why do we so quickly pass our children to others for their care? The most important values children learn to develop early, mostly before school age. Many Christians have thought it a waste to spend time on children. It is absolutely the opposite. God made children grow up slowly, so there can be that nurturing time.
This passage also reminds us how our children sometimes are not so willing to learn! The parent, unknown to oneself, models a mindset of stubborn learning. “You were unwilling.” How many parents have felt the pain of a child’s unwillingness to listen from their advice? Probably every parent has been hurt over the way the child spurned their rejection. As parents, we learn that even though our children are defiant, we need to insist on loving them. We are not to reward their evil ways but to patiently love them.
What can we learn about parenting from Proverbs 3:11-12?
- God takes the role of fatherhood seriously.
- God our Father is to be regularly talked to. He wants to be close. (Note that many address Jesus or Mary rather than God in prayer. They want intimacy but do not think that God the Father can be close).
- God’s ways are best and holy.
- We are to learn and depend upon God as our caring father.
As a Mother
- God is like a mother who cares to gather and protect her children.
- Mothers are responsible for caring for their children’s needs attentively.
- Children are not easy to care for at times because of their rebellious nature.
As a Father
My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Proverbs 3:11-12 points out several parenting truths. In this section, the first comment is about what God does like a good parent. The second is a direct application to our parenting ways.
God treats His people as sons. Fatherhood binds parents to care for their children with physical discipline appropriately. Children, however, might hate and misunderstand such discipline—especially if not rightly applied. This response is not good, calling parents to positively teach them its benefits to their lives. We discipline children not out of frustration but out of love. We delight in our children and want the best for them. Physical discipline, then, if rightly done, is a demonstration of a father’s love, not being mean or abusive. Without it, grievous consequences arise.
God is the best example of a parent. He made both male and female in His image. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Specific characteristics of the Lord are naturally seen more in men while others in women. For example, objectivity is best understood through the man while compassion through the woman (though sinful man often distorts these traits). God has protected children and enabled a better portrait of Himself by providing two parents, male and female, rather than just one.
- God disciplines His children when needed.
- Parents should rightly use physical discipline.
- God’s people can reject the discipline of the Lord.
- Our children might refuse to learn from our discipline.
- God cautions His children not to misunderstand His discipline.
- We should share our purposes as we discipline.
Two portraits, one person (God)
The father’s appointed role includes being a caretaker, provider, and protector. Certain physical characters emphasize this such as a man’s size, strength, and objectivity. Earthly fathers are to mimic the way God as our Father watches over His people. On the other hand, a mother with her physical being, high voice, soft and gentle touch, and loveliness, better depict God’s compassion, nurture, and tenderness. Both are responsible for providing a rounder picture of God. In this way, the husband and wife can mutually learn from each other.
It’s interesting to observe that children without fathers or mothers nearby develop a certain set of challenging problems. What a child experiences, he often mimics and uses in his parenting. If the child has not received his father’s personal care for him, whether because he has been away or distant in relationship, he will tend to mimic this same kind of care or ‘non-care,’ for his own child. The Lord introduces well-rounded children through both parents, but sin allows for many serious setbacks interfering with God’s good purposes.
Harmony, the delight coming from complementary behavior, provides special training for children. One spouse appreciates and learns from the work and emphasis of the other. Disharmony, however, provides great conflict.
Harmony or Conflict?
The couple end up working against themselves rather than together as God desires. The father and mother, for example, often disagree on how a child should be cared for. This conflict sadly influences a child’s understanding. If the conflict, is not resolved two things result.
(1) The marriage is hurt; parents are embittered toward each other. Each spouse uses blame to further distance himself from the other. A simple example will help us understand. The mother tends to spend most of her time with the child, so she deals softly with the child. When the father doesn’t like a particular habit of his child, he tries to bring order into the home—but he does it with a frenzy. He gets intensely angry and inserts these bitter scenes to his family. Each parent, in reaction to the other, swings further away from the norm. They also feel more confident about how they treat one’s child and sure about how their spouse handles their child.
(2) The child is corrupted and takes advantage of this division. The child is smart. He or she knows that he should ask Dad for one thing, such as watching television and Mom for snacks. So the child learns to be crafty and plays one parent against another to gain his wishes. When a husband discovers that his wife has granted one request to his child when he would not have given it to him, he gets further upset.
Why do these kinds of feelings and treatment of each other develop? Parents project their given views and perspectives on their child but also on their spouse. Just think how the different responsibilities and giftings attached to the husband and wife make spouses perceive their child’s needs differently. Since they focus on different needs, they come up with varying methods of handling the same child. Once the male and female characteristics are added into the mix, further tension arises between the spouses.
Sometimes this results in situations where the mother is scared at how Daddy approaches their child. Mom feels she must protect her child from Dad who, at least in her mind, is like a charging bull. The husband, on the other hand, despises his wife for not respecting his requests. As children, we grow up in one kind of home, often impacted by the way our Dads and Moms related to each other
Parents should carefully evaluate how they parent, not only from an emotional level shaped largely by their personal experiences but from God. God has given different burdens and gifts to each one of us, as well as commands and models. They should act complementary to God’s will, not in opposition to it. God has a much better way.
Before looking at this in detail, we should realize that the situation parents end up in is often far worse than what we presented above. Parents over long times have often struggled with each other rather than living in harmony. Just think for a moment. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in unison as a couple? This joyful relationship is where God leads us.
Parents have certain natural gifts and God-given roles built into their emotional and physical natures but also various experiences.
Parents do not only have certain natural gifts and God-given roles built into their emotional and physical natures, but they have their experiences. Let me give you a few examples. It is sad because many children are victims of parents who have learned to parent from their experiences rather than God.
One parent, when small, saw her parents argue a lot. Every time it happened, she was petrified, and her heart was torn apart. She would often go to her room crying because of the way her parents threatened each other with horrible words. She heard they might leave each other and didn’t know whether they would be there when she woke up in the morning. She did not know what would happen to her and wondered if the problem was because of her and would blame herself.
To make matters worse, if she did anything wrong during this time, her Dad, still very upset, would come in a rage, beat her, and leave her alone crying. He never talked to her about these times but just left her to handle it on her own. We don’t know what the girl did wrong, but we sense something is wrong here, don’t we? In this case, maybe she learned to attach physical discipline with anger and rage in the parent. She would grow up, saying that she never wanted a home like this and vowed to herself to have a peaceful home, thinking, “Nobody should treat anyone like that.” We can understand her feelings. Her experience shaped her views about parenting, so when she became a parent, she would never treat her child that way. She vowed in her heart that she would never spank a child and would turn a blind eye to those passages in the scripture that suggested such a thing. She wouldn’t even consider it. She reacted to rather than imitated her parents.
On the other hand, one might be brought up in a very lenient home. Maybe there is only one child. The child gets everything that he or she wants. Parents, from impoverished homes, often want to make up for what they didn’t have growing up, somehow concluding possessions makes people better. Perhaps they always wanted some sweets. They could never have any. They grew up thinking, “If I get more candy, I would be happier. I didn’t have any, so I was sad.”
This ‘need’ might not be candy, but anything they desired or coveted. Typically the person would identify the source of their difficulty with a particular issue. They, therefore, in response, would make sure their child never faces such a situation. They know what makes for a happier home and are determined to provide what is needed.
When a parent thinks one thing is a problem and seeks a solution, that parent will usually compromise due to the false belief that something or experience will bring about a good life. The parent is too influenced by her understanding of her early life to learn from God. Even if this parent goes to church, he or she is devoted to another. God is excluded from their family, at least through this one parent. Materialism has been the downfall of Christianity. People become convinced that wealth brings happiness and therefore pursue it.
➡ The Child’s Perspective
Now let us turn around and think about family difficulties from a child’s perspective. His parents argue a lot. Mom is stressed out with worry. Dad is never home, or even worse yet, Mom, too, is out working. No one cares for him; he only hears his parents remarking how glad they can drop him off for school or club, so they get to have a break.
These marriages struggle to exist. Parents are so busy with their jobs that they cannot think of loving the child outside of giving him the best education and things. The parents, reliving some guilt, try to give to the child whatever he or she needs. Even when the child does something wrong, they just let the child get away with it. Parents are so busy trying to keep their own lives together; they neglect the child’s physical or social needs.
There are two typical responses: the reactive and the imitative. One child reacts against this ‘buy out’ with bitterness, vowing never to repeat his parents’ mistakes. The other person responds by simply imitating what his parents have done. The child knows of no other response and just rolls with it.
Some, now grown parents, fear leniency because they associate it with the lack of love and care. They insist on being strict and keep their home in reasonable control. Others fear strictness because they were hurt by it.
Many children react against their parents for depriving them of some experience or especially because they have been deeply wounded. Painful emotional scars remind them of those past experiences.
A scar occurs where there is a wound that healed up but not like before. Scars form differently from skin, leaving a mark. That scar does not go away nor does it respond like regular skin—being hard and insensitive. When we have been emotionally or spiritually scarred in the past, we often have linked some behavior to the ugly home scene. One concludes to oneself that I will never be like that. These reactive responses are dangerous because they do not go away. Each learns to parent from their experiences.
The end result might not be so bad in some cases, but when one thinks how bad some of our homes have been, our situation can get quite scary. I have been there. I would never want any child to experience the pain from divorced parents or not often seeing my Dad. When I entered my teen years, my Dad was not around. I, as an older brother, did not know how to shave. I had no one to show me how to fix a bicycle tire or even pump air. I had no voice to guide me through all these difficulties. I suppose, today, I can go on the web if rightly guided, but knowledge is different from guiding comments.
Workshop: Your Life Experience
Unless you understand why you parent the way you do, you will not be able to make significant improvements even if parenting problems develop. Our parenting perspectives are shaped early in our lives, and it is tough to understand them. It is even harder to know how to improve on them. We often are persuaded that what we think and do is right. Most of us have never really examined where we get our views. People tend to get insecure when talking about past wounds. They become threatened when people suggest we should make changes to values so deeply placed in our lives. They may do not feel able to make changes, but the bigger problem is that they do not want to. All of these things are closely tied together.
- How did your parents respond to each other when growing up? Were they happily married?
- What happy scenes come to your mind?
- Or did they argue a lot? This is a sign of disharmony. Can you remember some unfortunate scenes?
- How did your growing up experiences, for good or bad, shape your parenting?
- Do you imitate or react to your parents’ training? How so?
Good change easily happens when one understands why one does what he or she does.