The first Father’s Day in the United States was observed on June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Washington. The day was proposed by Mrs. John B. Dodd, who wanted to honor her father, William Smart, a Civil War veteran who raised six children alone after his wife died in childbirth. Clearly, Mrs. Dodd took seriously the Lord’s instruction, set forth in the fifth commandment, to honor your father.
I understand that not all of us have a father like William Smart, who seemed worthy of honor. But the commandment does not tell us to honor our father if he is honorable; we are commanded by God to honor . . . period! We all know—those of us who are fathers are painfully aware—that no father is perfect. We all have our weaknesses, blemishes, blind spots and flaws. There are many examples throughout sacred Scripture of godly men who were flawed fathers. Two who immediately come to mind are Eli and David; both men pursued God with all their hearts yet were badly flawed in their roles as parents.
My father went home to be with our Lord on Christmas Day, 1995. But if he was here today, as far from perfect as he was, I would tell him one more time how much I loved him and thank God for him.
So to all of you who still have dads on this side of eternity, take a moment to honor him on Father’s Day. And to all of you who are dads, here are six pillars of parenting encouragement, which I offer to strengthen your resolve to live intentionally as the spiritual head of your home and the father of God’s covenant children.
Pillar 1: keep leaning
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)
God is infinite and we fathers are finite. As often as we think we have it all right, we frequently have much of it wrong. Just ask mom! And that is why we must be willing to lean not on our own understanding, but rather on the wisdom of the Almighty. James instructs those of us who lack wisdom (which, of course, is all of us) to ask God and He will give that wisdom to us (James 1:5). The father God is calling us to be keeps leaning on the Lord.
Pillar 2: keep leading
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Fathers are called to be thermostats who set the temperature in the home, not thermometers who simply record it. The biblical definition of leading—serving the Lord and serving others—is the foundation upon which a godly home is built. Remember, it was Jesus who said He did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The father God is calling us to be keeps leading his children toward the Lord.
Pillar 3: keep listening
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5).
With four beloved children (Brock, age 17; Jenna, age 15; Katie, age 11; Tank, age 10), I have learned, often the hard way, why we have two ears and only one mouth. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be much quicker to listen than we are to speak (James 1:19). The father God is calling us to be keeps listening and learning along the way.
Pillar 4: keep lighting
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
In this dark and depraved world, it is the function of the father to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), which means we are to light the way for our children through the Word of God. The father God is calling us to be keeps lighting the path for his children through the Word of God in every aspect of life.
Pillar 5: keep looking
“Be alert and always keep on praying . . .” (Ephesians 6:18).
Every father is to be the “lookout” for his children, watching for signs of the enemy approaching. Remember, the enemy will look for any and every way into the hearts of our children: smart phones, music, movies, video games, the Internet, friends . . . everything! The devil “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), looking to devour our children; it is our responsibility to keep him out by any means necessary. The father God is calling us to be keeps watching over his children and praying for them continually.
Pillar 6: keep loving
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
All of the above categories, when lived out by faith, demonstrate a father’s love for his children: leaning, leading, listening, lighting, and looking. It is important to note here that the best gift of love we can give our children is the love we demonstrate for their mother. The father God is calling us to be keeps loving mom as Christ loves His church.
There you have it: six pillars of parenting encouragement. Some of you fathers may be thinking, “I have been messing it up big time!” Well, as Bruce Willis said in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party, pal!” We all mess this up every day, and that is why we so desperately need the truths of the Gospel to rain down upon us each day. We are great sinners in need of an even greater Savior on a moment-by-moment basis.
Scripture instructs us, “In view of God’s mercy . . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). We make this offering in view of the mercy God has shown us in Christ, not in view of our merit—and that certainly includes any merit in the area of being a father. Without the Gospel, we can remain imprisoned to our painful past parenting mistakes.
But this is not for you! The apostle Paul encouraged us to take this view: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Learn from the past, look forward to your promised future, and live in the present, knowing that you are unconditionally loved and eternally forgiven. This provides the power to press on into these pillars of parenting, knowing that you go not in your own strength, but in the strength of your Savior.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that.
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.